Thursday, October 31, 2013

Pewtory the Lesser Bard part 13 - Lionel the Lark


Part 13 of my free serialised story set in the same world of Frindoth as my newly released book Ritual of the Stones. In this story we follow the journey of Pewtory the Lesser bard as he travels to Lilyon to witness the Ritual. 

Read Part 1

Pewtory the Lesser Bard part 13 – Lionel the Lark

By the time Pewtory had climbed the ladder one handed (the other cradled the fish bowl) the other Bard had parted the straw equally down the middle. The message was clear, Pewtory was not permitted to encroach on the other man’s side.

Pewtory set the bowl down and nodded his appreciation. He then removed his sodden cloak and hung it on the rung of the ladder, before taking off his muddy boots. He made sure neither items of clothing came into contact with the straw and made it wet. The other bard seemed to like the practical approach as he also nodded.

Pewtory plonked himself down with a sigh and enjoyed the sensation of not being rained on for a moment. He studied the man who eyed him warily. Now he was closer he could see the man was partially bald. He still retained a thick clump of brown hair around the sides of his head and a stray patch across the crown. He had a large pointed nose and a rather effeminate mouth in that his lips were pink and there was no sign of stubble.

“You bring anything to eat?” The bard said.

“Would I go down even more in your estimation if I said I hadn’t?”

The bard grunted and threw Pewtory half a loaf. Pewtory caught it and thanked the man. It was good, still soft and contained raisins. He took a second to inhale its aroma before ripping off a chunk and plopping it in his mouth.

“There is honey here if you want it, just let me finish spreading it on mine.”

“Just the bread will do thank you. I may be a useless beggar but I don’t overstep the mark. Have you got a name?”

“Lionel the Lark. I take it from your gormless expression you haven’t heard of me?” Pewtory shrugged and smiled what he hoped was a sheepish grin. The man’s name implied that he had a sweet singing voice, but Pewtory found it hard to believe given the man’s gruff tones. “Don’t worry, the people of Compton had not heard of me either.”

“Tough crowd?”

“Maybe, I doubt anyone would have cheered that lot up. The witch arrived there shortly before I did and delivered some pretty unsettling news by all accounts.”


Lionel the Lark nodded.

“I don’t think anyone could have livened up a crowd once they had been visited by that crone.” Pewtory said. The bread he chewed suddenly felt dry and stodgy. “Actually I will take some of that honey.”

Lionel handed it over as if he understood completely.

Marybeth was the newest member of the Order, the collection of warlocks and witches whose sole purpose was to oversee the Ritual. They were said to possess magical abilities that were incomprehensible to most. Their reputation proceeded them, some say there weren’t even human.
Lead by Iskanadar there were only four members left in the Order. Pewtory had not met one of them and wanted to keep it that way. Out of the all the stories he was asked to tell, the Order came a close second to tales of the Gloom. He knew about each member but how much of it was true he couldn’t say. He hoped very little of it in truth.

Marybeth would only be visiting Compton for one reason only: some poor sod would be getting the news they had been selected for the Ritual and Marybeth was there to escort them to Lilyon.
The stranger’s words came back to haunt him. “I want you to attach yourself to one of the stoneholders and prevent them from attending the Ritual.”

It was too much of a coincidence that Pewtory was headed in the same direction as a stoneholder, but how could the stranger have possibly known? Suddenly the warm straw did not seem as comfortable.
“You might have better luck than me. They have had a day to digest the news. When I performed only a handful of people showed up. The Mayor’s a good man, but despite his best efforts he couldn’t get them excited.”

Pewtory wondered how much of it was the arrival of the witch and how much was the bard’s performance. In his experience a group of people who received bad news were desperate for some entertainment to take their mind somewhere else. He had to question how devoted Lionel the Lark was to his trade when he was travelling in the opposite direction of the Ritual.

Part of him wanted to travel to the town to challenge himself. Maybe Lionel the Lark could not rouse the people of Compton but he was sure he could. Then again, by the time he arrived the victim might have been selected. Apart from the victim’s family and friends, the remainder of the town might be so relieved it was not them or their loved ones chosen that they would be in the mood to celebrate in which case there would be no test of his ability at all.

As if someone turned a tap off, the rain ceased. The absence of the steady patter on the roof, amplified the silence. Pewtory laid down on his back, his arms folded behind him and his palms cradling his head. From between the clouds, the blue and green moons peaked out. The two overlapped slightly, the vast lime moon, eclipsing the lower quarter of its slightly smaller cousin. Scholars had written whole tomes on the three moons of Frindoth and what the appearance of the various combinations of them meant for the forthcoming day. If the scholars were to be believed, the presence of the blue and green symbolised, “truth, wisdom and harmony.” With the introduction of the witch and his encounter with the stranger, Pewtory doubted somehow the scholars were right when it came to his path.    

At some point Pewtory must had drifted into a deep sleep as when he heard Lionel the Lark calling his name he sat up confused and disorientated. The rain had commenced once again with renewed vigour as if it was determined to beat more holes in the barn.

“Pewtory,” Lionel the Lark said again. The bard sat up opposite Pewtory and stared at him intently. Something was wrong, the man’s voice sounded harsher. The gruffness was still there, but it was more pronounced, more polished, more like…

Pewtory shot to his feet and reached for his sword, he grabbed it and spun towards the stranger.
“Yes, it’s me. Leave the sword. I don’t think we really want to harm dear old Lionel the Lark do we?”

Pewtory lowered the weapon. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he could see Lionel’s eyes had rolled up into his skull, only the whites were visible.

“Have you killed him?” Pewtory whispered.

“Trimoons no. He will wake up in the morning none the wiser. What do you take me for?”

Pewtory assumed the man did not need a response and so gave none.

“I haven’t made any decision yet, if that is what you are here for.”

“Yes you have, you just don’t know that you have made the decision yet. Her name is Elsie Brookman. She is not the only one, but she is the one I want you to follow and befriend. She is an elderly lady, pity really but the Ritual does not discriminate. Once you have met her and got her to travel with you, I will tell you what to do next.”

As the stranger spoke using the bard’s body as a vessel, Lionel the Lark remained rigid. He could have been made of stone.

“I will not do this. I admit the idea of fame appeals to me, but I will not be responsible for so much destruction.”
“I grow tired of this. If I have to motivate you I will. That fat peddler you are travelling with will die if necessary.”

“Archie? No. He has done nothing to deserve such a thing.”

“Nor did poor old Lionel. Perhaps he won’t wake up in the morning after all.”

Before Pewtory could grasp the meaning of the words, Lionel the Lark’s neck snapped as his head span 180 degrees. Pewtory cried out as his fist flew to his mouth and he bit down hard on his knuckles. Lionel the Lark sat motionless for a few seconds, his face staring behind him, before slumping to the floor with a thud.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Pewtory the Lesser bard: Chapter 12 - Fellow bard

To celebrate the release of “Ritual of the Stones,” I am releasing a free serialised story set in the same world of Frindoth. The story will follow the journey of Pewtory the Lesser bard as he travels to Lilyon to witness the Ritual. I hope you enjoy.

Chapter 12 – Fellow bard

The life of a bard: performing to a packed crowd hanging on your every word one night and the next sleeping in a broken shack that is loosely labelled a barn. Pewtory trudged through the mud and wondered if he would be able to sleep any easier tonight.  He still felt weak every time he thought of the mysterious intruder that threatened him last night.

As they day had progressed, he had tried to push all thoughts aside of the proposition the stranger had made him. It was virtually impossible but he still had tried. It was not as if he had a choice. A miserable life of pain or comply with the man’s demands. He refused to acknowledge the other voice in his head that seemed to revel in the thoughts of infamy. He should not be thinking along those lines at all. He should be considering thousands of innocent lives against a heroic but unacknowledged death. That is what the great Pewtory the bard would have done and that is who he had tried to emulate all his life.

He entered the doorway of the barn. One of the large doors hung soley on the lower hinge and swung lazily in the wind emitting a high pitched whine. The floor inside was as wet and muddy as outside. The hole in the roof saw to that.

Pewtory was grateful to see that it dried towards the back of the structure. He was even more grateful to see the barn had a loft that appeared to be covered with warm fluffy hay. Despite its appearance the barn smelled clean, the scent of the wet mud mingled with the aroma of the fresh hay.

“That’ll do ya.”

Pewtory froze on the spot. He scanned the barn for the source of the voice and found it in the form of a man leaning against a timber frame. The man was sitting so it was difficult to determine his height. His face was shrouded in darkness. Pewtory struggled to remember the last time he met a stranger whose face wasn’t hidden from him initially.

“Red Jack said I could spend the night here. I would prefer to do it in the dry part where I might actually get some sleep,” Pewtory said.

“He said you could bed down in the barn. He said nothing about any dry spot. First come first served.”

Pewtory fought back a retort. There was no sense in engaging in an argument with the man. He just wanted to get his head down for the night.

“Red Jack mentioned you were a bard?” Red Jack had not said anything of the sort but he had mentioned a bard and it did not take a genius to make the connection.

“What of it?”

Wow, a laconic bard, I bet you are really good at your job, Pewtory thought. “Well it just so happens I am a bard myself. So what say you friend? Lower that ladder, allow me to climb up and we can share war stories. I promise I will not even take up half of the hay and even less of the air I breathe.”

Outside the rain increased in intensity. It now hammered against the roof of the barn, rat-a-tatting against the surface like a dozen woodpeckers. A change in the direction of the wind saw Pewtory once again doused in the wet weather.

“You’re a bard?”

“Yes. I’ve looked better that I grant you. But hours standing in the rain ruin the effect of my appearance somewhat.”

“What’s your name?”

“You may have heard of me. I am Pewtory the Lesser bard. Not quite as famous of my namesake but enhancing my reputation all the time. So will you help a fellow minstrel out and lower the ladder?”


“Excuse me?”

“I’ve heard of you. And I don’t want to share the same town as you let alone the same barn. You are a disgrace, a charlatan that mocks everything that our kind stands for. You rely on gimmicks to entertain the crowd rather than using the vocal tools and instruments the rest of us have taken years to perfect.

You act is cheap and always the same. If you weren’t soaking wet I would spit on you.”

Pewtory was staggered by the man’s outburst. He wrapped a protective hand around the bowl containing Willow and Wisp.

“Don’t listen to him my lovelies. You’re anything but cheap,” he whispered to the bowl.

“I also heard you were completely insane as well. I see those rumours were accurate,” the man continued.

Pewtory placed his pike in the far corner of the barn. The ground was damp and cold there but it would suffice. He sat cross-legged, hunched under his cloak. He ruffled his hair to shake the rain from it and then tied it into a pony tail. He then unwrapped the fish and sprinkled food into the bowl. 

From above he heard shuffling and then a sigh as the unhelpful bard made himself comfortable.

“I’ve travelled from one end of Frindoth to the other and in my experience, people who demonstrate that much vitriol are usually unhappy in life and jealous of others.”

The bard above managed to stay silent for all of a minute before rising to the bait.

“Why would I be jealous of a trumped up pretender?”

“Let me ask you a question my friend. What do you get out of being a bard?”

“Coin and a living,” the man snorted as if the answer was obvious.

“I get that too. But it is not why I do it. I live for the thrill of seeing the smiles on people’s mouths, to see the tears in their eyes as I retell one of the great tragedies, to see the stillness in their faces as they hang on every one of my words, to hear their drunken voices as they fill in the choruses to my songs.

I live to elicit reactions out of people, for a brief moment, I want them to forget their troubles, forget their heartbreak whilst I take them to another world and make them feel good about themselves.
Maybe I have a better voice then other bards maybe I don’t, maybe my fingers are more skilled than minstrels and maybe they or not. Maybe there are other bards who know more stories or tell them better than me out there, I doubt it as I have been perfecting this craft since I can remember, but maybe there is.

But if adding a so called “gimmick” gives all of those people a smidge more pleasure, a tad more frisson over my performance than they otherwise would have, makes me a charlatan rather than a bard then, I can live with that and I will sleep on the muddy floor of a barn any night.”

For a long time there was silence. Even the rain had eased as if listening to Pewtory’s monologue. Then suddenly there was a crash as the ladder was sent down to the floor. Pewtory smiled and Willow and Wisp both jumped out of the bowl and splashed back down.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Re-read: Red Seas Under Red Skies – Scott Lynch

Re-read: Red Seas Under Red Skies – Scott Lynch
So in anticipation for the release of the "Republic of Thieves," I decided to re-read the Scott Lynch's Gentleman Bastards series. Last week I posted my thoughts on "The Lies of Locke Lamorra," which if anything I enjoyed even more second time round. This week I will concentrate on the treaded second book. When "Red Seas Under Red Skies" was released, unlike now, it received mixed reviews. I was in the positive review camp it will be interesting to see how it holds up this time around.
The Blurb:
Escaping from the attentions of the Bondsmagi Locke Lamora, the estwhile Thorn of Camorr and Jean Tannen have fled their home city. Taking ship they arrive in the city state of Tal Varrar where they are soon planning their most spectacular heist yet; they will take the luxurious gaming house, The Sinspire, for all of its countless riches. No-one has ever taken even a single coin from the Sinspire that wasn't won on the tables or in the other games of chance on offer there. But, as ever, the path of true crime rarely runs smooth and Locke and Jean soon find themselves co-opted into an attempt to bring the pirate fleet of the notorious Zamira Drakasha to justice. Fine work for thieves who don't know one end of galley from another. And all the while the Bondsmagi are plotting their very necessary revenge against the one man who believes he has humiliated them and lived; Locke Lamora.
The answer is well but not as well as I hoped. What worked exceedingly well in the first book is not present for a lot of RSORS. In TLOLL Locke was a cocky, arrogant swine, who although got put through the wringer, always had quiet confidence in his ability and had a trick up his sleeve. In RSORS he spends much of the first part of the novel wallowing in self-pity and squabbling with Jean. 
He is then constantly out of his depth but does not appear to have too many answers. As a result the reader is never comfortable with where the story is going as any minute you are expecting it veer off in another direction when an even more powerful character arrives on the scene. Don't get me wrong, this is still a dam good read and I loved the settings of the Sinspire and the red sea but I felt the balance was not quite right between vulnerable Locke and the arrogant Locke we all loved in the first.
The other minor quibble I have with the book is the relationship between Locke and Jean. These are two friends that are loyal to the end, would die for each other and are so in sync that it made me yearn to have a friend on that level. However, after the initial wobble in their relationship Lynch almost tries to emphasise their argument a little too much. One minute they are back to normal and the next there are elements of distrust. I found these to be a little inconsistent this time round and certainly not in keeping with the previous dynamic the pair shared. It also made me miss the camaraderie and good humour of the first.
Despite these negatives the rest is a bloody good read. The new characters introduced are a joy from Zamira Drakasa to Romanov. It is also nice to see Jean in a relationship and one that is handled perfectly nonetheless.
Lynch's imagination is as impressive as ever. Whether it be the elaborate schemes that Locke comes up with or the fantastic settings and world building. Creatures in the sea that we just get a glimpse of make you yearn for more detail for example.
The ending of the novel is a bit of a mixture. Things are resolved to a degree (although there is a nice cliff hanger) but everything is far from neat and tidy. I applaud Lynch for trying to do something different with the second book and it is a lot better than a lot of books out on the market, on the re-read though, it fell slightly short of his first effort.
My rating: 8.8

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Pewtory the Lesser Bard: Chapter 11 - Jitsuam Farm

To celebrate the release of “Ritual of the Stones,” I am releasing a free serialised story set in the same world of Frindoth. The story will follow the journey of Pewtory the Lesser bard as he travels to Lilyon to witness the Ritual. I hope you enjoy.

Chapter 11 – Jitsuam Farm
Pewtory had barely travelled a mile up the lane, when he heard the clattering of a wagon and the clop of hooves behind him.
“Wait, Pewtory wait.”
The bard turned and smiled to see Archie waving at him with one arm and trying to hold on to the reins with the other. The merchants cloak bellowed out from behind him and his shirt was undone to reveal a chest covered in thick hair. If possible, the man’s face looked even more flushed then when Pewtory had first met him. Maybe, he had a good night last night. Pewtory recalled the girl on the peddler’s lap the night before. For an old man, he seemed to have an appetite for the ladies.
Pewtory stopped and stretched as he waited for the wagon to pull alongside him. The morning was dull and dreary with wisps of light rain. In the distance a dark shadow that could only be a thunderstorm added to Pewtory’s sullen mood.
“Leaving without saying good bye? What’s the rush?” Archie said. He looked genuinely offended, as if they were two long lost friends.
“Sorry,” the bard said. “Had some complications with that tight fisted bastard that calls himself an innkeeper.”
“He try to cheat you out of your payment?”
“Amongst other things.”
“Show me an inn-keeper that doesn’t try and cheat their customers and I’ll start giving birth.”
Pewtory sighed. The peddler was right. For every town and city he visited and found an honest inn-keeper there were another four or five willing to extract all the coin they could from him.
“Did you get what was yours?” Archie asked.
“Yes, and more,” Pewtory replied thinking of the added three coins.
“Then I don’t see the problem.”
Pewtory found it hard to argue the point and settled for shrugging his shoulders.
“Listen, I sold more stock than I have for a long time yesterday, and I think that your little speech might have had something to do with it. I was wondering if you wanted to travel together for a bit.
We can keep each other company, I will save you walking and in return you bring the punters in.
What do you say?”
“So I will bring in money for you and in return I will get fat from lack of exercise?” Pewtory said.
“Yep, who could turn down such an offer?”
Pewtory shifted his pack on his shoulder. It was heavy but was a necessity. How nice would it be to not have to haul the bag round with him? The light drizzle turned into a harder more penetrating rain.
Archie seemed like a reasonable man. He was astute, likable and knew his trade. Certainly Pewtory had travelled with worse companions. It was also far safer to travel in a pair.
“I accept, on one condition.”
“Say it.” Archie said with a resigned sigh.
“I get to pilfer the odd pear.”
“Done. I may even let you have an apple as well,” Archie grinned, spat on his palm and held out his hand.”
Pewtory looked at it in disgust, “No you’re alright, verbal confirmation is good enough for me.”
“I agree, I never saw the point of the spit anyway.”
Archie scooted over and made room on the bench. In one lithe movement Pewtory sat next to him and placed Willow and Wisp between them.
“Where are we heading?” Pewtory asked.
“I usually replenish my supplies at Jitsuam Farm. After that I hit Compton. Sound good?
“Sounds good. Lead on.”
They reached Jitsuam farm by nightfall. It was a small farm, decrepit in most places. The main house was a large wooden building that looked like a strong gust of wind could topple it to the floor. Many of the planks of wood in the walls showed signs of rot and in one or two areas you could actually see clearly into the house.
The barn next to it was even worse. It creaked and swayed in the wind. The thatched roof was more moss than straw and a corner section had completely given way. The rain that had fallen relentlessly all day poured into the barn like bees discovering honey.
As Archie angled his horses up the path, they passed rickety fences that housed skinny livestock. On one side sheep with bare patches and hardly enough meat on them to cover their frames, feasted on fields of mud. On the other a bedraggled gaggle of geese, filthy and soaked, squelched about. Even the bird’s honking sounded unhealthy.
“You restock your supplies from here?” Pewtory said, unable to take his eyes off the poor animals.
“Every time I pass this way.” Archie said.
“And not one of your customers has died yet?”
Archie chuckled, his chin wobbled as he did which forced his pointy grey beard to stab against his chest.
“Appearances can be deceptive.”
Pewtory doubted the appearances could be that deceptive but maintained his silence as the wagon trundled up to the farm house.
They were greeted by a small man, no higher than three foot from head to toe. He wore a set of overalls that were far too big for him, the sleeves hung listlessly from the elbow. He had a long, narrow beard that made Archie’s seem amateurish. It swirled over his shoulder in the wind and fluttered like a flag. The man scowled at the sight of the wagon. His bushy frown getting lower the closer they got.
“Archibald Freestone, You snivelling sack of dung, returned once again to cheat and bleed me dry?”
“Appearances can be deceptive?” Pewtory asked as Archie slowed the wagon. The small man stared at Pewtory with a look of disdain. When the man did not look away the bard began to feel a little uneasy.
“Unfortunately not in this case. Don’t mention the ‘Dwarf’ word. In fact, don’t speak at all.”
“I’m a bard that might prove difficult.”
“Not if you want to remain a bard it won’t.”
Archie forced a huge grin and stepped down from the wagon with an involuntary groan. Pewtory suspected it was the only way the peddler knew how to descend from the vehicle.
“Red Jack Thomas, your words wound me. You’ll be pleased to know that I sold all your stock already. I am back for more so we can get rich.”
“I’m already rich.”
Pewtory tried not to scoff at the statement. If this was rich then he would hate to see poor.
“Who’s he?” Red Jack asked. His eyes still had not left Pewtory.
“A friend, a travelling companion. His name is Pewtory.”
“You know the rules, no strangers.”
“I can assure you good sir, I am no trouble. I am merely accompanying Archibald to the next town. I can regale you with a story or even a song if you wish?” Pewtory attempted his best smile and strummed a cord on Beth, the note sang through the evening air but seemed out of place in the rain and the setting.
“Another bloody bard. Great. You know my feelings towards the smooth palmed work dodgers.”
Pewtory could not help but glance at his palms. He supposed they were quite smooth, not the smoothness you would get from a newborn but effeminate maybe. What did he mean by another bard anyway? When he looked up he discovered that Archie had now joined Red Jack in fixing him with an angry stare. Pewtory blushed and carefully put Beth away under a blanket.
Archie and Red Jack spoke in angry, hushed whispers for a while. Finally Red Jack strode off. Well strode was a bit of an exaggeration, he appeared to be walking quite quickly but he did not cover that much distance.
“I told you not to speak.” Archie hissed at him as he hopped in the wagon.
“Sorry habit.”
“You have to get out here. I have to go on alone to get the supplies. Red Jack has trust issues.”
“Go where? Are we not at the farm?”
“I told you, appearances can be deceptive. This farm is just a front, to give the appearance of poverty. That way Red Jack can pay less tax and be less of a target from bandits. The real farm is more concealed.” Archie paused and looked around nervously. “I shouldn’t have told you that. Go on, off you get. Red Jack does not like to be kept waiting.”
Pewtory climbed down off the wagon a little perplexed. 
“I will be back to get you in the morning.” Archie said biting his bottom lip. “I have a lot of grovelling to do.”
“The morning? It’s pouring!”
“He said you can sleep in the barn with the other bard.”
“The other ba-” Archie had already clicked the reins and was pursuing Red Jack though. Pewtory watched him leave as the rain water trickled off his hair into his eyes.
He turned to look at his shabby shelter for the night and as he did so, there was a huge creaking sound followed by a loud crash. One of the wooden beams had given away where the hole was at the corner of the barn, making the hole twice as big.
“Great,” Pewtory muttered.

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Monday, October 14, 2013

Book Review - Doctor Sleep

Doctor Sleep – Stephen King

The general consensus is that monsieur King is on a huge upswing in quality after years of a dip. He is now writing again in the same style as his earlier work that brought him so much fame.
I can’t really comment on this as I have not read the so called “dip” books, but I can vouch for the quality of his last three or four books. I’ve enjoyed them immensely and have been looking forward to Doctor Sleep since he announced he was going to attempt it well over a year ago.
The blurb:
On highways across America, a tribe of people called The True Knot travel in search of sustenance. They look harmless - mostly old, lots of polyester, and married to their RVs. But as Dan Torrance knows, and spunky twelve-year-old Abra Stone learns, The True Knot are quasi-immortal, living off the "steam" that children with the "shining" produce when they are slowly tortured to death. Haunted by the inhabitants of the Overlook Hotel where he spent one horrific childhood year, Dan has been drifting for decades, desperate to shed his father's legacy of despair, alcoholism, and violence. Finally, he settles in a New Hampshire town, an AA community that sustains him, and a job at a nursing home where his remnant "shining" power provides the crucial final comfort to the dying. Aided by a prescient cat, he becomes "Doctor Sleep." Then Dan meets the evanescent Abra Stone, and it is her spectacular gift, the brightest shining ever seen, that reignites Dan's own demons and summons him to a battle for Abra's soul and survival. This is an epic war between good and evil, a gory, glorious story that will thrill the millions of hyper-devoted fans of The Shining and wildly satisfy anyone new to the territory of this icon in the King canon.
First of all, how cool is it when you can write a book and make a reference to a character in said novel that your son has just written? It is subtle but obvious to anyone who has read Joe Hill’s excellent, “NOS4R2.”
If one of my son’s becomes an author one day, I will definitely do that!
So begins “Doctor Sleep,” the “never anticipated but since it has been announced long-awaited” sequel to the Shining. The first half of the story focuses on Dan Torrence, the little boy who displayed a power called the “shining” in the original. It enabled him to sense things that were about to happen or see into other worlds beyond our own.
In “Doctor Sleep” King recaps Dan’s childhood and explores how he develops into a man whilst also struggling to deal with his ability. It would have been easy to gloss over this, but King takes his time without making it laborious.
Dan is a great character. He struggles not to succumb to the same alcohol addiction that consumed his father but the battle is rather in vain.  Eventually he loses direction in his life and ends up a wandering drunk. Throughout this however, he is dam likeable and King makes you root for him even when he makes quite abhorrent decisions.   
Along the way, Dan encounters a number of great characters: some give him a chance whilst others purely help him down the evil path. There is also the reappearance of everyone’s favourite repairman Mr Hallorman.
Initially “Doctor Sleep” is rather directionless. This might sound like a criticism but with King’s writing it is anything but. I enjoy nothing more than enjoying two of King’s characters meeting and then shooting the breeze. I have said it before, King writes characters in such an effortless way that you can’t help enjoy just watching them.
There are hints of some unsavoury individuals interspersed at the start of the novel in the form of the True Knot and their recruitment of others, but this is broadly unexplained and adds intrigue without answers.
It is not until Abra Stone is introduced that the story really gains purpose. Abra possesses a way with the shining that is stronger than anyone else we have ever encountered. Naturally, this makes her a target for others that wish to possess and harness this power.
Abra is a refreshing character. So often, the child that unwittingly finds themselves in the centre of the plot’s conflict is portrayed as the victim. They are the heroine that has to be protected at all costs and are usually vulnerable and scared. Abra is none of those things. She is ballsy, independent and strong-minded. She is sure of her ability but also understands that others are more worldly than her. Sure, she has her vulnerable moments but it is her parents who are portrayed as the weaker characters. As a result she too is a joy to read.
 As I mentioned earlier, the antagonists are the True-Knot, a group of quasi-vampires. These are more caricatures then anything but still worthy characters. Rosie the hat is suitably sinister and becomes increasingly unstable as the novel progresses.
The pace of the novel is even, with the recap of Dan Torrance’s teenage years serving to ease readers back into the world of the Shining nicely. It then quickens as the real conflict is revealed and builds nicely to a good old-fashioned showdown.
This has a more of a “Stand/Desperation” vibe rather than the original “Shining,” but is riveting nonetheless. The finale is once again very good (who said King could not produce endings?) with all plot points concluded satisfactorily. There is also quite an emotional feel to it as Dan finally confronts his demons.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed King’s latest. He continues to cement his status as one of my all time favourite authors. I would certainly welcome a third entry in the series.
My rating: 8.6

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Writing Update

Writing update:
It has been a why since I have posted anything other than reviews and Pewtory the Lesser Bard so I thought I’d update you on the main reason why I started this blog in the first place i.e. writing the books!
Before I get into that, can I just say how challenging and rewarding I am finding writing Pewtory the Lesser Bard at the moment. The weekly deadline is horrific (all of my own doing), but boy does it keep me focussed. It is such a different tone to Ritual of the Stones but works as it is set in the same world. What it has allowed me to do, is inject more humour into my writing. Something I limited in the first book as I wanted it to be serious.
Over on SFFworld where Pewtory is also being published, I have started to receive a few comments on the work which is nice. It is a weird one, as I want to see what people are saying about it, but I also don’t want my thoughts to be influenced as I am deciding where to take Pewtory next.
One thing I have discovered with serialised writing, is that a story that I thought would be over in 10 chapters has increased quite a lot from that. Pewtory’s performance at the Falconer’s Stump for example was only supposed to be one chapter – it ended up being 4.
Still as I said, I am enjoying writing about the eccentric bard and his fish and I hope you are too. Somehow I have managed to fall into a regular routine of doing a chapter on Pewtory a week (around 1,200 words) alongside a review as well.
That doesn’t sound like much I hear you say but apart from the usually challenging hectic life of a full-time job/fatherhood blah, blah, blah (send your medals in the post), it leads me nicely into the progress I am making on book 2.
Book 2 (no title) update:
The no title thing is starting to irk me just a little now. Every now and then I sit down and list a number of possible titles. I select one that I think works and the next day I hate it. 
I guess this shows that I am learning from experience. Book one Rob Donovan would have blogged about the title straight away and then been stuck with it!
In terms of the writing, as well as the aforementioned Pewtory chapter and book review, I am managing a chapter a week on book two. This usually equates to between 4,000 to 5,500 words. What this means is that as I only work weekdays, I am averaging consistently over 1,000 words a day. Which I am stoked about.
In terms of the quality I am producing? Yep, I am happy on that front too. Even I can see how much my writing has improved. I am now being more subtle, allowing events to unfold slowly, rather than having an issue arise and then solved later that chapter or the next. This does not mean the pace of the novel is slower, just more balanced.
Currently I have drafted just over 100K words. I estimate I still have another 18 chapters to write. I wanted the first draft completed by March 2014. At this rate, I am on schedule, but who knows what will crop up in the next couple of months.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Book Review - Ash (JS)

Ash by James Herbert
Review by Jacqui Slaney
Though I have read lots of James Herbert in the past, I have not read any of his recent work. Having recently reread the Rats trilogy and hearing of the writers sad demise, I thought I would try it.
This is the description:
Ash is James Herbert’s most controversial novel to date, and will make you wonder what is fact and what is fiction. They were miscreants with black souls, roaming the corridors and passageways. Infamous people thought long-deceased. Hiding and nurturing their evil in a basement full of secrets so shocking, they would shake the world if they were ever revealed. David Ash, ghost hunter and parapsychologist, arrives at Comraich Castle – a desolate, ancient place with a dark heart – to investigate a series of disturbing events. An incorporeal power has been ignited by a long-ago curse, fed and now unleashed by the evil of those who once inhabited this supposed sanctuary – and by some who still do. Yet their hour of retribution is at hand . . .
Not having read the previous two books with this main character, I did wonder if I would struggle to understand any recurrent plot lines, but apart from references to Ash’s terrible experiences and people that died, this was not a problem.
The idea of people hiding from the world in an isolated Scottish castle where strange and evil things are happening seems a perfect setting for a horror story.
The castle is looked after by the Inner Court a mysterious cabal of influential and wealthy people who decide for the sake of their ‘guests’ what they call the inmates of the castle that these strange happenings need to be looked into especially after one particularly gruesome attack.
David Ash as an experienced investigator agrees to journey to the castle to see if he can sort out the problem for them.
So all the elements are there, and with the author’s pedigree, you would expect an excellent story, but I am sorry to say I was soon disappointed.
The story did not flow for me, with the writing being somewhat jumpy and going from very descriptive to not descriptive at all. I also found myself at times with not much sympathy with the main characters, David and the doctor he soon falls in love with. There are also instances where some of the guests from the castle turn out to be well known celebrities, which do not add a lot to the story, for example, the strange talk with Lord Lucan.
There are scenes, which are good, where Ash gets surrounded by the inhabitants of the basement for example, but overall you are left with a lot of times when you would have liked more time spent on certain characters and scenes.
I did finish the book though I struggled at times with it, mainly as I am stubborn and then felt I had to as it was the last book written by the author.
If you are a James Herbert fan, then it may be worth reading just for fact it is one of his books, though definitely not his best.
6 out of 10

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Pewtory the Lesser Bard: Chapter 10 - Payment

To celebrate the release of “Ritual of the Stones,” I am releasing a free serialised story set in the same world of Frindoth. The story will follow the journey of Pewtory the Lesser bard as he travels to Lilyon to witness the Ritual. I hope you enjoy.

Chapter 10 – Payment
Pewtory snapped his last rasher of bacon in half and then dipped it in the egg before him. The yolk swelled and then burst, overflowing onto the plate, like a volcano spewing lava.
He plopped the rasher into his mouth and closed his eyes as he savoured the taste. It has been a restless night and the food was most needed to replenish his energy levels. Once the stranger had left him, Pewtory had been more shaken then he realised.
His attempts to fall asleep were futile and he found himself getting up every few minutes to wedge another object of furniture against the door. He kept Willow and Wisp next to him on the pillow – he was not prepared to take any chances.
He opened his eyes, Sheila stood by the table in a loose fitting gown. It gaped open so the bard could see virtually all of her left bosom - a pleasant sight. She noticed him looking but made no effort to cover up. Instead she shifted her stance so that her weight was on one leg and her hip jutted out. The coffee jug swung loosely in her hand. Her hair was dishevelled and her eyes puffy but she still managed to look attractive.
“Coffee would be wonderful,” Pewtory said and smiled. Appearances were everything. “The Falconer’s stump looks a different place in the morning.”
Different was an understatement. Devoid of people the place seemed smaller somehow. The tables and chairs had all been straightened into rows and evenly spaced. The surfaces had all been washed over, although little could be done to disguise the stale odour of ale soaked wood.
It was hard to imagine where, in this cramped room, his makeshift stage had been located last night.
“Most people sleep off their hangovers. No one is usually up this early,” Sheila replied as she poured the steaming drink into his cup. He was again reminded of how young she actually was. He felt guilty for looking at her only a moment ago.
“Said with the sincerity of someone who resents being up early.”
Sheila shrugged. She wasn’t going to pretend to correct him. Once she had filled his cup she staggered over to the next table and sat down, resting her head in her folded arms.  Service with a smile.
“How did you come across those fish anyway?” the wench asked without lifting her head.
“Well there is a story to behold, One that involves love, lust and betra-“
“The shortened version please,” Sheila said holding her fingers to her temples.
“I was performing in Kron, fell in love with a woman, stayed there for a year, then got itchy feet and decided to leave to pursue my dream. She gave me the fish and said if they were still alive when I came back she would marry me.”
“You told me they were a gift from a princess, who liked your singing in the palace of Manistor,” the voice of the innkeeper made Pewtory jump.
Melvin stood at the foot of the stairs in nothing but a dirty vest and underpants. He had a cigar in the corner of his mouth and his eyes squinted to the smoke. The strands of hair that had been greased back last night, now stood erratically on end.
“Did I? It must have been the drink talking.”
Through the banisters, a pair of bare feet slapped down the stairs in a lazy fashion. A woman emerged carrying her shoes in one hand and the majority of her clothes clutched in the other. Her powdered face was smeared and her eyes red. Melvin moved to one side without even looking at her. She hesitated at the bottom of the stairs, tutted in disgust before leaving the tavern, slamming the door.
Melvin was unfazed by the action and sauntered over to the table and poured himself a coffee. He sat down with a groan that sent a waft of alcoholic breath and tobacco directly into Pewtory’s face. The bard pushed the rest of his breakfast aside, losing his appetite in an instant.
“I presume you are waiting for your payment,” Melvin said slurping the coffee. Throughout the whole process the cigar had somehow not left his mouth.
“As I said yesterday, it is like you can read my mind,” Pewtory said.
The innkeeper grunted and reached behind him into his underpants. Pewtory prayed the man kept his money contained in something and not loose against his skin.
“That was some show you put on last night.”
“Thank you,” Pewtory responded, trying not to imagine what the man’s fingers were touching.
Melvin rummaged around and then pulled out a brown leather pouch, much to the bard’s relief.
“Seven bronze wasn’t it?”
“Nice try, eight.”
Melvin shook out some of the coins into his palm, turning over coins with a giant slab of a finger. He counted out six bronze on the table. 
“Well earned that. Well earned.”
“You’re two bronze short. I paid eight deposit on the understanding that I would get it back if I trebled your income. I think I more than covered my share of the bargain,” Pewtory tried to keep his voice even. After last night’s incident he was in no mood to be messed with.
“I have already said it was a grand show.”
Melvin began to drop the coins back in his pouch. Pewtory leaned across the table and gripped his arm and stopped him.
“Then where are my missing two bronze?”
“Take your hand off me. I will only tell you once.”
To Pewtory’s left there was the sound of a crossbow being cocked. He looked over to see Sheila aiming the weapon at his face. She looked like this wasn’t the first time she had handled the weapon.
Pewtory removed his hand slowly.
“The eight bronze covered your meal, drink and room for yourself. Last night, a man asked for directions to your room, said you were intimate. I saw him go in. I did not see him leave. The two bronze is for trying to screw me out of an extra bed.”
“That man was a stranger that nearly took my life. When I stay in an establishment, the very least I expect is for the proprietor not to direct killers to my room. How about I fetch the towns’ Watch to settle this, and I also include in my songs how the Falconer’s Stump is a good place to come if your want your throat slashed.”
For the first time that morning, Melvin removed the cigar from his mouth and blew out a puff of smoke. He reached into the pouch and counted out another two bronze coins, he then added another three and pushed them towards Pewtory.
“I trust your stay at the Falconer’s Stump was satisfactory,” the innkeeper said and smiled.
Pewtory scooped the coins up and secreted them inside his cloak. He then gathered his belongings and stood. As he passed Sheila he asked her, “Is this Gandarra’s only inn?”
“Of course not. There is the Cockerel’s feather, the Carthorse and the Skivvy’s Nest. You won’t find a crowd in any of them apart from the dregs of society.”
Pewtory nodded. “Next time I am in Gandarra, reckon you two will still be here?” 
“As long as the town’s standing,” Melvin said and smiled to reveal stained teeth.
“I’ll be sure to go to one of those other inns then,”
Pewtory stayed long enough for the smile to fall from the innkeepers face.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Re-Read: The Lies of Locke Lamorra

The Lies of Locke Lamora – Scott Lynch.
I read this book when it was first published. I loved it then and have fond memories of it even now. Unfortunately those memories are hazy, so as I am as excited as a dog who has been promised “walkies” for the third instalment in the Gentlemen Bastards” series, I thought I would delve into Camorr once more and experience it’s delights.
The Blurb:
They say that the Thorn of Camorr can beat anyone in a fight. They say he steals from the rich and gives to the poor. They say he's part man, part myth, and mostly street-corner rumor. And they are wrong on every count. Only averagely tall, slender, and god-awful with a sword, Locke Lamora is the fabled Thorn, and the greatest weapons at his disposal are his wit and cunning. He steals from the rich - they're the only ones worth stealing from - but the poor can go steal for themselves. What Locke cons, wheedles and tricks into his possession is strictly for him and his band of fellow con-artists and thieves: the Gentleman Bastards. Together their domain is the city of Camorr. Built of Elderglass by a race no-one remembers, it's a city of shifting revels, filthy canals, baroque palaces and crowded cemeteries. Home to Dons, merchants, soldiers, beggars, cripples, and feral children. And to Capa Barsavi, the criminal mastermind who runs the city. But there are whispers of a challenge to the Capa's power. A challenge from a man no one has ever seen, a man no blade can touch. The Grey King is coming. A man would be well advised not to be caught between Capa Barsavi and The Grey King.Even such a master of the sword as the Thorn of Camorr.
I loved this book just as much if not more this time round. For a debut novel, Scott Lynch’s accomplished and poised prose is truly breathtaking. The descriptive passages are second to none with every adjective necessary and every verb relevant.
Camorr feels real, it feels like I could choose to go there if I wanted to (I certainly wouldn’t), but most of all it feels original. So many fantasy novels (myself included) stick the pseudo-medieval worlds but Lynch bravely departs from this tradition and has created something far more.
Every detail has been thought out and thought out well. From the currency, the guilds, the commerce and even the calendar, it is all fresh and new. The best thing about it all is that it is introduced into the tale organically. There are no real info dumps and no self indulgent “look what I’ve created” passages.
So often in reviews I talk about how setting being the star of the novel. Whether it be the way a town breathes life into the novel or evokes a mood and tone of the narrative. This usually means that the characters are overshadowed by the descriptions.
In “the Lies of Locke Lamorra,” Lynch has managed to amalgamate a vibrant city with fantastic characters to make a rich and detailed tale.
Locke himself is fantastic. We meet him both as an arrogant child who is quickly humbled and also as an arrogant adult who is slightly more humble! Sure of his abilities and his determination to overcome the odds he is a great character to read. Lynch also plants lots of layers to his character. Just what went on between him and Sabetha anyway?
His companions are also great. Jean Tannen is more than your average bruiser, demonstrating intelligence and loyalty that everyone would want in a friend. The twins are great comic relief and Bug is just the annoying little brother who you secretly adore.
It is the second characters that make the novel though. Every character is just so dam cool without trying to be. The Grey King, the Don, Chains are all fantastic creations and then you have the Falconer who tops them all.
So for me the characters and settings achieve top marks. How does the structure and plot fare?
The plot is brilliant. I have seen this novel labelled “Ocean’s Eleven in Venice,” and I think it is rather apt. There are twists galore and the story moves along at a frantic pace. Lynch demonstrates how skilled Locke and his companions are, but is also not afraid to give them a good ass-kicking once in a while. Having built up how seemingly invincible Locke is, Lynch quickly dismisses this notion.
The structure is also well handled. At the end of each chapter there is an “interlude,” this is usually a short flashback to Locke’s childhood and how he was molded by Chains into the man he is today. These are always welcome, I could have read a whole novel about Locke growing up quite easily. If there is a criticism of the novel then towards the end of the story, these interludes move away from Locke’s childhood and into describing facets of the city. Whilst still interesting they lack the emotional pull of the early interludes.
Overall then, “The Lies of Locke Lamorra” is a fantastic novel. It is a fast, paced romp with great characters and an even better setting. The ending is more than satisfactory and the re-read has only heightened my anticipation for the “Republic of Thieves.”
My rating: 9.5


Sunday, October 6, 2013

New Cover!! FREE BOOK

I always had a plan that once I earned enough sales from the book, I would treat myself to a new cover. Well that day arrived last week and here you have said cover:

Ritual of the Stones (Ballad of Frindoth)

To say I am pleased is an understatement. the graphic designer (GX over at has really captured the tone and mood of Ritual of the Stones.

To celebrate I am giving away free copies of Ritual of the Stones for two days only. Yes that's right for two days, not only am I letting you have a free serialised story in Pewtory the Lesser Bard, but you can also download Ritual of the Stones for free!

If you haven't bought the book already, you have no excuses now. Will see you later in the week. for a writing update. Enjoy the book.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Book Review - King of Thorns (JS)

King of Thorns (The Broken Empire Book2) by Mark Lawrence

Review by Jacqui Slaney

Having read book 1 a while ago, I decided that I needed a refresher before attempting to read the sequel as unusually for me I could not recall much about the characters. I had really enjoyed the first, so approached the reread with some enthusiasm.  I found though that something had changed, though I still enjoyed the book, I seemed to spot more flaws this time round, with some of the descriptions and writing style grating on me slightly. I therefore started Book 2 with some wariness.

This is the description:

The second book in the Broken Empire series, Lawrence takes his young anti-hero one-step closer to his grand ambition.

To reach greatness you must step on bodies, and many brothers lie trodden in my wake. I have walked from pawn to player and I will win this game of ours, though the cost of it may drown the world in blood…The land burns with the fires of a hundred battles as lords and petty kings fight for the Broken Empire. The long road to avenge the slaughter of his mother and brother has shown Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath the hidden hands behind this endless war. He saw the game and vowed to sweep the board. First, though he must gather his own pieces, learn the rules of play, and discover how to break them. A six-nation army, twenty thousand strong, marches toward Jorg's gates, led by a champion beloved of the people. Every decent man prays this shining hero will unite the empire and heal its wounds. Every omen says he will. Every good king knows to bend the knee in the face of overwhelming odds, if only to save their people and their lands. However, King Jorg is not a good king. Faced by an enemy many times his strength Jorg knows that he cannot win a fair fight. However, playing fair was never part of Jorg’s game plan

Now  there are two time lines in this second book, you have one that picks up not long after the first book and shows Jorg and his Brothers as they journey first to try to save Gog from his own magic’s and then further  across the country to help Jorg in his plans. The second time line is four years later than this where you have Jorg about to marry and defend his castle and lands from the Prince of Arrow’s army.

The chapters switch back and forth between these two different stories in a haphazard pattern, which is slightly annoying for the reader, as you find yourself caught up in one plot wanting to know what is happening next, when the chapter finishes and you are then in the other time line.   There are reviews that say this is confusing, I do not agree with that, as the chapters set in the past- clearly state ‘four years earlier’ at the top of the chapter, so not rocket science then to work out which is which!

There are also some very distinct opinions about this book, the majority of people do seem to think it is the best thing since sliced bread, but a few apparently think it is the worst thing ever, and others somewhere in between.

What do I think? Overall I liked it, after the reread, book 1 to me had a lot of flaws, Jorg was just too one sided, he was bad and that was the end of it, the supporting cast were not developed enough etc. In this novel, Jorg is more believable, he has dimensions to him, which makes him more interesting. You see how his father was with him when he was young and the reader sees how the friendship between him and Makin is understandable. Jorg is not good by any stretch of the imagination, but the reader still likes him and cheers him in his battle against the odds.

The story is dark and violent so probably not for the faint hearted as some of it is quite graphic especially one scene from Jorg’s childhood. I have no problem with the violence but found some of the use of the ‘Builders’ technology and knowledge grating, I am still not sure how the obviously ancient books survived to still share their secrets.

There are still some things I would have liked to see strengthened , especially the demise of one of the baddies from book 1, I wont mention any names as don’t want to spoil things for people! Overall though I think this is an improvement on the first, so hope for even better things from the next.

7 out of 10


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Pewtory the Lesser bard: Part 9 - The Threat

To celebrate the release of “Ritual of the Stones,” I am releasing a free serialised story set in the same world of Frindoth. The story will follow the journey of Pewtory the Lesser bard as he travels to Lilyon to witness the Ritual. I hope you enjoy.

Chapter 9 – The Threat

Part of him wished to rush the man, throw him through the window and send him to his death on the cobblestones outside. The stranger oozed malevolence. He was sinister and whatever he wanted, Pewtory was sure it was not good. Years of performing in front of an audience had taught the bard how to read people.

And yet, a small part of him yearned to hear what the intruder had to say. A little voice inside of him hungered for fame and notoriety. He squashed the voice inside of him, buried it deep down. He had worked years to perfect his performance. Patience was the key now.
“The market takes place in the morning, you’ll fit in well with the other salesmen and their ridiculous boasts,” he said at last.

Pewtory turned towards his storage trunk to retrieve a pair of fresh trousers. He concluded that the man was not going to harm him or he would have done so already. No, the man wanted something. Pewtory just had to figure out what. If the man wanted a duel of words, Pewtory was sure he could hold his own.

“Do not mistake me for a fool.”

The words were spoken with an icy chill but it was the sound of the plop of water that made the bard whirl around. His heart lurched at the sight he dreaded most in the world.

The stranger held Willow loosely in his fist. The red fish flapped between the man’s fingers, struggling for air. Were the fish’s eyes bulging more than normal? Pewtory fought down a wave of bile, he legs felt weak and he had to place an arm against the bed to steady himself.

“Please don’t hurt him.”

“Him,” the stranger sneered at the endearment. “You seriously think that you can converse with these simple creatures don’t you?”

Pewtory did not respond. He edged closer to the stranger who closed his fist a little more tightly and moved it away from the bard. Pewtory understood and stopped, his shoulders slumped.

“What is it you want me to do?” he said at last. His voice sounded small, pathetic. He hated the way it sounded. He swore he would never be a victim again. The triumphant smile that the stranger gave him only added to the bard’s shame.

“The ceremony of the stones takes place imminently. It will decide who the twelve stoneholders for the Ritual will be. I will come to possess this knowledge and when I do, I want you to attach yourself to one of the stoneholders and prevent them from attending the Ritual.”

Pewtory’s mouth fell open. What was being asked was unforgivable, the biggest crime someone in Frindoth could commit.

“B, b, but the Gloom.”

“Will punish Frindoth like it has never been punished before, yes.”

The matter of fact tone the stranger used was disturbing. There was no remorse in that voice, not a hint of indecision. In Frindoth’s storied history, no one had ever come close to defeating the Gloom. No one had even wounded it. It was an abhorrent entity that possessed strength and power that was almost incomprehensible. It demanded one sacrifice every twelve years and Frindoth obliged as the alternate did not bear thinking about. Yet this man in Pewtory’s room was asking him to consider doing just that.


“My reasons are my own. Although they might not be an impure as you think.”
Pewtory snorted at that.

“Thousands will be killed,” Pewtory whispered.

“Many thousands probably - An unfortunate necessity.”

Pewtory tried to push the horrific images that flashed in his mind. Bodies half devoured and strewn over the capital city streets, the white walls of Lilyon charred with soot and broken, children cowering in doorways and ravens pecking at the dead.
“I would never be responsible for such a thing,” Pewtory said.

“You would be the most famous man in history.”

“I don’t want to be remembered for the wrong reasons.”

The stranger shrugged. “Famous or infamous, either way you will be remembered. As a bard you will be remembered only by the scholars if you are lucky, as bringing about the single most significant event in history you will be remembered by the world.”

Pewtory mulled the comment over. It was not technically true, Pewtory the bard was remembered in most taverns and inns and not just by the educated, but the intruder did have a point. Pewtory was appalled to find he felt a certain frisson run down his spine at the idea. He quickly dismissed the sensation. The idea was heinous. His aim was to bring joy to people, not the opposite.

He glanced at Willow still flapping in the man’s hand. He could make out his mouth as it opened and closed in rapid succession, desperate to breathe.

“Please put him back in the bowl, you have my attention now.”

“I think not. But as a good gesture I will allow the poor thing to get some water.”

He thrust the fish back into the bowl, but held it tight as it squirmed to free itself. Wisp dashed against the man’s fingers in an effort to free her companion. The stranger seemed amused by this and smiled. His eyes had an orange tint as if burning. Weren’t they grey earlier?

The room dimmed slightly as a candle winked out. There was still the comforting sound of conversation downstairs but it was more muffled now. Pewtory was appalled as another image crept into his mind. Hundreds of years from now, a scholar recounting the events that changed the world and his name synonymous with it. He would be referred to in the same way as Gregorian the vain and Yasmon the slayer of the final Firelion. Only his name would be so much more.

“It is what you planned to do isn’t it? Meet a stoneholder on the way to the Ritual?”

“To interview them only. Not bring about the end of Frindoth,” Pewtory scoffed. How did the man know that anyway?

“Your aim seems a bit puerile now in comparison doesn’t it? What sounds better; Pewtory the Lesser or Pewtory the Destroyer?”

Pewtory shook his head as he tried to shake away the images that filtered into his mind. Images of fame.

“No, I will not do that. I can’t. You will have to kill me.”

“Oh I won’t do that. I will kill your fish, break your instrument and then chop off your fingers to ruin your livelihood. Maybe, I will even tear out your tongue. But I will let you live. Killing you will give you a sense of martyrdom. You may even be remembered as a promising bard cut down in his prime. I will leave you a wounded, husk of a man, pitied, shunned and driven away by towns.”

“That is still preferable to the alternative,” Pewtory sat down on the bed, tears in his eyes. What had happened tonight? How had this come about?

The stranger walked over to Pewtory. For the first time, the bard detected a faint sickly odour emanating from the stranger. It was the smell of decay. The man placed the bowl with both fish in, on the bard’s lap.

“I don’t think you believe that. I chose you for a reason. I know you are considering it even now.”

With that he walked out of the room.