Tell me the old old story

tell me how you like it
tell me how you feel
tell me have you seen her
tell me on a Sunday
tell me you love me
tell me exactly how to eat
tell me why I don't like Mondays
tell me about yourself
tell me lies
tell me now where was my fault
tell us once
tell no one


“The centaurs are coming!”
Gamon could see the water pouring down the hillside, washing away farms and farmers in its muddy surf, the survivors quickly swallowed by a black column of smoke that followed lazily after the torrent in heavy sheets. It would be a tranquil scene if it wasn't for their apprentice.
 They've burst the aqueduct. What do we do? Fort Ernest should have stopped them. What do we do?” The boy was new, hadn't developed the stillness of a Watcher. He twisted from one man to another, pleading with his eyes, “what do we do?”
“We do what we are supposed to do. We watch, we record and we leave.”
“But the centaurs, they will carry us off and make us tend to their stable, hold our women for them to…”
“Tosh, until I see it I don’t believe it. They would be the first creature I've witnessed procreating solely with another species. Quite unsustainable. Besides, they have trouble with stairs at the best of times and the Duke has installed the most obnoxious spiral ascent I've ever put the trouble into climbing when not under the influence of mortal peril. We are quite safe up here.”
“Relatively speaking. They will burn us out eventually.” Gamon had to turn to hide the grin from the boy’s increasingly desperate whimpers, Mord always raised his spirits at the most inappropriate times. It was unfortunate that the centaur front had moved so quickly, their obligations were over and they were set to return to the priory comfortably ahead of the advance, held back by the thick headed men of the marches. Plainly, their walls and moors weren't as thick and deep as they claimed. The propaganda that had kept the southern kingdoms to their own squabbles for so long had passed by the centaurs, never known for their social awareness or acceptance of anyone’s opinion but their own. The centaurs, as a people of single bloody mind, had decided to cross the swamps and and plains to reaffirm their right to the horizon, the pack master only needed to point the way, and it was currently pointed at Marigold. A city unprepared for war, softened by amiable neighbours, its people didn't even know how to panic. Below the Watchers they gathered in groups in the muddy streets and asked each other What to do? Where was the Duke? How is your harvest coming? Has your boy sent money back from the front? The islands of awkward conversation drifted and waned as more and more soldiers ran to the walls to watch the smoke on the water.

Old Frank

Visit the man in his suburban home, sat at the top of a shallow hill. I knocked, but the door was open and saw no harm in looking for him in such a demure place. The house smelt of nutmeg and human, old hair and linen. The sound of creaking furniture could be heard from the front room and I followed. Two paramedics dressed in green with their emergency bags’ contents spread out over tables and the arms of thick floral chairs. Both young women, both sitting at ease discussing what he had taught them today, my presence didn’t disturb them until they stopped and politely indicated that he had gone to get something from the shed before continuing their discussion. I continued my search through the tiny kitchen and into his garden. It was flanked with plum trees heavy in fruit and it concerned me, there was nothing more obnoxious than a gardener recently in fruit, maybe this wasn’t the time to see him, maybe I should wait for winter when his garden was dead. I had the decision wrenched from me with the creak and clatter of an opening and closing shed door, a portly old man was walking quickly through a vegetable patch and towards the side of the house. I hurried behind, grabbing his elbow as he got to an old side door. Unperturbed he turned on me and leaned against the door frame, scratching his great gut and tobacco yellow beard.
“How can I help you son?”
I explained and he listened, nodding and scratching at the woolly jumper that seemed to be falling apart as I went on. He didn’t mention his garden, not once, even when he leaned in, stopping me.
“Go to the end of the road and find two of the cheapest slags you can, tell them you want Old Frank, they’ll know what to do and where to go. They have to be cheap, no one else will Old Frank,” his breath was cucumbers and limes and I nodded.
“Good lad. Now if you’ll excuse me I have something on,” and he closed the door behind him, leaving me standing on the thin gravel line before his little urban orchard.


The drain grate rattled as he put his weight on it.
“Oh Harold, Harold, Harold. What have we done?”, Harold knelt and dabbed at the bars with a handkerchief.
“Just so, just so,” the cloth came back with dabs of dark red, “just so.”
He heaved himself up and brushed his hands on his jacket, leaving dark stains.
“A new suit when I find you son, least you owe…” it was dark, but the street lights caught the glitter of something piled in a shop doorway. It had the appearance of a sleeping tramp covered in the morning dew. The cane probed gently and with no resistance, instead sinking into the foamy mass of hair and skin. “It seems you already have.”


“Jacob, your repetitive perambulations ache the eyes and offend my roguish spirit.”
Jacob ignored him and knocked on boxes, kicking at barrels and unravelling ropes, throwing off tarpaulins and lids. The wharf had any number of hiding places.
“Nothing is ever found that is looked for in such a desperate manner. One looks, one encounters, and then…” he waved his finger around in the air vaguely, it had been a long night and his performance was somewhat forced. The word never game to him as his thoughts were interrupted by a deep flomp of something heavy hitting the water.
“There’s our man, off like a rock no less. Here we have our encounter, Jacob. Be a good lad and fetch him, the carp won’t leave much for us if you aren’t sharp-sharp about it. Indeed, I can hear the slap on fins all a bother. Don’t you hear me, boysir?”
He extended an arm for Jacob’s jacket, who prepared to rope the floundering escapee.
“Don’t take offence if we leave a toe or hand behind. They take what they can fit in their mouth and no more. They can control their appetites unlike some little street muffins.”
He nodded to Jacob as the the rope went taught, and he started to pull.

Tiny music

The tiny cymbal twings and everyone gasped quietly in between slow sips from their bowls.
“What…” before Anca could get his finger to his mouth a squeal burst from the closest table and spread through the room, each one more distressed than the last, bouncing off the wall like a wave it went back and forth until the clientele were holding their heads and moaning. Anca had closed his eyes. The band had picked up its instruments and were backing away from the writhing crowd who where slowly calming down as the waiters threw blankets over them in silence. One of them stood over me with a raised eyebrow and a look that said he didn’t a street boy’s custom.
“We leave. Take you coat boy before waiter politely ask to maybe consider leaving.”
Crow Milk didn’t effect Anca like the others, the only noticeable change being the raise of a hand and close of eyes when I went to help him up from the floor.
“You don’t touch or talk, you listen to their tiny music.”


“The pigs are loose?”
“And greased.”
“I see,” he released the blue smoke, letting it flow out of him with all his frustrations, as the good leech had told him.
“You’re hitting it hard today.”
He made a point of never answering indirect questions, especially not from a rising puke such as the man across from him was. Instead he dragged at the pipe and chewed the smoke to help him think. He couldn’t see the walls anymore for the thick blue miasma he had created for himself, he could barely see his conversation partner.
“Tell them…” he would work on that, until he was just a bust sticking out of the rolling blue sea, “tell them that the handle has come off and the screw are sheared. We’ll need a cotton wad.”
“Can’t we just kill him?”
The cant had changed in his time, nothing came easy like it used to.

Come by!

“And lo, did Dmitar ascend to the cloud cover and watch, as a shepherd watches his flock, with a benign yet inattentive eye. Pray ye that his divine guides come by, come by.”
As one the auditorium put their fingers in their mouthes and issued a tremendous whistle, followed by a moment of silence while the high ringing settled between their ears. Firenz had been attending the temple of Dmitar since he first acquired his interests in the Bleak, every month on his scheduled trip he would line up at the fence with the herd, as they liked to be called, and wait patiently for the gates to open. He did this with no real sincerity, but the rituals reminded him of his mother. She wouldn’t have approved of his getting tangled with provincial gods.
His ears were still ringing as he raised his arms up and echoed the priest, “Come by.”
“I hear you’re back in the family business.”
The woman had grabbed his arm and held it aloft, bringing them close together. This wasn’t so uncommon in the fevered begging at the end of a sermon, for some to get so caught up.
“I sell cutlery,” he shouted, struggling to be heard.
“Once, always. I know who you are and, more importantly, who you were.”
Mother had a way of spiting her children, even from beyond the grave. She had always said as much but they had hoped that it would die with her, if such a thing was possible.
He was running out of cities.

Musky Twilight

“Justice is a dish best served by an army of waiters over a number of courses, accompanied by complimentary wine. The courses are of course allegories for corrective beatings and the wine is just wine, we all need wine.”
He stared at Jacob expectantly.
“Oh, yes. Wine.” Jacob rummaged noisily in the trunk he had been sitting on.
“Take some time to think on that my boy. At risk of stretching the metaphor, enjoy the appetisers but make room, the first course won’t be far behind,” he scratched his nose and looked off thoughtfully. “Too much?”
“Yes sir,” Jacob replied, handing him a half filled glass of red wine.
“Well damn it all Jacob,” he sniffed at the glass curiously, “stop me next time.”
He stood in the musky twilight cellar and swirled the drink against the light, variously sniffing and sipping at it.
“Your taste isn’t the best, young Stipan, but I’ve seen much worse. Have our money by Friday or it’ll be a spot of the one-two for the first course.”
“Oh Dmitar’s Balls. Yes, yes. Goodbye Stipan,” he warmly but firmly slapped the trussed young man on the cheek and left the basement and its smell of blood and piss.


“Sir, a shipment of bread has been waylaid leaving the Drift.”
Duke Malory didn’t take up eccentric habits for servants to interrupt them, they were specifically engaged for the purpose of escaping this tedious position for a spell. And besides, who else would ensure the grass was precisely an inch long? Certainly not those lacklustre gardeners.
“Yes, yes. Well done, er…”
“Montefort, m’lord.”
“Quite. Well done, pass me those shears would you dear?”
One from the background of servants skittered to Duke Malory’s side, picked up the silvered shears and passed them to Montefort who then dutifully handed them back to the Duke.
“Excellent work Montey, can I help you further?”
He was starting to splutter.
“Sir… the bread?”
“Yes, bread. Have them whipped and throw the bread in the river. Can’t have the rabble tampering with tradition, they come to my quaint bakeries if they want their bread.”
“Yes sir, but…” he waved in a servant that the Duke had assumed was his own until now, “Here. Do you see this loaf, m’lord?” The Duke rolled his head to indicate that yes he did know what bread was and that he wasn’t quite that detached from the common man yet. Though admittedly it was a particularly round and crusty example, assumedly to withstand the rigours of Drift life.
“See here.” Montefort tore a lid in the bread to reveal a sleeping baby at the centre.
“Oh Montey. I see a problem.”

The Flood

You will gain a kingdom and loose an heir.
He rolled the prophetic bottle around the table, taking a quiet satisfaction at the priests’ twitching. So the Flood of Shasmasm was declaring downfalls and conquests again after months of petty and poetic gossip. The King considered that the priests knew he was getting tired of their order’s demands and so provoked the bottle into action somehow, to provide a distraction from its failures at predicting the wheat riots or the simulacra pretenders. He considered this while spinning the handsome vessel against the candlelight and enjoying the strobing of the banded bottle and green of the liquid within. Tiring of the stuffy cell filled with its priest-stink of goat covered with jasmine and pepper, he tossed the bottle back to its container with satisfying crash.
“We’ll see.”
Walking alone through the smoky passages of the temple he couldn’t contain a laugh that betrayed his age. His father would be proud.


For all I have, I am not happy.
Duke Barnabas knows my suffering, how deep and sickly it is. He is older than my old bones and has been through the other side. He has made and lost vaster fourtunes than any at this table could hope to see. He is not happy, but he inflicts himself upon us.
My wife, twenty-third, twenty-fourth? My wife is a harlot, once a common whore, turning tricks for the street cleaners and smithy apprentices that have saved their allowances for ever so long. I love her dearly and give her whatever she so much as thinks to care to consider to want. She is not happy, but she continues the motions of joyful life.
My son, the artist, with his wife and husband. His work demanded from Nagesh to the Emerald Throne, commanding any price he would pick from the seemingly random arrangement of saint’s bones that directed his life so successfully. He had not created anything in months, had retreated to his mountain retreat and sealed the brass doors behind him. He was not happy but painted the walls in his own blood to find his old expression.
All this and more, and I am not happy.

Commence Discourse

The court watched expectantly as their King sat fidgeting on the Brass Throne. His frame ill-fitted the vastness of the seat, he had to reach to rest his hands on the shrieking faces of the arm rests. His Chamberlain assured him that one grows into his terrible aspect over time and that one cannot simply sit on the Tear Quenched Throne and assume to strike fear into each and every. He worried that it was taking too long, that his father’s baleful boots were too large to fill. If he could not horrify his own subjects how would he fair with the cannibal Kanic hoards, or the magus of Crystal Castle and his legions of simulacra?
There was nothing to do but push these thoughts from his mind and address the matters of court.
“Commence discourse!” At the King’s command the black fog was released from the ancient heart of his throne and entered him in a furious embrace. Today policy would be made.


The jobos are getting weak at the knuckle, not designed for rocky terrain and with no time to glove them properly they were bloodied and raw. Much longer and we would be to the bone and have to put the poor beasts down lest the pain pushes through the feed and open them to the crushing realisation of their own mortality. A jobos naive existentialism is every animal handler’s nightmare, as anyone could tell you. Regardless, they would have to hold their philosophical revelations until we had found him and brought him before the patriarchs to explain herself. A King does not simpley walk out of a kingdom, he asks and he mount the golden jobo and takes the formal hunt. And by Prim’s Glorious Beard, we will ensure he does. Gods save the king.


“Terrific, marvellous work.”
“You think so?”
“Oh yes, quite.”
“How very kind of you to say.”
“Not at all, I only state facts.”
He touched the frame with a gloved hand, it was rough and pulled at the cotton fingertips.
“The rust adds to its charm. It feels lived in, well used.”
His companion wiped his hands on the rubber apron, head downcast, “I try to keep it oiled, sir.”
“Oh no, I am being quite sincere.” The leather was cracked but thick, like his father’s belt, complete with huge smooth worn buckles. He approved, already imagining the creaking it would make when she was awake.
“Can we wake her?”
He looked from one to the other, noting the diminished vigour at which her organs pulsated, “I suppose not.”
“Will you be wanting her in the lounge, sir?”
His shoe was starting to stick to the floor. Her gentle wings had been dripping on his feet without him noticing, “Oh bother.” With a flourish like a popped pigeon he pulled a handkerchief from his top pocket to remove the worst of it, “Perhaps not old chap. Put her out on the lawn by the gazebo. Let the old boys see your sterling work after tea.”
“Very good sir.” Releasing the clamps elicited more oozing and a shudder of dazed organs, but he adjusted the dials, knowingly flicked at vials and carefully folded away the gossamer wings she he had been given, draping them back over her hide to hide the twitching. She would be the talk of society for weeks to come.


“Crutches. At least until the unguent comes out as it went in.”
The little sticky pot was a vicious purple unlike any plant or animal he had ever seen. Another of the chemist’s meddlings in areas he shouldn’t, now he was changing our colours.
“Thank you.” The paste wouldn’t be wiped off, even on the course hemp waistcoat his mother had sent him (a good, honest, red), just spreading and darkening a patch. He would have to burn it when he got back to the trench, the fellows would appreciate the fuel.
“Shouldn’t you be going? I can hear the guns firing again and you know the Cardinal doe not think highly of dilly-dalliers, you might find yourself and my precious mixture out on the bore fields probing for flexers. We don’t want that.”
The soldier caught a response in the back of his throat and swallowed it down. The Pope’s pets were owed vicarious reverence still and he spoke with an infuriating accuracy. And so he picked himself up on his new legs and hobbled out of the tent. The chemist had already returned to his valves and retorts.

The Lamb

Terry had a little lamb, its fleece was white as snow but its conscience was deeply scared by the things it had done. Terry was beginning to think the thing didn’t have a conscience at all, just a cold sliver of silver, sometimes seen glinting back behind its eyes on a dark night when he gets out of bed to investigate the sounds coming from the barn. Glinting as Terry puts the torch behind his teeth, rolls up his dressing gown and starts to pull them to the river. The path has started to wear, suggesting many feet have taken the walk from the barn to the riverside. Glinting, glinting, always glinting. It watches from the bank to ensure a job well done, though Terry suspects a level of projection on his part, though he can still see the twinkle from the crack in the barn as he undresses to meet what’s left of the night. Its fleece wasn’t white that night, not white at all.


The shopkeepers guard their den with a ferocity more often seen in the land sharks than men. The shop is their shop and the street is the street next to their shop and the houses are the houses next to the street next to their shop. And this continues. They send out their bag boys with their twisted necks and single arms to wail through the streets looking for invaders. In their own homes if need be. I was told that was how they hired new baggers, by taking the swaddled children from the upturned cots after a successful preemptive defence, running home their squealing bundle to the keepers, to be prepared for a life in the isles. They have to be young or else the twisting and bending won’t hold, the skin won’t heal over their hidden arm and their heads will twist right off. The keepers don’t like the lower orders looking them in the eye, you see.


Troubles come in threes, as all the old men said sitting in their secret tent. “Troubles come in threes.” Just like that, chewing on the roots we brought them so they would stop cursing our sex and let us grow our man-hair. Some of the other other said they didn’t want to share power with a generation that never fought in the fields for the ox and threw rocks at the city walls for the families they lost. I don’t spend my time shouting at ruins and scaring away the ghosts with my children’s bones. I don’t have children to loose and it isn’t right to borrow another’s. Once, one of the ghosts spoke to me, I found him moving rocks in a building that still had a second floor. He said he was looking for food but I know ghosts don’t eat and told him so, I knew they just trick you into giving them living food to steal your dignity until they can buy back their own. He said he was no ghost and I left it at that, no point arguing with the dead. Trouble comes in threes though, so the old men say, and the dead walking set them all squeaking about the second and third. Maybe the ghosts will know.

Mother bring those bells down

We were ushered into the cathedral on the hill, past the well, across the stream. The proctors said it was a treat for the orphans to be let in like this. I don’t know who else could go there, and neither did Ewan; maybe the adults standing in their red coats holding their guns proudly? They hid their pride with the solemn look the proctors used for us, but they weren’t as good at it. I kept bumping into other boys who stopped to gawk at the well dressed strangers, so unused to seeing adults other than the proctors it was a shock for us. Ewan barely glanced at them and took my hand, snaking through the boys a full head shorter than him, sliding me through the gaps in his wake, circling the islands of proctors ushering boys and adjusting caps and blazers. Ewan said something but I didn’t hear over the shouting, so I squinted apologetically and he pointed up.
“Have you been here before?” I shook my head as I looked up to the ceiling. High above there were bathtubs. The great tin bathtubs we have in the older parts of the orphanage, hanging from rope as thick as my arm, swaying slowly but not touching, echoing our noise with a low hum. I looked back at Ewan and was answered with a quick poke to my nose.
“You, boys, in here. This tie…” The proctor was on us, tightening ties and tucking shirts and pulling socks.
“In here, in here,” pushing us into the low benches lining the hall in front of the proud red men, squeezing past squirming boys to our spot.
A rapping pierced the rumbling sound of us, the lector was ready to begin and was furiously banging his baton on the side of his pulpit. He ranged across us with a disappointed parental stare and I wondered if he had once lived at the orphanage, if the proctors ever did anything after they stopped or if they indeed stopped ever, no one had seen one leave or join, always the same proctors as long as any boy could remember.
“Quiet, quiet! This is a rare treat, do not spoil it with lolly-gagging and tom-foolery.” It wasn’t until the proud men clicked their boots together and presented their rifles with a loud harumpf that we stopped, focused on taking in this rare new experience. They spun on their heels and separated, marching off down further into the church past huge bells sitting along the sides, each taking a place in front of one until they lined the isle, guns raised against us. For a long moment they stood there, as if waiting for a cue, until in unison they shot at the bathtubs with a terrible clanging, setting them swinging and crashing into each other in a flood of noise. Over and over they shot into the ceiling and I ducked under my song book when the bullets fell back down to shower us with the sound of heavy rain.
“Mother bring those bells down,” we sung, as we were taught, “mother bring those bells down,” to the hollow clanging of bathtubs in the air. 

Keep the streets empty

Someone keep the streets empty for me. I’ll walk them with my bare feet and feel the cracks with the curling tips of my toes, scuffing my nails but I won’t care. He walked along this way before, parting the crowd like an ice breaker. They part for me but for different reasons. Each of us has his own way. Whatever works, we’re practical folk. The thought of him, touching him, foot to foot, letting the warm pavement crawl up my bones, allowing for a shivering moment of success and small pleasures. It leaves though, with sudden flashes of realisation, knowing that this isn’t possible and people are looking. Fuck the people, fuck their pig eyes. 


Continuing my rebellion against the book. Also having auditions for a Famous Friend, please send a message of sincere appreciation and your claim(s) to fame. My preference would be Simon Amstell or Die Antwoord, although Die Antwoord scare me. However I have embraced the fact that humans are quite scary by default, so I'm sure we can sort something out. Call me.


“Dearest, speak to us, dearest.”
“Yes, speak to us. The lies will fester and their humours will ferment”
“Speak to us.”
“Speak, dearest.”
“Your lies hurt us, but we will still help you.”
Miloje could not open his eyes. He could not bring his hands up to feel them, though he knew they would be raw and taught. His ear was gone and had shut from the humours escaping. The lies were preventing him from hearing the truth, the priests were right, and they crowded around his good and still faithful ear.
“There is time… to make things right… Tell us and free yourself from this burden.”
             “…still time”
                                   “…why do you hurt us?”
They couldn’t save him, he no longer knew any truths.


Dmitar had been dreaming again. Out his window he could still see the Palace Gigantic in the moonlight, outlined as a starless darkness against the speckled night sky. Laying there he often imagined it as a great gorge in the stars, a spreading crack that kept its own constellations of priests going from window to window with their tallow buckets announcing the dead. They sang about his parents. About their crimes and their admissions, whispered to the Turgohl through scabbed lips. They disgusted him but he couldn’t stop himself from missing them as he sat wrapped in his burlap blanket blinking back sleep.


I write little things while I do tedious editing. I think I'll be posting them so I can look back over them as time goes on.

A Churlish Disregard for Decency

Ahoy you gorbellied, bat-fowling strumpets! I found a collection of Shakespearean insults today and thought "What a marvellous d100 table they would make". So I slapped some numbers on the side and made one. Roll once on each column for instant classy comebacks.


May all your games be ruder for it.

Bad Page

And so a first draft is arrived at and much wisdom is gained.

The major crimes as I now see them in Sons of the Bear God:

  1. The writing is bad. Technically bad. He repeats the character names over and over and over when there is dialogue, he uses incredibly obscure words willy nilly, and clich├ęs at every corner.
  2. Long pointless scenes. What I assume are supposed to be character building scenes turn out to be very mundane chats where the protagonist just gets described as fiery or bristling a few times while being unreasonably surly.
  3. Confusing chronology and events without committing to it. A lot of weird stuff happens seemingly out of no where, which I'm all for and have been wrestling to keep in and even emphasise, but our old chum Mr. Page doesn't commit. He will spend a paragraph with some horribly pointless and patronising exposition and then BAM, werelion. 
  4. Related to #3, Page insists on explaining all his magic in scientific terms, so everything ends up feeling like a Scooby-Doo episode. It wasn't magic it was just a weird mask! 
  5. The action is so damn boring and unexpectedly odd. There is a fight with a bear, which goes on for some four or five pages. Paragraphs of bristly beards, rippling muscles and razor sharp claws and then WOOSH, snapped bear spine. 

So there. These are things that have made my self inflicted job painful so far. Wish me luck as I lock myself in to Draft #2.

12. Children of My Father

Hormud heard a gabble of voices, the whisper as his words were translated, and Ostromo’s pleading before the bear throne. He ignored it all, kept his eyes focused above Aosoka’s head, until one of the red guards returned with such a whip as he demanded. The spear points ringed him in and Hormud was marched away again through the perfumed court where the priest of ears laughed his senseless laughter beside the pyramid, then through the fur hung antechamber and out into the broad avenue before the palace. Despite his efforts his feet stumbled where there was nothing to trip him, and the hand which he forced to grip the whip almost lost its hold a dozen times. Beside him, Ostromo scuttled and danced ahead to peer up into the cracked and bloodied darkness that was Hormud’s face. His voice was a constant thin complaint.
“You do not trust me, Hormud, yet I have done what is necessary. Had I not ordered you bound they would have killed you where you lay, stricken on the road by the magic of the Tinsunchi. Had I not spoken the language of their masters, they would not have obeyed even me. So, master, you have me to thank for this chance your magic will surely seize.”
“So you believe in my magic.”
“Have I not linked my fate with yours?”
Hormud snorted. “Or the throne ordered it against your will. Best for him that he doesn’t swallow that ruby.” Hormud’s gaze ranged the throngs of the avenue and the eyes of its people were bright and coquettish upon him. Overhead, the sun bore down on them all, and the pricks of spears turned Hormud in through a columned facade and down a flight of stone stairs so that he confronted a narrow door of bronze. At his side Ostromo yelped in Tinsunchi.
Leaning in close and low, the wizard said “I have gained you some moments for your spells, master, weave them strongly or we both will die.”
Hormud grunted and took the whip in both of his awkward hands, and felt his blunt fingers without power.
“Tie this about my wrist with the knot I will teach you. As you love you worthless life make it strong. Then, in the other end, but close to that knot, make a loop as the horsemen do. I shall weave my own spells—” He threw back his head and begun to roar out in a great voice, a mocking song once used to taunt his people:

“On Chorazin Rock lives the coward,
Whose cowardly lord teaches them
“Do not hesitate, pull off quickly,
While their decedents riddle the ground——”

The spear guards eyed him suspiciously and made curious signs with their hands as they warded off his spells. His voice deepened and he chanted on, pausing only to admonish Ostromo.
“Tighter or the Heaven-Bear will bite you off at the shin.”
Hormud took the loop in the hand to which it was bound. It was a small loop, not big enough to fit around a man’s head, and Ostromo stared at it with reverent eyes.
“I shall weave more spells for you, master, while you fight,” he said softly, still looking at the knot. “Together, our might of magic—”
Hormud snorted, shook the leather loop above his head and picked up his chant, now in the language of the southern cities, letting the chirruping lilt further confound his guards.
“See me, you men of my father. See Hormud fight your battle for you. See him crush the Heaven Bear as only a true horse son can. See him shake the roots of the bear throne.”
He finished and spat upon the earth. “I am ready”.

Instantly, above him, trumpets blared and the narrow door before him swung wide— Hormud stalked through with Ostromo scuttling at his side, mumbling his charms, but keeping close. Inside the arena Hormud halted and heard the roar of a myriad voices beat down upon him, and his beard thrust fiercely. How many times in far lands had he heard the roar that greeted the gladiators? Yet he stared not up at the sea of waiting faces, but swiftly eyed the narrow circuit of the arena. It was no more than a pit among banked seats, but the barriers were high and for this moment he was alone with the wizard-priest beside him. Almost, he had reached out to wring that wry, treacherous neck, but Ostromo began to scrawl cabalistic figures in the sand and Hormud shrugged and went on in springing strides, feeling the good stretch and pull of muscles in his thighs— and stumbling with his wooden feet. He cursed, paused on braced legs, to press his forearm against the amulet about his throat.
“Now, Father,” said Hormud reasonably, “I know that my vow lacks fulfilment. A hundred thousands to bow before you, I promised, if needs be I must slit all their throats to bring them to reason. Fifty thousands I gave you at Turghol, and here, Father, are another fifty thousand. But they will be stubborn, you understand, and unless I conquer this Heaven-Bear they send against me, these idolators will never see the light of reason.” He grinned and his dry lips cracked with fresh blood as he smiled. “So, Father, if you want a kingdom that will praise your name carved out of this heathen land, lend a little help now.”
Hormud rolled his shoulders and his arms swung at his sides, one with the leather thong knotted hard about his forearm and carrying the loop, his other flexing with slow tension. A murmur rose from the banked throng above and he saw that a bronze door had swung open and through it, ponderously, shuffled the very grandfather of bears. Though massive, his sides were gaunt, his small eyes vicious with hunger and, when he saw Hormud, he reared on his hind legs and so towered above the barbarian’s head, letting him see the great girth of the beast’s chest, the power of the short, massive forelegs with their sabre claws.
Hormud delayed a moment there in the middle of the arena. “As you see Father.”
He looked down at the loop of woven leather on his wrist and then at the bear across the arena. Slowly then, on his stumbling feet, he marched toward the bear that sat on its haunches like a man, fanning the air with his paws to suck in the scent of this man that came towards him so boldly. And the bear uttered a roar that drowned all other sound.
The barbarian did not waver in his forward stride. He heard the thin chanting of Ostromo’s spells, louder since the murmur of the spectators above him had ceased, replaced with the breathless blood-hungry wait. Eyes never shifting from the bear, now mere feet away, Hormud gathered his strength as a man might suck in a great breath and leaped. With a shout that rivalled that of the beast he hurled himself squarely into the embrace of the great Heaven-Bear.

11. Aosoka

They dragged Hormud though a hall draped in the same patterned cloth of the city, and came to a courtyard that was cool beneath the high reach of green trees and the spray of perfumed fountains. In its midst was a small white pyramid and from it mounted a slim pillar with a golden ladder, on top of which was a light with all the blinding agony of the sun. He was forced to turn away and instead rest his eyes upon a man in a long scarlet robe who knelt over a small fire burning on the step of the pyramid. Attached to the mans head were huge, tufted fans, which gave the impressions of ears. The man coughed and laughed by turn but there was no mirth or humanity there.
“Surely they mean those ears for an ass.”
No one answered him, but the red warriors shuffled uneasily as if expecting something for a long moment. When this moment did not come, and the strange man ignored Hormuds remark, they quickly took up the lance once more and continued to drag him, causing him to clench his eyes at the wet pain of his raw back. They left the courtyard and, through high bronze doors, entered a hall where the drapes were a gauze of gold. His captors now alternatively crawled flat on their stomachs or paused to bump their heads with a dull thud against the stone, dragging Hormud now flat along the floor, feet first. And thus he came before the throne of the Heaven-Bear.
The man who sat upon it was obscenely fat with painted red lips and black grease about his eyes, he toyed with his hair, hung in long, oiled ringlets falling about his shoulders. He wore a curious smile as he looked up to see the injured Hormud, as if expectant. And following his gaze, turning from beating his face upon the floor, was Ostromo. Hormud sent his hoarse laughter upward towards the golden beams of the ceiling.
“Not even the marble can beat brains into your skull.”
A shout of anger burst from the guards about the bear throne, their shields clashed against golden armour and they started forward with spear points flicking out, but the man on the throne lifted a ringed hand, clattering like some shamans chimes, and the guards fell back. Hormud tried to spit in their direction but it came out as nothing but a dry hiss. He felt the dull touch of metal against his swollen hands and feet before they fell limply to the ground, the eager blood pressing into them was agony beyond bearing. His lips shrank back from grinding teeth and he bent his stiff knees and drove his body to lift itself upon them. With pain wracked fingers he rolled onto the bend of his his elbow the lance that had carried him so long. He took the butt in the grip of his two elbows and by that crutch, he began to lift himself, hands flapping uselessly. The flat broad muscles quivered on his shoulders and the cords of his neck gouged out hollows in the flesh while darkness wheeled and the throne room blotted out but slowly he brought himself upward, forcing his limp feet under him while his wounds burst with the effort leaving dark bloody smears on the white marble. Slowly, while his elbows held their grip upon the lance, the bowed power of his shoulders straightened. His limp head lifted, ragged but dauntless, and put his eyes directly upon the king.
Hormud let his crutch clatter to the floor and laughed. Though twisted and broken, his voice carried mockery, “Come, vast one, pass judgement on your simple subject.”
A shivering moan lifted from the guards, they understood his defiance but not his words. Ostromo twisted his face from its place against the marble so he could see the barbarian to make grimaces of pleading silence. The Heaven Bear twirled his thick fingers through his oiled hair, gently touching the circlet around his head, working his fingers along to touch the giant red ruby serving as its centre piece, carved in the likeness of an upright bear.
Silence fell as the ruby was plucked free, so that all the was left was the sound of Hormud’s breathing, too heavy and wheezing, and the distant tinkling music and a womans voice in a language he did not understand. The air was sweet with incense, warm and sickly. The king nodded gently and his eyes went lingeringly over the thews of Hormud’s now sagging body and he clapped his hands tightly together.
Behind the throne the curtains of golden gauze swayed and three creatures appeared. The first was all black, so much as to be a hole in space, with the head of a bear, stars glinting distantly in his unfathomable night. The second had the head of a snake and his robe was a crystal green in whose depths a black smoke swirled. But the third wore scarlet, and was clearly a man, though his face was obscured by a head dress of vast golden ears that shone with a blinding light.
At their entrance, one of the guards prodded the kneeling Ostromo with his spear point and the little wizard began to babble feverishly in the tongue that Hormud did not understand, except that the often repeated sound presently told him that the king was Aosoka. When Ostromo fell silent, Aosoka lifted the fillet from his brow and put the gleaming ruby into his mouth and pronounced judgement in a lisping voice. Ostromo knocked his head three times upon the floor and faced Hormud with triumph baring his rotted teeth.
“Know, slave,” he said, “that because of tyour boasting, and because Aosoka is the all merciful and all knowing, the compassionate—”
“Your tongue is too long”, Hormud said softly, “presently I shall shorten it.”
Ostromo’s face twitched. “Get of wind devils,” he spat, “You have won through me, your friend even in this hour, a chance for your life! You will match your strength with the Heaven Bear— but without weapons.”
Hormud looked down at his swollen, useless wrists, at the oozing ankles and at knees that he kept from quivering only with a will greater than his strength.
“Why, surely my friend. Why, surely. Lead me to this Heavan Bear of yours and I will shake the throne on which Aosoka sits so that he topples from it and bruises his fat body. I ask only this, friend, that you should enter with me. I will need your mighty magics.”
Ostromo’s yellow skin turned ivory and his voice became a whine in his throat. “Already, Hormud, master, Aosoka has ordered this thing. I will work my small spells. One more thing I have gained you, you need not meet the monster until-”
Cymbals clanged and from the walls horns wailed dimly while Ostromo shivered and cast his eyes down. “That, master, is the Hour of the Dog. In one hour, when the trumpets sound again-”
Hormud’s great shaggy head was thrust forward and his shoulders arched. He looked down at his hands, of which his utmost will contrived merely to crook the fingers a little. Soon they would stiffen and the hours of torture would drain his racked body.
“It is too long,” he said, his hand before his face extending and contracting, “My magic wants but short space and needs one thing for its working. Find me a braided whip with a tip that has often tasted the flesh of these red jackals about me, and at once will conquer this Heavan Bear. I have spoken.” He folded his arms to hide the growing tremors. “See to it, slave.”
He stood on braced legs, with a proud head tipped back so that his eyes lifted above Aosoka on his golden throne, and hummed through his nose in the tuneless drone of his mothers.

10. A City on the Fulgren Sea

The moon was pale and the stars were gone. He had slept and it was almost dawn. At last the shuffle of tired feet sounded more closely in his ears as they now marched on a road, stone and all, raised above the devil grass to the height of a tall man. Ahead he could see the shimmer of white walls in the wet morning heat. The challenge of a guard, the sounds of people living busy lives, shadows of buildings and the mocking laughter of children. Short buildings with rich cloth hanging from every window and streaming between houses to form a squat, shaded corridor for thew procession to march under. A tall man could reach up and touch the patterns on the silken roof as no building stood higher than two men. Hormud grinned his sour approval, this was why no one talked of a city on the Fulgren Sea.
The paved street ended and his captor’s boots lifted clouds of dust that tasted of cattle as the houses were left behind. They passed through another walled gate and Hormud was in a city of tents. Skins of animals formed roofs and walls, hides of horses and wolfs, and there was one larger than the rest and it was covered with the rich furs of the black fox.
Before this tent, just as the sky turned rose with morning, the red men carrying him staggered to a halt, hefting the lance carrying him onto the forks of two upright posts where he continued to dangle limply while the tent city woke up. Their women and children came out to poke and gawk at this strange new visitor while the sun brightened until it was a brassy sword that pierced his very brain. But Hormud clamped his broken lips beneath his beard and spoke no word to these new people. As hours passed through his pain and weariness the world swirled into unreality.
Only the jerk of his tortured limbs told him he was moving again, and he called fiercely on the reserves of his dwindling strength for he knew that the end of his travails was near and that another, sharper test lay ahead. He forced up his throbbing head and saw that the arched gate through which he travelled bore human gargoyles, with the severed torsos and heads of these red warriors tightly forced into stone alcoves to give the illusion of having the limbs of bears rearing in defiance or salute, though their slack faces and sagging flesh didn’t seem triumphant. Above them, arrayed along the wall in such a way that he had assumed them to be ornate crenellations, stood small men no taller than a boy, looking at him incuriously.
Soon there were more of these small men, as they passed through a bazaar where vendors shrieked from booths of brass and silk, forcing their goods under the noses of passing men and women, uniformly with long free hair and dressed in the most extraordinary colours Hormud had seen since leaving the arenas and seraglios of the Empire. Their children pelted Hormud with fruit payed for by smiling parents, the sharp husks of the peculiar fruits left him bloodied and bruised until the soldiers absently shooed them away.
The crooked streets of the market gave way to a broad avenue, where cedar and larch threw pools of shadow on ranks of stone statues whose pediments bore the graven figure of a bear standing as a man, not triumphant as the gargoyles before, but waiting. Among these they came to the steps of a pillared palace whose low facade stretched off further than Hormud’s limited view in each direction. The men who bore him fell down on their knees to shuffle up the steps. Hormud felt the hot marble scrape the skin from his back and he knew they approached the ruler of these people, and he laughed, though it could barely be recognised as one.
“Thank you friends. It is a rest for my ankles.”


Very relevant:

You'll notice Sons of the Bear God rests firmly in the Clonan area of heroic fantasy. Hopefully we can pull it out and make it something more interesting, but no promises. As it stands it's becoming obvious that this will require quite a deep re-writing, so I'll be considering all of this a cursory first draft, tidying up language and eliminating crappy elements from the story. Draft #2 will a fundamental attack at the core of the story to make it something more than a romp.

Wish me luck.

9. The Quiet Blackness

After some time in the quiet blackness Hormud swam back to a consciousness broken by torchlight in a swaying night. He could hear the thunk and crash of marching, armoured feet and felt his body sway with the rhythm, yet he was not marching. His wrists and ankles had been bound together and between them had been thrust a lance so that he hung limply like a stuck pig. He lifted his dangling head and saw a litter carried on the shoulders of red haired men, the only thing paying him any heed was the grinning face of Ostromo, above their heads as he was, being carried in state like an emperor. Life still pounded strongly though his veins so that he wrenched savagely at his bonds, causing the men carrying him to stagger and slow their stride. One turned a pleading face, pale in the red glare of torches, and from the darkness strode another, striking him in the teeth with the hilt of his dagger. He spat blood and put his gaze on the man, framed by a leopard helmet as if eating his head.
“I’ll remember you when I form my legions. You will serve me as my concubine and dance for the soldiers when I get tired of your fumbling embrace.”
This time he struck across his cheek, he felt the crack of bone. The man muttered and turned back into the darkness to leave Hormud, and alone he allowed his head to sag, and his hair to drag through the mud in matted tails. The familiar clank and thud of a marching army beat into his ears, he sucked in the sweet smells of sweat and campfires, fighting unconsciousness as he travelled. Most often he would wake with his head sagged backward so that his inverted gaze rested unwaveringly on the silks that hung from Ostromo. Ho Hormud, where are your legions of gold?


The further into the work I get the further I need to range ahead as my changes have deeper and deeper repercussions. Simple things like changing the timing of events so they actually make sense now change things quite a way ahead, slowing down the whole process. It's getting to a point where I need to seriously consider how much I am willing to change the work to make it good/less bad as things start to get tempting to change in quite profound ways. For now I will stick to my original intent of re-working this novel to bring out the good in it and see how that goes.

8. Where is the wizard?

He took long slow strides forward, bounding from tuft to tuft into the metallic whispering of the reeds, avoiding where the earth opened its wet mouth to drag back his feet. As they travelled the fog lifted leaving a black sheen to his bare skin that shone iridescent in the returning sunlight. Ostromo scuttled close at his side, moving like a deranged crab.
“There is only death ahead. The Fulgren Sea stretches to the edge of the world and is filled with unspeakable monsters ready to topple the unwary off into the aether. The Heaven Bear lies in wait to devour us. There is only death, even if we escape the demon grass.”
Hormud spat from dry lips, “In Om they told me the edge of the world was beyond Krakorum, in Krakorum they said beyond Phin, and in Phin they said the great sea beyond Yelo poured into a cavern beneath the earth. Beyond this sea of grass we will find people who will say the edge is yet further.”
They walked in silence for what he hoped was miles but with no landmarks it was impossible to tell. With the pain filling his mind it was becoming difficult to be sure if they were even keeping a straight course.
Upon finding a partially submerged boulder, large enough to allow him to sit and see above the grass, he concluded he would stop and attend to his wound, rest, and think a while.

Movement, there is movement everywhere. He strains his eyes at the thin green walls. Reeds behind reeds and between reeds, little corridors that inch off just when the eye is beginning to reach. From a thick clump a patch of fog creeps. The rot in his side spreads quickly in this fetid swamp, the gobi powder doesn’t help any more, take it by the fistfuls, just numbs the mouth. The wizard, where is the wizard? More fog, tendrils filtering through the grass in fingers curling against the ground and up to reach for him. The wizard calmly walks past and into their hands. For a moment they are confused, as if consulting each other on this new creature, touching each other and him gently, tentatively, and then they grab him. Twisting around him like snakes, squeezing and thrashing as a wail erupts from the grass behind them, dragging the thrashing form off faster than Hormud can see. He can’t shout or he would, he would cough but he can’t. Flicking the sheath off the sword into the mud he dived from his rock hacked at the grass until covered in it’s green juices. The grass twists and grabs as he rushes through to follow the fog, twisting in his arms and hair, thicker and thicker, slowing him down intolerably. There are shouts behind him as he runs, but they are given no heed. This is no madness, no thoughtless fury, they have arms so they must have bodies.
Ahead is a clearing two men might lay side by side and think. The white peak of a horesman’s cap is plain through the grass. Bursting through the verge of the clearing he sees, sitting cross legged on the small mound, an Onjen head turned back, eyes popping, the grass all about creating a collar for him, twisted around his neck from outside the clearing to make a flared disk of reeds. The rider looks unsurprised. He cuts him free and the grass falls to form a dress for the sitting man. Now clear, a second figure is obvious. Ostromo is wrapped in the skin of a tiger and stares up at the panting warrior.
“The wind devils have told you secret things. Do they tell you where to find safety?”
“At the edge of the world.”
“And there will be wealth at the end of the world?”
“You shall win three kingdoms and before you shall march ten generals of gold and behind each shall follow ten thousand horsemen and a hundred thousand men. Your name will outlive a hundred hundred years.”
“I am more interested in tomorrow.”
The little wizard pulls the skin tightly around him, hiding him, laughing as he disapears until all that’s left if a shacking tiger, cackling with prophecy.
“You keep something from me Ostormo. You saw more than that.”
His head, balder and older than it ever was, is dripping and wet.
“Why yes you empty headed goat herder,” with great effort he gets to his feet, letting the tiger skin hang like a robe, “I keep something back.”
He falls backwards through the reeds as a call comes up as from an arena crowd, aye aye, grass devils, here is the man you seek.
He grasps at their treachery but the arms are already around him.