The Path of Sorrow: A World Apparent Tale (II)

Fantasy sequel The Path of Sorrow

“A song of hope and sorrow, born on the coming storm.”

To celebrate the release of our latest epic fantasy novel, The Path of Sorrow: A World Apparent Tale, we are making two other World Apparent Tales available for free on kindle for the period 9th-11th May inclusive.

The Peace of Elias (a short story) and The Best Weapon are free to download until midnight on Monday.

Fantasy Short Story The Peace of Elias

After the cataclysmic events of The Best Weapon, an uneasy calm has descended over the world. The Winter Realm and the Old Kingdom are ruined by war, while the people of the southlands have retreated to their deserts and jungles, to lick their wounds and wait for better days.

Fulk the No Man’s Son is now the lord of Silverback, and commander of the surviving Templar knights. Considered a heretic by many of his followers, he struggles to contain his unearthly powers. His half-brother Naiyar has returned to the deep jungle of his youth, where he prefers to live alone, isolated from his tribe. Both men notice the stars shift in the sky, and become aware of the rising of a new god.

On a remote tundra in the heart of the great continent of Temeria, a peaceful nomadic tribe is attacked at night and wiped out by a mysterious enemy. There is only one survivor, a boy named Sorrow. Hunted by Templar Knights, bloodthirsty pirates and an army led by an increasingly desperate slave-turned-sorcerer, Sorrow’s chances of survival are slim. He finds an unlikely saviour in the form of Bail, a ruthless assassin, and the pair realise they must stay together to stay alive…

The Path of Sorrow is Book Two of The World Apparent tales, and continues the story of the half-brothers Fulk and Naiyar.

The book also features a host of new characters and explores Temeria, the vast western continent mentioned in The Best Weapon, but not visited. Below is the first chapter from the book.

The Path of Sorrow: A World Apparent Tale

“A song of hope and sorrow, born on the coming storm.”

They came at night, the rumble of their hooves masked by the crack of thunder and the incessant hiss of torrential rain.

He was a six-year old boy, huddled for warmth with his parents and his sister under a pile of wolfskins, when they were woken by the shriek of a woman.

His mother sat up, confused and frightened. More shouts, more screams, rising to a storm. He could see nothing in the darkness, save for the deeper shadow of his father flinging back the pelts as he leaped out of bed.

His father moved wordlessly toward the door. His sister stirred, rubbing her eyes and groaning. He felt his mother’s arms sliding around him, encircling him and his sister as she tried to sooth them and hide her own fear.

Pausing to snatch down the spear that hung over the low doorway, his father crouched to pass through the door.

As the flap opened, the inside of the hut was briefly lit by a flash of orange flame, illuminating his mother’s terrified expression and outlining his father’s sinewy, tattooed neck and shoulders. Then the flap was closed again and in the instant dark he was left with an image, a ghost burned onto his retinas for all time, dancing in front of his eyes. The last time he saw his father alive.

The chaos outside grew louder, screams and war-shouts echoing with the thunder of hoofs and ring of steel. The family lay huddled, not daring to move, praying it was a nightmare and they would wake soon to a bright dawn and a fresh breeze carrying the smell of grass across the steppe.

His heart was beating hard now, giving him a sick feeling that seemed to seep through his entire body. He had never felt true fear before, but now it was creeping up on him and filling his world. His sister was whimpering, his mother trying to soothe and hush her.

With his fear came incomprehension. His life, and that of his family and his entire tribe, had been peaceful and secure for as long as he could remember, which made the shock of violence all the more unacceptable, all the more terrifying and brutal.

The flap opened again, but it was not his father. A stranger, bulky and muscular, unlike any man he had ever seen. The stranger’s body was covered in iron, face almost hidden behind an iron mask, and he carried a long curved sword in his right hand.

The sound of slaughter grew deafening, filling the hut like smoke, but the iron man did not flinch or show any emotion.

The boy hid his face, sobbing, for what seemed an eternity.

His mother screamed, making him curl into a foetal position beneath the pelts, hiding his head in his arms as she was dragged out of the hut. His sister screamed too and clung to their mother. Refusing to let go, she too was pulled into the chaos outside.

“Sorrow!” she cried her son’s name, and was gone.

Reality hit Sorrow like a fist to the chest. He reached out feebly and his weak cry for her died in his throat. His mother. His entire world. All he had known in his short life. She had dried his tears when he cried, washed his cuts and soothed him when he fell, fed him and loved him. Gone, wrenched away by a demon in the night.

Sorrow was frozen with fear, waiting for the stranger to come back and take him too, but no one came. He was helpless, empty, his heart pounding, shaking convulsively, his breathing deep and fast. Lights spun and danced beneath his eyelids, his body trembled violently, making him feel as though he was boiling like the water in his mother’s cooking pot.

His mother was gone. The knowledge was inescapable, crushing, enraging.

He did not think about what he did next, rather he watched his actions from inside himself, as though from within a bubble.

Sorrow ran out of the hut and into the massacre of his people. The ring of thorn bush that surrounded the encampment, protecting it from wild animals, was now in flames, trapping the people inside.

There was no sign of his family. To his right a small boy was running, screaming, chased by another iron man wielding an axe. The axe swung through his quarry’s skull, splitting it like an egg.

Nearby an unarmed man tried to shield his wife from two raiders. He lifted his arm in a vain effort to defend himself. One attacker impaled the arm with a falchion and the other stabbed him in the throat. Blood spattered on Sorrow’s face as the man dropped. The woman turned and fled and the two warriors gave chase, laughing.

Consumed by rage, Sorrow arched his back as an irresistible force inside him threatened to explode, like an ocean tide surging inexorably into a narrow cave.

Staring at the night sky, he screamed, tears streaming down his face, his eyes reflecting the fires that were consuming everything he knew and loved.

His roar was cut off by a sharp blow to the back of his head. Sorrow glimpsed a flash of blinding light and then pitched forward into darkness.

* * * *

“Remember, blue-eyes, just stand there, nice and quiet, and don’t say anything. Don’t even nod your fucking head. I want you still as a statue, and about as vocal. Got it?”

The man currently known as Bail, the sixth or seventh name he had assumed in his chequered life, nodded obediently.

He was careful to maintain eye contact with his employer. Eye contact was important. General Harsu judged men on the firmness of their handshake and ability to meet his eye. A man with a limp handshake and a shifty expression was, in Harsu’s opinion, up to no good.

Bail had been in Harsu’s employment for almost ten months. Ten months of spying, of forgery and blackmail, of narrow escapes and bloody battlefields, and now it had come to an end. The wars were over, and all the surviving commanders had agreed to get together around the negotiating table to hammer out a peace treaty.

Bail was permitted to ride aboard the General’s own chariot, reckoned a great honour. The chariot’s only other occupants were the General himself and his driver, a pretty, smooth-skinned young man, naked from the waist up, who held the reins and gracefully plied his lash on the team of snow-white geldings pulling the vehicle.

Behind them trotted the General’s escort, two hundred mounted lancers, splendid in dyed plumes and animal skins. Their faces were covered by iron masks forged and painted in the image of Harsu’s own snarling face, a tribute to their commander’s vanity and his desire to remind the enemy who they were fighting.

Though they lacked saddles and spurs, and their mounts were mere ponies compared to the massive knightly chargers of Bail’s homeland, Harsu’s Harriers were an impressive and ferocious body of men. They were disciplined, well-led and equipped, and in the past ten months of fighting had thoroughly earned their reputation as the most feared cavalry corps west of the Girdle Sea.

The landscape they were riding through was flat and featureless, with not a tree or a scrap of cover in sight. A range of yellow hills lay far to the north, while to the west and east the land broke up into a series of ravines, rocky steppe, and wind-haunted passes. To the south-west the land degenerated into a desolate horror known as the Burned Earth, which any person in their right mind took trouble to avoid. Directly south, where General Harsu and his retinue had come from, was barren plateau all the way to the Jabal Kish, the great mountain range that stretched from the coastal plain and bit deep into the southern part of the continent.

“Look there,” grunted Harsu, pointing with his crop to the north-west. Bail strained his eyes in that direction and made out a column of dust.

“That will be General Bashar, rot his eyes and lungs,” said Harsu. His vulpine face, which always put Bail in mind of one of the bearded devils painted on the frescos of Harsu’s palace, contorted into a sneer. “His mouth stinks with the lies he has crammed into it. Be wary of their stench, blue-eyes.”

Bail nodded again and forced a smile. During his crooked life he had assumed many names and disguises, but blue-eyes was not to his taste. It was a perfectly accurate one, since his were the only blue pair of eyes in a land of greens and browns, but it denoted a lack of respect. Despite, or perhaps because of, his dubious past and stained character, Bail craved respect.

“What a parcel of vipers to deal with,” said the General, reaching out to caress his driver’s bare shoulder. “They will all be there. General Saqr, that hypocrite who mouths devotion to the Gods even while he plunders their temples. Bashar and Assur, and that hairy bitch Anma. What sins must Temeria have committed, blue-eyes, to be punished with such people as rulers?”

Bail’s hands twitched. He longed to reach for the knife at his belt. It was a slender curved blade of native design, serrated on the inside, and he had often fantasised about using it on Harsu. The brute had a thick vein in his neck that throbbed during his frequent rages, and Bail liked to imagine the hot red blood that would spurt forth if he sliced through it.

He shook himself out of this dangerous reverie. A large tent had come into view, about half a mile to the north, and pitched around it were the brightly decorated banners of Harsu’s rivals. Fire-breathing dragons snapped and twisted in the wind, serpents swallowed their own tails, falcons pecked out the innards of fallen soldiers: their imagery was lurid, vicious, and crude, hinting strongly at the characters of the generals themselves.

Gathered round the tent were two hundred or so lancers, all drawn up in battle array and keeping a suspicious eye on Harsu and his entourage. They reluctantly parted ranks to let his chariot through and exchanged venomous glances with the Harriers. Only a week earlier they had been trying to kill each other on the battlefield.

Harsu treated his former enemies to a mock salute. “Move aside for your Emperor,” he bellowed, “blood of the Gods, you were wise to surrender! Faithless dogs, who dared raise your swords against me! I had your comrades gutted on pikes, tied to stakes and burned alive, aye, and their innards fed to my hounds. Reflect on that, you scum, and be grateful.”

Bail could almost feel the hatred as the chariot rattled to a halt outside the tent. He had seldom felt so nervous, and was shivering with more than the cold when he stepped down from the chariot and got onto his hands and knees for Harsu to use his back as a footstool.

The General was a big man, and Bail winced as his weight threatened to crack his spine. Then Harsu stepped off him to confront the richly-dressed group waiting outside the tent.

Like him, they wore ankle-length coats of scale armour and (with the exception of Anma, who could only manage a small moustache) sported long spade-shaped beards, sleekly combed and glistening with oil. Jewelled sabres hung from their belts, encrusted with enough precious stones to feed a small kingdom for a year.

“General Harsu,” smirked General Saqr, a little viper of a man, his trim beard dripping with oil just as his voice dripped with insincerity. “It is an honour to meet you in a time of peace, rather than over crossed swords on the battlefield.”

Harsu snorted. “You’ve never been near a battlefield in your life, Saqr. If you had, you might have sniffed the shit your men left behind them as they fled. Let us not waste time on pleasantries. I have won this war, and you are gathered here to offer me the Silver Crown.”

“We are here, on mutually agreed neutral ground, to discuss a treaty,” interjected Anma. Bail supposed that she was a woman, though it was difficult to tell from the moustache and bull-like physique. She wore armour like any man, and her heavy face reminded him of a mastiff.

The other Generals shifted and looked uncomfortable. Bail knew that they knew that Harsu spoke the truth. The war was effectively over. Their armies were broken or cowering behind the walls of besieged towns, and the treaty was only called that to make them feel better. In reality, it was a submission.

Harsu grinned and fingered the ends of his forked beard, relishing their impotent hatred.

“Come, then,” he said, nodding in the direction of the tent, “let the horse-trading begin.”

* * * *

The interior of the tent was dark and cool, and the flaps were closed to give the generals some privacy. Harsu and Anma had expressed a preference to conduct the treaty in the open, so the soldiers might see that the fate of their country was decided fairly and above board, but they were outvoted.

“These matters are best resolved in private,” said Saqr in his smoothest tones, “and what do soldiers understand of politics? They are there to obey orders and kill other soldiers, not to think.”

His voice of reason was enough to persuade Harsu and Anma, though the latter usually had no time for Saqr’s wheedling. Regardless, all five Generals were soon gathered around the long table, which was the tent’s only furnishing.

Each attended the meeting with one bodyguard only. Bail acted for Harsu, but unlike the other bodyguards, who bristled with weapons and attitude, he wore no armour and didn’t even carry a sword. Instead he wore the garb of a common Temerian infantryman, a thick, belted jacket with long sleeves, tight-fitting trousers, and sandals.

On the table was a campaign map of the western half of the continent, bordered by the waters of the Girdle Sea and the North-East Ocean. The map belonged to General Assur and was a beautiful piece of work, a sheet of white silk with the contours of the land, cities, mountains, and rivers picked out in gold and silver thread.

It was also dotted by symbols painted in the shape of two crossed scimitars. These marked the battles fought during the last ten months, and it was a measure of Temeria’s suffering that few areas of the map were free of the blades.

“There, not two weeks ago, beneath the shadows of the Mountains of the Sun,” crowed Harsu, pointing at one of the symbols, “my archers shattered your vanguard, General Assur, and sent the survivors fleeing for safety. The prisoners, you may recall, had their right ears cut off and sent to you as an early birthday present.”

General Assur, a saturnine, fleshy, and softly-spoken man, considered a great epicure but no soldier, said nothing. Chuckling, Harsu stabbed his finger at another part of the map.

“And there are the Plains of Ash-Kent, where I smashed General Anma and Saqr’s so-called elite Guard divisions. Many men bled the ground red that day. So many, in fact, I believe the local tribes have re-named it the Bleeding Heart Desert.”

Anma made a growling noise, but General Saqr laid a calming hand on her shoulder.

“Gently, gently,” he murmured, “General Harsu, may I beg you not to dredge up the past? We are here to forge a peace, not pick over the bones of old quarrels.”

Annoyed, Harsu pulled out a roll of paper tucked inside his belt and tossed it onto the table. “You are here to accept my conditions,” he shouted. “Sign that document, before my patience runs out.”

Saqr contrived to look even shiftier than usual. “Please, great one, can you read it to us? My eyes fail me.”

“Along with your self-respect,” grunted Anma. “Read your damned bit of paper, Harsu, and get it over with.”

Harsu shrugged his massive shoulders and picked up the treaty that his scribes had penned only the night before. Clearing his throat, he began to read.

“Harken to the commandments of Harsu Puzur-Ashir, degenerate and defeated ones, on pain of your lives, limbs, and property. General Harsu, Lord of the Desert of Sighs, henceforth to be known as Harsu the Conqueror, Emperor and Overlord of Temeria, bids you all to recognise him as your suzerain lord and swear fealty to him and his progeny, for as long as they shall last. And to recognise that you shall be inferior to him in all things, and that you hold your palaces and chattels, your servants and lands and authority, directly as a gift from him, that he may take or bestow as he sees fit…”

While his master droned on Bail quietly shuffled sideways until he was standing directly behind him. The stuffy interior of the tent rang with Harsu’s pompous oratory, but all eyes were not on the self-proclaimed Emperor. Rather, they were fixed on his bodyguard.

Bail flexed the fingers of his right hand and a stiletto slid into his grasp. He stepped forward and thrust at a certain point just below and to the right of Harsu’s left shoulder-blade. From careful study of the General’s armour, he knew that here was a weak spot, a gap between his ornate back-plate and the scale mail underneath.

Bail was a skilled and practised killer, and the stiletto punched smoothly through skin, muscle, and flesh, neatly skewering Harsu’s right ventricle.

A great deal of blood followed, but not much noise. The would-be Emperor uttered a grunt, like a surprised pig, and toppled face down onto the table.

General Anma clucked her tongue and rolled her eyes.

“Oh, really!” she exclaimed. “A barrack-room knifing, is that the most subtle idea you three could come up with? And why didn’t you tell me you were planning to kill him?”

“My map!” yelped Assur, gazing in horror at the dark stain gradually spreading over the map from under Harsu’s body. “He’s bleeding all over my map! It’s irreplaceable!”

“Oh, nonsense, Assur, you are rich enough to afford a dozen like it,” said Saqr, “but I fear our hired killer has been a little rash. Explaining Harsu’s death to his men outside is going to require some tricky diplomacy.”

“Answer my question,” Anma persisted, “why wasn’t I informed of this?”

Saqr made a vague gesture with his immaculately kept hands, while the near-hysterical Assur squeaked at his bodyguard to get Harsu’s corpse off his precious map. “You lack the necessary subtlety. To be blunt, we feared you might bray the details of the plot and thus doom us all.”

“Assur’s right,” said General Bashar, who had wandered over to study the table with ghoulish interest. “There’s blood all over this side of the map. Who would have thought he had so much blood in him? The North-East Ocean is covered in the stuff!”

“Perhaps it should be renamed the Bleeding Heart Sea,” remarked Bail, and the Generals all turned to look at him.

“We gave you no permission to bark, dog,” said Saqr, a trifle testily, “and in truth you ought to be whipped for your performance today. Could you not have waited until Harsu was safely asleep or alone with you in some private place, before sticking the knife in? You have placed us in a most awkward situation.”

Bail shrugged. “I have waited to kill him these past ten months,” he replied, calmly wiping his bloody knife on the edge of the sodden map, “now seemed as good a time as any.”

“Except it wasn’t!” hissed Bashar. “There are scores of his lancers outside, waiting for him to emerge as Emperor. They will have our guts when they see he is dead!”

“Yes, your timing left much to be desired,” said Saqr. A smile crawled up one side of his face. “However, there may be a remedy.”

Bail tensed as General Anma placed a meaty hand on the hilt of her sword. “You mean, let’s kill this foreign shit and claim he murdered Harsu of his own volition,” she rumbled, “Nice idea, Saqr, but I do wish you would just speak your mind. Guards, have him!”

Bail had been expecting it, and moved quickly. He was over the table and almost at the exit before the four bodyguards had drawn their swords.

Only Anma stepping into his path stopped him from making a clean getaway. The other Generals hung back, aesthetes to a man, deploring bloodshed that didn’t occur at a safe distance.

“Help! Murder! Treachery!” Bail howled at the top of his voice as Anma lugged out her sword and unleashed a cut at his head. Lithe as a snake, he rolled aside, flowed to his feet and sprinted through the tent flaps. At the same time he slashed his own cheek with his knife and threw the weapon away before emerging into daylight.

“Treachery, treachery!” he screamed at the nearest soldiers, who were shocked to see this bleeding apparition staggering out of what was supposed to be a peaceful parley. They were not Harsu’s men, so he dodged through their line, clutching at his self-inflicted wound, and ran towards the Harriers.

Their commander, a tough one-eyed veteran named Sargon, spied Bail and spurred towards him. “What happened?” he demanded, “where is the General?”

Bail held up his hand, now dripping with blood. “Our master is slain, most treacherously slain, by those jackals in the tent!” he moaned, “they tried to kill me too…fly, Sargon, before they kill us all!”

The old soldier turned pale. “The fuck we will,” he rasped, and turned to his soldiers. “Brothers, our noble commander is dead!” he roared, “after me, at the double!”

His troop roared and shook their lances, and the fragile tension erupted. The soldiers immediately outside the tent, General Assur’s men, scrambled to form a hasty shield wall and bellowed for their comrades. More cries went up, mingling with droning war-horns and the whinnying of frightened horses.

Bail weaved and ducked through the throng. He thought he heard the voice of General Saqr, bleating for calm, along with the bass rumble of General Anma, but paid them no heed. Harsu’s chariot had appeared just in front of him.

The pretty young driver, whose name was Asu, appeared dumbstruck by the sudden melee, and raised no objection as Bail vaulted over the guard and thrust the slack reins into his hand.

“Drive! Now!” he bawled, and Asu sprang into life. Grabbing the reins, he cracked his whip at his already nervous horses. The beasts surged into a gallop.

* * * *

The warrior knelt on his raw knees and scrubbed the deck of the infamous pirate ship, the Jagged Blade. His ears ached as well as his knees, for he was being bawled at by the first mate, a rat-like tyrant named Silt.

Six months previously, the Jagged Blade, a sleek black vessel that knifed through the sea like a hunting shark, had boarded a fishing boat and slaughtered all the crew but one. The exception was Colken, who had become a fisherman out of necessity but was a warrior by birth and training. He had killed four of the pirates and crippled two others, before being finally subdued and thrown into the stinking bilge.

Silt would happily have left him there to die, since the first mate was unwilling to forgive or forget the humiliation of receiving a sound beating before his subordinates and the weeks of pain in his broken jaw. He had vowed to kill Colken, but he couldn’t do so just yet for fear of Captain Wade.

The captain of the Jagged Blade had been sufficiently impressed by Colken’s performance to order Silt to release him and make him one of the crew, which only served to intensify his hatred.

Silt was a wiry little shrew, born to a barmaid in a harbour tavern somewhere in the Western Isles. The Isles, a famous nest of pirates, attracted some of the most disreputable characters in the World Apparent, plying their trades as thieves and cutthroats without the inconvenience of laws. Any one of a thousand of them could have been Silt’s father.

Consequently, he was a bad tempered bully with a little-man complex and a sadistic streak. He was a good head and a half shorter than Colken, who dwarfed him, and most of the crew, in every physical aspect. His tiny, black eyes blinked over a filthy beard that failed to hide the permanent expression of disdain on his rodent face. That expression had deepened since Colken’s arrival.

Colken kept his eyes fixed on his work. He had made some progress endearing himself to the rest of the crew, but he still got the same daily abuse from Silt. And, for the time being at least, there was nothing he could do about it. Silt was second on the Jagged Blade and to kill him would mean Colken’s life. But his patience was wearing thin.

“Scrub harder you useless louse!” Silt’s repertoire of insults was not extensive, but that just made them all the more grating. Frustrated at Colken’s refusal to react, he aimed a vicious kick at his ribs.

Colken’s hand shot out and caught Silt’s foot before it could make contact. He gazed up at his tormentor, wondering whether he should kill him or wait for a better opportunity to escape.

Colken’s decision was made for him, for there was a shout from the crow’s nest. The ape-like lookout known as Gristle had spotted a sail on the horizon to the north. Colken released Silt’s foot, and the first mate turned immediately, producing his eye-glass and pointing it toward the distant ship.

“Stations!” he yelled.

If there was one thing Silt liked more than goading Colken, it was the prospect of plunder, preferably easily taken, and that was exactly what his little black eyes peered at now.

Colken fetched his grappling hook and took up his position, which was at the starboard rail. His job was to wait until the Jagged Blade drew up alongside its quarry, throw his hook aboard the other ship and help to pull the vessels together. After that was the easy part, or easy for Colken at least; leap aboard the snared vessel and kill until he was told to stop. He had been trained from infancy to be good at such wanton killing, in his distant home in the deep jungles south of the Girdle Sea.

He had fallen easily into the lifestyle of a pirate, despite the questionable morality of piracy playing on his conscience. He had justified his actions by the fact he had no choice. Six months ago, as he lay starving in the bilge, he had been given an ultimatum by Silt: become a pirate and serve Captain Wade aboard the Jagged Blade, or become food for the sharks.

He knew he would escape, he had to, but if Colken had one surviving virtue after months of indiscriminate murder, it was patience. Opportunities to escape a ship in the middle of the high seas don’t come very often, but he was determined that when one did, he’d be ready. For now he had to do his job and try not to get killed.

So while men raced back and forth following the orders barked by Silt, Colken lined up at the rail with the rest of the boarding party. Fifty of the most vicious, bloodthirsty thugs on the ship, armed to the teeth with an array of weapons ranging from the functional to the exotic—depending on each ragged individual’s particular taste in butchery.

It was a warm day in mid-Harvest. The Jagged Blade had been sailing east on a choppy sea, the sails flapping in a brisk, balmy southerly wind. Upon sighting the distant sail, Silt ordered the galleon brought around to larboard. The sails were fully unfurled to take advantage of the breeze and they quickly gained speed in pursuit of their prey.

The tiny, white sails on the horizon gradually became clearer. The shouts from the crew grew ever more excited as they closed on the other vessel. It was a two-masted flute; a fat-bottomed merchant ship built more for capacity than speed.

The hapless ship was no match for the Jagged Blade. She was a sleek, three-masted vessel, stolen from a fleet of brave but sea-sick knights from the Winter Realm some fifty years previously. Manned by over two hundred ruthless killers, her black-painted hull sliced through the swell like a freshly whetted cutlass gutting a fat man’s belly.

The Jagged Blade slid in a great arc as she turned north, then continued to bear round to larboard in a giant half-circle that eventually brought her up the stern of the slower flute.

As they gained on their quarry, Colken could make out figures rushing back and forth on the upper deck, casting barrels over the side in a vain attempt to make their ship pick up the pace. Silt cursed at every barrel lost to the depths.

He could also see a coat of arms embroidered on the white sails. It showed two horses, one red and one blue, rearing up either side of a red and blue shield. In the centre of the shield was a horse-shoe which appeared to have been embroidered in gold thread and shone bright in the sun. He had heard that the horse-shoe was a symbol of good luck in the Winter Realm, although whichever family this coat of arms represented, it had apparently not worked.

By the time the Jagged Blade came alongside the hapless flute, Silt was in a vile rage, having watched the crew of the smaller vessel empty most of its cargo overboard. His red face seethed with fury as he spat and swore at the boarding party.

“On my command, you swaggering half-wits! Hook her and pull! As soon as she’s pinned, kill everyone! Bring me anything of value!”

For the first time Colken caught sight of the name painted on the hull. The Queen Heloise.

“Another family fleeing the strife in the Winter Realm,” cried Silt, “out of the frying pan and into the fire!”

A great chunk of sun-burned muscle to Colken’s right, known as Scutum, nudged Colken in the ribs. Criss-crossed with the white arcs and nicks of scar tissue from innumerable fights, Scutum was a wall of battered flesh. His anvil jaw creaked open to show a vast cavern sporting five or six brown teeth as he wheezed his amusement at the Winter Realm’s recent tendency to provide prey for the pirates of the Western Isles.

The truth was, there was civil war raging in the island kingdom following the death (or murder, as the rumour went) of its infant queen, and those without the stomach for the ensuing fight for power, or simply too much to lose, were fleeing west and south, to start again.

Unfortunately for them, these waters were patrolled by ruthless pirates, and without a heavily armed escort or some prior arrangement with the Raven Queen, the mysterious female monarch who ruled over the pirates, the refugees were doomed.

Scutum laughed again. “Another ship named after their dead queen! How many have we taken? Five? Six?”

Colken shook his head silently and gazed down at the deck of the Queen Heloise and the thirty or so grim-faced men in red and blue livery preparing for a fight to the death. He had to admit, they didn’t look like a pushover, but they were outnumbered two to one just by the boarding party.

This fight should be over quickly.

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The Best Weapon: A World Apparent Tale

Epic Fantasy The Best Weapon

The good news is the publishing contract for the first fantasy fiction novel I co-wrote with David Pilling has now expired. This means we are able to re-publish with a new cover and also make available on paperback.

The story is called The Best Weapon, and is set in a fantasy world created by myself and my co-writer, David Pilling. The world is known as The World Apparent. I think the following excerpt sums up well how this world works. This excerpt, however, is from another World Apparent Tale which we are still writing, so you’ll have to stay tuned to find out when it is finished.

“As I drift through and between the three planes of existence, each mirroring the last, I occasionally catch a glimpse of the void. The place that existed before even the physical realm of men. The infinite chasm beyond The World Apparent, with its endless dimensions and crushing, incalculable vastness. The contemplation of which would drive even the immortal minds of gods, themselves as young and minuscule as man’s basest desires, to eternal despair.

I shy away from such terrifying glimpses, not just through a healthy fear, but through a sense of preservation. To know the limits of one’s own consciousness is to resist the temptation to discover the ancient alien horrors that dwell in the abyss, beyond the physical plane and its spiritual parallels.

In stark contrast to the void are the lives of men, by their very nature trivial and temporary, even fleeting. Yet their lives are governed by powerful things: love and hate, hunger and greed, honour and pride. Emotions so powerful they drive men to incredible acts of strength and heroism, and despicable crimes of brutality and murder. So strong are the hearts and minds of men they unknowingly created the Celestial Sphere and the searing caverns of Hell. They dictate the course of events in the physical plane, known to gods, demons and men as The World Apparent. A world of chaos.”

Fantasy-Parchment_map-v1_downsized

The World Apparent

My inspiration for the story comes from my own personal struggle with anger and loss, and writing it has helped me come to terms with many things in my life.

The sequel, entitled The Path of Sorrow, will be released later this year. It was previously released as a serial entitled “Sorrow” but was originally written as a single novel. We are returning it to its natural state, so keep your eyes peeled for news on that soon.

In the meantime, The Best Weapon is available to pre-order now on Amazon, and will be released on 19 February 2015. Here’s the blurb from the back cover:

“Two young men, born on the same day on opposite ends of the world and into two vastly different cultures, are inexorably drawn together by forces outside their control or understanding.

As they come of age and face their own personal trials, they begin to become aware of their true identities. Driven by dark forces, their shared fate draws them on a journey to the centre of The World Apparent, where their enemies gather in wait.

As their world slides into war and chaos, they discover there is much more to The World Apparent than meets the eye, and glimpse the other worlds that lie beyond the physical plane. Created and manipulated by demonic forces, they must seize control of their destiny, conquer their fears, vanquish their enemies and prevent the very disaster they are supposed to bring about. But first they must learn that the power to do so lies within…”

Sorrow Part 15: The Last King of Ghor – penultimate in the epic fantasy series

“Fear makes a foe, courage makes a king.” Fantasy Sorrow Part 15: The Last King of Ghor

Sorrow Part 15: The Last of Ghor is the penultimate part of the epic fantasy series and is now available from Musa Publishing. The final part – Sorrow Part 16: Son of the Stars – will be published 18 April 2014. Below is a brief synopsis and an excerpt from The Last King of Ghor .

An uneasy peace has descended over the World Apparent. The Winter Realm and the Old Kingdom are recovering from the cataclysmic events of the Twelfth Reconquest, while in the south, the Djanki and the Sharib retreat to lick their wounds from the battle at Temple Rock. To the east, the divided Empire of Temeria is nearing the end of a long civil war, in which rival Generals have fought like mad dogs to seize the long-vacant Imperial Throne.

Hoshea’s army is spotted by a High Blood lookout as it approaches the High Places. The High Bloods mount aFantasy Sorrow Part 16: Son of the Stars vicious ambush, but Hoshea unleashes a secret weapon, one that no living man could stand against. The mountain tribes retreat to their ancient fortress and look to their new leader, Bail, to make a stand. But can the newly crowned King of Ghor find the courage?

Excerpt

Hoshea sensed rather than heard the unspeakable pleasure of the thing he had unleashed. Sick with horror, he became aware of a pressure on his arm and looked down to see Shalita’s slim white fingers.

“I feel him too,” she breathed, leaning towards him, her eyes half-closed in ecstasy. “The hot rush of blood flowing down his throat, the screams, the snapping bones, the sucking of marrow… Gods, it feels good.”

Hoshea snatched away his arm and recoiled. What kind of monster had he created in her? She would have to be dealt with later, either killed or bundled away to some secure, remote prison where she could do no harm.

He turned his attention back to the matter in hand. The High Bloods were nowhere to be seen across the river, though he knew they were fleeing in rout, in blind terror from the invisible, stinking death that he had inflicted on them. The near bank was now crowded with soldiers, hundreds of horsemen and foot soldiers mingling, shifting uncertainly as they waited for the next move. Their perspiring sergeants rode to and fro, shouting men into ranks and plying vine rods on the stragglers, but they too looked for guidance. They looked for it from the gaggle of richly-dressed nobles and officers beneath the white banner; they in turn looked at Hoshea.

All things wait on me, he thought. For a moment he felt crushed by the overwhelming sense of responsibility, a terrible weight to carry even after his lifetime’s experience of service. With a great effort, he pushed it aside.

“Unleash the horse,” he barked at his waiting subordinates. “Lancers, heavies, bowmen, everything we have. Pursue the savages through the woods, allow them no respite. Scatter them, harry them. Spare those who surrender, wipe out the rest.”

Wipe out the rest. How easy it was to command death. Hoshea was surprised and not a little frightened to discover that his sense of guilt had vanished.

One of the nobles cleared his throat. “Lord, how do we know they are retreating?” he asked. “They could have fallen back a little way into the woods and be waiting in ambush.”

Hoshea almost smiled a bitter smile. “They are running,” he replied, and in his mind he heard distant screams. “They are running for their lives. Trust me on this.

Sorrow Part 13: The Sack of Hasan – latest in the epic fantasy series

Fantasy Sorrow Part 13: The Sack of Hasan

Between life and death, there lies but a heartbeat.

Sorrow Part 13: The Sack of Hasan is scheduled for release by Musa Publishing on 3rd January 2014. The sixteen part series is almost at an end, and the plot is nearing its climax.

Colken reluctantly takes charge of the mercenaries once commanded by the Gray Man and continues his journey towards the High Places. Hoshea, the self-proclaimed Protector, leads his army out of Hasan. His intention is to defeat the High Bloods and unite Temeria, but he has an ulterior motive known only to his shadowy acolytes and a certain demon. Meanwhile, Captain Wade smells an opportunity too good to pass up…

Excerpt

Captain Wade sat in his cabin, casually casting his eye over a battered nautical map. A long, elegant cigarette holder hung lazily from his pale, well-manicured fingers. A wisp of sweet smoke curled about his head, shining brightly in the sunlight pouring through the cabin window.

“Landfall is but a heartbeat away, Erlo, but a heartbeat.”

Erlo stood on a chair opposite Wade’s desk and passively gazed at the map showing the eastern coast of Temeria. As usual, the dwarf was silent.

“Soon we shall drop anchor just off-shore, a short distance from Hasan. If our increasingly erratic employer is correct, and I hope she is, Erlo, the city will have but a small garrison. The vast majority of the city’s army has left on this insane quest to find a child. Such insanity seems to have infected everyone, Erlo, but not me, not me.”

He paused to suck deeply on his cigarette. “I’m still unclear as to the reasons why everyone wants this Sorrow creature, Erlo,” he went on. “But I do know one thing. Whatever the reason, her desire for him has driven the Raven Queen even deeper into her particular brand of dementia. Whatever unimaginable properties this child possesses, they are enough to have Knights of the Temple coming all the way from the Winter Realm in a boat full of refugees, and enough to motivate a General to lead his entire army out of a city weakened by siege and civil war. So, naturally, that city is our first stop. We are pirates after all, Erlo, and some good, old-fashioned burning and looting is in order. If anything else, my miniature enigma, it will keep the crew happy for a while. Vile creatures, my crew, brute beasts. I think of them and shudder.”

Wade lounged back in his chair, taking a deep lungful of smoke, then propped his head artfully on one hand as though posing for a portrait which, being a man of not inconsiderable vanity, he had done many times. Unfortunately, none of the portraits he had commissioned had flattered him quite enough, so he had been forced to have the fingers and eyes of the painters removed to prevent them from causing further insult. In the past few years it had proven difficult to find a painter brave or stupid enough to put brush to canvas for him. At least not one who had eyes or fingers, which he considered essential for the job.

Erlo stood and watched his master, his tiny, beady eyes hardly blinking, like a murderous doll.

“They need a taste of blood and booty to butter them up a bit before our little jaunt inland. We can’t have them mutinying now, can we, Erlo?”

At that moment they heard Gristle’s rasping bellow from the crow’s nest, which was a fitting place for a man with such a voice. He had spotted land to larboard and his voice could be heard all over the ship from port to stern.

Wade slowly exhaled a thick cloud of smoke, hiding his head behind its haze, and smiled.

“But a heartbeat, Erlo.”

HARDWAY – a sneak preview of the new epic fantasy by Bolton and Pilling

Fantasy - Inherent Rage by Martin Bolton

A work in progress

With Sorrow soon to reach its sixteenth and final episode, we take a break from that story (for it does not end there) and journey east to Hardway. I cannot tell you much about Hardway, other than that it is another tale which takes place in the World Apparent, because we haven’t finished it yet and I don’t want to give away any of the plot. However, as we are so excited about it, I thought I would share a very early excerpt with you. I mean “early” because it is early in the book and because it is yet to be properly edited – this is fresh from the murky depths of my mind. That’s right, you are privileged with a peek at a work in progress. I hope you like it.

HARDWAY

by Bolton and Pilling

Maximilian concentrated intently on each brush stroke. No soft skin tones here, no pert, alabaster bosoms, no flowing blonde hair, no innocent blue eyes and no playful expression hinting at, but never showing, the subject’s burning sexuality. No such conformity for the great Maximilian Shackle, oh no, he was a revolutionary, a pioneer! He would show those tyrants at the Masters Temple that painting should be the fullest expression of man’s true vices and virtues, not a rigid oppression of them. He would paint evocative images of all the darkness and the light within, not bland scenes of piety and idealism. If a bard could sing of a bloody battle, could he not paint a demonic vision of the desires which cause such barbarism?

His paintings would show the world that man’s beauty lies in his weaknesses, and that perfection is an ugly myth. Not only that, damn it, but he would show the so called Masters that art, true art, cannot be tethered to their outdated ideals. He just needed the right inspiration, the right subject matter, and they would see he was right. Then they would be begging him to come back to the temple, to take his rightful place amongst the-

“Max, please, can we have a break?” Eva shivered, wrapping her arms around her naked shoulders, “I’m freezing.”

“Keep still!” he replied, “I am almost there, just a few more minutes.”

“Why must I pose at night? It is too cold.” She complained.

“I have explained this, Eva,” Maximilian was losing patience, “I am painting the legend of The Moment of Silence, the blacksmith exists only in the moment of silence following the ring of his hammer. The painting shows that very moment, you are shown in the glow of his forge. I must paint you by candle light to capture the colour of the flames on your skin! Besides, I am paying you well to model for me, so kindly hold your position until I have finished.”

“There is a difference between agreeing a fee and actually paying one, Max.” Eva assumed her pose again, that of a frightened maiden, horrified at some unseen horror. Naked, of course.

“Oh yes,” replied Maximilian sarcastically, “pray tell, what might that be?”

“Well at the moment it is about one hundred and fifty sovereigns.” Eva gave him a triumphant look.

“Ah,” Maximilian tried desperately to think of a clever answer and found none, “is it that much?” Damn it, why did he have to choose such an intelligent and eloquent muse, all his peers had chosen whores who were happy as long as they were kept sufficiently off their tits on murka and given plenty of cheap wine. In every verbal exchange with this woman he seemed to come off second best. But then, that was why he liked her. After all, if something wasn’t a challenge it wasn’t worth doing.

Before he could think of an answer, Eva had wrapped herself in her thick gown, gone over to sit on the window sill with a bottle and started rolling a cigarette.

As he painstakingly put together a stirring speech to justify his debt, there was a knock at the door. Not a polite tap tap, but an obnoxious rapping conjuring the image of a large, hairy fist in Maximilian’s mind and making the door rattle violently in its frame.

Maximilian jumped, his brush and wooden pallet clattered on the floorboards. Eva rolled her eyes at him and went back to gazing elegantly out of the window and smoking. He tried to pull himself together and approached the shuddering door wiping his hands on a cloth.

“Yes, yes, I’m coming!” He called nervously as he attached the safety chain and slid the bolt free. The knocking ceased immediately, leaving a pregnant silence. Slowly, Maximilian eased the door open the hand’s breadth that the safety chain would allow and peered through the gap.

He was confronted with a pair of lumpen hands, their knuckles like the gnarled and twisted roots of an ancient tree, axe-handle thumbs tucked patiently into a thick leather sword belt. Maximilian’s gaze instinctively wandered upwards along one tattooed trunk of a forearm, up further still, past a shoulder the size of a stallion’s rump, on past a thick volcano neck, and finally rested on the implacable visage of Rollo. The vast henchman peered down at him from the dimness above the door frame.

“Tulgan wants to see you,” warbled Rollo.

Rollo was indeed a paradox. By far the biggest man Maximilian had ever seen. He moved with an ungainliness that made him appear wooden, like some otherworldly creature removed from its natural environment. Yet those unfortunate enough to know him long enough knew that his natural environment was any state of extreme violence. When a situation got ugly, and they frequently had when blessed with Rollo’s presence, he moved with a devastating swiftness and grace.

Rollo the Wind, he had been dubbed by the more poetic of Hardway’s criminal fraternity, because he could be eerily still or unstoppably destructive. And he could change in the blink of an eye, without warning. He was more commonly known amongst the blunter, less imaginative scum of Hardway as Grizzly Rollo, Runaway Rollo (either because he was like a runaway wagon or because that’s what most people did when they saw him), Red Rollo and many more.

Maximilian, on the other hand, knew the real reason why Rollo was considered a paradox. The man sang like an angel, though people were forbidden to speak of it as it went against the necessary persona required by his profession. And he was very professional.

“I told him,” replied Maximilian, unhooking the chain and backing away from the door, “I’ll have his money in a few days, I have works to sell at market.”

“He wants to see you,” Rollo repeated as he unfolded into the room. Maximilian was always amazed at how the man squeezed through the gap without making it any bigger. Rollo spread out like a pool of blood and nodded politely at Eva, folding his enormous arms across his belly, as if to present a neater menace.

Maximilian narrowed his eyes and studied Rollo, trying to work out what this visit was really about – an impossible task since Rollo’s expression remained completely impassive. “What is this about?”

“Tulgan will fill you in on the details,” replied Rollo, gesturing towards the door, “best not to keep him waiting.”

“Quite,” said Maximilian helplessly. He turned to Eva and shrugged. She looked at him, as unimpressed as Rollo, and exhaled a lung-full of smoke before taking a swig from her bottle, the vapour swapping its exit from her lips to her nostrils.

“See you in the morning,” she said, moving towards his bed.

He glanced at Rollo and replied, “I hope so.”

* * * *

Maximilian knew Rollo well enough to know that the easiest way to travel to Tulgan’s office was willingly, and the two walked side by side at a leisurely pace. They knew the route well, as they had made this journey many times, from Maximilian’s room through the narrow cobbled streets and past the familiar shops, inns and brothels hacked into the sandstone on either side, and on into the heart of Hardway.

Many of the people they passed knew them, for both characters were well known. Maximilian for owing most of the population money and Rollo for so efficiently collecting the many debts owed to his boss. A few waved and smiled, a few simply ducked out of sight as quickly as possible.

Tulgan’s office lay at the end of a narrow ravine with sheer cliffs on either side. A stairway ran diagonally upwards along one wall until it reached a balcony high in the cliff face. Tulgan’s office looked down the length of the valley and over the city. Maximilian knew that tunnels lead from the rear of Tulgan’s headquarters, emerging in various places on the island where boats were moored, awaiting the day that the old, self-professed Father of Hardway needed an easy escape. In Maximilian’s life time the need had never arisen – Tulgan’s “children” were mostly obedient – but the perceived threat, as was the nature of Hardway, came from without.

As usual, Maximilian found himself seated opposite Tulgan with a mug of good wine and the old man’s customary pretence that this was a social visit.

“You’re like the son I never had, Maximilian,” Tulgan smiled across his desk, fingers steepled before him, his long, white beard immaculately plaited, the end of which nestled somewhere inside his elegant felt smoking Jacket.

“A son?” In fact Hardway was crawling with Tulgan’s bastard children, but Maximilian knew better than to mention them, “last time you hauled me into your office your man Rollo here punched me in the guts until I puked!”

“Is discipline not an important part of a father’s love?” asked Tulgan, looking hurt, “besides, he only punched you once.”

“Once was enough,” said Maximilian, gingerly feeling his stomach, “look at the size of him, I’m still bruised.”

“It hurt Rollo as much as it hurt you. He doesn’t enjoy violence, but he knows a man must sometimes do things he doesn’t want to do. Isn’t that right Rollo?” Tulgan continued to gaze at Maximilian.

“Life is full of unpleasant tasks. Best to get ’em out the way,” replied Rollo from his usual position – standing by the door looking dangerous. The fact that he not only guarded the exit, but obscured it entirely, enhanced his aura of menace no end.

“My heart bleeds for you,” said Maximilian.

“Now, now,” Tulgan leaned over and poured his guest more wine, “you’ll cut your tongue on such prickly words, young Maximilian. We haven’t the time for trivia, I didn’t invite you here for an idle chat.”

“Look,” said Maximilian, pausing to take a sip of his wine, “I will have some money for you in a few days, just give me time to sell my work-”

Tulgan raised a hand for silence. Maximilian cursed himself for a coward as he immediately complied.

“I brought you here,” Tulgan paused, as though he expected a drum roll, “to offer you the opportunity to pay me in kind.”

“You want me to paint your portrait?”

“Good gods, no!” Tulgan laughed and slowly rocked back in his chair.

“What then?”

“Hardway is under siege, Maximilian,” Tulgan’s smile faded, “the bitter stalemate between the Old Kingdom to the west and Calliss to the east is taking its toll on trade. Whoever gets Hardway has the advantage and both sides know it. They also know that the sheer cliffs and treacherous rocks surrounding our island make invasion impossible. The Council refuse to negotiate with outsiders and the only way in for any invading army, Fort Alex, is too heavily fortified to attempt an attack, so they are targeting the merchants Hardway relies upon. The situation makes it risky for any trading vessels to dock, many are frightened they’ll be punished by one side or the other if they’re caught. Needless to say this is putting a squeeze on Hardway’s fragile economy.”

“What has this to do with me?” asked Maximilian, he was wondering why he had been brought to Tulgan’s office. He was starting to wish he’d had his usual roughing up and been sent on his way with a warning. He knew where he stood with beatings and threats, but this little meeting had the distinct feeling that it was leading to something, and that something was unlikely to be good for him.

“The situation is unfortunate,” continued Tulgan, “but like every situation, it can be manipulated to our advantage. While some feel the pinch, others grow richer. That’s where you come in. Have you heard of the House of the Celestial Sphere?”

“Of course,” Maximilian’s anxiety was growing. Tulgan looked very pleased with himself, which was the only thing worse than Tulgan looking angry.

“It is growing. The future of Hardway is under threat, and where do people turn when they are unsure of their future? Religion. The House’s coffers are straining under the weight of their followers’ donations – money they should be spending on wine and murka. My money.” Tulgan’s knuckles whitened as he gripped the table and his face hardened, the gleam in the old man’s eye betraying his anger. He composed himself and continued.

“Not only that but the House itself is bulging with the sheer number of people, and still more are coming. They are the major religion in Hardway, and religion is the new thing!”

“I still don’t understand what this has to do with me,” said Maximilian.

“They’re building a new temple! A huge one, not far from Fort Alex, so that everyone who comes here will see it. First the magnificent fort, then the magnificent Temple of the Celestial Sphere!”

“I’m no builder,” Maximilian held up his soft painter’s hands as evidence.

“No, but they require your particular talents for something else,” Tulgan stood and spread his hands out wide, “a giant mural! Think about it, the painter of the greatest piece of work in Hardway would be famous! Not just here but news of your work would travel. Word would spread of the great Maximilian Shackle!”

Maximilian had been listening with some trepidation, but now his ego had been roused by Tulgan’s talk of fame. He tried his hardest to sound unimpressed, despite his excitement.

“I have heard nothing about plans for a mural. Surely word would have spread that the temple required an artist. My peers would have been tripping over themselves to be first in line. Why is news of this not all over Hardway?”

“My dear Maximilian,” said Tulgan, strolling over to the open fire and scooping up the poker, “I run the streets of Hardway, and I have the power to spread rumours or quell them. Besides, the mural was my idea, and the Abbot thought it a very good one. I have all the arrangements in place, I have paved the way, this is your big break. And it is all thanks to me.”

“You have met with the Abbot?” Maximilian eyed the old gangster suspiciously.

“Of course, I have negotiated terms,” Tulgan slowly stoked the coals, “the job is yours.”

“What if I don’t want it?”

“Do you know how much you owe me, Maximilian?” Tulgan asked.

“Three hundred and twenty sovereigns.” Maximilian replied.

“Five hundred sovereigns, plus interest,” Tulgan corrected him, “and how much do you owe others?”

Maximilian began counting his fingers.

“I’ll tell you how much, sixteen hundred and seventy two sovereigns, to ten different murka dealers, wine merchants, ale houses, even a furious Cillissian paper merchant. Have you not wondered why you still walk?”

“I can take care of myself,” Maximilian didn’t sound convincing even to himself.

“Oh yes?” Tulgan smiled at him, “and what about your little muse friend, what’s her name? Eva? Very pretty girl, that. You can protect her too, can you?”

At the mention of Eva’s name Maximilian felt an unfamiliar twinge, something in his chest, was it shame? Guilt? Love? The thought of her coming to harm had struck a nerve, which was entirely unexpected.

“I, and I alone, am the reason you live,” Tulgan continued, “because you are worth too much to me. Paint the mural, make it your greatest work, and I will settle your debts. You’ll have a clean slate, and fame to boot. Or I can withdraw my protection and see if you make it home alive.”

Tulgan paused for a moment. Then dropped the poker and walked back to his desk, rubbing his hands together, and raised his wine.

“So,” he said, “let us drink to our new partnership.”

Maximilian suddenly realised how stupid he had been, and how lucky he was to be alive. A small part of him thanked the gods for Tulgan’s protection. Another part of him hated the man for manipulating him, and for doing it so easily. He tried to act like he wasn’t surprised, “I’ll need money for materials,” he said.

“You’ll have no money,” Tulgan replied, “everything will be taken care of, however. Drink!”

Maximilian drained his mug and held it up for more.

* * * *

It seems a long time since I was born, and yet it seems like it was yesterday. Perhaps yesterday was longer ago than I realise. It seems as though a lot has changed, and yet everything is the same. Is change a constant, counter-acting the effects of time – cancelling each other out? The World Apparent is circular in more ways than one, and so it has moulded mankind in its own shape, giving him cycles and seasons. Every drama in life repeats itself over and over.

Each town and city is a microcosm, reflecting the nature of the world as it revolves, just as each man is shaped by his environment. Consequently man has his moods, just as the world has elements which dictate its nature. And man, too, has levels of consciousness, just as the world has spiritual levels – one celestial, one physical and one infernal – each as real and tangible as the last.

As I roam the streets I see the world’s cycle reflected in the everyday dramas of their inhabitants. Love and hate, right and wrong, life and death, justice and crime – every action with its opposite, every virtue with an equal vice. Every act of kindness delivering a new god to the celestial sphere and every act of selfishness and hate spawning a new demon in hell.

Such is the life of men, and so I turn with the world. Ever changing, ever constant.

New Cover Art: Robyn Hode (III) by David Pilling

Historical_Fiction_Hode_III_CoverV3Here is my latest piece of cover art. Robyn Hode (III) is the third in the series that tells the tale of Robin Hood with more graphic realism than ever before and is available on Amazon.

An outlaw haunts Barnsdale…

Robert Hode is now a fully-fledged member of the outlaw band that plagues the roads and forests of South Yorkshire. His popularity with the younger members of the band is growing, and soon he must challenge their leader, Gilbert Whitehand, for power. First he has to engage in mortal combat with the insane Sir Gui de Gisbourne, who has been dispatched to hunt him down.

In London, the aged knight Fulk Fitzwarin is engaged in a furious row with the King, and is banished from court after refusing to serve on a doomed military expedition to France. Disgraced and heavily in debt, Fulk has to make friends where he can. He falls in with the outlaws of Barnsdale, who show him unexpected generosity, and an unlikely alliance is formed…