A New Start

Noah followed the elderly lady through the shop and up the stairs. “You sell magic stuff here?” he said. He really should have asked more questions.

“There’s a mix,” Mrs Tuesday said. “There’s knickknacks for the tourists, basic stuff for those who like to pretend and a few bits of the good stuff for those who appreciate it.” She bustled along the corridor at the top of the stairs. “Your office is there, and this is your bedroom. She ushered him into a bright, clean space. “The bathroom’s through there and there’s a kitchen down the hall. Tea and coffee and that are included but if you want evening meals you need to tip up £10 every Friday.” She gave Noah an unnervingly long look. “And you look like you need feeding up. It’s cottage pie tonight.”

“That sounds nice,” Noah said weakly.

“It is,” Kadogan said, appearing suddenly. “You are Noah Pickering and are here to write internet things.”

“That’s right,” Noah said cautiously.

“You must write about candles,” Kadogan said.

“And coffee,” the stunningly beautiful woman behind him said. She pushed past Kadogan and smiled at Noah. “I am Lady Freydis and I require that you write a book about coffee.”

“What sort of book?” Noah asked bewildered.

Lady Freydis looked confused. “The sort of book that people read to learn about coffee,” she said. “I have some notes.” She pushed a large, pink gift box towards Noah. He dropped his bag on the bed and grabbed the box.

Noah looked helplessly at Mrs Tuesday. “What sort of timeline?”

“I wish to see progress before the winter solstice,” Lady Freydis said. “Last week was the spring equinox. You should work several days a week, but not Sundays.”

“And write about candles,” Kadogan added.

“Why don’t you leave Noah to unpack,” Mrs Tuesday said. “I’ll show him everything and he can make a start tomorrow morning.” She shooed the two powerful elfen away and then looked back at the stunned Noah. “They mean well.”

Noah opened the box. Inside was a drift of notes on random items. “This book on coffee?” he began, rummaging through the napkins and paper bags. “How technical does it need to be?” There were even tiny notes scrawled over a train ticket.

Mrs Tuesday patted his shoulder. “It should say that coffee is brown and hot,” she said. “Fiona will be able to talk to you tomorrow and she’s the sensible one. She’ll sort out time off, hours, what’s needed and all that.” She grinned. “And Kadogan said that you liked gin, so I’ve left you some in the cupboard.”

Noah watched her leave and then looked around. His accommodation may be a bedsit, but it was spacious, comfortable and welcoming. The crazy collection of coffee trivia looked daunting but it made him smile. And it sounded that he would get time off, a wage and even food. He took a deep breath. It was a new start. Perhaps he would have a chance to be happy.

You can read the story from the beginning here – Back at the White Hart

The Prince and the Paladin Chapter One

A picture that I took without adult supervision in Roundhay Park, October 2018

“Me and Mike broke up,” Kayley said, trying to stifle a yawn. The 6am weekly chats with her mother in Australia wore her down.

“Why?” her mother asked. “I thought he was a nice young man. Wasn’t he the one who worked in insurance?”

“That’s why we broke up, mum,” Kayley said. “He said he was insurance but he really worked in a garage that specialised in insurance claims.” She managed a sigh. “I wouldn’t have minded if he had just been honest.”

“I wouldn’t have accepted him before,” her mother said. “But you’re not getting any younger so I suppose I could have accepted a mechanic if you really liked him.”

“I just don’t seem to be lucky,” Kayley said.

“Get on that internet dating and fast!” her mother ordered. “Thank goodness Kieran here has found a nice girl. She works at a bank, you know. But that doesn’t let you off. I want grandchildren.” Her mother’s expression softened slightly. “And I don’t want to see you alone, my dear. I want to see you settled with a family for your sake.”

“It may never happen, but who knows?” Kayley said. “Listen, mum, I’ve got to get going or I’ll be late to work.”

“Your boss – is he single?” her mother asked.

Kayley rolled her eyes. “Mr Perrigo is single and about a hundred years old,” she said. “And he’s a good boss. The job is easy, the pay is good and there are plenty of perks. I’m not risking that for anything.”

“It’s worth asking,” her mother sniffed. “Just… just don’t end up alone.”

Kayley rang off and took a leisurely sip of her tea. She had plenty of time before she needed to be at work, but lateness was a good excuse to get her mother off the phone.

“If she didn’t want you to be alone she should have either taken you with her to Australia when she left England or not left at all,” Drake said.

Kayley smiled at the sound of her imaginary friend’s voice. “At least I can rely on you to be on my side,” she said.

Drake snorted. “I should hope so!” he said. “So what are we going with next?”

Kayley picked up the small paper notebook that charted her fake love life. “I can tick off Mike,” she said. “He didn’t last long. We could do with someone who will last a while and stop her nagging.”

“Nothing will stop your mum nagging,” Drake said. “It’s like one of Newton’s Laws. She’s as inevitable as gravity.”

Kayley could imagine him grinning. She looked over to the picture on her desk at home. It was AI generated and showed a blond man in his early thirties, his blue eyes crinkled as he smiled at the camera. She’d created it when she started imagining Drake. “I swear my father wears earplugs,” she said. “And I pity any woman who ends up with my brother.” She stood and stretched before carrying her cup over to the sink. “I suppose I’d better get ready for work. Let’s hope for a nice, quiet day.”

It was only a couple of miles between across Leeds between Kayley’s tiny flat and her work at her employer’s home in Roundhay, but those miles were congested and it took two buses. It wasn’t too bad as it gave her time to talk with Drake. “We need to work out some strategy with my dating,” she mentally told him. She could imagine him sitting next to her in the place of the harassed older woman, as he shone with mischief. “We need to make up some good stories to keep mum off my back.”

She could imagine Drake looking thoughtful. “We could string out something with someone that you like but who your mother thinks is unsuitable,” he said. “You know, someone who looks gorgeous but has a bad job.”

Kayley kept looking out the window at the cold November streets but mentally she smiled up at Drake. “You mean, like a janitor?”

Drake chuckled in her imagination. “Perhaps. Or someone who works at a chicken processing factory.”

“That would work!” Kayley sniggered at her imaginary friend as she shuffled off the bus, burrowing into her coat against the cold air. “She would be appalled!” She marched briskly along to the next bus stop. “We should make this into a novel – all the stories we tell my mother about my fake love life.”

She could feel Drake hesitate beside her as she imagined him striding with her along the pavement. “Perhaps you should date,” he said slowly. “I mean, for real.”

Kayley almost stumbled. “Why should I do that?” she mentally asked him, shocked. “Or are you listening to my mother?”

She could feel the discomfort in Drake. “It’s just that, well, you know that I love you…”

“You’re supposed to love me,” Kayley said quietly. “That’s what I dreamed up. I tried to imagine what a perfect boyfriend would be like.”

“And that means that I want the best for you,” Drake said. “You have so little going on in your life. If you tried dating then perhaps you’d find someone decent who would look after you. They could interrupt your mum for you and perhaps you’d even have a family.”

Kayley pushed back a stab of emotional pain. “Are you ditching me?”

“No!” Drake said. “But I worry about you sometimes.”

Kayley thought about it as she stood shivering in the bus queue. “But I’m happy,” she said. “The attempts that I’ve had at dating have been awful. A couple of those dates were downright scary. Right now I feel the happiest in years. My mother is on the other side of the world, I have an amazing job and I have you. I don’t want to change.”

Kayley could feel Drake standing thoughtfully beside her as the bus pulled up and she climbed on. She could almost feel a comforting arm around her shoulder. “Your job is pretty good,” Drake said. “I’d say it was perfect for you. Apart from anything else, you get to read the bodice rippers from Mr Perrigo before anyone else.”

Kayley mentally chuckled. “I’m looking forward to the next chapter,” she said. “Mr Perrigo has a spicy imagination, but he’s so sweet with me.”

“He’s probably up to something,” Drake said darkly. “Perhaps those herbal remedies that he sells on the internet are illegal drugs. That’s what he’s doing and the books that he’s writing are really money laundering fronts.”

“That’s outrageous!” Kayley giggled inside her head. “I can’t imagine Mr Perrigo doing anything like that at all! He even insists that I get ethically sourced coffee for him.”

“He’s paying you a fortune,” Drake said.

“He’s paying a good wage for the work,” Kayley said. “It’s not crazy money.”

“You’re getting well paid for easy work,” Drake said. “You’ve got the office stuff, so you send invoices, sort out letters and take in deliveries. You open the door three times a week for the courier to pick up and answer about three phone calls and two emails a week.”

“It really is an easy job,” Kayley agreed.

“And then you transcribe all of Mr Perrigo’s outrageous stories,” Drake said. “Last chapter was the innocent heroine being chased across nineteenth century Leeds by the villainous Mr Galway. It was shocking!” he teased.

“But she did manage a chaste kiss after chapel with the handsome Lord Allerton,” Kayley said.

“That was before she was thrown out from her position as governess by Lady Gimpton,” Drake pointed out. He frowned. “He’s another who doesn’t have much of a life. He makes his herbal remedies, writes his stories and that’s about it.”

“And cleans,” Kayley said. “I hope that I’d keep a good house, but Mr Perrigo’s house is immaculate.”

“We share chores, remember,” Drake said. “If one of us cooks, the other cleans the kitchen.”

Kayley almost found herself smiling. “But we don’t live together, so I don’t know if you’d stick to that. I know I couldn’t keep my home as clean as Mr Perrigo.”

“Here’s your stop,” Drake said. “I wonder what’s happening to the hapless Sabitha today.”

Kayley let herself into Mr Perrigo’s house. It was a comfortable rhythm. She would usually get to work around 8.30am and let herself into Mr Perrigo’s house. Her first jobs were to switch on the coffee maker and open all the downstairs curtains before settling down to a sparse to-do list in the office. There would be a small pile of paper covered with Mr Perrigo’s elegant copperplate for her to transcribe and then Mr Perrigo would usually emerge after lunch. There would be a brief chat about what was needed and then Mr Perrigo would disappear into the small workshop in the back garden and scents of lavender and ginger would waft across the immaculate lawn and fill the house. Kayley would finish at 5pm, leave the typed manuscript and any letters out neatly on her desk and lock the front door behind her as she left.

“It’s no wonder that you invented me,” Drake said as they walked down the hall. “You say about fourteen words a day to Mr Perrigo and the rest of the conversations are things like bus drivers or people at the checkout when you go shopping.” Kayley imagined his devilishly handsome smile. “And also because I’m amazing.”

Kayley didn’t get a chance to reply. Instead she opened the office door and stepped into what felt like a whirlwind.

“Good morning, Kayley,” Mr Perrigo said. His normally immaculate white hair was wildly dishevelled and his tie was askew. “I’m a little flustered this morning, and I’m afraid that I’m going to run you quite ragged.”

Kayley slid out of her coat and unwound her scarf. “Of course, whatever needs doing,” she said. “Is everything okay?”

Mr Perrigo wrung his hands. “You have been an excellent employee,” he said. “You’re so discreet.”

“He’s going to fire me!” Kayley whispered to Drake, panicked.

“Stay calm and listen,” Drake murmured reassuringly.

“I hope that you will continue in your role as things develop,” Mr Perrigo said. He started pacing around the office. “You are quite invaluable.” He took a deep breath. “But, well, that is…”

“Should I make you a nice cup of tea?” Kayley asked carefully. “I saw some camomile tea bags in the cupboard.”

“I never know quite what to say in these situations,” Mr Perrigo said. He visibly pulled himself together. “I have a list.”

“I’ve never seen him so rattled,” Kayley murmured to Drake. “I hope everything is alright.” She felt Drake’s hand on her shoulder. It may be imaginary but it was also comforting.

Mr Perrigo pulled a list from his jacket pocket. “Right, um, yes… First of all, there are quite a few pages of manuscript of The Lothario of Leeds to type up.” He smiled wanly. “I write more when I’m stressed as it helps me relax.”

Kayley looked dubiously at the stack of paper on her desk. This looked at least triple the normal amount. “He must be frantic,” Drake whispered to her.

“I’ve ordered a selection of sandwiches,” Mr Perrigo continued. “Oh, wait a moment, I’m out of order. That’s right – I’m expecting a few people for a meeting. I’ve put a list of names on the table and you can show them into the drawing room. I’ve already got it all set up. I’ve ordered a selection of sandwiches from the shop down the road, the one where you get your Friday treat from, and I would be grateful if you would take an early lunch and pick them up on your way back.”

“Of course,” Kayley said. “It won’t be any bother. I can get all the plates and cups ready beforehand as well, if you like.”

“No, that’s all in hand,” Mr Perrigo managed. He paced faster, wringing his hands. “I am aware that this may be an inappropriate question, and I’m sure that a pretty young thing such as yourself has a frantically busy social life, but I wondered if you were available tonight.”

“Is he trying to hit on you?” Drake murmured in Kayley’s ear.

“I’m not suggesting anything inappropriate,” Mr Perrigo said hastily. “However there will be a dinner party which will also be something of a symposium – a gathering of minds, if you will, and I would be grateful if you could stay and take notes. Food would be provided, of course, and I will compensate you fairly for the extra hours.” He came to a sudden stop in front of Kayley’s desk. “And I would like you to speak with the vicar this afternoon,” he said. “The vicar will explain everything.”

“Is it a real vicar?” Kayley asked before she could stop herself. She could hear Drake chuckling inside her head.

Mr Perrigo looked at her blankly. “Of course. He is a little younger than you may expect, and he’s not very vicar-like, but he’s a properly ordained minister of the Church of England.” He grimaced. “He’s not what you may expect as a vicar, but he’s very good. Will you be able to stay?”

“Of course,” Kayley said. “I’ll be happy to.”

“Are you sure?” Mr Perrigo said. “Let me know if you can’t reschedule any social engagements. And I’ll pay for a taxi home, of course.”

“I’m fine,” Kayley said. “Is it about your herbal remedies?”

“The vicar will explain everything,” Mr Perrigo said. “Excuse me.”

Kayley watched him dive out the door and then mentally turned to Drake. “What was all that about?”

This is the first instalment of a story that is also being published on Royal Road. There are all sorts of wonderful stories by all sorts of authors if you feel like going over and having a look.

Research and the Author: Fruit

I wish I could have thought up a snappy title for this, but ‘Food for Thought’ is probably best kept for another article and ‘Fruit of Research’ was way too cheesy. Remember the reason for research is to stop the author looking like an idiot. This is definitely a piece that can be ignored. However I thought I’d mention a few things that may be useful, especially to those writing speculative fiction. The bag of apples and carton of strawberries that you load into your cart in the supermarket may not necessarily be the same as the apples and strawberries available to someone in medieval Europe. If that detail is important to you then this is a reminder to check stuff like ‘history of the strawberry’ to get the background. If it isn’t, just keep it in mind and keep writing.

If we’re talking about Kurt and Gwendolyn in Maine, most fruit is going to be available for most of the time. However you can slant things to reinforce the plot. If it’s November 10th then there will be plenty of cranberries around, perhaps even some grown locally. It’s a great way to show the run up to Thanksgiving and Christmas. Fresh strawberries, however, are likely to be imported, expensive and possibly not the best flavour. If you want to give a sense of summer, however, then perhaps our two characters can be buying fresh strawberries from a roadside stall in July. There probably won’t be many locally grown mangoes, though, if you want to be realistic. It’s easy to check what’s available and when and use to those facts to give depth to the story.

Lord Kurt and Miss Gwendolyn in London have less choice. There were some ships that used ice and salt to preserve their cargo but they were few and far between and obviously there are no delicate imports coming in by air (depending on the plot, of course). Lord Kurt and Miss Gwendolyn may have attended dinner parties where the pineapple was rented – I’ll let you google the background to that, because it’s fun and so very human. Bananas were also a curiosity, mentioned in Jules Verne Around the World in Eight Days. Even in the great port of London, most food was seasonal. However, as sugar was now widely available, there were plenty of preserved fruits. There were even such exotic preserves coming in such as pickled mango or preserved ginger.

There are problems with researching fruit. Determined aristocrats would try and grow almost anything in heated glasshouses, and fast ships with captains wanting to make money could make a lot of different fruits available to those with vast wealth. Researching ‘when did pineapples reach UK’ tends to show results going back to the seventeenth century and the nobility. In reality, fresh pineapple was still something amazing and unusual for most people when I was a youngster in the seventies. When Lord Kurt and Miss Gwendolyn were fighting against evil around Whitechapel and Limehouse, ordinary people still had food that was either local or easily imported. The trick is to work out when things become widely available. The dark Count Dominic may flaunt his wealth by having fresh strawberries served in November at his society dinner parties together with expensive preserved cherries and apricots in brandy, but the poor wretches he preys on in the slums of the East End are limited to apples or perhaps roast chestnuts from a barrow, together with sugary jam and sticky preserves. If you’re not sure, keep it simple and hurry past.

Kurt the Barbarian and Gwendolyn the Healer have a different set of challenges. Soft fruit like strawberries and raspberries is tough to preserve without sugar, freezers or refrigeration. It’s best to eat that sort of fruit as soon as possible after picking. Some fruit could be preserved in honey or wine, but that would be a luxury item. Even the fruits that were easier to store, such as apples, didn’t necessarily travel well. You had to stick with something local.

I’m going to be honest here, this is a rabbit hole that could swallow me whole. This is the point where I decide that no-one needs to know the menu. If I’m going to jump into that, I need more than a safety line; I need a parachute. Do I really need to know details if Gwendolyn the Healer presents Kurt the Barbarian with a dish of fruit? It’s just that a dish of fruit sounds so very drab compared to, for example, a dish of strawberries/bowl of fresh figs/some juicy guava.  

It’s important to remember that you created this world and therefore you have the absolute power to put anything anywhere. If you want to have stands of mango trees and date palms dotted around the icy wastes of the frozen north then you have the power to put them there. You run the risk of looking like an idiot, but it’s your world and your choice.

There are issues to consider which can add or subtract to your world building. Humans are meddling creatures who don’t leave things alone. Selective breeding of fruit and vegetables has been going on since the first farmers, so what the Romans knew as, for example, melons are considerably different to the melons you get today. If you are tying your world closely to real world societies and cultures, it’s worth having a quick glance at the history of food in that area. Not only have humans changed the fruit by careful breeding, but they’ve carried fruit with them as they travelled the world. Wonderful coffee comes from Brazil, but the plant originated in Ethiopia. Amazing tea comes from Kenya, but tea originated in China. If Kurt the Barbarian is looking over the fields that are sticking closely to 12th century Oxford, he won’t be looking at fields of pumpkins. For the same reason, if Gwendolyn the Healer is searching for herbs in the marketplace of Tarsh, it’s perfectly reasonable for her to bustle past a stand selling pomegranates or cucumbers, but even in that great crossroads, you won’t find papaya. And if Kurt the Barbarian and Gwendolyn the Healer are exploring the hills and coves on a tropical island, they’re not going to find many pear trees.

Of course, if you’re creating your own world, you can always make up names for the local fruit. I avoid this if I can as I am very bad at taking notes, I lack focus and I worry that the fnura fruit that I describe as yellow and sweet in chapter two could end up red and spicy in chapter ten. This is why I stick closely to real world equivalents. It’s to stop me looking like an idiot. And that is the entire point of research. Well, that and I love going down rabbit holes.

You can find more of the articles on Research and the Author here. I’d love to hear from you and please let me know if there are any areas you would like me to discuss.

Writing Prompt Number 6

Quotation:

There is no duty that we so much underrate as the duty of being happy – Robert Louis Stevenson

Welcome to the Writing Gym. This is a prompt for you to play with. You can use the picture, the quotation, a combination or just whatever sparks in your imagination after looking at them. It can be prose, poetry or non-fiction depending on how you feel and which writing muscles you need to work on.

The rules are here, and if you feel like sharing, drop a comment on this post with a link to your writing on your blog, a website, Facebook, Tumblr, Threads or wherever you felt comfortable posting. If you don’t feel like sharing, that’s okay. The important thing is to have fun.

Happy Writing!

Just the Job

Noah carefully stretched the whisk by the cord and hung it over the chopping board. “How about that?” he asked.

Naomi tilted her head to one side. “Hmm. I little more to the left,” she said.

Noah carefully didn’t look at the woman that was supposed to be his girlfriend. It felt more like a cross between slave driver and pet owner. “How about this?” he asked.

“Hmm,” Naomi said. “Perhaps back a smidgeon.”

They had started off okay but then her Instagram had started getting likes. Then they’d got a website and blog. “How about this?”

“Hmm. I guess so, but move the brush a little higher,” Naomi said. “No, the other brush.”

It wasn’t even a whisk. It was a fancy egg separator that had been send as part of a deal. When things had taken off it made sense for them to quit their jobs to concentrate on their social media content. “How about that?” Noah asked.

“Hmm. How about a tiny whisker higher?” Naomi said.

She was playing games again. As the Instagram account had all been in her name, the money followed it. Noah moved his hands across the brush without actually touching the thread. “How about that?” he asked.

“That’s way too high!” Naomi said. “Lower it back down.”

And various demands had drained his savings so that he was completely reliant on his earnings as Naomi’s assistant. “How about that?” Noah asked.

“That’s better,” Naomi said. He could sense her frowning behind him. “Are you sure about that rolling pin?”

“It’s part of the deal,” Noah said. Naomi had thrown a fit when his aunt died and left him a few hundred in her will, money that he had immediately stashed away while lying about paying for car repairs.

“Hmm. The deal is pretty sweet,” Naomi said. “Perhaps a smidgeon higher.”

Noah adjusted the rolling pin. “How about that?” he asked. He did as least as much work as Naomi but he didn’t have enough money to replace his worn jeans while she wore designer shoes.

“Hmm. Yes, that’s perfect. Can I leave it all in your capable hands?” Naomi said. “I need to head to the spa. I need to be glowing for the collaboration tonight.”

“Sure, no problem,” Noah said. He was used to taking the pictures, captioning, posting on Instagram, X, Tumblr, Pinterest, Facebook, Slack, Substack, the website, blog and adding to the newsletter. It was second nature to him now. Besides, if Naomi was going to the spa then straight across town for the collaboration, that gave him plenty of time to grab the few things he wanted to take with him, sell his car and get a train ticket to York.

The job advert had obviously been posted by a lunatic, offering a small salary and accommodation in York in return for ghost-writing and ‘social media things.’ Kadogan sounded a little crazy, but after talking with Kadogan’s rep, it sounded like a reasonable sort of crazy, and that had to be an improvement.  

You can find the full story from the beginning here Back at the White Hart

Invitation Accepted Chapter Twenty Eight

Image from WikiCommons and in the Public Domain

Kidder could feel the Orache Stone echoing in his mind. “Don’t distract me, Yvonne,” he hissed mentally. “We need to stay alert.” He walked steadily behind Edragor as they crossed the car park and through the small side door.

“I need to be physically touching you,” Yvonne said. “I need to have a physical connection to make the bond. Then you can take over the pack.”

“I’m not taking over the pack,” Kidder said.

“You could if you wanted,” Yvonne muttered.

Kidder inwardly rolled his eyes as he paced along the corridor but outwardly he kept his composure, keeping all thoughts on the inside. “We need to make the link so that I get all the power, then we get out of here,” he said. “And we need to take down Edragor on the way.”

“You definitely need me for that,” Yvonne said smugly. “And I’ll be glad to help,” it added with an edge of malice.

Kidder didn’t answer immediately. Edragor was a problem that he didn’t know how to solve. His acolyte or assistant or sidekick, Dan, would be easier. They guy looked on the edge of a breakdown. Kidder had been silent when Dan had edged into the cellar and left extra food and drink for him, nervously pushed up against the bars before he scuttled away but had noted the fear in Dan’s eyes. He was probably as much a prisoner as Kidder. Edragor was another matter. “What are those things walking next to Edragor?” he asked Yvonne.

“I’m not sure,” Yvonne said hesitantly. “Remember, I’ve spent most of my time in a hole in the ground.” There was a pause. “But I know that they are death.”

Kidder felt a chill spilling through his chest. “They said that there were wraiths at Claire’s memorial,” he said. He stumbled a little over the stone floor.

Edragor looked over his shoulder. “I trust that you’re not reconsidering,” he said.

“No,” Kidder said. “I’m just out of practice with walking. I’ve been stuck in a cage.”

Edragor stopped and turned to him. “You understand the deal, don’t you?” he said. “You get the power to rule. In exchange, you help me with a few issues.” He leaned closer to Kidder. “But the Orache Stone will only work with you if I channel it correctly. Mark went mad trying. So did Fang – you remember how that worked out for you? You need my protection.”

“He’s lying,” Yvonne said into Kidder’s mind. “I mean, I feel bad about the madness but that’s nothing to do with him.” It paused. “They never talked to me.”

Kidder fought down the fear as he faced Edragor. “I understand. You connect me to the Orache Stone and then I get to show a few people how to lead a pack.”

“That’s right,” Edragor said. “And in return you help me out with a little power from that Orache Stone. It can cloud your mind and confuse you. I’ll ensure that you can channel things correctly. We can have little… talks and I’ll explain it all to you.” He tilted his head and looked at Kidder thoughtfully. “Though I’m sure that you’ll pick things up quickly enough. You seem like a bright young man.”

Kidder watched Dan flinch. “I look forward to them,” he lied. “I’m sure that I’ll learn a lot.”

Edragor studied Kidder for a moment before turning and continuing a stately place along the corridor. “Down these steps,” Edragor said. “We’re nearly there.”

“Those things are dark! Those things are dark!” Yvonne was almost vibrating with nerves as images of the shadows surrounding Edragor swirled into Kidder’s mind. “I don’t know what to do!”

“Calm down,” Kidder soothed. “They can’t hurt you, can they?”

“I don’t want to be dark!” Yvonne said, panic rolling from her in waves. “I want the crumpets!” A vivid image of buttered crumpets, hot tea, a soft chair and friends around the fireplace that Yvonne had taken from Kidder’s memories flew at Kidder.

“If you can’t be calm then there’s a risk that you can’t help me,” Kidder said as he reached the top of the steps. He floundered for a moment. You couldn’t tell a magical stone to count breaths as a calming technique. “Remember the quiet time afterwards. Concentrate on that.”

“I won’t help Edragor,” Yvonne said, its voice catching. “I’ll burn him first.”

Kidder’s heart almost broke at the fear lacing through the Orache Stone. “We deal with Edragor first, then the wraiths,” he said. “Because if Edragor goes then there’s a chance that the wraiths go as well, and at least he can’t summon more if he’s dead.” Kidder hesitated.

Yvonne read the hesitation perfectly. “I don’t want to kill anyone anymore either,” it said. “But we have to. We have to kill them or there will be more that become like Fang or Mark. You shouldn’t be driven to that.” It hesitated. “I don’t want you to be like that. And then someone else will be used up after.”

Kidder did all he could to send mental reassurance through to the Orache Stone. Yvonne was obviously feeling fragile. “Do you have any ideas about how to deal with Edragor?” he asked.

“I can’t face his magic head on,” Yvonne said. “But I can disrupt it.” There was a brief hesitation as Kidder reached the bottom of the stairs. “I may not be strong enough to disrupt Edragor’s magic unless we try something different.”

“You’re nervous,” Kidder said.

“You could destroy me,” Yvonne said.

Kidder’s instinctive reaction was complete revulsion at the idea. He struggled to work out the right words. “We’ve been friends together in a dark place,” he said. “I won’t do that.”

“You see the wraiths, if that’s the word, they’re dark energy. They’re bad and scary and evil and…”

“Yvonne!” Kidder cried. He tried a gentler mental connection. “We’re in this together. Tell me what you need.” He followed Edragor along the dark corridor.

“Once we’re linked, I can suck the power from the wraiths. You’ll have to give me some direction, but between us we should manage. Then you can use that power against Edragor to disrupt his energy.” Tension rang through Yvonne’s voice. “But when I’m taking in that power, I’m fragile. You’ll need to protect me or I’ll break.” The fear in its voice was heartbreaking. “You could destroy me.”

“No,” Kidder said. “But we’ll have to be quick. We make the link – and I have no idea how that will happen – then straight away we need to drag the power from the wraiths as quickly as possible. Edragor will be trying to stop us.” Kidder glanced over his shoulder at the man shuffling behind them. “I’m not sure about Dan.”

“He’s weaker than Edragor,” Yvonne said. “Oh! We’re here.”

Kidder had been too caught up in their mental discussion to pay attention to his surroundings. Now, looking around, his heart sank. A pale body was stretched out on a table on one side of the room. The Orache Stone – Yvonne – was on a plinth on the other side. Elaborate magical circles had been chalked around each and candles and incense were placed at strategic points.

“Is that Claire?” Kidder asked.

“Mark was so insistent,” Edragor said. “After some thought, it seemed only right that I upheld my side of the bargain and brought Claire back.”

Kidder felt sick. He waited at the entrance to the room. “Can I just cross the circles?” he asked doubtfully.

“One moment,” Edragor said, checking the room and murmuring a few Latin words. A brief mist fell from the ceiling and washed through the room, leaving the wraiths scattering and pressed against the walls. Edragor nodded in satisfaction. “Good, the room is ready.” He carefully stepped through a gap in the chalked circle. “Step through here, and here only,” he said. “Stand there, next to the Orache Stone.”

Kidder followed his directions and stood, expressionless, next to the plinth. He could feel the nerves in Yvonne and he fought to keep his breathing even. He couldn’t let Edragor guess that anything was wrong, but a little tension would be normal. He was about to make a connection with a powerful magical artifact that could potentially destroy him. It was entirely reasonable that his shoulders were so racked with tension.

Kidder willed himself to stay calm. He remembered what had happened to Mark and Fang, but they hadn’t been sane to start with and at least Yvonne was talking to him. The Orache Stone had sounded brittle with nerves. Once the connection was made, though, he could direct Yvonne to pull the energy from the wraiths while he shifted and lunged at Edragor. It was risky – the dark mage was dangerous, but he didn’t have many choices. As for Dan, Kidder didn’t think that he would be a problem. From the look in his eye, he was halfway to bolting anyway.

Kidder stood obediently in the triangle Dan chalked around him and watched as the wraiths pressed back against the cellar walls. Whatever Edragor was chanting was making them unsettled. Kidder glanced over at the Orache Stone. Edragor had recast the stone and a strange glamour hung over Yvonne, giving it a mysterious, ancient look. As the chant grew higher, Kidder could feel something tugging, but he pushed it away. Edragor needed him to agree to the sorcerer’s control, he realised. While Kidder stood passively in that chalked triangle, the link was being made but his mind was still completely under control.

Edragor picked the Orache Stone up reverently, then passed it over to Kidder. A leather thong was passed repeatedly through incense smoke, this time with Dan chanting carefully, before the thong was passed to Kidder to thread through Yvonne’s new mounting. Kidder impassively slid the cord through the hoop and then hung it around his neck. Edragor lifted his hands, snapped out Latin phrases and the connection between Kidder and Yvonne clicked.

Kidder didn’t have time to shift. Instead he sprinted into Edragor, shoulder charging him to the ground.

“Watch the circle!” Dan cried.

They are so dark!” Yvonne cried as the wraiths started to twist.

Edragor snarled as he pointed a finger at Kidder. “You will burn!

Kidder kicked him hard in the ribs, rolling him over on the hard stone floor. “Bastard!”

Watch the circle!” Dan repeated, looking around anxiously. “It keeps out the wraiths!”

Edragor grimaced as he reached for Yvonne’s plinth. “There’s more than one way to break a circle.” He winced in pain as he pushed the stand over. It rocked slowly then fell across the chalked lines of the circle. “Get him!”

Dan screamed as the wraiths started advancing. He snatched up an athame from the altar and held it, trembling, in front of him.

“Too much power! Too much power!” Yvonne was practically singing as it called out, frantic.

Kidder glanced at the advancing wraiths. They were reduced, but still dark and their touch would be death. “Dump it on Edragor then pull more out of the wraiths,” he yelled, aiming another swinging kick at Edragor’s ribs.

“Hold on!” Yvonne screamed.

Dan fell to his knees and howled, holding his head as Kidder felt a wave of power breaking over the room and washing through him.

“You can’t kill me!” Edragor cried, struggling back to his feet.

The wraiths were edging closer. “Drain the power, Yvonne!” Kidder yelled.

Incredulity flashed across Edragor’s face but he held out a shaking hand and pointed at Kidder. “You will obey me!”

“His power is unstable!” Yvonne called out. “It’s going wrong.”

“Pull up the power,” Kidder snapped, struggling out of his clothes.

The wraiths flickered and writhed but they were inching closer. “Edragor’s holding power,” Dan yelled. “He stores it somehow and I can feel it splitting.”

“There’s too much death!” Yvonne sounded almost hysterical.

“Hold on!” Kidder yelled, starting to shift.

“That dark man, his power is building!” Yvonne yelled. “I’m taking power.”

As his jaw elongated to a wolfish snout, Kidder mentally cried to Yvonne. “Protect yourself.” As he flowed into his wolf form he raced towards Edragor, snarling.

The door crashed open. Edragor flinched and Kidder’s jaws missed his throat, closing instead around his shoulder. It didn’t matter. He sank his fangs in deep and shook the dark magician like a rag doll.

“Kidder!” Yvonne cried. “It’s out of balance!”

Kidder could feel it. The magic seemed to be bouncing around the room as, to Kidder’s relief, Steve, Sir Dylan and Sir Philip stormed in. Their swords that swept through the wraiths, leaving shimmering trails of magic in their wake.

Gareth followed with Tyler close beside him and Darren behind, covering the rear with sword and gun. “Kidder, you’re safe!”

“I can’t hold it!” Yvonne cried.

Steve swore wildly. “Everyone down,” he snapped. “It’s going wild.” He flung himself down next to the cowering Dan.

Most of the wraiths had been cut down and the few remnants were flickering as they backed away from the intruders. “Edragor!” Yvonne screams and a shock wave of magic runs through the room.

Kidder howled as the shock forced him back to human form, dazed and clutching at Yvonne. He could feel the hysteria running through her as even his untrained senses overloaded with fractured magic. Running at instinct, he channelled it all at Edragor.

Edragor stared at Kidder wildly. “That stone is mine!” he said. “Give it to me.”

“Don’t let him touch me!” Yvonne cried.

Kidder scrabbled back away from him and swore.

“Watch the wraiths!” Dan yelled.

Kidder couldn’t turn to watch the wraiths. Instead he was transfixed, staring at Edragor. As the man reached out towards the Orache Stone, the edges of his fingers were turning black and cracking. Under Kidder’s horrified gaze, the stain spread across Edragor’s hand and up his sleeve. Cracks followed and then the hand started to flake, tiny fragments of dust and ash at first but then larger chunks. Edragor was crumbling to dust.

“Everybody stay down!” Steve yelled.

“Too much power!” Yvonne cried, almost vibrating against Kidder’s chest.

Edragor exploded.

Kidder forced himself to his feet and looked around. Fine, dark dust covered everything. Steve was carefully dousing candles while Darren poured water over the incense. Yvonne was almost trembling in its setting. The wraiths had disappeared and only the dusty remnants of chalked sigils and the remains of Claire on the nearby table together with the puddle of dusty clothes on the floor were evidence that Edragor had ever existed. Dan was still huddled on the floor, rocking and sobbing in shock.

“It’s good to see you,” Gareth said. “We were looking everywhere for you. Are you okay?”

“I’m unhurt,” Kidder said, stroking Yvonne in an attempt to soothe it. “How did you find us? Edragor said that you were blocked.”

Gareth grinned. “I’m not an expert,” he said. “But Steve is.”

“Dan was the one who found this place,” Kidder said. “I wondered at the time. I mean, why pick the mill where all your enemies are based?” He crouched down next to Dan. “Did you pick this place on purpose? Did you want us to be found?”

Dan caught his breath and nodded. “I’m sorry.”

Gareth put a hand on his shoulder. “It’s okay,” he said. “We’ll have a long talk later, but thank you for making it easier for us.” He stood and turned to Kidder. “Now we need to destroy the Orache Stone.”

Kidder could feel the fear and heartbreak pouring out of Yvonne. “No,” he said.

Gareth took a wary step closer. “You know what it did to Mike and Fang,” he said. “But it’s weakened now.” He stretched out a hand. “Give it to me.”

Kidder stared into his steady gaze and took a step back, flicking his eyes around the room at the men advancing. “I will never give it up.” Summoning the extra energy from Yvonne and some instinct he didn’t know he had, a sheet of flame shot between him and Gareth. When it fell, Kidder was gone.

Gareth looked around the wrecked cellar. “That could have gone better,” he said.

You can read the story from the beginning here

New Year, Same Old Me

This is my first chatty post of 2024, and it’s traditional to give tips on ‘how to make things work’ and ‘how I schedule’ or ‘planning for the New Year’. Anyone who has followed any of my stuff will snigger at the thought of me not only actually planning something, but also sticking to it as well!

I swear that if I decide to turn right, plan to turn right and let everyone know that I’m going to turn right, that I’ll absolutely without question end up turning left. I have issues. I may even have a syndrome, like the Hulk in Avengers Assemble. Whatever it is, I refuse to make promises, no matter what the calendar says.

In theory, hopefully, with a following wind and a little luck, this year my posting schedule on here should like something like this. Monday is when I put up a little flash fiction. I’m currently playing around with the characters from the White Hart, but who knows what else could come up. Tuesday should see a writing prompt. It’s quite selfish and I’m using it like a gym, a way of strengthening my writing muscles, but all are welcome. Wednesday should be some sort of chat or news or my thoughts on the world. Thursday should be the ongoing story that’s also being posted on Royal Road, although I may also do some catch up on other stories. Friday should be a book review to keep me reading.

That is the theory. All bets are off now that I’ve committed it to paper. I’m currently sitting here with a hacking cough and a wide selection of aches and pains. January and February are also traditionally when I’m lowest, so I’m trying not to plan too much for the next month or so.

I absolutely have no right to share anything to do with planning. However I hope to get a lot more writing done. Avid readers have a TBR pile – a ‘To Be Read’ pile. I have a TBW, a ‘To Be Written’ list. Kane deserves to have his story told and I should finish off the story at the hotel. I’ve been muttering about re-writing Across a Misty Bridge for years. I’ve got some ideas for what could be happening to Darren (poor lad) and some of the side characters from the White Hart. I wouldn’t mind revisiting the characters from ‘Grumpy Old Gods’ who I’m sure are getting up to plenty of trouble. I also need to look back at the books that were previously published by the awesome Three Furies Press and perhaps get them back in print. And then there’s all the other stories… My ‘To Be Written’ list, if written on a length of paper, in two columns, in small writing, would be at least as tall as me. I’m not that short.

I refuse to put what I’m planning next as that has, in the past, been the utter kiss of death to any project. However I hope that you would consider keeping me company on this journey. I listen to requests, I want to hear you, and I am utterly dependent on encouragement. And there is a surprisingly wide selection of paths I could pursue. Did you know that I was considering writing a Mrs Tuesday’s Book of Household Hints? Or a ‘How not to Housekeep‘ type book. I currently live in a domestic disaster, so I should have a lot of experience to offer that.

This is the time of year to make promises. Bitter experience tells me that I fail at promises. However I am very comfortable letting any reader know that I am grateful for their attention and that I will do my best and saints can’t do more.

If you have any requests, ideas or comments, I would love to hear from you. I make no promises, but I will absolutely listen.

Writing Prompt Number 5

Quotation:

The world is full of willing people, some willing to work, the rest willing to let themRobert Frost

Welcome to the Writing Gym. This is a prompt for you to play with. You can use the picture, the quotation, a combination or just whatever sparks in your imagination after looking at them. It can be prose, poetry or non-fiction depending on how you feel and which writing muscles you need to work on.

The rules are here, and if you feel like sharing, drop a comment on this post with a link to your writing on your blog, a website, Facebook, Tumblr, Threads or wherever you felt comfortable posting. If you don’t feel like sharing, that’s okay. The important thing is to have fun.

Happy Writing!

Conversations

“She’s up to something,” Mrs Tuesday told Fiona as they watched Lady Freydis pace behind the counter.

Fiona shuddered. “It’s probably about the book,” she said. “She’s still obsessed with that.”

“There’s not that much to write,” Mrs Tuesday said as she watched Lady Freydis wander over towards Kadogan.

Fiona frowned. “Kadogan has been a bit twitchy as well,” she said. “He’s complaining about our lack of social media.”

“We haven’t got social media,” Mrs Tuesday said. “The elfen can’t cope with computers because of the flicker of the display, the boggarts all use the newsletter and the werewolves and brownies go straight to the website.”

“He’s part owner,” Fiona said. “That means he has a say. He could insist.”

Kadogan was brooding next to the candle display. “Lady Freydis,” he said, bowing. “I have some concerns and would like advice.”

“I, too, would like your considerations,” Lady Freydis said, returning the bow.

Kadogan marshalled his thoughts. “Writing is hard,” he said.

“Indeed it is,” Lady Freydis said.

“And only three candles have been ordered on the website,” Kadogan said. “So few know of that website as we do not have the things…” He scrambled for the words. “On the internet, the Instagram and suchlike.”

“I have worked so hard to write the book on coffee,” Lady Freydis said sadly. “And it would be a great addition to the shop.”

“The candles are neglected,” Kadogan said. “As the newsletter merely talks about herbs and incense.”

“I would love to give my benevolence to the shop with the coffee book,” Lady Freydis said. “But ruling takes so much of my time.”

“The candles are popular in the shop,” Kadogan said. “But they are neglected and unsold elsewhere.”

“I am confident that the elfen princes would buy my book,” Lady Freydis said mournfully.

“She’s not wrong there,” Mrs Tuesday said. “It would be a best seller for the non-normals, just for novelty value.”

“If only there was someone who could write about candles on … things for us,” Kadogan said.

“If only there was someone who could write the coffee book for me,” Lady Freydis said.

Fiona looked at Mrs Tuesday. “I can see where this is going,” she said.

“A ghostwriter is not a ghost,” Lady Freydis said carefully.

“Is a ghostwriter someone who writes about ghosts?” Kadogan said. “Could they write about candles?”

“A ghostwriter is someone who writes what they are told to,” Lady Freydis said. “For example, a ghostwriter could write a book about coffee, under my complete direction, and put my name as the author.”

Kadogan looked thoughtful. “Or candles. This ghostwriter could write about candles. They could write about candles on the things.”

Lady Freydis nodded. “They could write about coffee and candles on the things and they could write books on coffee and candles,” she said.

“And at least some of the rest of the shop,” Kadogan said airily, waving his hand over the 97% of the shop that was neither coffee nor candles. “Fiona, we need a ghostwriter. Please find one.”

“I will contribute to the hiring costs,” Lady Freydis added. “After all, they will be writing about my coffee here.”

Fiona ran a tired hand over her face. “This is going to be hell, isn’t it?”

“It’s going to be hilarious,” Mrs Tuesday said. “I can’t wait.”

You can find the full story from the beginning here Back at the White Hart