The Old Dungeoneers

Tales of might and magik from old blokes with a lot of spare time

Where were you when Cyre burned?

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Where were you when Cyre burned?

“The Day of Mourning”

He stared pointedly into his empty tankard
“That tale’s got to be worth another drink”
One of his audience signalled the bar keep for a fresh pint.
“20th of Olarune”
Felaz put down the empty glass and looked each of his eager spectators in the eye
“Where were you?”
He whispered before continuing
“I’d cleared the border and was heading for Shannow”
He smiled as he collected his new drink.
“Had a good haul of skins and furs and thought I’d try my luck selling them here in Breland” He smiled ruefully “My old Da said I was an idiot, said you Breland folk would more than likely rob me blind” He held up his hands to ward of the complaints
“Not my words, I got nothing but gratitude to you folk”
His hands went back to his drink “But you gotta remember that we was a proud people, Cyre was a proper country you could be proud to be from”
He smiled again, a little smug that the locals in this country tavern hadn’t noticed his jibe.
“I was climbing this steep trail through pretty gnarly woods, near the top the trees stop of a sudden and the sun shines down.” His face tilted up as if basking in the imaginary glow. “You get this view that goes on forever.” He took a long pull on his ale “A place to watch Dragons and Eagles my Grandma would have said”
Laughing gently to himself he said “Not a bad place for a bite and a pipe I said”
A pipe appeared from his coat on cue and he set about filling it.
“I tethered the horses and got them feeding” a look of surprise flitted across his face “How is it that I know they was eating oats and corn but I’ll be damned if I can recall what I was eating as my family died”
Felaz lit his pipe from a proffered candle and inhaled deeply before blowing out a lung full of heavy dark smoke
“A mist covered all of Cyre” more smoke accentuated his words “The whole bloody place looked like a cloud” Another smoky breath “Where it come from nobody can say. I swear it appeared when I blinked” He blinked “Breland forest was clear as summer, but Cyre was gone.”
The locals were silent, they had heard the story before but Felaz had lived it. Second hand accounts were the norm, he said she said or someone knew someone who had heard it from a survivor. This was real.
“Some folk say that the gods punished us that day” He shrugged “Some say we did it to ourselves” he answered himself with a slight shake of the head “Magic rained down, storms of fire, the death of my nation.” Silence followed.
“I just remember the mist. I didn’t see no gods, I didn’t hear no war.” He carefully placed his drink down“
“The birds didn’t even stop singing” Tears were flowing down his cheeks.
“I was stood in heaven looking at hell” He put the pipe and tankard onto the table before slowly standing up.
“I’m not sure how long it was” He glanced at the floor “Felt like forever before the mists began to pull back” He placed his hands together before slowly drawing them apart “They rolled back like they was pushed” He stopped moving, his arms spread wide.
Sitting down hard he drained his drink in three gulps.
“All gone” Enjoying the ambiguity of these words he placed the tankard on the table and picked up his pipe.
“You all know the rest” He told his audience “We’re a scattered people now, what’s left of us” He nodded a thanks “You’ve done us proud and made us welcome, gave those that ask a home and that’s appreciated”
He stood and began to gather his gear then shook a few hands and thanked a couple of faces. Once everything was in order he made his way to the door.
He stopped with his hand hovering on the handle. Then without looking back he said.
“That’s not how we end though” Turning the handle he threw open the door, bright sun streamed in framing him in silhouette
“I am a Knight of Cyre and I give my people this promise” All eyes were fixed on him.
“We will have our home back at any cost”
Sir Felaz of Cyre strode into the light and was gone.

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A Mother’s Love

I’ll admit it. Motherhood hasn’t been easy for me. I’m not maternal. If it was up to me I’d never have kept this mewling little fucker. Time was I could afford to dislodge the things with a quart of gin and a dig in my cunny with a kabob skewer. When I was young they’d pay me just to see me piss. But looks don’t last in this game, they fade. Slowly at first but more with each day that passes. You can paint over the cracks in your face but once your bubs go saggy you’ve got to find another trick. Men disgust me.

G’Thun told me they’d pay extra to stick it a bun filled oven and even more to suck the milk from me like I was a heifer cow. When G’Thun spoke I listened, I’d seen what happened to the girls who didn’t. So there it was, instead of a minor inconvenience pregnancy became my trade. Every eight or nine months I’d shit out a little brat into a sack drop a few rocks in and throw the lot into the nearest river. Twelve years that did me. It didn’t pay as much as I got when I was a youngster but better than most of the girls my age. Enough to keep G’Thun easy. After the first deliverance they get easier. By the end I could sneeze and they’d drop from me with a gush and a splat. One pig gave me a huge tip when he thought it was his “massive” rod that dislodged one.

This one though, little fucker decided to come out backwards. Nearly tore me in half. The nuns found me, half bled to death, dumped behind their mission. That little fucker clung to life though. Sometimes I think just to spite me. Sometimes I think the gods were paying me back for sending them so many other babes. The nuns tried to get me to hold it. Let it feed off of me like pigs did. But that little fuck wasn’t paying. My milk was worth money and that cunny ripping little fuck had cost me enough already. I had to get out of this place and earning again as soon as possible. G’Thun didn’t like us having time off. When he didn’t like something people ended up bloody. But he was good to me, only ever cut me once. The rest of the time I only got punched or kicked. Some pigs pay more if I’m bruised but I don’t like being hit. It’s not worth it.

It was three months before I could leave the nuns. The little fuck had torn my insides to shreds. I couldn’t get out fast enough. I promised the nuns that I’d look after the little fucker that nearly killed me. Even though I still couldn’t bear it sucking on my teats, they let me take it home. G’Thun welcomed me back into his fold. He cut me a bit, but I owed him three months money. I’ve seen him go harder on girls who owed him less. He must have a real soft spot for me. For a few months the kid lived in my room. The other girls saw it was fed. As long as it was quiet when I was working I could just about tolerate it. It was always quiet. When it started climbing out of its crate I had to put a lid on it. As it got bigger I just put heavier and heavier things on top. After a while it stopped trying to get out, it just looked out of the holes in the crate.

Without the buns in my oven, work was hard. I ended up seeing the guys the other girls refused to see. Ugly, poor, foul smelling, crippled or just too violent for the younger girls to cope with. I’d send them all away smiling. The other girls kept on feeding the shit in the crate.

And now I’m here, looking into its eyes. It’s a boy and his eyes are so brown. Not like the dull muddy brown mine are. They’re a deep rich chestnut and so shiny.

“Come here little fella”

This is the first time I’ve spoken to him. Lying here I just want to take him up into my arms and hold him. Why is it now that my maternal instinct has decided to start? I pat the floor and make some cooing noises.

“Come here son”

How is it that I’ve never gotten around to naming him? I once thought about calling him G’Thun. But after this I’ve changed my mind. I don’t think his soft spot for me has lasted. G’Thun came when he heard me scream; He’d sent me a pig that I’d never seen before. Tall, with thick black hair all over his body. He stank like garlic and old sweat. He stripped naked except for his iron gauntlets. I tried to talk to him but he looked through me like I wasn’t there. He just lay on the bed, cock standing to attention. I went to kiss it, but he pulled me up by my hair until I could feel it pushing at my cunny. I sat down slowly on it, feeling it inch inside me and then I started rocking back and forth. I started rocking faster, sliding up and down on him, moaning with “pleasure”. I arched my back pushing my bubs out, and closed my eyes rocking faster and faster as his breaths started to get heavy. As I opened my eyes he punched me in the teeth, with a fucking gauntlet. I jumped off his cock and screamed for help, blood gushing from my mouth. G’Thun slammed open the door open and I ran to him for help. His fist flew up at me. I could feel my ribs crack as his fist hit the bone between my bubs. He’s a splitter for fuck’s sake. I crashed to the ground gasping for breath.

The pig with the gauntlet growled at G’Thun “You said she’d be quiet you Cock-sucking Splitter.”

“She will be now” He grunted in his guttural monotone.

The door shut behind him.

My lungs burned as I tried to scream. All that came out was a hoarse whisper. Tears blurred my vision as I looked up to see the gauntleted pig leaning down to grab a handful of my hair. He dragged me up ‘til I was face to face with his hard cock. He punched me until my jaw slacked and then shoved himself down my throat until I choked. At the edges of my vision the world started to turn grey . My survival instincts shook me alert, desperate for air I bit down as hard as I could. My teeth clenched and I felt his pride pop in my mouth with a gush of blood. With a wrench of my hair he pulled me off of him, but too late. He roared with rage as I spat it at his feet like a dead worm. Blood pumped from his groin, spraying me head to toe in a crimson shower. Then from the table he grabbed his belt and unsheathed his dagger. I laughed at the irony; he’d never unsheathe his other dagger again.

I fell backwards against the wall and reached out for something to protect myself. Scrabbling around I found the heavy iron lamp that kept the boy’s crate shut. As the pig stepped towards me I lashed out with the lamp, there was a crunch as the base hit him in the temple. The light in his eyes flickered out and he fell forwards onto me.  As if just to spite me his arm twitched and the dagger glanced the side of my neck. He fell in a clumsy heap, knocking over the crate. The boy inside giggling as he tipped out onto the floor.

I put my hand to my neck and felt the blood pulsing out between my fingers.

My Son’s eyes locked with mine. How old was he now? Two?

“Come on little fella, come give your mummy a hug”

Slowly he crawled towards me, slipping in the blood as it pooled beneath me but he still comes to me, brown eyes full of forgiveness. I let my neck go and hold him in my arms for the first time. The thick red gouts coating him as he sinks into my arms.  He puts his arms around me and as I squeeze him tight, I feel for the first time what it is for a mother to love her child and as the world starts to turn grey all I can think is,

“He has such a beautiful smile”.

The Trouble With Thinking

carpark

“Many Thanks” Andy said in a booming voice “This is a princely gift indeed”

The lady smiled at him as she said “If you leave before it runs out make sure you pass it on”

He touched the ticket to his forehead and boomed again “Rest assured my pretty, your generous gift shall be passed on to a truely worthy recipient”

From the back of the car a quieter and slightly exasperated voice said “If you need a translation just ask someone from the 14th century”

The ladies smile weakened as she briskly walked away from the car.

“I think she wanted you Andy” said a male voice.

“Fuck you, and fuck your mother” Andy replied in a pompous tone. “But not in that order”

There was laughter followed by confusion “You want to fuck me second?”

Andy paused to consider the question “Yes that is exactly what I mean” He turned to face the man in the back seat. “My fondest desire is to chuck my manhood up your mother’s wrinkly hole, thereby getting my quick spurt out the way” He looked John up and down suggestively “Thus, my ardour spent in your ageing relative I can devote more quality arse fucking time to you,”

John reacted by making a retching sound causing Andy to add “You’ll be gagging on my shiny helmet soon enough bitch!”

Claire who was sat beside him in the front said “I wouldn’t worry John” She paused and swivelled to face Andy “I can vouch for the fact that he’d have difficulty making a kitten gag with his prick” She smiled sweetly at him as she turned back to face the front.

Andy’s eyes widened in outrage “Do you see the sort of woman I’m married to John?” He glanced into the rear view mirror “She dares to mock my magnificent meaty member”

“Nice alliteration” Claire said nodding her head in appreciation.

“Thank you dear” Andy responded.

“You forgot microscopic” she added demurely

“Thank you dear” he replied wearily

“And maggot like” John added happily

“Miserable” she continued

“Urrgh” John said seeking inspiration

“Manky” Claire said clearly enjoying herself “Mingy and Malodorous” She finished with evident satisfaction.

“Are you children quite done?” Andy’s voice had taken on a parental tone.

John held up his phone for inspection “I’m just texting Sammy to see if he knows any” He said with some excitement. “Isn’t modern technology brilliant?”

Andy glared at the phone “No, it’s shit” he turned his head away like a sulky child and stared out of the window

The phone beeped behind him

“Any good” Claire enquired

“I’m not sure” John said sounding confused “He’s sent the word Frowzy”

“Not an M word” Andy whispered before asking “What does it mean?”

“Buggered if I know” John replied “I’ll ask him”.

He leaned over to the far side of the car and opened the door

“Sammy” He shouted at a man walking towards the car “What does Frowzy mean?”

Before Sammy could answer “Andy called “Is it one of your funny darkie words?”

Sammy slid into the car and smiled a broad toothy smile “No Bwana” He said in a strong African accent before continuing in his normal voice “It’s a word I read on line the other day and I considered it Le Mot Juste when making comparisons with your phallus”.

“What does it mean?” Claire asked.

He thought for a second before saying “Unkempt, wrinkled and dirty”

There was a chorus of “Well dones” and “Good ones” Before Andy sulkily repeated “Not an M”

The car went quiet.

“Did you get your money?” Andy asked Sammy.

“Did I fuck” he replied “Bloody cash machines knackered, we’ll have to go to Asda”

Andy nodded and turned the key to start the car.

“Wait” Claire shouted “The Ticket!”

“Piss on the ticket” Andy responded as he put the car into gear.

“You promised that lady” Claire insisted “I thought your word was your bond”

John turned to Sammy and said “This very nice lady who fancied Andy gave him an all-day ticket and made him promise to pass it on”

Sammy looked thoughtful as he fixed his friends eyes in the mirror. “Did you shout at her like a retarded Hamlet? The eyes narrowed in response “No” silence “Well A bit” More silence “Alright a lot” The eyes closed.

“What were your exact words?”

Andy instantly sucked his lips in tight and turned his head away.

“Sammy turned to Claire “What did he say Claire?”

She looked sympathetically at her husband before saying “Sorry Dear but I have to be truthful” Her head dropped and her eyes closed. “He said” Her eyes opened and her head rose “I swear my lady” Her voice mimicking his “Your generous gift will only be given to a deserving recipient or something like that”

“Yep, spot bollock” John chipped in from the back.

Andy looked at Claire imploringly “I didn’t say deserving” He turned to a serious faced Sammy “I didn’t Sammy, I said worthy”

Sammy winced and Andy, realising his mistake let his head drop. Claire and John went quiet each looking out of a window.

The silence stretched on until Andy reached out for the key and cut the engine.

“Worthy is a tricky thing” Sammy said solemnly.

“I fucking know” Andy replied

“How can you ascribe worth from mere observation?”

“Can’t be done” John answered his tone changing from flippant to grave “Worth is objective; by its very nature it defies simplification.” The slow nods from around the car encouraged him to continue “Although” He said hopefully “In today’s society where youth and beauty are valued beyond courage and morality, perhaps the true worth of a person is actually skin deep” John sat back and flipped open his phone and the bleeps continued.

“Does that mean we give the ticket to the fittest bird?” Andy replied eagerly.

“Yes” the two male passengers said in unison.

Followed a split second later by a firm “No” from Claire.

“Who says that a fit “Bird” has more intrinsic value than a fit man?”

Everyone thought for a moment looking for an answer that pleased them “Err maths” Sammy tentatively suggested.

Claire turned to Sammy “Maths” she smiled at him “I’m waiting to be impressed”.

“Well” he began “If you accept democratic decision making to be the fundamentally correct method by which to ascertain the direction of choice” He paused for breath “Then by a simple calculation of the votes cast by our good selves just 10 seconds ago then ipso facto and hey presto three to one, fit birds win”

“Hooray for fit birds” John said without looking away from his phone.

Claire stared at John for a moment then turned back to Sammy “An interesting thesis” She began “But it contains a couple of tiny holes if you’ll forgive me saying”

Andy held the ticket up “I’d have given you the ticket dear” He said soppily.

She patted his knee “Thank you my sweet but the adults are talking” he put the ticket back on the dash and popped a thumb into his mouth.

“Firstly Sammy,” she began “to have a democratic outcome that truly represents the will of the people surely it is imperative not to ask loaded fucking questions that guarantee answers in favour of the elite”

“Secondly” she continued ignoring his attempts to interrupt “Democracy in this country has altered throughout history. It is not as simple as one man one vote anymore. Positive discrimination now allows for minority voices such as me to have more of a say in policy making and decisions” She pointed to her chest “These are my fun bags of discrimination” Andy popped out his thumb to say a quick “Pwaugh” as Claire rolled on “These mounds of flesh have seen my sex forced into domestic and sexual servitude since the beginning of time. Only recent changes in attitude and law have allowed women to transform from being unpaid hookers and cooks into citizens with a voice of our own. We now can achieve a destiny that is not based around groping and suckling. One man one vote has rightly become one woman two votes”

There was a small round of applause and a chorus of Hear hears before the car fell silent.

“But?” Sammy said in a small apologetic voice “That still means we win three to two”

“Hooray for democracy” John called from the back.

Claire pursed her lips before saying “Fuck maths and fuck democracy” she turned to face John “It is an historical fact that democracy must be subverted if the voting public are largely made up of twats”

“Define Twats” John said without glancing away from his phone.

“You three, you are misogynistic cock pieces of the highest order and therefore have no democratic rights” She turned back to the front to compose herself.

“Fair point” Sammy quietly said “I move to strike fitness from our criteria” He smiled before adding “All those not classed as twats should now cast their vote”

Claire punched the air in victory and said “Aye”

“The Ayes have it” Sammy declared

“Go Democracy” John said jubilantly.

Andy, who had been looking from person to person during the debate was now staring at Claire in desperation “So, if I’m following this correctly according to Caitlin Moran here” He nodded to his wife “In the interests of democracy and the feminist agenda this ticket cannot be given to an attractive female”

“Correct”

“Can it be given to an ugly one?”

The silence returned as they wrestled with the question.

Claire surfaced first “If I may” she began tentatively “in the interests of harmony and expediency I suggest that women are excluded from the debate”

“Suits me” Said Andy “You can wait outside the car” laughter erupted from the men.

Claire allowed them to settle before she responded “I meant that women should be excluded as the recipient of the ticket, not that I should be kicked out of the car.” She looked at them one at a time before calmly adding “You Stupid cunts!”

“OH” Andy said “Sorry my love, I got entirely the wrong end of the stick there”

“Yes apologies Claire” Sammy intoned dramatically “Clarity shall be my watchword from now on”

They all turned to John, he was holding up his phone pointing the camera at Claire. He deftly pressed a button then lowered it and flipped shut the case leaving him eye to eye with Claire “This goes into my Utube section called girls are sexy when they swear”

She turned slowly to Andy who smiled weakly at her “I’ll sort it out”

He threw open his car door and ran to John’s which he was desperately attempting to lock.

Sammy and Claire both exited the car and walked around to sit on the bonnet.  “So no women” Sammy recapped ignoring the violent melee behind him.

“No” said Claire who was watching the struggle with a critical eye “Anyone else we should discount before they get back?”

Sammy squinted into the distance before saying “I’m not sure we should give it to a black man” he said calmly.

“Interesting” Claire said “Do explain”

“I can see how that could be construed by some as racist”

“You are possibly correct” Claire agreed.

“But conversely” Sammy continued “Look at it from a black mans point of view” Sammy took a deep breath before continuing “We have already ruled out giving the ticket to a woman on the grounds that the four of us would argue about the legitimacy of our choice for many hours”

“Indeed” Claire said “Whilst it is not an ideal solution our companions immaturity has somewhat forced our hand”

Sammy glanced backwards at the on going scuffle “Accepted, and therein lies my point. If we can’t agree between ourselves that 52% of the population is worthy to receive the ticket then how can we in good conscience label Black males as a bland enough to be considered?”

Claire looked interested “Are you saying- and please correct me if I’m wrong- Are you saying that if we give the ticket to a black male then he would be hypothetically offended because we would have effectively labelled him as less contentious than a women”

“Precisely” Sammy clapped his hands “We would be nullifying any and all controversy that we as a people have managed to cultivate throughout our long and glorious history” Sammy’s face was animated “Malcolm X, Mohammed Ali, Dave Benson Phillips, those dicks from Woolwich, Obama, Chris Eubank, Tiger woods, three quarters of the Premier league, Lemar, Robert Mugabe, Jesus, Bloody Michael Jackson, All the rest of the Jacksons, Token, Will Smith, Huggie Bear, Shaft, Othello, Jesse Owens, Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby, Lenny Henry, Ainsley Harriot” He paused for breath then sagged. “How can anyone say that Mike Fucking Tyson is less interesting than women?”

“Whilst I would enjoy a debate with you where I point out the blindingly obvious fact that your statement is ignoring the huge impact the female sex has had on history and how it massively outweighs anything your lot has achieved I think I will instead just say” She smiled “You forgot one”

Sammy smiled in return before saying “As I am curious who you think I have overlooked I shall graciously ignore the fact that saying “You forgot one” Is both the most ignorant and the most racist statement I have ever heard, on the grounds that you believe my list of “Black men of interest” is only lacking one name thereby condemning all others to obscurity. I ask with genuine interest whom have I forgotten?”

“Nelson Mandela”

Sammy froze then shouted “Shit!” “How did I forget Mandela?”

“Don’t worry Sammy” Claire said placatingly “At least you remembered Dave Benson Phillips”

Andy and John having finished their fight had joined the others at the front of the car.

“Me 1 Technology 0” Andy declared triumphantly.

“You wait till I get a killer robot” John muttered stroking his phone “Shut up the pair of you”  Sammy ordered “We still haven’t made a decision about the bloody ticket yet”

“We are not giving it to women or the Blacks” Claire informed them.

Sammy looked at her curiously then said “I’m in favour of ruling out all ethnics on the grounds of racial fairness”

“And the gays” John added “They’d probably stick it up their cock or something”

Andy hit him on the back of his head “You do remember that you sup from the furry cup?”

“That’s Lesbians” John retorted “I am a proud shit driller”

He beamed at the world “I would put the ticket up my cock, so my people are disqualified”

They all turned to search the car park for a legitimate recipient.

“Bingo Claire declared “I have found our pigeon” She strode off clutching the ticket. The others got back into the car.

By a person who wishes to remain anonymous

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Bird song

 “I told you” John said as he turned his car into the car park. “Mary and her bloody donkey would’ve needed a wheelie badge to get in here”

His wife Georgia decided to ignore this blasphemy and concentrated on looking for a vacant spot.

They joined the sad queue of vehicles and stopped. “Second best place to be” John optimistically declared staring into his rear view mirror and applying the hand brake.

“I may regret asking” Georgia said tentatively, as her eyes continued to scan for spaces “But what the hell are you talking about?” Her words were tempered by a smile.

“I’m glad you asked little lady” his smile mirrored hers “Cause this is a good one” He paused to move the car forward six inches then reapplied the hand brake and rechecked his mirror. “Clearly” He began “The very best place to be in this situation is at the front of the queue” He waited for her nodded agreement before continuing “All your options are open, any spaces that exist belong to you and you alone”

Georgia rested her cheek against the seat and gazed with feigned interest at her husband.

“So far so good” she allowed generously.

He turned his head to look at her “Where do you think the second best place to be is?”

“The back” she answered instantly “You just said”

“The back!” He ignored her laugh and carried on. “Being the back marker means that everything behind you is your domain.”

She adjusted her position to look out of the back window then settled back into her seat “Your fifteen foot domain didn’t last very long”

John tore his gaze from hers and hurriedly checked his mirror. “Piss flaps” Two cars had already pulled up behind him.

She sat up straight and asked “I wonder if they know how lucky they are to be at the back?”

His grip tightened slightly on the steering wheel.

“The inexperienced parker” He said archly “would panic at this point, they would inevitably fail to notice how the traffic had moved on in front of them thereby effectively placing them at the front of the queue.”

Georgia followed his gaze and said “They would probably also fail to notice that woman” she pointed with her nose “who seems to be done with her day of shopping”

“Good work Hiawatha” John’s praise was accompanied by an offer of a high five which she gladly accepted.

A middle aged lady walked in front of them, juggling with shopping and keys. Her first attempt at unlocking the car ended with the fob falling to the floor.  As she crouched to reclaim them still holding her bags John’s patience ran out.

“Put the bags down”

A second failed attempt was made causing Georgia to add.

“Put them down you idiot”

The third try worked and the cars lights flashed in celebration. The women then turned her attention to opening her boot. This was eventually achieved by means of an extended thumb, an impressively raised knee and an ingenious use of the head.

“Oh, my, God” Georgia’s anger caused him to flinch. “Now she puts the bags down?”

“Honk the horn” Her hands agreed with her mouths sentiment but clearly lacked faith in his response. Only the tightness of her seat belt and him gently grabbing her wrists prevented her displeasure from being broadcast.

“No need dear” he said placating, “She’s getting there”.

Johns esteem for this dextrous female was rising by the second. Her ingenuity and refusal to play by the rules had him cheering in his head.

The cheer turned to a scream when the woman, having crammed her bags into the boot locked her car with a nonchalant press of the key fob and began walking back towards the shops. He released his wife’s wrists and held up his hands, palms out in apology. She looked at her hands for a split second then placed them carefully on her lap.

He risked a glance in the mirror. Five cars loomed in the reflective surface. One wife loomed angrily to his left. He tried to make them see the apology in his eyes but it was overpowered by the hate in theirs. He raised a doleful hand in apology and pulled forward.

“There John, straight ahead” a small car was pulling out five spaces away.

“You can just drive straight in, it’s perfect” “Please John, don’t do anything silly” she begged him.

“Define silly” he demanded as he spun the car ready to reverse.

The vacated spot was a lucky find, one of those rare spaces that could make your day. No steering necessary on the way out. Just accelerate and go. Of course he would have to reverse in, that was not “Silly”.

Normally Georgia would have agreed with him. Reverse parking showed class, but it would mean holding up the traffic again. Once had been acceptable but after the initial aborted parking fiasco to do it again would cause comment, and possibly a honked horn.

She looked behind checking what sort of thugs lurked behind them. She let out a small sigh of relief.

“A Two year old Jag” she said, “Thank God it wasn’t a BMW”.

John made a trumpet sound as their car slid triumphantly home, accompanied by a fanfare of beeps from the front and rear parking aides.

Hand Brake on, engine off.

The cars behind stampeded past expectantly searching for the slot with their name on.

“Can I get the ticket Dad?”

John jumped a little as his daughter sprung into view on the back seat.

He was a rational man who liked rational things, and a fast moving, noisy and erratic girl was not even close to being a rational man who liked rational things.

“No” He said bravely and was about to launch into a passionate defence of his decision using reason and common sense when his wife said.

“Of course dear” Georgia’s eyes had widened and a smile had invaded her face. “Give her the money Dad”

He reluctantly reached for the dashboard flap and was shocked when her hand swatted his aside.

“Give her the money out of your pocket Dad” These words were spoken slowly. They held a meaning that eluded him.

“The change is in the cubby hole Dear” He replied equally slowly.

“So are the.” She faltered momentarily, searching for the appropriate lie “The things and stuff”

“Things and stuff?”  He parroted causing her eyes to flash a warning. Understanding would have to wait he realized and he obediently began to force a hand into his trouser pocket. After a bout of contortion and an acceptable amount of pain he squeezed out a two pound coin and passed it triumphantly to his wife. She gently took it and held it up for inspection by their daughter who was vibrating with excitement.

“You only need to get a half hour ticket” She explained “You can keep what’s left” It had always amazed John how attentive a seven year old girl could become when a shiny coin was at stake. A tiny hand shot out to grasp the glittering treasure.

“Half an hour” Georgia repeated still holding the prize. Emily soberly nodded her understanding and the coin was released.

“Mind the traffic Ems” John added to reassure himself he mattered.

She dashed off unwatched nimbly dodging the traffic.

“A Two pound coin! Why have I just given Emily a two pond coin?”

With a terrible slowness Georgia extended her arm and flicked his ear.

“Ow” John said as he cupped his throbbing lobe and waited for an explanation. Finally understanding was to be delivered.

Using the same finger that had been used to assault him she pulled the catch on the dashboard and opened the storage compartment. Inside was an open packet of Fisherman’s friends, a tatty overstuffed wallet, two cheap gas lighters, a collection of coins perfect for buying car parking tickets, odds and sods that to his surprise could reasonably be described as “Things and stuff” and a bright blue, virgin packet of cigarettes.

“Ah” The penny dropped.

“Now” Georgia continued in honeyed tones “In a moment, Ems will return. When she does you will give her Ten pounds” One of his eye brows rose slightly at this but he knew better than to interrupt. “She will then walk on her own to the book shop and buy a book” He attempted a question but she didn’t stop “She hasn’t done this on her own before but I am confident she will manage admirably.”

“But” He was quite proud of this effort and her smile encouraged him to try again soon.

“We my sweet” She turned and their eyes locked, he could see the hunger in them. “We will be..” Her eyes widened and she gulped in air.

“Hello Emily sweet heart” It took John a second to work out that his daughter was behind him outside the window. Larger and closer than he had thought possible. She was holding aloft a ticket and in her other hand was the coin.

“Can I keep the Two pound?” Her breath was in his face, warm and smelling slightly of toothpaste.

He took the slightly soiled piece of paper from her hand and examined it.

“Where did you get this ticket Ems?” Georgia asked.

“Bloody hell” John interrupted his excitement clear. “This has hours left on it” He held it up to the light as if checking for a watermark.

Georgia patiently waited for John to complete his inspection then repeated her question.

“A man gave it to me”, then remembering all the talks she had had at school as well as from her mum she added “He didn’t touch me anywhere”.

“You mustn’t take things from strangers Ems” Georgia said at exactly the same time John said “Clever girl Emily”.

“Shall I give it back?” She asked carefully, one wrong move and her two pound could disappear. She pointed to the ticket machine where a man was standing looking anxiously across at them.

Emily’s parents instantly turned on their paedophile detection stares, whilst waving and giving reassuring gestures that conveyed they considered the man a prince among men.

“Many thanks” John boomed out somewhat too loudly.

“He doesn’t look like Jimmy Saville” He managed to whisper whilst still grinning broadly at the man as he began walking away.

“Nor did Bob Holness” This fait accompli was said just as his wife had grown bored of waving and had resumed looking at him.

He paused to inspect her statement for factual errors, finding no obvious ones he replied “True enough” and let the matter rest.

“Come round my side Ems” Georgia instructed her daughter. As Emily skipped round she hissed “Now John”, “Now”.

“Now what” he managed in response just as Emily arrived like the Road Runner at Georgia’s window

“Sorry my sweet” she said as she beamed at the girl. “Daddies got the money, run round and see him” Emily Beep Beeped and set off again, back around the front of the car.

“Get the fucking tenner John” her desperation was now fully revealed. He could only manage a strangled “What” before his daughters over eager face presented itself next to his.

He looked hard at his wife then turned his head to face Emily. “The moneys in my wallet dear” He said to her intense angelic face.

“I know” was her clipped response. She waited, he waited. Time ticked on, the glove box pulsed in his peripheral vision like a human heart. Her eyes trapped his.

“Silly Mummy” Georgia’s words broke the spell. “Come back here Ems”

Emily’s eyes held his gaze a fraction too long and then she was gone. The race had begun.

“Please John” His wife’s desperate plea sounded distant. The rest of the world froze, the only movement his daughter racing around his car.

He had to move.

His hand darted out.

She had turned the first corner, leaning like a motor bike.

The catch was pulled.

She flew past the number plate.

“Open and in” his brain ordered his hand. His arm darted forward, one fluid movement of precision and speed. He could do this, never before had he moved so well or so sharply.

Emily rounded the home bend, her cat like eyes found his and her mouth twitched into a grin.

Where was it? Where was his wallet, the glove box was gone, replaced by a stadium of space that swallowed his hand.

Then she was there, all smiles and pig tails as if this was some sort of game. Her eyes still held his and they shone with victory. Bang! A noise caused her to glance away for a fraction of a second allowing the world to restart.

Then the pain arrived. Georgia had slammed the lid down onto his wrist. His hand was stuck in the glove box with hers on top holding it tightly closed.

“Get the wallet John” her voice was calm but firm. His fingers located it and he started the painful withdrawal. Every knuckle and bone scraped against the lid, the catch ploughing a furrow in his flesh. His hand finally dragged itself free as the lid snapped shut with the sound of a cheap plastic coffin lid.

He deposited the wallet into his wife’s lap before rubbing his wrist and breathing for the first time in a while.

“You know which one to get?” His wife was saying as she handed over a crisp ten pound note to Emily before she happily nodded and started to skip away. “Be careful of the traffic Hun” Georgia called after the disappearing girl.

“And watch out for Bob Holness” John giggled under his breath.

Georgia watched her daughter disappear behind a van then turned to John and laughed. “Did that hurt?”

“No” He replied his sarcasm evident.

“Good Boy” he was rewarded with a pat on the head.

“You must keep a look out John” she had become a blur of motion “She can’t see me do this”. The cigarettes and lighter were pulled out and the wrapper was torn off.

“Please John” she beseeched “Warn me when she comes back”. The lighter flared and a drag was taken. It was full and long, if her lungs had the power they would have sucked forever.

“I’ll make a noise like a Tawny owl” He replied softly “Twit Twoo Twit Twoo” and sat back in the seat wrinkling his nose at the acrid smell.

The smoke was expelled first from her nose and then from her mouth. Grey and white, it wreathed itself around her face. It framed her features in a poisonous cloud. Her eyes closed in serene contemplation as she pulled hard on the cigarette. Red lipstick stained the filter and as she lifted it away, her bottom lip was dragged slightly forward by the cosmetic glue.

John’s head rested back on the support, his eyes closing to allow his nose to open.

The smell changed, it was no longer an unwelcome intrusion. It had become the smell of Georgia.

The smell of his wife.

In a pub laughing, a cigarette in her hand as her dark hair danced, choreographed by her glee.

It was the smell of driving too fast in a battered Datsun on a rainy day, a ciggie gripped in her mouth, the destination irrelevant, the journey everything.

Georgia had always smoked, it was only since Emily had arrived that things had changed.

“I’m giving up the fags John” she had told him 8 years ago.

“Great” he replied after the initial surprise “That’s really great”

“I don’t want to” she informed him sulkily “But I have to” She looked straight at him hoping for some indication that he understood.

“I want you to” he replied encouragingly “It will be nice to finally smell the real you”

She laughed a genuine laugh then looked sadly at him. “The real me smells of smoke John”

He had forgotten that.

Nine months later Emily was born and Georgia’s smell had changed forever.

He must have dozed off and he guiltily opened his eyes. Lookouts did not fall asleep.

The car park had barely changed and Emily was standing next to his window. He shut his eyes again and breathed in the real smell of his wife for one last time.

“Georgia” He said at last.

“Yes dear” her voice was distant and peaceful, he could hear the crackle of combustion and the rustle of her blouse as she inhaled deeply.

“Twit twoo Twit twoo”.

Interesting Fact

A Tawny Owl never calls “twit twoo”. In fact the “twit” or more accurately “ke-wick” is a Tawny Owl’s contact call and the “twoo” or again more accurately “hoo-hoo-oooo” is the male’s territorial call. Consequently, if you hear “ke-wick hoo-hoo-oooo” it is most likely a male answering a female (or another male).

Bleeding Revelations

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Lorqan Nboleta was lying in a small clearing of the Sepori Forest. Ankle length grass brushed gently against the skin of his bare arms and legs, a small black beetle crawled around Lorqan’s neck, stopping to drink the sweat that had gathered in the hollow of his throat. It was a glorious day! The sun poured golden light into the forest, the sky visible above the clearing was a clear azure blue unmarked by cloud. As always the forest was a riot of green; vibrant, verdant and above all else home. Heat suffused the forest, heat and light bringing life and energy to the trees and fauna across the Expanse. Warmth from the day enveloped Lorqan and he drank it in. He loved the sun, he loved the heat and he loved his home.

Closing his eyes against the light of the sun Lorqan thought of his wife. They were only wed six days past. There should have been the excitement, passion and ecstasy of two beings newly joined, but instead he and Jenneh were awkward, uncomfortable and uncertain with each other. There was physical attraction, of that there was no doubt. Jenneh was a beautiful young woman and Lorqan had certainly noticed her on the few occasions their villages had shared festivals. Physical attraction alone, however, does not make a successful partnership. Their times alone were full of long difficult silences. On the occasions when they had made love it was stilted and disjointed, neither knowing the other well enough to recognise and interpret small signs of arousal or annoyance. It felt more like a chore than a pleasure as both were still too young and serious about sex to find humour in their shortcomings.

Their discomfort in each other was not purely their own fault. Theirs was a marriage made of politics designed to increase the ties and trade between the two villages. Such a thing was common within the Mwangi Expanse, but Lorqan wished that there had been time for him to get know Jenneh before their fathers had agreed on the union of their families.

Lorqan thought of his new wife. He thought of her gentle smile, the shyness in the tilt of her head when he made a bad joke, the way she spoke with the children of her adopted village. He thought of her eagerness to be part of his family, the way she joked with his sister and paid attention to his mother and grand-mother when they expounded wisdom and the secrets of a good marriage. He remembered the shared embarrassment of bawdy songs sung by the men of his village as they were ushered to the marital home on their wedding night. He thought of her light touch on his skin and the softness of her breathing when she was asleep. He thought of his desire to please her and the delight he felt with her approval. It was then that he understood that he was falling in love with his new wife.

He should have been overjoyed with this revelation, but instead he sighed as a deep sadness filled his soul.

Lorqan opened his eyes to the brightness of the day. He heard a droning buzz and felt a fly land on his cheek to lap at the blood seeping from his mouth. He raged at how cruel the world was when he could only realise that he was falling in love with his new wife as he lay dying.

He railed at himself for being so careless. He had not seen the signs or scat of wild boar that suggested a mother and her young were near by. He had been too preoccupied with scanning the trees for bee hives so he could bring home some fresh honey for Jenneh. She had mentioned in passing that she loved it and he had wanted her to be happy. The mother boar had rushed from cover to protect her young and Lorqan was too slow to in his defence. The boar’s tusks had ripped into his abdomen tearing muscle and piercing his bowels. Brought to his knees Lorqan was helpless when the protective boar turned for another attack. Her head had slammed into him, solid cranium cracking Lorqan’s ribs, pushing two into his left lung and flinging him onto his back in the clearing. The boar had then hovered over him, snorted hot, wet air disdainfully into his face and trotted back to her young brood. Lorqan was left in the clearing, bleeding and broken. He knew he would die here alone. He was surprised that he felt no fear, just sadness that he would not be able to live the life that he would have liked to. The fly skittered across Lorqan’s face to find a better position to enjoy its feast. Lorqan wanted to brush it away but he could not move his arms. He sighed again, blowing bubbles in the blood. He felt weak; the sun’s bright light could not shine life or energy into his failing body. Pain racked his chest and stomach sending juddering spears of agony through him. Despite his physical condition, the small primitive part of Lorqan’s brain picked up a rustling sound at the edge of the clearing. Fearing that the mother boar had returned, Lorqan tried in vain to reach his spear causing him to cough foaming blood on to his chin. Feeling vulnerable and alone he laid his head back onto the soft grass to await the inevitable end. Seemingly long moments passed but eventually instead of the boar’s bristly visage Lorqan’s eyes beheld the smooth, hairless face of a teenage boy. The boy looked down at Lorqan with empathy, expressive eyes leaking tears of compassion. Lorqan recognised the boy; he was from Jenneh’s village. He was the strange boy who spent hours meditating and when he looked at you it felt as though he could see inside you. What was his name? Koomba or something like that. The people in Jenneh’s village certainly treated him with awe and respect, even if he was only little more than a child.

The boy knelt and gently cradled Lorqan’s head in his lap. Lorqan tried to speak but only spewed blood onto the boy’s trousers. Tell Jenneh I am sorry. Tell her that I was falling in love with her. Lorqan willed the boy to hear his thoughts. Please, boy, please understand. Please help me.

The boy remained silent and staring intently into Lorqan’s eyes he gently placed a cool hand on Lorqan’s feverish brow. The instant the boy’s hand touched him Lorqan felt a pressure in his head. A strange pushing feeling against his sense of being, he had never felt anything like this before. It was like an itch inside his skull. The pressure grew, pushing further into his mind.

“Let me” the boy whispered softly

Lorqan looked into the boy’s wide dark eyes and felt the pressure build in his mind.

“Let me” the boy whispered again “It’s OK, let me”

Lorqan longed to say something to this strange boy, anything, last words that could be taken back to Jenneh. Instead blood dribbled onto his cheek as his last breath sighed out from his ruined chest.

As the last precious moments of air bubbled from his lungs Lorqan felt a pop in his head. Then he did not feel alone anymore. It felt as though someone was in his head with him. He could not communicate with this other being but he knew it was there. There was no feeling of threat or malice from the presence just that it was present. Lorqan felt oneness with it but also separateness. It was a wholly discombobulating experience to share his head space with another being that he knew but did not know. His mind slid away from the confusion taking the route of ignorance rather than risking his sanity. Unconsciously Lorqan accepted the other presence in his head and as he did so physical awareness returned.

Pain ripped through him burning away rationality, burning away thought and scouring away the brief understanding that he was still alive. Heat and pain were all Lorqan knew for many moments. His stomach roared in fiery agony as intestines, muscle and skin was forced to knit back together. Crunching, grinding pain seared into his chest as his ribs were pulled out of his lungs and reset by an unseen force. Lorqan could feel energy pulsing stark and  cobalt behind his eyes, ripping through his body in flood of cruel and harsh healing, a violent restoration of life to a fragile body. Head throbbing, full with power and the alien presence, Lorqan’s eyes flew open and he gasped his agony, relief and confusion to the open blue sky. The lad, Koomba?, was still kneeling over him, only now the boy’s eyes were wide and full of fear, body trembling beneath homespun clothes. Lorqan gawped in morbid fascination when the boy’s face and frame withered as Lorqan’s own grew stronger. Youthful vitality visibly leeching out, his breathing laboured the youth tried to say something that Lorqan could not hear past the beating of his own heart. The young lad withdrew his hand from Lorqan’s head. The presence in Lorqan’s mind snapped out of existence at exactly that instant and the boy cried out in pain. The boy’s body lurched backwards as if pulled by an invisible string and, his eyes rolling back in his skull, he collapsed unconscious next to Lorqan.

Lorqan sat up and looked the youth’s now pallid and gaunt face as at last he remembered the boy’s name. Coombral ……. Coombral Ntakre. Walker-in-the-mind.

What’s In A Name?

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‘What’s the matter young man?’

The young man in question grunted but offered no reply.

Tunika Mbeta nodded understandingly as if a full response had been forthcoming.

‘All the other boys your age are at the village square enjoying the Festival of Dresna. Why are you sitting here with an old man when you could be trying to impress one of the girls from Latkuki village?’

Tunika was rewarded with a brief sullen look before the boy returned his gaze to the dirt he was systematically grinding to dust with his toes.

‘If you are shy or tongue-tied I assure you that you have nothing to worry about, my boy. I may be a relic with dim eyes but my grand-daughters gossip. Sembla Teki’s son this, Sembla Teki’s son that! You, my boy, are a bit of an icon in this village, and my grand-daughters talk ……… a lot, so I am sure that the Latkuki village girls are by now wondering about the mysterious son of Sembla Tkeki!’

If Tunika had hoped to raise a smile from this too serious boy he had truly missed his mark. The boy’s lips thinned to a hard line, his frown deepened his eyes to dark shadows, the muscles under the left eye, twitching faintly, but at last he spoke.

‘Forgive me Elder, I know your words are kindly meant, to lift my dark spirit, but you can’t possibly know what it is like.’

Tunika was surprised by the gravity of the words, this boy was all of twelve years old but spoke like a man three times his age.

‘I have lived a very long time,’ Tunika replied, ‘You might be surprised by how much I understand. What is this “it” that is troubling you so much that you can’t enjoy the festival?’

‘Elder please forgive my insolence’ the boy’s voice trembled with emotion, his eyes fixed on the ground ‘but you spoke of me as Sembla Teki’s son and that is the problem. I am Sembla Teki’s son but that is all. I have no name of my own, only the name of my father.’

Tunika sighed deeply, moved by understanding. The youth glanced up at the sound and Tunika made “carry on” type gestures encouraging him to continue talking.

‘All the other boys my age have found their names. Dobram, Fonli, Ndobi even Lunega are at the festival talking about how they are soon to become men as they have their own names. They will be going through the naming ritual at the end of the festival so both villages will know their names.’ Pausing to wipe damp eyes the boy looked at Tunika imploringly ‘How can I impress the Latkuki girls if I have no name? Why would they be impressed with a stupid boy who can’t throw a spear or wrestle? A stupid boy who can’t even find his own name?’

Tunika sighed again. ‘Unfortunately for you, my boy, you are too young to realise that there is more to life than how well you can throw your spear. No, don’t get up tight! I was merely saying that not all men are born to be hunters or warriors. For some their paths are far more interesting. Will you permit an old man to tell you a story?’ The boy nodded glumly returning his gaze to the dirt and stones at his feet.

Shaking his head Tunika continued, ‘When I was your age, relax boy, this isn’t a “when I was your age the world was a better place” story, although in truth it was, this is my story to you so listen if it please you. When I was your age I lived in this village, in the home that I still have. I lived with my father and mother and my twin brother. When I was twelve my brother found his name by catching the largest fish during the rite of Freon. He was so pleased about it that he strutted around like a rooster for weeks. At first I was pleased for him, he had found his name and he would soon become a man. When I still had not found my own name months afterwards I was less pleased and found his strutting and preening around the girls from other villages annoying. Why hadn’t I found my name? Why was everyone still calling me Ganrit Ndur’s son? It was unfair, surely I was as good as the other boys even if I couldn’t hunt or fish as well. I became so preoccupied with searching for my name by being the best hunter, the best fisherman that I didn’t find it for three more years. Can you imagine that, 15 years old and without my own name? I was shamed. I felt I could not show my face in the village and spent days not leaving my home.’

The young mans shoulders had slumped further and he looked into the middle distance.

 ‘Do you know what my name means?’ Tunika asked, the boy’s focus returned causing him to start. ‘My name, Tunika Mbeta, do you know what it means?’

‘Of course,’ the boy replied sulkily ‘you are the shaman, your name means Holy Messenger, the whole village knows that. What does that have to do with me?’

Hiding a smile at the boy’s egocentricity Tunika said ‘Would you like to know how I found my name?’

 A glum nod in response.

‘I stopped looking where everyone else was looking and looked inside myself. I couldn’t find my name in the village, the river or the forest so I had to search somewhere else. I sat in my home breathing deeply focusing on nothing but my own thoughts and my own body. I became so focused that I lost track of time. When my mother returned home she found me in the boar pen speaking in the holy language to a large healthy boar that had been diseased and dying that morning. That is how I found my name, by looking inward not seeking to better the deeds of others. Perhaps, like me, your name is hidden inside. Perhaps you need to change where you look. Would you like me to show you?’

Another slow nod.

‘Come, sit here. You need to make yourself comfortable you may be here some time. Yes like that. Now it will be easier if you close your eyes. Take a deep breath in through your nose, and slowly let it out through your mouth. Try to breathe in by pulling out your stomach rather than your chest, this will help you breathe more deeply, excellent. Now imagine a tallow candle burning in your mind. Imagine the light of the candle, focus on that light. It is warm. Allow the light to flow into you, into your arms, your legs your heart. Imagine your heart pumping the light around your body, you are full of the warm white light, allow it to fill your mind, the light is you and you are light. Allow yourself to relax into the light, keep breathing and explore the light, explore your mind.’

Tunika sat in the late morning sun watching, light shone the un-named boy’s dark skin turning it blue black small creases of concentration formed around his eyes. Tunika closed his eyes and relaxed into the warmth of the day and his own internal light. He had been doing this simple meditation exercise for so many years now that the light filled him instantly allowing him a wholeness of being that was lacking in the external world. Tunika basked in the heat of his being, the depth of his soul and his mind. He was master of this internal world. Memories sparked by the story of his own naming flooded his mind and he almost laughed at the angry naïve boy he had been. He remembered the first time had approached the girl who would become his wife, pleasure suffusing his physical being as well as his mind. It was many years since he had felt a stir in that part of his body! Tunika was so absorbed in his memories and his unexpected physical response that he almost missed the strange itching sensation in his mind. He felt a gentle presence against the surface of his being, a flicker against the edges of his thinking. The presence grew stronger, pressing harder, it was an alien but not unpleasant feeling and Tunika felt no alarm. He imagined his mind bending under the pressure, allowing the presence to push deeper like pushing a ball into water. Suddenly, with what felt like an audible pop the presence was inside his mind. It was a part of him but separate, it was within him but outside, it was thinking about kissing his grand-daughter!

Tunika opened his eyes to see the boy, slacked jawed with eyes wild and wide. The youths face was ashen and every inch of him trembled. The moment the boy became aware of Tunika looking at him the presence fled from Tunika’s mind.

‘Elder, I am sorry’ the boy blurted ‘I do not know what happened. You grand daughter, I am sorry, I should not have thoughts ……’

Tunika stood slowly from his stool, bones creaking in protest. ‘Boy,’ he said seriously ‘We must go to see your father’

‘I am sorry Elder. I meant no disrespect. It’s just that she is so pretty’

The boy’s obvious discomfort made Tunika laugh out loud. ‘You misunderstand, we need not see your father about thoughts of you kissing my grand-daughter. We need to see him of a matter far more important. My boy, you have found your name and it is a name to be proud of! You are Coombral Ntakre’

The boy stood dumbfounded – Coombral Ntakre, Walker-in-the-Mind.

A Hunka Hunka….

Doll 3

Smiler felt a huge knuckle prod at his shattered ribs; he couldn’t stifle a moan as the sharp fragments of bone grated on his insides. If he believed in the Gods he would’ve prayed that this beast ate only dead flesh, instead he made do with wishing it did. More than once he’d survived by playing dead, laying silent and still while his noisier comrades were ripped apart and feasted upon by their conquerors. More than once he’d survived by being the first to turn and run, leaving his slower comrades to die in the storm of teeth and claws that came exploding from beneath. He wished that he’d felt this storm coming sooner. The earth rumbled under his feet but before he could run the ground collapsed beneath him. As his stomach rose he saw a cracks spreading out all around him, the ground swallowing half of his platoon in a ragged hole forty strides across. Before he could brace himself he slammed into the ground at the bottom of the pit, the ribs along the left side of his back took the full force of the fall and Smiler felt each one shatter into his lung. He tried to move but the pain nailed him to the ground. His vision blurred as he fought to retain consciousness. He could hear his platoon screaming all around him. Then the ground began to shake again. The beasts charging through their tunnels to find their quarry, like spiders rushing to a struggling fly trapped in their web. The deep rumbling was followed by the beast’s high pitched screeching. Echoing, amplified and regurgitated by the tunnels, it started a flood of panic among the men trapped in the pit. Smiler gritted his teeth and began to crawl. He wasn’t sure where he was crawling to, but the screeching had awakened within him an inescapable drive to run away.

The first beast erupted from the ground somewhere behind Smiler. As it burst from the earth its echoing screeches became low hungry growls. Dust and stones showered down on Smiler.  A nearby scream was silenced by a wet ripping sound, a warm wet spray landed on Smiler’s arm and neck. The sweet smell of blood corrupted and turned poison by the smell of shit, bile and fear. Panic turned his slow dragging crawl into a desperate scrabble to find any kind of shelter or protection. He took a deep breath and managed to get to his feet and start walking. Across the pit he saw salvation. Karron, his katana a shimmering silver mist around him was coming to save him. As he breathed out the shards of bone pinched into his lungs and guts, Smiler’s vision swam and he fell as if he’d been pole-axed.

The knuckle prodded him again, only it wasn’t a knuckle it was Karron. His face flushed, a thick yellow splattering of beast blood coating him from head to toe.

“My battle Father has become my battle brother. Each born when saved by the other. From this day to the end of days let it be known that we are now joined by blood. I am honoured to have a new brother called Smiler..”

“Smiler!” another prod, harder this time “SMILER!” a hefty kick to his ribs followed.

His head still swam from the pain in his ribs. He smelled smoke and roasting meat. Who was cooking in battle? He smelled vomit, felt it cold and sticky on his cheek. How long had he been unconscious? Why was there a wooden floor in the pit?

Smiler’s alcohol fueled dream faded as he awoke to find himself lying in a pool of his own vomit on the inn floor. The air was filled with smoke and the unmistakable odour of burning meat.

Smiler felt someone pulling on his arm “WAKE.  UP.   YOU.   DRUNK.   FUCK!!!” each word punctuated with a solid thump in his aching ribs.

Kye was sobbing between each shouted word. Smiler’s eyes slowly opened to see their newest recruit in a fit of rage. He was shaking uncontrollably, breaths coming in short panting bursts. The hair was gone from the front of his head, in its place a red and weeping sore, charred black around the edges. Both arms were blackened, blood oozing from deep black cracks in the flesh. His nightshirt hung in smouldering tatters around him. Before Smiler’s eyes Kye stopped shaking, all traces of his rage disappeared and his face settled into a gentle smile.

“Karron…” he managed to say in between silent shallow breaths. “Karron…”

The drunken fog raced from Smiler’s thoughts as he sprinted up to the room he was supposed to have shared last night. The air was thick with choking black smoke, the unmistakable smell of Kopanese lamp oil mixed with burning meat. Smiler fought back his primal urge, took a deep breath and ran to the burning room. The heat increased with every step he took along the corridor and as he stepped in front of the doorway his hair ignited. Inside the room Smiler saw Hell. The tight white flames of the oil clinging to a burning log, so bright it hurt to look at it. Orange flames, loud and wild coating every other surface in the room, black smoke and incredible heat billowing everywhere . Smiler inched into the room, where was Karron?

Under the log he caught a glimpse of something. His eye darted to it, recognition flashed but disappeared before he could grasp it. He struggled to open his eyes in the heat, but he must find Karron. He was his battle brother, he was the reason he was still alive, he was the finest man he’d ever known. He was the only person who accepted Smiler; he was the only person Smiler had ever loved. Like a bolt of lightning recognition of the  glimpse hit Smiler. It was the tip of Karron’s katana. Karron only ever drew his blade for battle, Smiler assumed he polished and sharpened his blade but he’d never seen it done. When it was drawn the blade was never still, it flurried and surged around Karron. Enveloping him like a filigree silver net, protecting him like a wall of Greenskin Iron. Karron was his blade. The blade was Karron. Why was it left poking out from under a burning log?

Beaten by the heat and smoke Smiler retreated from the infernal blaze. He beat out the flames on his hair and clothes as he ran from the  room. He looked at his charred clothes and skin. He was in agony but he knew from experience that meant he was alive. When wounds didn’t hurt or just felt warm, that was when you were closest to death.

Shit!

Smiler raced back down the stairs just in time to see Kye fall in a heap on the floor

A Mother’s Love

I’ll admit it. Motherhood hasn’t been easy for me. I’m not maternal. If it was up to me I’d never have kept this mewling little fucker. Time was I could afford to dislodge the things with a quart of gin and a dig in my cunny with a kabob skewer. When I was young they’d pay me just to see me piss. But looks don’t last in this game, they fade. Slowly at first but more with each day that passes. You can paint over the cracks in your face but once your bubs go saggy you’ve got to find another trick. Men disgust me.

G’Thun told me they’d pay extra to stick it a bun filled oven and even more to suck the milk from me like I was a heifer cow. When G’Thun spoke I listened, I’d seen what happened to the girls who didn’t. So there it was, instead of a minor inconvenience pregnancy became my trade. Every eight or nine months I’d shit out a little brat into a sack drop a few rocks in and throw the lot into the nearest river. Twelve years that did me. It didn’t pay as much as I got when I was a youngster but better than most of the girls my age. Enough to keep G’Thun easy. After the first deliverance they get easier. By the end I could sneeze and they’d drop from me with a gush and a splat. One pig gave me a huge tip when he thought it was his “massive” rod that dislodged one.

This one though, little fucker decided to come out backwards. Nearly tore me in half. The nuns found me, half bled to death, dumped behind their mission. That little fucker clung to life though. Sometimes I think just to spite me. Sometimes I think the gods were paying me back for sending them so many other babes. The nuns tried to get me to hold it. Let it feed off of me like pigs did. But that little fuck wasn’t paying. My milk was worth money and that cunny ripping little fuck had cost me enough already. I had to get out of this place and earning again as soon as possible. G’Thun didn’t like us having time off. When he didn’t like something people ended up bloody. But he was good to me, only ever cut me once. The rest of the time I only got punched or kicked. Some pigs pay more if I’m bruised but I don’t like being hit. It’s not worth it.

It was three months before I could leave the nuns. The little fuck had torn my insides to shreds. I couldn’t get out fast enough. I promised the nuns that I’d look after the little fucker that nearly killed me. Even though I still couldn’t bear it sucking on my teats, they let me take it home. G’Thun welcomed me back into his fold. He cut me a bit, but I owed him three months money. I’ve seen him go harder on girls who owed him less. He must have a real soft spot for me. For a few months the kid lived in my room. The other girls saw it was fed. As long as it was quiet when I was working I could just about tolerate it. It was always quiet. When it started climbing out of its crate I had to put a lid on it. As it got bigger I just put heavier and heavier things on top. After a while it stopped trying to get out, it just looked out of the holes in the crate.

Without the buns in my oven, work was hard. I ended up seeing the guys the other girls refused to see. Ugly, poor, foul smelling, crippled or just too violent for the younger girls to cope with. I’d send them all away smiling. The other girls kept on feeding the shit in the crate.

And now I’m here, looking into its eyes. It’s a boy and his eyes are so brown. Not like the dull muddy brown mine are. They’re a deep rich chestnut and so shiny.

“Come here little fella”

This is the first time I’ve spoken to him. Lying here I just want to take him up into my arms and hold him. Why is it now that my maternal instinct has decided to start? I pat the floor and make some cooing noises.

“Come here son”

How is it that I’ve never gotten around to naming him? I once thought about calling him G’Thun. But after this I’ve changed my mind. I don’t think his soft spot for me has lasted. G’Thun came when he heard me scream; He’d sent me a pig that I’d never seen before. Tall, with thick black hair all over his body. He stank like garlic and old sweat. He stripped naked except for his iron gauntlets. I tried to talk to him but he looked through me like I wasn’t there. He just lay on the bed, cock standing to attention. I went to kiss it, but he pulled me up by my hair until I could feel it pushing at my cunny. I sat down slowly on it, feeling it inch inside me and then I started rocking back and forth. I started rocking faster, sliding up and down on him, moaning with “pleasure”. I arched my back pushing my bubs out, and closed my eyes rocking faster and faster as his breaths started to get heavy. As I opened my eyes he punched me in the teeth, with a fucking gauntlet. I jumped off his cock and screamed for help, blood gushing from my mouth. G’Thun slammed open the door open and I ran to him for help. His fist flew up at me. I could feel my ribs crack as his fist hit the bone between my bubs. He’s a splitter for fuck’s sake. I crashed to the ground gasping for breath.

The pig with the gauntlet growled at G’Thun “You said she’d be quiet you Cock-sucking Splitter.”

“She will be now” He grunted in his guttural monotone.

The door shut behind him.

My lungs burned as I tried to scream. All that came out was a hoarse whisper. Tears blurred my vision as I looked up to see the gauntleted pig leaning down to grab a handful of my hair. He dragged me up ‘til I was face to face with his hard cock. He punched me until my jaw slacked and then shoved himself down my throat until I choked. At the edges of my vision the world started to turn grey . My survival instincts shook me alert, desperate for air I bit down as hard as I could. My teeth clenched and I felt his pride pop in my mouth with a gush of blood. With a wrench of my hair he pulled me off of him, but too late. He roared with rage as I spat it at his feet like a dead worm. Blood pumped from his groin, spraying me head to toe in a crimson shower. Then from the table he grabbed his belt and unsheathed his dagger. I laughed at the irony; he’d never unsheathe his other dagger again.

I fell backwards against the wall and reached out for something to protect myself. Scrabbling around I found the heavy iron lamp that kept the boy’s crate shut. As the pig stepped towards me I lashed out with the lamp, there was a crunch as the base hit him in the temple. The light in his eyes flickered out and he fell forwards onto me.  As if just to spite me his arm twitched and the dagger glanced the side of my neck. He fell in a clumsy heap, knocking over the crate. The boy inside giggling as he tipped out onto the floor.

I put my hand to my neck and felt the blood pulsing out between my fingers.

My Son’s eyes locked with mine. How old was he now? Two?

“Come on little fella, come give your mummy a hug”

Slowly he crawled towards me, slipping in the blood as it pooled beneath me but he still comes to me, brown eyes full of forgiveness. I let my neck go and hold him in my arms for the first time. The thick red gouts coating him as he sinks into my arms.  He puts his arms around me and as I squeeze him tight, I feel for the first time what it is for a mother to love her child and as the world starts to turn grey all I can think is,

“He has such a beautiful smile”.

A Comet From The Big Song

Jade Blooms

The sun shone high in the sky, this far north the sun never dipped more than halfway down to the horizon. People who’d travelled from the south had real problems trying live in the never-ending daylight. They could never get used to the northern custom of sleeping for a bell or so every three or four bells. After a few months they’d end up red eyed and short tempered, crying or laughing uncontrollably at the slightest thing. They never lasted much past that. Serak though was a born northerner; in her nineteen years she’d never been far enough south to experience night. The thought of the world turning as black as if she shut her eyes tight and couldn’t open them, was something that terrified her. Southerners told northern children tales of beasts and monsters that grabbed and devoured people unseen in the inky blackness. Although she was old enough to know that the tales weren’t true, she could never quell the terror she felt whenever she imagined the world in darkness.

Serak smiled at the white haired lady as she bought her mint tea to the table, then she carried on adding tiny touches to her nearly complete painting. The lady had sat for nearly a whole bell quietly drinking tea and watching Serak at her canvas. As Serak finished painting she stood back to get a better view of her canvas the lady stood next to her.

“It’s beautiful” she said “I wish I had a fraction of your talent.”

Reaching into her purse the lady pulled out four jade blooms, more than a month’s wage for a waitress. She placed the blooms into Serak’s hands and asked for the painting to be delivered soon as possible after it was dry. The teahouse where Serak worked doubled as a gallery and art studio, she was part waitress and part artist. She was paid less than waitresses in other places, but she got to paint during the quiet times and keep any money she made from selling her work. Since she started working here the teahouse had become the most popular in the town of Song. It might have been because Serak was easily the most beautiful girl in Song. It might have been because she had an aura of welcoming and warmth that put customers instantly at ease. It might have been that she was a naturally gifted artist, with a soft and delicate style that reflected her gentle personality. The pale landscapes and understated floral studies that she painted were popular and kept customers coming to teahouse to see them. Whatever it was, Manuo who owned the shop looked after her as if she were a precious china doll. She’d been at work for four bells, long enough that her body ached for some sleep. She waved to Manuo and pointed to the teahouse sleep room. She slipped through the curtains and walked quietly, over to a giant wheat husk bed careful not to wake the three sleeping customers. She sat on the bed and swung her legs up, shuffling backwards until she was swaddled into its enveloping comfort. The husk bed supported and cradled her as if she were a babe in the womb, within a heartbeat she was fast asleep.

It was dark, she knew her eyes were open but she could see nothing. Fear rose in her gullet, tasting of bile and iron in her throat. She inched forward on her hands and knees, fumbling with each clumsy move forward. Something howled in the distance. She stood, still blind but taking bigger steps arms held out in front of her reaching into the darkness. The howl filled the air again, closer this time. Her heart pounded in her chest as she started to panic. Her steps became longer and quicker until she found herself running full pelt in the darkness, the fear of the howling overwhelming every other instinct. Her lungs began to burn, the pounding in her chest now echoed loud in her ears. Then she was falling, as if she’d run off a cliff edge. In the darkness she could see nothing. All she could hear was wind rushing past her ears, then in the whooshing she thought she heard something. A whisper, a soft chant, something repeating over and over just beyond her. She strained to hear it, the sensation of falling ignored as the sound captivated her concentration. It danced about the edges of her senses, sometimes closer sometimes further. Then in one moment she heard it clearly. Instantly the darkness and her fear of it vanished. She was no longer falling; she was flying over a cacophony of colours that whizzed by beneath her. Bright reds, vivid blues, yellows that vibrated with light and deep majestic purples. The colours lay out in graceful arcs that she flew along like roads. She put her arms out wide as she pirouetted, laughing as she dipped and dived through the air. Then with a swoosh she started to climb high into the air, the colours spreading out beneath her. As she rose and soared higher she began to see it was a huge picture far below her. It was nothing like anything she’d ever painted or even imagined. She instantly saw that it was The Big Song, the white stone spire in the centre of town. But instead of creamy marble white, this spire was a twisted rainbow of colours. And stood atop it was a tiny naked figure, shrouded in red ribbons that she instantly recognised as herself. As she recognised herself what ever it was that kept her aloft suddenly stopped. Wind rushed around her, she screamed as the ground came rushing towards her. Faster and faster she fell, so fast that her scream was torn from her lips before it could be heard. She tried to soar with her arms, but she just kept plummeting. Her eyes fixed on her portrait atop The Big Song. Every muscle in her body tensed, she held her hands in front of her to break her fall, and she knew that she was going too fast to stop. At the moment of impact she squeezed her eyes shut and waiting for the pain to explode as she crashed to the ground. At that moment she heard the same whispered word that started her flight but this time it was loud and clear singing in her mind.

She sat bolt upright, her body drenched in sweat. Her platinum blonde hair stuck to her face, the light cotton sari she wore was indecent in the way it stuck to her skin. She leapt from the bed and stormed out of the sleep room, no concern for how much noise she made or who she woke. The curtains billowed behind her as she came into the teashop. Like a woman possessed she grabbed as much paint as she could carry from the studio, stuffed it into a sack and ran for the door. Bursting into the street she started to run towards The Big Song.

The Big Song stood the height of more than two-hundred men and it took a full minute to run around the base. Up its steep sides was a pattern of twisting spirals, weathered deep into the creamy white marble. It dominated the centre of town, the spirals at the base were each the start of a main street, the six main streets spiralled through Song as if the town were a sheet being twisted and pulled upwards in the middle. It was easily visible from anywhere in town and could be seen from as far away as the great eastern forest on a fine day.

Serak careered through the streets, people shouting as they were forced to dodge out of her way. As she ran a seed of a smile tickled her lips and flowered into a loud giggle. By the time she reached the Big Song she was laughing uncontrollably. She reached the base and leaned back to look up at the smooth marble edifice that rose above her. It took her moments to run round the base, searching for the hand and footholds that would give her a path to the top. Eventually she settled on a deep vein of wear that looked promising. She tied the sack of paint over her shoulder and began her ascent. Laughing as she climbed, she gave no attention to the enormity of her goal. In her lifetime she could never remember anybody climbing The Big Song. The sheer joy of the climb filled her with previously untapped reserves of strength and determination. She simply put her hand on the next nearest nub and moved relentlessly upwards. Before she was halfway up her hands, and feet were scraped, bruised and bleeding. The blood dripped down the smooth marble in long rivulets and left long red streaks wherever she passed. For a short while she stopped in a small cove, just long enough to sit down and examine her wounds. Unrestrained by vanity she stripped out of her white linen sari and began to rip it into long strips. She bound the strips tightly over her hands and feet and continued her climb. She ignored the pain as her bandages filled with bright red blood, the sheer joy of the climb dulling the ache in her exhausted muscles.

The summit was a smooth white dome, with just enough room to stand on. Serak shouted with triumph as she stood naked atop the giant landmark. She reached into her sack and started to throw handfuls of paint down around her feet, the paint splashed and ran making the top of the tower look like it was wrapped in rainbow ribbons. Serak stood tall and turned into the wind. The unfurling bandages on her hands caught in the wind and whipped out behind her, her long blonde hair following the crimson strips of sari. Putting her head back to look into the bright sky she listened to the wind. The remnants of her dream echoing deep within her mind. She started a low melodious chant, her tongue danced in her mouth finding new shapes and sounds to whisper into the breeze. Louder and louder she sang in a language that she didn’t recognise. The crescendo climbed and her vocal chords laboured as she strained to shout to the heavens. Then just as she thought her lungs would burst, one final word echoed out of her and she leapt, diving from the edge. The strips of sari flared behind her billowing with her long blonde hair. As she plummeted to the ground her last breath singing the final sibilant hiss of the word that hadn’t been heard for a thousand generations.

“LUMOS”

Don’t push me!

Image

The captain squealed as a bolt thudded into the door inches away from his head. Smiler wasn’t convinced that this captain was the sort of fellow that would’ve been captain material up at The Wound. Karron pulled him out of the doorway as another bolt ricocheted off the door frame and clattered into the ceiling above. Down in the darkness they all heard the distinctive click-clunk-click of a flatbow being winched to reload. Smiler rushed back to the store room to find a torch, whoever was shooting them had the advantage of being able to see them. An advantage Smiler wanted to even out before he ventured into the darkness below. Karron however had other plans. With a deep growling cry he charged down the stairway into darkness, the captain following close behind. Smiler however wasn’t going anywhere he couldn’t see the enemy and he continued his search as shouts, screams and the muffled thumps of fists hitting flesh echoed up from the darkness.

The noise was over in a few seconds and by the time he’d found and lit a torch and caught up with them Karron and the captain were stood over their unconscious assailant. The torch revealed a small cellar with nothing but a bed, a bookshelf and an overturned table and chair that were either overturned in the fracas or used as cover by the man lying on the floor. Before Smiler had a chance to get a clearer picture his torch flickered for a second and plunged them into inky blackness. Karron somehow managed to locate a lantern and flicked it to life once again illuminating the small room. This certainly wasn’t the glorious library they’d been expecting to find.

Smiler’s sensitive nose caught the sweet scent of blood and noticed that Karron had a bolt sticking out of his shoulder in the joint of his armour. If Karron had noticed it, it hadn’t seemed to register as something that would have had most men rolling on the floor in pain. Karron’s eyes followed Smiler’s gaze and he finally noticed the bolt. He looked at is as a housewife might look at a melon trying to judge if it was ripe. He gave the bolt a tentative tug, winced almost imperceptibly then grasped the bolt tightly and snapped off the protruding part of the shaft. Karron grunted quietly and slumped slightly forward as the bolt shifted in his flesh. Smiler went to help his friend but was dismissed with a subtle shake of Karron’s head and a stern frown. Although he’d seen Karron heal himself almost daily at The Wound Smiler still found it fascinating and watched in silent wonder. Karron pulled an arrow from his own quiver, gripped the head in his teeth and pulled the shaft free. He spat the steel head onto the floor before carefully aligning the shaft against the wooden nub sticking out over the top of his lacquered breast plate. Karron closed his eyes and began to breathe deeply and slowly. As he breathed out Smiler saw his jaw clench and with a guttural grunt he pulled the shaft sharply into his shoulder driving the bolt deeper and eventually out of his back with a gush of bright red blood. Karron reached over his shoulder and pulled out the barbed bolt. He looked at it for a second before dropping it, Then with a wet slither he pulled the blunted shaft from the front of his shoulder. Smiler, and now the captain watched silently as Karron began to chant a short sibilant Kopanese phrase over and over while he tensed and flexed his shoulder. With each chant the blood oozing from the hole in his muscle seemed to slow, after a minute or so there was a thick clot over the wound and no fresh blood flowed.

“An arrow does not deflect a blade” Karron stated, the deep bass in his voice making it sound like an unquestionable truth.

At the sound of movement the captain looked down to see his captive stirring to consciousness. The man lying on the floor was small; his grey hair was unkempt and had receded more than halfway back to the top of his head. He was dressed in the vestments of an Helenian priest, unsurprising as this was an Helenian temple. What was surprising was the state of those vestments; Smiler had seen cleaner clothes on beggars.

“I’ll tell you nothing!” screeched the priest, a mix of fear and anger obvious in his tone.

Smiler smiled, People always told him things eventually. He lifted the chair and sat quietly on it waiting for the captain and Karron to call on his skills.

With an easy smile the captain helped the priest to his feet and gently ushered him to the bed. “We’re here to help” he said, nodding in agreement with his pronouncement. “I apologise unreservedly for the egregious manner of our untimely entrance, but as I’m sure you’re abundantly aware certain proceedings in the region of Red Falls have necessitated some previously unthinkable resolutions to come to the fore when dealing with happenstances beyond My Company’s immediate realm of influence.”

“I’ll tell you NOTHING!” the priest screeched again, louder than before. Smiler wasn’t sure if the volume was meant to convince the captain or the priest himself.

“Dear Sir” said the captain in his honey tones “I wholeheartedly assure you that my esteemed colleagues and I wish nothing but unsurpassed health and prosperity towards yourself. Furthermore we wish to prostrate ourselves upon Helene’s’ altar and have her bless us with the ageless wisdoms enclosed in the library we know to be hidden beneath her glorious temple. Indeed we seek…”

“Where is the Library?” Karron interrupted his face suddenly inches away from the priest’s. “We seek the Library of The Octocratic Magi”

“I’ll tell you nothing.” The priest said the volume and vehemence of his statement tempered by the sight of Karron’s gleaming katana.

Karron stared unblinking at the priest for a few heartbeats. His code meant that although he could show his blade, he could never use it on an unarmed man. Indeed he would not harm the priest in any way outside of fair battle. The priest shied away from Karron’s intense eyes but did not offer any further information. Frustrated Karron turned and began to search the small cellar.

Smiler stood and pushed past the captain, he sat next to the priest and gently took his hand in his own. With a sudden violent wrench he snapped the priest’s little finger backwards. The priest cried out in pain as the joint flexed unnaturally and then snapped like a carrot. The captain’s eyes widened, a complaint danced on his lips before he swallowed it.

“Where is the library?” Smiler asked in a flat monotone, his fingers finding the priest’s ring finger and gripping it firmly.

“I’ll tell you nothing” the priest sobbed, defiance now gone from his voice.

Smiler knew he’d soon have his answer. He wondered why in the abyss the priest wouldn’t tell him what he wanted to know. Silently he leant in and whispered his blunt monotone into the priest’s ear “Where is the library?”

There was a heartbeat’s pause before Smiler’s arm tensed and twisted the finger in his grip until he felt it pop out of the knuckle like a chicken wing being prepared for jointing. The priest screamed in agony and tried to pull his hand away as Smiler felt for his middle finger.

“By The Gods Man!” The captain grabbed hold of Smiler by the scruff of his neck and dragged him away from the priest. “We are not animals and this priest is not some beast spewed from the Wound. This is not the way we do things!”

Smiler shuddered with a rush of adrenaline; if the captain laid hands on him again he wasn’t sure he’d be able to control his temper. Reddening in the face he shrugged and walked back to his chair, soon enough the captain would see that his was the quickest way to get answers. He looked sheepishly down at his feet and his face broke into a wide smile. In the scuffle the captain had kicked the priest’s bedside rug and peeking out from under the corner was a wooden trap door. Smiler pointed, waiting for the captain to compliment his good work. The compliment never came.

Karron pushed past Smiler to get to the rug, which he pulled away. After lifting the bed onto its side all four men stood staring at the large iron lock embedded in the trap door. Without warning Smiler grabbed and twisted a finger on the priest’s other hand.

“Where’s the key?” he enquired in his flat tone.

The priest screamed in pain and collapsed to the floor, his bent finger still gripped tightly in Smiler’s hand. Karron turned and cuffed Smiler hard on the back of his head.

“The captain said that is not how we do things!”

Fury rushed into Smiler like river bursting its banks, for a second his eyes locked with Karron’s and murder was plain in his gaze. The he remembered Itguar and how he’d taught Smiler to hold the rage. He remembered how Karron reminded him of Itguar, the same honour and honesty. Perhaps Karron was a little naive; he viewed the world as if everyone held the same standards as his. Smiler had unfortunately lived his life in a world where honour and honesty were rare beasts. While he accepted Karron as an authority figure, he knew that he had to look after his best interests if they were to make it in the ronin’s new world.

Smiler dropped the priest’s hand and skulked back to his seat. Meanwhile the captain was rifling through the priest’s pockets as he lay groaning on the floor, after a moment or two he held aloft a thick iron key.

“Violence is rarely the easiest way to find things” he claimed loudly, staring pointedly at Smiler.

The captain spent a few minutes checking the trapdoor from all angles, putting his ear against it while he knocked it with his dagger hilt. When he’d satisfied himself he slipped the key into the lock. It fit perfectly and twisted with a satisfyingly smooth action. The captain once again lay flat on his belly and began probing the gap around the door with the tip of his dagger. As he had tested two edges Karron grasped the door and lifted it wide open. The captain squealed again and rolled away from the door as if he were on fire. Smiler shook his head; this fellow would’ve been killed by the end of his first day at The Wound. If not by the beasts, then by anyone he’d try to command.

Karron peered down the hole. He saw a drop of about fifty feet with smooth stone walls. A dim light shone from a small doorway or passage at the bottom of the shaft. With one hand Karron lifted the priest up from the floor by his arm.

“Tell me priest, how do we get down?”

The priest looked up at Karron, a totally defeated man. “If we leap Helene will catch us at the bottom, it is a magic shaft”

In the background Smiler’s ears pricked up and he started towards the pair of men

“You will hold my hand as I jump priest?” and Karron held out his hand to the priest.

Grasping the priest in one hand and Karron in the other Smiler twisted his body, he jerked Karron away from the hole and pushed the priest stumbling face first down the hole. There was a sickening crunch as the priest’s bones shattered at the bottom of the shaft.

The captain threw his hands in the air then buried his face in them. How had he ended up with such savages?

“You can’t just believe people here, they’re not all like you. They lie, they have no honour.” It was the first time Smiler had dared to raise his voice to the surly ronin.

“True honour is reflected only in a gleaming blade”

Smiler took it as a thank you. “I’ve got rope in my pack; we’ll have to climb down”.

At the bottom of the shaft was a short passageway, hewn into the granite bedrock as if it were melted wax. The size of a door at one end, the passage widened and rose until it ended in a wall over ten feet square. In the centre of the wall was a huge golden disc. An eight headed dragon was cast in the centre of the disc, its heads all open mouthed looking hungrily towards the heavens. In dozens of concentric rings around the dragon were runes and letters in what the captain judged to be more than a score of languages. The captain looked closely at the dragon, and pored over each word and rune. For nearly an hour he worked silently, Karron and Smiler watching without comment. The captain stepped away from the disc, turned to Smiler and with a forced grin said “We could really do with a priest to help us read this”