Silver and Gold to be Published by Candlemark & Gleam

I’m delighted to announce that my fantasy novella Silver and Gold is going to be published as an ebook by Candlemark & Gleam later this year. It’s a tale of magic, friendship, and rebellion set in a world inspired by the Aztec and Mayan civilisations.

The goldsmith Cualli lives in a land of endless summer, where blood sacrifices hold back the dark of winter. Through her craft, she grants power to priests and soldiers, channelling the magic of Emperor Sun. But what matters to Cualli is not power; it is proving herself as the empire’s finest goldsmith.

Not everyone feels blessed by the empire’s blood-stained faith. Dissent is turning to rebellion and the rebels want Cualli on their side, whether she likes it or not. When the season of sacrifice threatens the lives of her closest friends, Cualli must face a choice: will she fight for change through the illegal magic of silver, or will she bask in her own triumph and the endless golden summer?

You can read the full announcement for the book on the publisher’s website, and I’ll share more details here when I have them.

Omens in Blood and Bone – a fantasy short story

Hesper stood in black robes behind a battered travelling table, a map of the battlefield rolled out in front of her. She cast the bones over the map again and again, and every time the omens came up the same.

Of course they did. There was no cheating the future.

The screams and clashing of blades was growing closer.

The tent flap was flung open and General Soraya stormed in, her face smeared with soot, blood dripping dark as tar from her sword. Her armour gleaming red and gold in the candlelight.

“I should cut you down where I stand,” Soraya roared, pointing at Hesper with her blade. “What use is a military astrologer who can’t tell me how to win?”

Hesper took a step back, hands raised. “I did what you told me to. I cast the bones, read the omens, guided you based on what I saw.”

“You told me that our cavalry’s best chance was on the right flank.”

“And that was true. They would have been killed in half the time if you’d put them on the left.”

“You told me to advance, and we walked straight into a hail of arrows!” Soraya slammed her gauntleted fist against the table, making marble counters jump.

“If you had held back, they would have had longer to shoot at you.”

“I pay you to look into the future.” Soraya advanced. Hesper backed away, keeping the table between her and the furious commander. “To tell me how I can win my battles. To ensure victory.”

“And that worked, as long as the other side didn’t have an astrologer of their own.”

“What?”

Hesper held up the bones.

“With two of us, the outcome became inevitable. Each predicted what the other would advise, how the future would play out, until we reached the optimum battle. They had an unbeatable approach, and all I could do was save us from utter disaster.”

“If I’d known you were leading me to disaster, I would have had your head days ago.” Soraya brought her blade down, smashing the table to pieces.

“That’s why I didn’t tell you. I foresaw how you would respond.”

“Yet here you are.” Soraya stepped over the splintered planks, her face twisted with fury. “And here you will pay the price of failure.”

Hesper shrugged. “If I’d been on the battlefield, you would have killed me there and then. If I’d run, you would have pursued and caught me later. But if I waited here, and if we paused to have this conversation…”

The tent flap burst open and half a dozen soldiers strode in, their armour painted blue and silver.

“General Soraya.” Their leader pointed his sword at the general, and triumph gleamed in green eyes. “We have you. Surrender or die.”

“Death before dishonour!” Soraya swung her sword. There was a clang of steel on steel, then the soldiers moved in to surround her.

Hesper stepped back. In the entrance to the tent, a man stood wearing black robes like her own. He nodded to her, one professional greeting another, while between them the soldiers fought to the death. Hesper nodded back.

She cast her bones across the shattered remains of the table. The omens looked good, all things considered. A good astrologer couldn’t always save their employer, but they could save themself.

***

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it then you might want to sign up to my mailing list, where you’ll get a free ebook and a flash story straight to your inbox every Friday.

***

By Sword, Stave or Stylus

By Sword, Stave or Stylus - High Resolution

A gladiator painting with manticore blood.

A demon detective policing Hell.

A ninja who can turn into shadow.

Prepare to be swept away to worlds beyond our own in these thirteen short fantasy stories.

Action, art and mystery all feature in this collection, available in all ebook formats.

From reader reviews:

‘These fantasy genre stories take wordsmithing and storytelling to great heights.’ – Writerbees Book Reviews

‘There isn’t a single story in here I don’t love. All short and sweet (or dark), all fantasy with history woven through, all a slightly skewed perspective that will make you rethink assumptions. Totally worth a read.’

Immortal – a fantasy short story

I dragged myself through the last tangle of thorns, leaving scarlet trails across my hands and face, and emerged into a clearing. In the centre was a pool of deep water reflecting the clear blue of the sky. A woman sat beside it in flowing robes, and as she turned to look at me I instinctively straightened my tailcoat.

Portrait of a Girl’s Head by
Sir George Clausen

“My lady.” I doffed my hat. “I have journeyed around the world to find you.”

“I know.”

Her sigh was the fluttering of butterfly wings.

“I am Sir Gideon Whiting,” I continued, “scholar, adventurer, knight of the realm. Perhaps you’ve heard of me?”

“I’ve heard of everyone, Sir Gideon. It happens when you have eternity to fill.”

“So it’s true!” I sank to my knees beside her.

“I know everything, yes. Every detail of your story, from the abandoned child in the industrial slum to the trek through deserts and jungles that brought you here. I know your true mother’s name, your deepest regret, the thrill and the shame of your first kiss.”

I was astounded, yet also disconcerted. She matched my vision of an immortal, full of beauty and grace, but where was the power and pride of an omniscient immortal?

“So you see it all?” I asked, feeling a little embarrassed as the implication sank in.

“History is a circle, Sir Gideon. I am fated to survive each turn of that circle and be there for the start of the next. I know about you because you have told me it all before.”

“Amazing,” I whispered.  “The things you must have seen.”

“Yes, I have seen and heard and tasted every detail of this world, done it so many times that I know it all. I am utterly, unbearably bored.”

“Perhaps there’s something I can do to entertain you?” I asked. “A joke, a story, a song…”

“We’ve tried that before. Trust me, you get boring pretty quickly.”

“Oh.” I slumped. “So what do you want from me? Can I help you to end this cycle?”

The thought was a terrible one, but sometimes terrible acts were needed, and my revolver sat ready at my hip.

“You think I haven’t tried? After a while, even blowing your own brains out gets boring.”

“Then what’s the point?” I asked, staring at my fat, useless hands. “What’s the point if I can’t change anything?”

“Go back and enjoy your life, Sir Gideon. Be grateful that it’s the only one you have.”

***

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it then you might want to sign up to my mailing list, where you’ll get a free ebook and a flash story straight to your inbox every Friday.

***

By Sword, Stave or Stylus

By Sword, Stave or Stylus - High Resolution

A gladiator painting with manticore blood.

A demon detective policing Hell.

A ninja who can turn into shadow.

Prepare to be swept away to worlds beyond our own in these thirteen short fantasy stories.

Action, art and mystery all feature in this collection, available in all ebook formats.

From reader reviews:

‘These fantasy genre stories take wordsmithing and storytelling to great heights.’ – Writerbees Book Reviews

‘There isn’t a single story in here I don’t love. All short and sweet (or dark), all fantasy with history woven through, all a slightly skewed perspective that will make you rethink assumptions. Totally worth a read.’

How I Found My Homeland – a fantasy short story

I woke up soaked on an unfamiliar beach, the remains of the lifeboat scattered like a shattered shell around me. Lifting my face from the sand, I was amazed to see an otter and a stork sitting a few feet away, staring at me.

“Oh good, you’re alive,” the otter said.

“We didn’t know how to tell,” the stork explained. “You being such a strange creature.”

Talking animals. Clearly, I was either asleep or deluded. I slapped myself across the face, hoping it would snap me back to reality.

“I don’t think he’s well,” the stork muttered out of the corner of his beak.

I slapped myself again.

“Is that working for you?” the stork asked.

“No.”

“I’ll help.” The otter scurried over and started slapping me back and forth. “Is that working?”

“Ow ow ow stop!”

“Alright, but it was your idea.”

I got to my feet and looked around. The beach was a glorious ribbon of gold backed by gently rolling dunes. Across an inlet, verdant woodland grew above rugged cliffs. A lighthouse stood proud in front of the trees.

I had no idea where I was, but the sky was blue and clear with just a few fluffy white clouds.

“You look confused,” the stork said. “We should get you to someone who can help.”

I followed them along the beach. The way I saw it, there were two options. Either I was imagining them talking, in which case following did no harms, or my scrambled brain was seeing people as animals, in which case they really could help. Either way, this was the best option.

We approached a small town spread across the sides of the inlet and up the river beyond. Cobbled streets were lined with houses that ranged from the tiny to the towering. Quays stretched across the inlet, sheltering a host of sailing boats. The streets bustled with life, from scurrying mice to a giraffe clopping down towards the shore, and birds circled above, gossipping and singing to each other.

My guides led me to a harbour master’s office, where a grisly bear sat hunched behind a desk, a quill pen pinched between her claws.

“What have you two found?” she asked, staring at me.

“I think he’s some kind of ape,” the otter said.

“Or she is,” the stork added. “Can’t tell with that strange fur all over it.”

“Pleased to meet you,” I said, holding out my hand.

The bear stretched out a paw and I took it, expecting to feel the reassuring touch of human fingers beneath my delusion. Instead I felt fur, as real as the floorboards beneath my feet or the sand that had found its way into my underwear.

Perhaps I was still asleep. I pinched myself on the back of the hand but failed to wake up. The bear imitated the gesture, pinching her own furred flesh.

“You have very strange greetings,” she said, “wherever you come from.”

Somehow, that made it all seem more real.

“I come from Brighton,” I said. “The ship I was travelling on was wrecked and now I’m hoping someone can transport me home.”

“I see. Where is this Brighton?”

“South of London.”

“And this London is…”

“London. The capital of England.”

The bear tilted her head on one side.

“And where is this England?”

I gaped at her.

“You run this harbour, and you don’t know-”

“North, east, south, west?”

“I… I don’t know.”

I stood aghast. If this wasn’t England – a point I wasn’t yet ready to concede – its inhabitants must at least know which way home lay.

“Then I’m afraid we can’t take you.”

So that was how it went. They’d trapped me here somehow. Well, I wasn’t going to stand for it.

“I’ll take myself!” I stormed out the door and strode down to the harbour. Animals turned to watch me – dogs, cats, sheep, a family of voles – but I ignored them. They weren’t real, and that meant they weren’t worth my time.

At the end of the quay, I leapt onto the nearest boat.

“Here, what are you doing?” a salamander said, sitting up in a deck chair at the front of the vessel.

“I’m sailing for England,” I declared, grabbing hold of a rope.

“Not on my boat, you’re not!”

“Just try to stop me!” I said, glaring down at him. No figment of my imagination was keeping me from home.

“So you’re a sailor, then?” asked a familiar voice from the harbour side. The otter was peering down at me, and I could have sworn that he was smirking.

“No, a carpenter,” I admitted. “But this is my dream, and if I can work out how to talk with otters then I can work out how to sail a boat. I just have to… to…”

I looked at the rope in my hands. I didn’t even know if it was connected to anything, never mind what it did.

“Come see something,” the otter said.

With a sigh, I climbed out of the boat and followed him through town, across a bridge, up a trail, and into the lighthouse. We ascended its circling stairs and emerged onto a platform below the light.

Looking out, I saw green fields and wide forests in one direction, endless blue ocean in the other, and below it all the most idyllic little town I’d ever seen.

“I don’t know what it’s like in Brighton,” the otter said, “but around here, life’s peaceful and pleasant, there’s plenty to eat, and, well, it looks like this.” He gestured with his little paws. “Maybe just stay for a few days, while you work out how to get home.”

I looked. Given what my real life was like, a little more dreaming might not be so bad.

“Alright,” I said. “Just a few days, then I’ll leave.”

“Of course you will,” the otter said with a smile.

***

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it then you might want to sign up to my mailing list, where you’ll get a free ebook and a flash story straight to your inbox every Friday.

***

By Sword, Stave or Stylus

By Sword, Stave or Stylus - High Resolution

A gladiator painting with manticore blood.

A demon detective policing Hell.

A ninja who can turn into shadow.

Prepare to be swept away to worlds beyond our own in these thirteen short fantasy stories.

Action, art and mystery all feature in this collection, available in all ebook formats.

From reader reviews:

‘These fantasy genre stories take wordsmithing and storytelling to great heights.’ – Writerbees Book Reviews

‘There isn’t a single story in here I don’t love. All short and sweet (or dark), all fantasy with history woven through, all a slightly skewed perspective that will make you rethink assumptions. Totally worth a read.’

Dancing Back to Life – a flash fantasy story

Spring almost killed us. It came early, a welcome but unexpected guest who coaxed the crops into life a month before their time. But no sooner had it placed a foot across the threshold than spring withdrew, leaving us in the icy embrace of winter. Those first shoots of precious green faltered, their tentative life force fading. Even when spring returned in full enthusiasm, the plants lay limp and pale.

No sooner had the fear of starvation sunk in than old Mags offered an alternative.

“Nature has lost its rhythm,” she said. “We must give it ours.”

For two days, we set aside pitchforks and ploughs in favour of hammers and saws, building a dance floor out among the fields. We decorated it with dried flowers and bunting and set up a platform for the band. When it was done, every one of us put on our best clothes and gathered beneath a star-dappled sky.

“Remember,” Mags said as she led us onto the floor, “everything must be silent. No chatter, no singing, no music.” She looked pointedly at the band. “The rhythm is not for us, not until the magic is complete.”

While the band took their nervous place on the platform, the rest of us found partners and formed a silent circle. Mags nodded to the band.

They started uncertainly. The drummer twitched his sticks an inch above the skin. The lute player strummed thin air. The flautist set his mouth to the lip plate but kept breathing through his nose. They looked nervously at each other, struggling to find their place without sound, but slowly some spirit took hold. They started grinning and miming with greater confidence.

The band leader gave a nod.

As one, we surged forward into the circle, following the memories of music. The only sounds were the swish of cotton and the scrape of leather-soled shoes against the floor. We paced and twirled, spun our partners in our arms, swapped pairings and began again. Like the band, we started to feel the rhythm.

There was no break between the songs, no time to rest. For hours we danced, as the evening darkened into night and then lightened again. We danced until our feet were sore and our legs weary, until our stifled laughter no longer threatened to break free. We danced as we had never danced before – silent, desperate, pleading with the world to acknowledge us.

The fields around us began to rustle. Stalks shifted as if in the wind, and as dawn approached we could see that the crops were stiffening, their leaves darkening, buds bursting into life.

We looked expectantly to Mags for the signal that it was over, but she shook her head and stared pointedly across the land. By the first light of day, we saw that our magic had barely touched half the fields, that the rhythm of nature still lay broken.

We danced on, though our heels were blistered and our bodies trembling. The band kept up their silent music, though their faces were drawn and their movements limp.

Then Mags stumbled, an easy thing to do on rough boards and old legs. The rhythm faltered. Around us the plants slumped.

I saw what had to happen. I lunged across the circle, took Mags by the waist, and swung her around, skirts flying, a wild move from the old dances. I shot an urgent look at the dancer behind me, a silent and desperate plea.

Imitating my move, she pranced across the circle, slipped her arm around another dancer’s partner, and swept them off their feet. Others followed, one by one, racing across the floor to form new pairs in a wild and delirious dance, feet flying and bodies soaring as the drummer beat faster at the air.

A new rhythm had taken us, and it took the crops too. They surged into life, grew stronger and straighter, leaves turning bright green as the sun shone down. That rhythm rippled out across the fields, an emerald circle that grew with every passing moment until the whole world seemed full of life.

“Now,” Mags whispered. “We’re done.”

I set her feet down, but I didn’t stop dancing. I stamped my foot and twirled her about, laughing in joy. The lute-player strummed her strings, the drummer brought his sticks down, and suddenly the world was full of music.

We danced on, laughing and singing and celebrating, while around us life took hold.

***

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it then you might want to sign up to my mailing list, where you’ll get a free ebook and a flash story straight to your inbox every Friday.

***

By Sword, Stave or Stylus

By Sword, Stave or Stylus - High Resolution

A gladiator painting with manticore blood.

A demon detective policing Hell.

A ninja who can turn into shadow.

Prepare to be swept away to worlds beyond our own in these thirteen short fantasy stories.

Action, art and mystery all feature in this collection, available in all ebook formats.

From reader reviews:

‘These fantasy genre stories take wordsmithing and storytelling to great heights.’ – Writerbees Book Reviews

‘There isn’t a single story in here I don’t love. All short and sweet (or dark), all fantasy with history woven through, all a slightly skewed perspective that will make you rethink assumptions. Totally worth a read.’

When the Waters Ran Red – a flash fantasy story

Aunt Hella rushed up the road to our front step, where father and I were fixing fishing nets.

“Come quick, Tommar,” she said. “Something’s happened to Lestin.”

I leapt to my feet, hooked like a fish by the tone of dread with which she said mother’s name.

Father and Hella rushed down the street, clogs clattering against the cobbles, and I ran barefoot after them, over the bridge where the river ran red from the big city die works, through town and down to the quay.

Mother’s boat sat at anchor a dozen yards off shore. It shouldn’t have been. She had sailed out on the tide just after dawn, heading away from the murky waters by the river mouth, towards the distant waters where the big shoals of cod swam. We had seen her more when the waters were cleaner and her days shorter, but as father said, we all have to make sacrifices.

People were swimming in the water around the boat. One of them flipped over and I saw his tail rise from the waves.

Merfolk.

A mermaid was swimming towards the quay.

My heart beat so hard it hurt. The merfolk seldom came to shore, except when they rescued boats lost in storms or sailors fallen overboard. They preferred to live separate from us.

But this mermaid wore a look of anger, not pity.

“We have taken the people from your boat,” she said.

“Why?” my father asked, clutching the leather marriage band around his wrist.

“We will keep them until you make the water clean again. If it becomes any dirtier, we will start to kill them.”

“We’re not making the water dirty!”

“Yes you are.” The mermaid pointed towards the red running from the river mouth.

“That’s not us. That’s the dyers in the big city. Please, don’t hurt our families for this.”

“Humans did this. Humans must fix it.”

“But we’re innocent!”

“No.” The mermaid pointed angrily at him. “You accept this so that you can have your coloured cloth skins. You accept this so that the city will buy your fish. You are not innocent, and our children are sickening from this filth. If ours suffer because of humans, humans will suffer too.”

As she swam away I felt like a mouse caught in the claws of a hawk. They had my mother. They were going to kill her.

I ran to the edge of the quay and leapt off. My father shouted in alarm, but I was already in the water, the splash of my landing drawing the mermaid’s attention. She watched as I swam towards her with a child’s clumsy strokes, my simple smock clinging to my skin.

“Please!” I said, spluttering through the water as it rose over my mouth. “Let my mother go. We can’t fix this. She didn’t do this.”

“Neither did we.”

“Send a message to the people who did!”

“That’s what we’re doing.”

She turned and swam away, far faster than I could follow.

My father grabbed me from behind, hooked his arm around my chest, and dragged me kicking and weeping towards the shore.

That day, as I stood dripping on the docks amid the silence of a stunned community, I swore that I would get my mother back, no matter what it took.

For weeks my father watched warily, half expecting me to swim off out to sea on some fool rescue mission.

But I knew better. The merfolk were right. This wasn’t their fault. It had to be fixed on land.

I stopped skipping school to earn pennies sweeping up fish guts. I spent summer evenings with pen and paper, practising my words. I wrote letters to the dyers, then when they wouldn’t listen to the big city councillors. When a newspaper started, I wrote to them too.

A year passed. The water was no cleaner or more dirty. Once a month, grim-faced merfolk brought greetings from our kidnapped kin, a reminder of what was at stake. Our fishermen started takes weapons with them to sea.

I roamed the coast, rallying support in other towns and villages, people who understood the anguish of losing family to the sea and who saw the merfolk’s pain.

More years passed. We formed an association, wrote a petition, raised funds to pay for a lawyer. Still nothing changed.

And then, last week, the river ran black. The worst was happening.

We still had funds in our collection. I went to a friend who works at the quarry and bought all the blasting powder I could.

Perhaps the people at the die works are innocent. Perhaps they don’t understand what they’re doing to the sea, despite all the letters I’ve sent. Perhaps no-one has told them. Perhaps they don’t deserve what’s about to happen.

But my town is innocent. My mother is innocent. The merfolk were innocent until we poisoned their world.

It’s never enough to say that something has to change.

And so I say, I’m going to change it.

***

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it then you might want to sign up to my mailing list, where you’ll get a free ebook and a flash story straight to your inbox every Friday.

***

By Sword, Stave or Stylus

By Sword, Stave or Stylus - High Resolution

A gladiator painting with manticore blood.

A demon detective policing Hell.

A ninja who can turn into shadow.

Prepare to be swept away to worlds beyond our own in these thirteen short fantasy stories.

Action, art and mystery all feature in this collection, available in all ebook formats.

From reader reviews:

‘These fantasy genre stories take wordsmithing and storytelling to great heights.’ – Writerbees Book Reviews

‘There isn’t a single story in here I don’t love. All short and sweet (or dark), all fantasy with history woven through, all a slightly skewed perspective that will make you rethink assumptions. Totally worth a read.’

Three Little Pigs – a fairy tale retold

The wolf prowled into town on paws as soft as mist and as deadly as winter. Her every breath made the leaves trembled in the trees.

Close up of a wolf's face

Three pigs fled before her. The first, skinny and clad in rags, ran into a house of straw. The second, in his simple, sturdy tunic and tool belt, ran into a house of wood. The third, decked out in a bowler hat and waistcoat, ran into a house of bricks.

The wolf grinned, drool dripping between saw-blade teeth. She would eat well today.

She stopped at the first house.

“You think this can protect you?” she called out with a sneer.

“It’s all I have,” the first pig replied, his voice high with fear. “But there’s no meat on me. Am I even worth eating?”

He wasn’t worth answering. The wolf took a deep breath, her lungs swelling with all the power of the east wind, pursed her lips, and blew.

The house exploded beneath the force of the gale, straw bursting apart and billowing through the air.

The pig cowered in the ruins, frozen by fear. The wolf snapped her jaws shut around his throat and tasted hot, delicious flesh. She gave in to her hunger, rending, tearing, chewing, until all that remained was bones and blood-spattered chaff.

She brushed a straw from her nose and frowned. The pig had been right – he wasn’t nearly enough to sate her appetite.

She stalked over to the house of wood. It was carefully constructed, timbers linked with dovetail joints and wooden pins, an apple carved into the frame above the front door. The windows were shuttered and bolted.

“You think this can protect you?” the wolf called out as she admired the handiwork.

“I built it with all my skill,” the second pig replied, his words sharply edged, the voice of a creature failing to hide his fear. “I have faith that it will stand.”

“Let’s put that faith to the test.”

The wolf stepped back and took a deep breath. The wind was a great power within her, a living, surging, seething thing. Then she blew.

The house shook. Shutters rattled in their frames. Joints creaked under the strain. The wolf kept blowing determinedly, her breath the full force of the elements.

“I told you,” the pig shouted over the howling wind. “I said that it-”

With a splintering crash, the front door flew in, wrenching away half the doorframe. Timbers around it buckled and broke. Splinters whirled. Walls fell. The roof went tumbling across the street.

The pig tried to run but the wolf was faster. Paws pinned him in the mud. She smelled the blood seeping from a hundred splinter wounds.

“I don’t want to die,” the pig whimpered.

“And I don’t want to be hungry,” the wolf said, a moment before she sank her teeth in.

When she was done, she wiped the blood from her muzzle with the back of her paw. That had been good. The carpenter had more flesh on him. But still she hungered for something more.

She approached the brick house, standing tall amid the scattered straw and pulverised planks. The third pig looked down at her from a crenellated turret on the northeast corner.

“You think this can protect you?” the wolf asked, licking her lips.

“I bloody well hope so” the pig replied. “I spent half my fortune on it.”

The wolf took a deep breath, her chest expanding, her body flooding with the wind’s power. Then she blew.

The wolf’s breath battered at the brickwork, blowing dust from the mortar and whistling through the roof tiles.

The house stood firm.

The wolf frowned, took another deep breath, and blew gain.

The wind was a vast force pounding at the house. The turret trembled and the pig clung on with gritted teeth. A chimney pot shattered in the street.

But still the house stood.

The wolf growled in frustration. This wasn’t how it was meant to work. She blew, houses fell, pigs got eaten. That was the way of the world.

She took another breath, the deepest she had ever known, sucking in air until she felt she would explode. And then she blew.

The tower wavered. The pig crouched in terror behind the battlements. The front door rattled in its frame like the battering of hail on a frozen pond. The wolf blew and blew until there was nothing left in her and she lay panting in the dirt.

Still the house stood.

The pig peered down from his tower, drew out a cigar and lit it with a gold-plated lighter. He grinned and blew a smoke ring.

The wolf forced herself up onto her paws. Her head hung in shame and her belly rumbled.

“You win,” she growled. “I’ll go.”

“Why the rush?” the pig said. “I know a way you can stay here and still be well fed.”

“Stop taunting me,” the wolf snapped. “We both know you’re not coming out to be eaten.”

“True,” the third pig said. “But you see those windmills I had built on the hill? They could feed quite a community. Lots of hard workers for my new factory. Lots of succulent little piggies for you. Offer them bread and jobs and not too much death and they’ll come from miles around. All I need to make those mills work is a little gust of wind…”

***

This story started out with a simple writing exercise and ended up going all Animal Farm. Who would have thought it from an old lefty like me?

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it then you might want to sign up to my mailing list, where you’ll get a free ebook and a flash story straight to your inbox every Friday.

***

By Sword, Stave or Stylus

By Sword, Stave or Stylus - High Resolution

A gladiator painting with manticore blood.

A demon detective policing Hell.

A ninja who can turn into shadow.

Prepare to be swept away to worlds beyond our own in these thirteen short fantasy stories.

Action, art and mystery all feature in this collection, available in all ebook formats.

From reader reviews:

‘These fantasy genre stories take wordsmithing and storytelling to great heights.’ – Writerbees Book Reviews

‘There isn’t a single story in here I don’t love. All short and sweet (or dark), all fantasy with history woven through, all a slightly skewed perspective that will make you rethink assumptions. Totally worth a read.’

Out Now – City of the Dead

Cover for Bards and Sages Quarterly January 2020

An abandoned city, a discredited physician, and gargoyles sacrificed to household gods, such a weird mix of topics can mean only thing – I have a new story out.

“City of the Dead” is a fantasy tale that explores the limits of obligation. Left behind by a great exodus, Pyrus lives alone in an abandoned city. Every day, he makes sacrifices to his clan’s gods, to ensure his family’s safe passage and assuage the guilt of his tragic past. Can he break free from the bonds of tradition, or will the city of the dead destroy him?

“City of the Dead” is in the January 2020 edition of Bards and Sages Quarterly, available now from all good e-book stores.

Dread the Dawn – a flash fantasy story

I dreaded the dawn, not because it would change anything, but because it would show me the truth.

Sunrise over the desert.

Night after night we had fled across the desert, straining at every step against the sand that tried to hold us back. My legs ached and my throat rasped from the dry, dusty air. Patches of skin that had been blistered by the midday sun now felt the bitter chill of the cloudless dark.

Every moment was etched with terror as I watched for our pursuers. Sometimes I would see one of them looming out of the moonlight, would raise my hand and summon ancient power. My palm would blaze and the creature would be driven back, teeth gnashing and claws slashing at the air, or it would be exposed as just a figment of my fearful imagination.

When the creature was real we could fight it. My staff and Kotali’s sword swinging in the darkness while the child clung to her back, whimpering in fear. That was the sound driving me to strike harder and faster, to fling my magic around with wild ferocity, to scream and shout and hammer each fallen beast until it was nothing but broken bones and blood seeping into the sand.

When the creature wasn’t real, only my fear and anger lay exposed, a bloody wound on my soul.

For the sake of our innocent burden, I was becoming a monster. The soft, compassionate woman who had left the city was gone, replaced by a ruthless killer. And yet it wasn’t the loss of myself I feared. It was the coming of the sun.

“This is the night,” Kotali said as we strode up a dune, sand sliding down between our feet. “This time we’ll get there.”

“You said that last night,” I said. “And the night before. And the one before that.”

“This time it has to be true. We’ve come so far.”

“Who says it’s far enough?”

“You’ve got to have hope.”

“I can’t.”

Hope had killed Arden, when he walked towards an oasis and straight into the creatures’ claws. Hope had killed Zell, when she tried to make peace with the sorcerers of the old city. Hope wasn’t getting me, and it sure as hell wasn’t getting the child.

But the creatures still might, if we weren’t fast enough.

“What is it like?” Kotali asked.

Dozens of us had dreamed of finding shelter in Elvast, but only I had ever been. Mine were the stories of the shining towers, the kind people, the wise rulers I had seen in my youth. I was the one who had set our course as we fled the sorcerers’ guards and their ravenous beasts. Only I really knew what we were running towards.

I pictured it rising out of the desert, with bright towers and open gates, the city that took in the lost and the broken, that would give a home to all who needed it. A place where the child could grow in safety until he came into his power. A blazing beacon in a world of shadows.

I remembered the first morning in the desert, watching for those towers as the sun came up, so sure that they must be within sight. I remembered my grief at their absence and my horror as I saw the sorcerers’ creatures dogging our trail, waiting for their chance.

Could I even bear to see that again?

The child pointed east, ahead of us. The sky was growing light. The night would soon be over.

I stopped and turned my head, unable to face what was about to be revealed. Parched as I was, tears formed at the corners of my eyes.

“Look for me,” I said, my voice a strained croak. “I have to watch our rear.”

The creatures were closing in, sensing some change within us, a moment of weakness they could exploit. I felt that weakness, a hope broken before it could even become real. I raised my hand and fire danced between my fingertips. If it had just been me, I could have let that power go, let the creatures end my long, drawn-out pain.

But it wasn’t just me.

Kotali gasped. The child giggled. A flash of something bright and earnest rose within me, faltered, and fell.

I held out my hand to the creatures and waited. Better that than face the dawn.

***

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it then you might want to sign up to my mailing list, where you’ll get a free ebook and a flash story straight to your inbox every Friday.

***

By Sword, Stave or Stylus

By Sword, Stave or Stylus - High Resolution

A gladiator painting with manticore blood.

A demon detective policing Hell.

A ninja who can turn into shadow.

Prepare to be swept away to worlds beyond our own in these thirteen short fantasy stories.

Action, art and mystery all feature in this collection, available in all ebook formats.

From reader reviews:

‘These fantasy genre stories take wordsmithing and storytelling to great heights.’ – Writerbees Book Reviews

‘There isn’t a single story in here I don’t love. All short and sweet (or dark), all fantasy with history woven through, all a slightly skewed perspective that will make you rethink assumptions. Totally worth a read.’

Sweet Fruit and Burning Blooms – a flash fantasy story

Lord Cannerby’s coach drew to a halt. Wearily, he pulled himself out of his seat. He’d suffered through three months at court, with all its intrigues and gossip, never a moment’s peace. At last, some time to himself, and to enjoy the peace of his new gardens.

a rose

He descended from the coach onto a pathway of small, black stones that crunched beneath his boots. It was, he considered, a promising start, given the dirt driveway that had led to Cannerby Hall when he left for court. A glimpse of bright flowerbeds further reassured him that he had left his grounds in safe hands.

The architect of this transformation stood facing the carriage, dressed in well worn tunic and hose. Liza Bunnis bowed to his lordship, as was only right and proper, then smiled.

“Would you like the tour, m’lord?” she asked.

“Absolutely,” Cannerby said. “I’ve been looking forward to this since the spring. Somewhere I can put my feet up and smell the flowers.”

The garden had been divided into quarters, as was the style at all the most elegant houses. Bunnis led the way onto a walk planted with bands of springy herbs in different shades of green. With each step, scents burst into the air. Cannerby enjoyed a breath of sweetly aromatic air, another that was crisp and cleansing, then a soft smell that summoned memories of childhood.

Then he stepped onto the dark green and almost choked.

“What is that?” he gasped, stepping back to escape the aroma of rot and decay.

“They call it dead man’s ears,” Bunnis said proudly. “The contrast cleanses the senses so that you can truly enjoy the rose garden.”

Cannerby frowned. This was not what he had expected. A garden was meant to be relaxing, and there was nothing relaxing about that stench.

On the other hand, Bunnis had come highly recommended. All the best people had her gardens, custom designed to their personal needs.

He took a deep breath, then hurried across the offending herb and into the next section.

“To the left is your maze.” Bunnis gestured to a complex network of short hedgerows. Cannerby smiled at the sight, but his face fell when he heard the moaning.

“What is that?” he asked, a shiver running down his spine.

“The voices of the lost.”

“How can anyone be lost? The hedges are only three feet high.”

“Lost souls. They’re caged at the junctions to misdirect people and make the maze more challenging.”

Cannerby frowned but said nothing more. He could have those cages removed once Bunnis was gone and he had the place to himself.

Oh, how he longed for time to himself.

“On your right are the flowerbeds,” Bunnis continued, “and beyond them the kitchen garden.”

At last, something normal. Roses in a dozen different hues bloomed in the flowerbeds, forming a floral mosaic in the image of the sun.

“Spectacular,” Cannerby whispered, taking a step closer.

Without warning, a dozen of the nearest roses exploded into flames. Cannerby yelped as he leapt back from the heat that blasted his face.

“What in damnation is that?”

“Phoenix flowers,” Bunnis said, as if it were the most normal thing in the world. “Aren’t they exquisite? I’ve chosen strains that will burn away and grow back at different times of day. You now own the world’s most dramatic floral clock. You can thank me later.”

Cannerby stared at the blackened stems of the burnt flowers, from which green buds were already emerging. He wasn’t sure he’d be thanking her when a spark from those flowers set the whole hall on fire.

Had he made a terrible mistake in hiring her? Or was he just too old-fashioned in his tastes?

“The orchard,” Bunnis said, pointing to the final quarter of the gardens.

Cannery peered at the trees. Was he imagining it, or were there faces in the bark?

“What madness does that hold?” he asked. “Dryads? Arboreal gnomes? Whirlwinds of leaves?”

“Only a fine selection of cherries and peaches. Your fruit bowl will be the envy of the county.”

With a sigh, Cannerby let go of the tension that held his shoulders up around his ears. Together with Bunnis, he continued down the pathway towards the manor house, beneath a bower of intertwining branches.

“Perhaps I can live with it,” he said. “Some of the features are a little wild for my tastes, but-”

Something grabbed him by the shoulder. He spun around and saw a pair of leaves snapping like jaws, just as another pair swung down and snatched at his arm.

With a scream, Cannerby dashed down the last ten yards of the path and into the safety of his doorway. Bunnis strolled along behind him, unperturbed by the grasping greenery.

“Enough!” Cannerby yelled. “I asked for a garden, not a menagerie of monsters. Tear it up! Burn it down! Give me a lawn and a chair and let me rest.”

Bunnis shrugged with surprising equanimity for a woman whose work was about to be destroyed.

“If you insist, m’lord,” she said. “But just one thought before I do. How many people do you think will risk a trip through this garden to call on you?”

“None!” Cannerby exclaimed. “Why, they would have to be mad.”

No-one would visit once they heard the wailing hedge, smelled the rotten path, were grasped and clawed by those wild branches. Not his nosey neighbours. Not his idiot son-in-law. None of the court dignitaries who rode out searching for gossip.

He would be alone, just him, his wife, and the servants.

He smiled.

“On second thoughts, it’s a splendid job,” he said. “Let me get my account book and we’ll settle the bill.”

***

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it then you might want to sign up to my mailing list, where you’ll get a free ebook and a flash story straight to your inbox every Friday.

***

By Sword, Stave or Stylus

By Sword, Stave or Stylus - High Resolution

A gladiator painting with manticore blood.

A demon detective policing Hell.

A ninja who can turn into shadow.

Prepare to be swept away to worlds beyond our own in these thirteen short fantasy stories.

Action, art and mystery all feature in this collection, available in all ebook formats.

From reader reviews:

‘These fantasy genre stories take wordsmithing and storytelling to great heights.’ – Writerbees Book Reviews

‘There isn’t a single story in here I don’t love. All short and sweet (or dark), all fantasy with history woven through, all a slightly skewed perspective that will make you rethink assumptions. Totally worth a read.’