Circular 2/8/20

PROSE

From Concentric Magazine: Infinity by David Landrum. Though the story could use another proofreading, the narrative—concerning two young lovers who endeavour to navigate their families’ divergent faiths—is thoroughly arresting.

The meal would be an examination. Like in school, I was being graded. (Landrum, Infinity)

§

From Fictive Dream: To The Maxx by Thaddeus Rutkowski. On longing and moral squander. Unlike a lot of other flash stories, its abrupt and unsatisfying ending is a benefit to its general effect, rather than a check against it.

… she was more than a friend, so it was more than good to hear from her. (Rutkowski, To The Maxx)

§

From Literally Stories: Wishbone by Jennie Boyes. A wonderful fable. Odd and engrossing and splendidly written. My favorite of the week.

Wind, sea-salt, and even War had not defeated it, and as Famine traced the silouhette against the sky, he could have believed the castle would withstand time itself, if such a thing were possible. (Boyes, Wishbone)

§

From Mystery Tribune: The Same Gym by Emily Livingstone. The tale of a series of eerie disappearances at a small gym. The story builds considerable suspense in the beginning, but might have benefited from a slightly longer denouement. One thing I found quite distracting, which had nothing to do with the story itself, was the inclusion of intrusive quote blocks between paragraphs. I’ve seen other literary journals use similiar formatting, but I’ve never understood the purpose of repeating the text, enlarged and out of sequence, which, for whatever its worth, I would contend, is something better left to study guides and new articles.

I wanted to be a detective or someone in a choose-your-own-adventure. (Livingstone, The Same Gym)

§

From New Pop Lit: The Perfect Candidate by Karl Wenclas. A fast-paced political satire.

Tall and lean, with the sober face of what passed as an intellectual. What used to be called a hipster, before hipsters became not an unusual species of animal, but the norm. (Wenclas, The Perfect Candidate)

§

From Spelk: Creel by Steven John. The story of a terminally ill lobster-catcher. The story got me to thinking that “fishing” and “fisherman” are common terms, yet, “lobstering” and “lobsterman” are not. I wonder why.

Lobstering is a pastime now. Anything more than that and there’s online paperwork. Haven’t got a computer. Wouldn’t know where to start. (John, Creel)

§

From Skyhorse Publishing: Lake of Darkness (forthcoming 5/5/20) by Scott Kenemore (currently available for preorder).

 It’s a page-turning thriller that shows, once again, that more people should be paying attention to Kenemore’s work.” (J. Parypinski, author of Dark Carnival)

§

From The Alembic: Gravitas by Paddytheduke. A comedy about dogs and weekdays.

… dogs don’t like Monday mornings any more than humans do (Paddytheduke, Gravitas)

§

From The Dark Netizen: Treasures by The Dark Netizen. A flashfiction.

“You said grandma kept her treasures here before going to heaven.”
Grandpa smiled looking at the mess on his bed.

“I never lied. They’re here.” (Netizen, Treasures)

§


VERSE

From Sgehlert: Monopoly Empires by Søren Gehlert.

the truth hides in disarray
and dour shells
on phrenetic beach (Gehlert, Monopoly Empires)

§

From Short Prose: Passion by Gabriela M.

I see you
the face of the lost stranger
dissimulating grief in autumn shadows (G. M., Passion)

§

From The Drabble: The Code of Life by Tanzelle.

A, C, G, T
what will the next one in the sequence be? (Tanzelle, The Code of Life)

 


Verse & Prose Archive Updated For The Month of November

Our archive has been fully updated for the month of November (featuring new verse and prose).

The archive will be similarly updated towards the end of December or directly thereafter (in early January).

Additionally, we will be accepting verse, prose and music submissions throughout the month of December.

If interested in submitting your work, see to our submissions page for further details.

Fiction Circular 7/11/19

THE LOGOS FICTION CIRCULAR is a weekly series which collects independent fiction from around the web so as to treat the works to a wider audience. Recommendations for new author/publisher inclusions are welcome.


§00. Editor’s note: Links affixed to author/publisher’s name (if any) will redirect to author/publisher social media; links affixed to story/article titles will redirect to a relevant site whereupon the named piece is archived. The ‘authors’ section focuses exclusively on individuals who author and publish their own literary work; the ‘organizations’ section focuses exclusively on independent presses (lit-mags, e-zines and other literary outlets comprised of more than one person) who publish fictive work of (at least) more than one author. Lastly, the ‘literary ephemera’ section focuses on non-fiction work, including (but not limited to) certain poems, such as news articles, reviews, interviews and critiques. All author/publication names arranged by alphabetical order (including ‘the’ and ‘a’).


§01. Editor’s note on criteria for inclusion: A publication is considered ‘independent’ if it does not rely upon the staff, organizational prowess, or financial backing, of one or more large corporation, academy, government or other large institution. For example, Sink Hollow Litmag will not be included in the circular, not due to the quality, or lack thereof, of their work, but rather, because they are supported by Utah State University (and thus, are not independent); Thin Air Magazine, likewise is supported (in part) by university funding and hence, will not be included.


§02. Editor’s note on timing of publication: All works included are those read by the editor during the week of publication; their inclusion does not mean that they were written / published the same week as the circular containing them.


AUTHOR (FICTION)

From Jane Dougherty, Ambush.

 “… if I sit here much longer I’ll be so old I’ll have forgotten how to string a bow.” (J. Dougherty, Ambush)


From Jeff Coleman, The One That Got Away.

Giles has the man right where he wants him. He’s not a man, of course—at least on the inside—but something much worse… (Jeff Coleman, The One That Got Away)


From Little Fears, Be Someone.

“Is that another Sprite?” asked Cuttle.

“I think so,” sighed Parrotfish. “It’s depressing. They pass on so fast. They barely have time to figure out who they are.”

“I don’t care,” replied Cuttle. “When I was young, my mum said I could be anyone I wanted.”

“Isn’t that called identity theft?” asked Parrotfish. (LF, Be Someone)


From Shantanu Baruah, Whimsical—A Flash Fiction.

She was a mystery, no one knew where she came from. (S. Baruah, Whimsical)


From The Dark Netizen, the microfiction, Beast.

Its appearance disturbed the quiet of the forest.

The legendary beast was as beautiful as it was ferocious. It made quick work of most of the party. I was enthralled by its presence as it chewed up my last remaining partner. I did not want to harm it.

It didn’t resonate with those thoughts… (Netizen, Beast)


ORGANIZATION (FICTION)

From 101 Words, Exist To Nowhere by Lauren Everhart-Deckard.

We ripped the doors off my rusty mustang, Joni and I. They came off easy, like moth wings. (L. Everhart-Deckard, Exist To Nowhere)


From Aphotic Realm, Sherrick And The Train by Dan Maltbie.

A single BOT stood before the executive area with its blaster mechanically trained on the bounty hunter as a swarm of cleaning drones sprayed and tidied the offices beyond. When Sherrick neared, an electronic croaking emerged from the dingy security robot.

“HALT! Bounty hunter!” (D. Malbie, Sherrick & The Train)


From Crystal Lake Publishing, Shallow Waters Vol.1: A Flash Fiction Anthology (Kindle Edition) edited by Joe Mynhardt.

Shallow Waters—where nothing stays buried.

With twenty-two dark tales diving beneath the surface of loss, love, and life. (Amazon promo synopsis for Shallow Waters Vol.1)


From Horror Sleaze Trash, The Night I Drank With Bukowski’s Ghost by Benjamin Blake.

I took a sip of whiskey, and started playing air guitar along to the bluesy track coming over the speakers. (Benjamin Blake, The Night I Drank With Bukowski’s Ghost)


From Jellyfish Review, Repeat Visitor by Rachel Wagner.

he runs down the hill away from the green monster and steps down its steps to rescue his toys from the car. (R. Wagner, Repeat Visitor)


From Literally Stories, Beneath Your Skin by Rose Banks.

You weren’t yourself, that night. (R. Banks, Beneath Your Skin)


From Milk Candy Review, Bodily Fluids by Marissa Hoffmann.

Nicole Kidman says she doesn’t kill spiders or even ants. I wonder if that’s because she has people to do that for her? (M. Hoffmann, Bodily Fluids)


From New Pop Lit, Jerusalem by Zachary H. Lowenstein.

The air was crisp and cool. The scent of pine was wafting and the Earth continued to exist despite anyone’s desires. (Z. H. Lowenstein, Jerusalem)


From Reflex Press, Hagstone by Chloe Turner (excerpted from her book, Witches Sail in Eggshells).

 She’d thrown off last night’s childish panic; had woken calm, absolved, a greedy hunger in her belly. The answer would come from the stones. (C. Turner, Hagstone)


From Short Prose, Bones (excerpted from Glass Lovers).

“This city lost its compass, I am telling you, Miguel. Bones. This city is filled with bones.” (Excerpted from Glass Lovers)


From Spelk, The Promise Of Science by Tim Love.

Mathematicians love finding connections between once unrelated topics.

Descartes connected geometry and algebra. He had less luck with body and mind — as different as time and space, he wrote. Einstein created space-time but couldn’t connect gravity with quantum mechanics.

Meanwhile entropy and aging took their toll, random mutations accumulating with each cell division, not all bad. The strongest survive. (T. Love, The Promise Of Science)


From The Cabinet Of Heed, Suppose by B. Lynn Goodwin.

Suppose Hannah, age 9, closed her eyes and announced, “I have windowless eyelids”? Would she be creative or silly? (B. L. Goodwin, Suppose)


From The Drabble, Spittin’ by Maura Yzmore.

After Mom turned the house into a shrine, with Father’s photos everywhere, his college graduation portrait spat on me from the windowsill. (M. Yzmore, Spittin’)


From The Fiction Pool, Suvvern Cabman by Tommy Sissons.

The occasional hedonistic partygoer, donned in the macabre, or barely donned at all, was passed out on the yellow lines, dreaming of fluidity – ex-partners and money. Slews of drunken plague doctors, Pennywises, Day of the Dead señors, mime artists, brash women with demonic and celestial get ups bustled into pools of human jungle at every doorway. (T. Sissons, Suvvern Cabman)


From Story Shack, The Lone Pine by Martin Hooijmans (with art by Lars de Ruyter).

In his grief he did not notice that the square had filled up with people, all looking up at him in expectation. When an amplified voice started speaking he noticed though. He also noticed that no one was laughing at him. Then, one by one, lights started flicking on in the buildings surrounding the square, and that’s when he saw. His fellow trees, all decorated as well, surrounded by people laughing happily, brightened the numerous rooms of the buildings. When they saw ‘Lone Pine’ in the middle of the square, he could swear many of them began to glow even more. His heart lifted. (M. Hooijmans, The Lone Pine)


LITERARY EPHEMERA (NONFICTION)

From Alina Hansen, Ceramic (poem #417).


From A Maldivian’s Passion For Romance, a review of Before Jamacia Lane by Samantha Young.


From Cajun Mutt Press, A Perceived Shift by Jonathan Hine.


From Cristian Mihai, Do You Want More Readers? Write Like Yourself.


From David A. Estringel, the poem AI! AI! AI! (A Tartarus For Youth) at Blood Moon Rising Magazine(Issue #77).


From Examining The Odd, Lord Dunsany (Edward Plunkett).


From Human Pages (Tim Miller), My Mother’s Sister by C. Day-Lewis.


From Jaya Avendel, the poem Inside The Heart.


From Joanna Koch (Horrorsong), Clutch.


From JPC Allen, a writing prompt for those seeking to try their hand at historical fiction.


From Monica Carroll, I Am A Thorn.


From New Pop Lit, a short piece on the literary works of Ayn Rand.

 


From Okay Donkey, the poem Wound Study by H. E. Fisher.


From Søren Gehlert, the poem I Care Beneath The Alcohol.


From The Mystique Books, a review of The Farm by Joanne Ramos.


From The American Sun, a rumination on American culture as reflected in the nation’s fiction in Quiet Desperation is the American Way.


And lastly, from Thoughts Of Steel, The Crucible.


 

Pen & Pedagogy

“Very Dadaesque.” Elliot Moss cried, gesturing with his half-empty wineglass at the thin, nondescript mechanical pen laying upon the floor at the northeasternmost corner of the rectangular, low-ceilinged art gallery.

“Indeed,” Sabrina Vesora agreed, adjusting her scarf, studying the artifact as a crowd of journalists and local social climbers moved by. It was situated such that its nib faced the northern wall, a black sole-scuff-mark moving out in a slender arc from the nib to the right of the device, trailing off to nothingness.

“Highly abstract, yet, even still, the message is deftly inscribed.”

Moss nodded hesitantly, vaguely, uncomprehending, “Yeah,” He set his glass upon a nearby table and knelt, removing his phone and snapping a few shots of the pen, “Its great how imaginative the students have become with their art—shaking off all that stodgy hyperformalism.”

“I know! And look what they’ve come up with when they’re unconstrained—all that they’ve been able to say without speaking a word.”

“I’m not sure I get it,” a old man to Vesora’s immediate right remarked flatly, stroking his beard with his champagne-less left hand.

She cast the man a withering look and gestured to the pen.

“Its pointed towards the wall—to declare that most of our communications are superfluous, doomed to fail, fated to run into obstruction, into a wall. Yet, the scuff mark, moving away from the tip, out towards the center of the room, which compels us to turn our attention away from our own ‘writing’—from ‘the wall’—back to the lives of others, then, true communication is possible, but only if our instruments, and our empathy, move counter to our instincts.”

The old man furrowed his brows and tilted his head to stare at the pen from a different angle.

“Yeah,” piped up Moss, removing himself from the floor, phone photo-filled, “Its a metaphor. Social commentary—but subtle. Doesn’t beat you over the head with the message.”

The old man turned, addressing a finely dressed man with a custom-tailored black coat, tipped at the collar with white fur, “Oh. Hello, Mr. Partridge.”

“Salutations, Mr. Cramm. I was just speaking with Mr. Wakely, he tells me you’re planning something at the docks; but more on that latter—how’ve you been enjoying the gala?”

“Marvelously. As per usual. But I could use your expertise on this piece… not really sure what the artist was going for,” he replied, gesturing with perplexity to the pen by the wall.

Lynder Partridge’s keen eyes moved to the pen and lit up with recognition.

He then strode between the trio, knelt and gingerly plucked the pen up off the floor and examined it in his leather gloved hands.

“You’re ruining the installment,” Vesora exclaimed befuddled, “What are you doing?”

Lynder smiled opaquely, “Returning Mr. Wakely’s pen. He lost it around an hour ago.”

The Seal Maiden & The Spirit Cage

“I can not.” The woman declared, shaking her head, slick red locks swirling like ethereal worms.

“Can not… or will not?” The shaman pressed, narrowing his dark, grey eyes, which shimmered like boiling water, full up with the light of the midday sun.

“I will not.”

“It is my right, as it is thy duty, Sephia.”

“Even still.”

“Thou art decided?”

“I am.”

“If thou wilt bare no child of mine, thy own shall the human form eschew.”

“No!”

“Thou shalt beget only seals.”

She shrunk away from the shaman, though she knew he needed no proximity to weave a death-gealdor. She had seen it. The shaman had demanded the hand of the daughter of Low-Frost, the latter refusing, whereupon the shaman had informed him that the spirits would be most displeased and would surely punish him for his insolent selfishness. Low-Frost had collapsed three days later, directly following his third meal of the day. Foam about his mouth. Eyes bulged in terror. His daughter, Dancing Willow, was convinced it was the work of angry spirits and consequently pledged herself to the shaman the following day.

Sephia braced herself against the wall as the mystic took a step forward, his attendants and Dancing Willow watching with nervous anticipation from the middle of the room.

“All thy line shall be contorted by the high-hain. All thy line shall be seals.”

With that, he brushed passed Sephia and passed into the outer bright, his entourage swiftly following.

*

The pale man appeared at the village without explanation; his manifestation so foreign and his appearance so sudden that many of the villagers believed he was not of the world, but of the spirit plane that lay beyond the veil of the High Mist and the edge of the Great Waters. Despite his peculiarity, the outlander was so courteous and fluent in the native tongue that the villagers could not but welcome him.

Upon his second day at the village his counsel was sought by a middle aged man with a braided beard and a dour expression.

“Outlander, I hath heard thou haileth from the south; it is said that the southerners are versed in the healing arts. Is this so?”

The pale man smiled faintly and adjusted himself upon the rune stone he had taken for a chair and cast his gaze to the south, where the hilly land flattened out and was swallowed up by great and tangled forests that gleamed white with caked-on snow.

“Aye.”

“Then I would ask of thee, thy assistance, for the moment is dire.”

“Dire, sir? Explain.”

“Tis my daughter, outlander, afflicted she were and in a sorry state.”

“Afflicted?”

“Aye, and by no ordinary ague, for it is a spiritual sickness. A curse.”

“Wherefore this fantastical malady?”

“She hath refused to bare the child of Singing-Thorn, our shaman, as is his right. For this denial, the spirits have castigated the poor child and her womb swells with their fervor.”

“That sounds very grave indeed. I shall go to her forthwith, if thou wouldst but lead me aright.”

The man nodded, paused and realized he had not made proper greetings.

“Thy name, kind stranger?”

The pale man smiled broadly, “Dren. Drake Dren.”

“I am High-Stone.”

“Well met, sir. Let us make of earth a drum and beat a hasty tune.”

With that the two men left off and in short order made way to a small hut covered with a leather tarp that issued forth small puffs of white smoke; to the outlander, the construct looked akin to a tiny volcano made of sticks. The men passed within whereupon High-Stone gestured to a young woman who lay upon a cot, flush and breathing irregularly and swaddled in blankets. Though she appeared to Drake as somewhat ill, there was no outward sign of injury.

“This is my daughter, Sephia.”

“Quite a departure from the usual nomenclature.”

“Her mother was from southern lands.”

“I see.”

“Please, see to her. I do not expect miracles, but the spirits are capricious.”

Drake nodded and knelt upon a rough-sewn rug next to the cot. The woman opened her eyes and withdrew from the man.

“Who is this?”

“Fear not, little one, he’s an outlander, from the south. He’s here to help.”

“There can be no help… my children shall be seals.”

Drake arched a brow and turned to make a inquiry to his host only to witness High-Stone exiting the hut, muttering, “I have errands I must attend to.” Drake refocused his attention upon the shivering body of the terrified young woman before him and reached out and gently braced her forearm.

“Calm thyself, woman; explain thyself. Wherefore this talk of seals?”

“The shaman… has cursed me.”

“Why?”

“I refused to bare his child.”

“Of that thy father has conveyed all.”

The woman looked away as Dren furrowed his brows momentarily, resuming a open and amiable countenance when she returned her gaze.

“Thou art soul-sick. But despair not, I can work a charm to remove the gealdor and banish the spirits.”

“That is impossible! I thank thee for thy pains, outlander, but there is nothing to be done. The shaman’s gealdory is too powerful to be overcome by one uninitiated into the mysteries of the hain.”

“Who told thee I was uninitiated? I shall show thee the falsity of thy words and swiftly. Let us weave the charm. But first, I need of thee a little of thy knowing. I must ask thee a personal question—I disdain such prying, but know thee, it is imperative—whence last didst thee lay with a man?”

The young woman blushed and pulled the blankets more tightly around her shivering frame.

“Never.”

“I see. Tell me this also, what and when didst last thee eat?”

“Barley.”

“Was it raw?”

“Yes.”

He felt her head and then withdrew, sitting upon his haunches and gazing at the ground with his keen, gold-green eyes.

“Drink water and plentifully. Rest and exert thyself not. Now I must go; but I shall return shortly. Do as I have bide and leave the rest to me.”

“I shall. I thank thee kindly for thy pains.”

The pale, angular man then bowed cordially and left Sephia to her travails. Later she rose and drank some water and laid back down and slept until he returned, bearing a strange concoction. He asked her to drink it and she did so without hesitation; if her father trusted him, so too would she. With that Dren informed her to rest and that he would return again once his charm was done.

*

Days passed and with the setting of every sun, Sephia felt a little better. The swelling in her stomach had gone away completely and her fever had subsided. On the second day word began to spread throughout the village; murmurs of a challenger to the shaman’s dominion, one who sought to break his gealdor. On the third day Sephia was feeling good enough to get up and feed her goats, even though her father had seen to them but several hours before, and as she did so she heard the voices of two other young men from the village speaking a couple yards away.

“Know ye this outlander, Rough-Stone?”

Rough-Stone shook his shaggy, braided locks, “I know him not, but saw him whence he’d come. He’d strange eyes, what looked gold beneath the sphere’s turning.”

Sephia nodded to herself; his eyes were strange. Every villager knew that the eyes were portals to the soul, which was, they concluded, but further proof of his sorcerous potency.

On the fourth day, Drake returned, a broad smile adorning his sharp and corvine face and a odd contraption clutched in his left hand as he greeted the young woman beside her goats.

“Stranger! Thy charm hath freed me from the spell! See, see,” she grabbed his free hand and pressed it to her belly.

“Thy charm hath removed the seal!”

He held up the little contraption, “Indeed. I captured the spirits in this box where even now they reside.” A little crowd began to gather, tittering with excitement and curiosity.

“If thou canst remove seals, then thou art stronger than the shaman, for the art evades him.”

The crowd swelled and they moved forth to better inspect the stranger, someone muttering, “He broke the shaman’s gealdor; such a thing is not possible!”

In short order the shaman himself appeared, whereupon the crowd made way as he strode confidently and furiously up to Sephia and her newfound friend.

“I see thy baleful machinations! Begone, outlander; thou hath no business here.”

“I am afraid thou art mistaken. My business with thee closely resides. See here this box?”

“Aye.”

“Knowth thee its contents?”

“Nay.”

“Thine spirits, summoned for dear Sephia.”

A beleaguered look passed over what little of the mystic’s face was visible behind his gruesome mask of bone.

“That is not possible.”

“Oh, believe thee not thy own professions?”

“That is not what I meant! The spirits cannot be commanded.”

“And yet thou hath commanded them.”

“Yes, but-”

“So they can be commanded.”

“Yes, but only by one who has knowledge of the other side. What would a outlander such as thee know of it?”

“More than thee.”

The shaman gave a booming laugh.

“Prove it then; open the box.”

A crooked smiled played up the side of the pale man’s face.

“If I open the box, the spirits will be freed. Doth thee wish to birth a seal?”

The crowd chittered. Someone spoke up with nervous agitation, “He’s right; what if the spirits possess one of us?!” A old man declared suddenly, “He must not open the box!” Swiftly the crowd followed suit, urging Dren to keep the contraption closed and chiding the shaman for his recklessness in summoning the spirits to begin with. Their concern became so intense that Drake threw up his free hand in entreaty and spoke with sudden convivial vivacity.

“Fear not, dear people, I shall not open the box unless thy leader commands it.”

They looked to the shaman with fearful expectation; the shaman sighed.

“Leave it.”

The throng breathed a sigh of relief as the outlander pocketed the box triumphantly. The shaman gave his opponent a poisonous glare and then, slump-shouldered, retreated to his lodge with his retinue. The following day, High-Stone returned from his errand with the neighboring tribe and thanked the outlander for freeing his daughter from the spirits of the otherworld they called ‘Coribahn.’ He offered her hand, but Dren politely declined.

In the days that followed, the villagers increasingly turned to the outlander for advice and protection, some dubbing him ‘The Spirit-Cage,’ yet others, ‘The Crow of Coribahn.’

Within the month, he had the run of the entire village.

Fiction Circular 2/9/19

Editor’s note: Links affixed to author/publisher names will redirect to social media or personal website of the author/publisher. Links affixed to story/article names will redirect to the named story/article.


INDEPENDENT AUTHORS

From John Parham, The Old Man & The Three Legged Goat. The story of a young man, down on his luck, who encounters a strange old man and his three legged goat. Whilst the story is interesting and the message poignant, the dialogue and particularly the descriptions, suffer from a peculiar kind of stiffness engendered by repetition. For example, the amount of times that we are told that Curly “sipped his coffee” is quite superfluous; the author could simply have said, “Curly sat sipping his coffee” and that would have sufficed. That being said, repetition can be used to create rhythm, as in the works of Cormac McCarthy, however, in McCarthy the repition is limited (generally to “and”s and “left off”s) and occurs fluidly in the space of a single sentence and consequently, one shouldn’t take up a stance against it, in totality.

“Please sit and I will pour you a cup of coffee, then tell me about the three-legged goat.”

— The Old Man & The Three Legged Goat

INDEPENDENT PUBLISHERS

From 101 Words, The Crossing by Philip Scholz, a flash fiction about a man fleeing to Mexico. I’d say more but I wouldn’t want to spoil it.

“Your passport, please,” the guard said, holding out his hand.

He handed over the fake one, hoping his shaking hand wasn’t noticed. This was the test. He had to stay calm.

— The Crossing

From The Arcanist, Plunk At The Foot Of The Mountain by Peter Hurtgen. A tale of a vicious barbarian possessed of a deep-seated hatred for magic. Its a interesting piece of dark fantasy, humorous as it is thoughtful; a cautionary tale against being too quick to take action against that which one does not fully understand.

He was a boy of about eight. Before the Trying Times. The magic user was a young girl from the nearby village. A little older. The tinsmith’s daughter. A black-haired beauty. Tall and graceful. Wild and bronze. She cast a love spell on Plunk. She made him love her. They kissed in the yak barn hayloft. This made Plunk very happy. Then the girl used her love spell on another village boy. This pissed Plunk the fuck off. Plunk found the two lovers in the hayloft and separated them. From their heads.

— Plunk At The Foot Of The Mountain

From Drunken Pen Writing, Coffee Shop Blues by Caleb James K.; Mr. K’s prose is impressive for being able to turn as mundane an exercise as waiting in line for a cup of coffee into a introspective and engaging exploration of social disenchantment, charity and purpose. Easily the best of the week.

The world moved in slow motion as Jeff waited in the seemingly endless line at the coffee shop. It was like he was in a dream—like he was an unseen spectator watching the world move around him. He saw the faces of men and women, young and old, but couldn’t make out any details.

— Coffee Shop Blues

From Fictive Dream, Family Gathering by Paul Beckman. Title self-explanatory.

The laughers come first. They always arrive early and announce their early arrival to the hostess who isn’t ready yet for company.

— Family Gathering

From Monkeybicycle, The Next Life You’ll Make by Ellen Rhudy. A sad, poignant ghost tale.

I imagined they had a graveyard behind the hospital crowded with people who had never quite been alive. — The Next Life You’ll Make

From The Molotov Cocktail, The River Wedding by Tim Roberts. A dreamlike tale of horror and desire.

When The Big Night finally comes around, I lay awake waiting for the demons to take my father.

— The River Wedding

From Reflex Press, Strawberry Tarts and Serial Killers by Mary Thompson. A brisk sketch of the life of two lovers in a sleepy town (not actually about serial killers).

In August I left to be an au-pair in Amiens. Said I would write.

‘You won’t,’ he said.

— Strawberry Tarts and Serial Killers

From Spelk Fiction, Liquid Gold In Big Sky by Michael Carter. A tale of a hard-up family seeking gold beyond the American plains. Beautifully written.

“We’ll stop in Helena to see if they’ve struck gold again. Then we’ll make our way to Carson City, Nevada, to see if they have gold there. We’ll buy food with the gold, and you’ll all be full.”

I said, “Maybe there’s gold here?”

Mother said, “No, sweetie, there’s no gold out here in the Plains.”

— Liquid Gold in Big Sky

From Terror House, The Maggot Life by Nick Willis. The story of one man struggling within his own moral vacuum. The piece is raw, punchy and likely more than a little autobiographical. Highly recommended.

I can almost see the voracious, amoral little worm squirming around at the core of me, at the core of all of us: it’s what keeps us alive.

— The Maggot Life

From X-R-A-Y, Robot Mother by Brittany Weeks. A surreal tale with a experimental style, somewhat disorienting style.

I can’t shake the image of Everly with mechanical valves in her heart-

— Robot Mother

LITERARY EPHEMERA

From The Allium, Pandas “Totally Relieved” None Of Their Body Parts Made Of Anything Valuable.

A Panda spokesperson told The Allium earlier today that there was general relief in Panda communities that their body parts are valued at actual zero. Even in Sterling.

— Pandas “Totally Relieved” None Of…

Author, James Kirkland announces the release of his first novel Friend of the Devil.

Very pleased to announce that my first novel, “FRIEND OF THE DEVIL”, A Bill Walton Mystery, will be released March 13 by Meathouse Publishing. Excited for you all to see this. I’ve worked very hard and I hope you will enjoy! — J. Kirkland

Lastly, inimitable Jokes Review editor, Peter Clarke (Politicians Are Superheroes) participates in a roundtable discussion over at The Review Review on the subject of editorial practice. Specific topics include how far into a bad manuscript one should read before passing it over and whether or not a poor title disqualifies a manuscript. Insight for writers and editors alike.

At the very minimum, I’ll read the first paragraph and then skim to the end. I have scrapped stories based on the title and the first sentence, but that’s rare. Generally speaking, I don’t dedicate much time to stories that don’t catch me pretty quickly. The vast majority of my time reading submissions (probably 90%) is spent fretting over the stories that definitely demanded a full read but may or may not demand publication. If I’m already thinking about rejection after the first paragraph, then I’m probably just going to reject it.

— Peter Clarke, Managing Editor, Jokes Review


Thanks for reading.

If you wish to support our work you can do so here.

Fiction Circular 1/31/19

“All words are pegs to hang ideas on.” – Henry Ward Beecher

INDEPENDENT AUTHORS

The Dark Netizen published a installment in his on-going flash fiction horror series.

Part 1- Twittering Tale: Campfire

Part 2- Flash Fiction: Boots

Part 3- Flash Fiction: Stay Out

Part 4- Flash Fiction: Into The Woods

Part 5- Flash Fiction: Into The Woods 2

Part 6- Flash Fiction: The Woods

Roger and Gary heard their friend’s cries for help coming from the woods.

— The Woods

Next, Ventures Heart by Westley Nash, from his personal website, Thoughts of Steel. The form of the short story is unusual in that it is written more akin to a play than a typical prose work, however there is a reason for this, as the entire story is relayed via the transmission logs of a one Captain Taylor of the colonial ship, Venture’s Heart.

This is Captain Taylor of the colonial ship “Venture’s Heart” recording my final log prior to our departure towards the Perseus system. I am pleased to say that we have a clean sheet! Not that I want to tempt fate of course, but all in all the first stage of this mission has been a resounding triumph. — Ventures Heart

Stacey Chesters published her debut novel, To Play With Sadness, on Amazon in both Kindle and paperback editions.

Synopsis:

A story of music and memory… 
a forgotten daughter wants to help her father to remember who she is after over 20 years of silence.

The fear of not being recognized.

INDEPENDENT PUBLISHERS

From Jokes Review, The Racoonist by Lee Blevins, wherein Mr. Blevins proves himself quite an agile, energetic and off-kilter humorist.

Rex considered himself quite animal-friendly but his instincts and training were violence personified and PETA wouldn’t like it if I told you what he did to that critter after it bit him. — The Racoonist

From 101 Words, Emma’s Ghost, a ghastly piece of flash fiction from Gudrun Roy.

“What is it, Emma?” I asked, finding her at the front door. “Stop screaming; it’s okay.”

“Ghost!” Emma yelled, hysterical. She pointed to the warped panel of glass in the door-frame; a pale, hazy stranger hovered just behind it. — Emma’s Ghost

From The Stray Branch, Family Tree by Dan Klefstad, a grim and captivating tale of vampiric lust.

Childbirth hurts because a woman’s organs force a living thing from her body. It’s a pity mortals don’t feel this pain more often. — Family Tree

From X-R-A-YDomestic Terrorist by Meeah Williams. A distinctively styled short story, as humorous as it is fragmented and perplexing.

“Do you happen to know where this train is headed?” He said, “No. But wherever it’s going I hope they serve hamburgers there.” — Domestic Terrorist

From Terror House Magazine, MadDog78 by A. Elizabeth Herting, a sad and moving tale of troubled man in failing health. A peeling away of simulacrum.

One of the best short stories I’ve read in a very long time.

Whenever she asked him for a picture, he’d send one at least five years old or make excuses about why he couldn’t take a new one. He knew he was being dishonest, but he didn’t want to scare away the only woman he’d ever loved. MadDog78 was his link to a possible future—or any kind of happiness—and he wasn’t about to screw it up with reality. — MadDog78

LITERARY EPHERMA

Completed the illustrated novel Goblin Slayer (Vol. I) by Kumo Kagyu (which inspired the comic and animated series of the same name). The book recounts the tale of a man obsessed with exterminating goblins in a cliche-ridden tabletop-inspired fantasy world (the gods are capricious beings who control the characters in the story by rolling dice, not unlike players in a D&D campaign). Rather than the mythic heroes one typically expects to find in high fantasy works, the titular Goblin Slayer is more like a janitor, who does the dirty and seemingly trivial work which, out of pride and indolence, his compatriots refuse. Originality by way of cliche. Better than expected.

“Imagine that one day your home is suddenly attacked by monsters. They swagger into your village like it belongs to them. They kill your friends, they kill your family, they loot your home. Imagine that they assault your sister. They torture her, they rape her, they kill her. They desecrate the bodies of your family, do whatever they want, cackling all the while. And you see it all from where you’re hidden, trying not to breathe. How could you ever let that go? So you get a weapon, you train yourself, you learn, you grow. Everything you do is to help you take revenge. You search them out, hunt them down, you fight, you attack, and you kill them and kill them and kill them and kill them. Sometimes things go well, and sometimes they don’t. But each time you ask—how will I kill them next time? What’s the best way to kill them? Day after day, month after month, that is all you think about. When you get a chance, of course you test every idea you have. And when you’ve been doing all that long enough… You start to enjoy it.” — Goblin Slayer

The American Literary Blog published a wonderful piece on the love poems of American writer, Albert Pike.

I am the soul of the Universe,
In Nature’s pulse I beat;
To Doom and Death I am a curse,
I trample them under my feet.

Creation’s every voice is mine,
I breathe in its every tone;
I have in every heart a shrine,
A consecrated throne.

— Albert Pike

Lastly, from Rachelle Gardener, Tightening Your Writing, a brisk and insightful guide to shearing away superfluous words in a text. She follows a lot of time-tested advice such as omitting excessive use of passive voice (indicated by words such as “was,” “were,” and, “that”). Seasoned writers

Thanks for reading.

If you have any recommendations for writers or outlets you think should be included, feel free to let us know.

If you wish to support our work publishing and promoting independent fiction authors and publications, you can do so here.

Fiction Circular 9/21/18

Editor’s note: A little shorter than usual. Been very busy!


THIS WEEK’S FICTION

The Dark Netizen published, Barbies. And also, Embrace, Cave Trip, Date Night and Television as well as several poems. Something that would be interesting to see is a anthology collection of his short stories – perhaps as a PDF (or some similar file-type) – sorted by theme. Given how many of them he writes every week, there is ample content for it.

My heart stopped for a second when I spotted the skeleton remains – finally a discovery, albeit one which showed clear signs of recent burning.

However, the flesh had been picked clean off the bones, which indicated that the Glock resting in my pocket may see use very soon…

From Gone Lawn, How Would You Call Me If You Forgot My Name by Mileva Anastasiadou.

Back when we were clouds.

At least we’re not deserted islands or soulless rocks.

From Terror House Magazine, Sideburns by poet and short story author, Lou Martin. Short, cruel, compassionate and moving. Easily the best of the week.

We called him “Sideburns.” Somehow, in some long-forgotten childhood reasoning, that seemed a good moniker for the guy who prowled alleys and back porches rummaging through trash cans and piles of cast-away items.

From The Library of Nell, Leporine, a short and sultry tale of fantasy and lust. Written as part of the Friday Flash challenge.

She moans a little when he whispers another “good girl.”

From Burning House Press, Grief Is A Private Island by Julia Morton, which reads like a excerpt of a internal monologue from a larger story that one has just wandered haphazardly into. Also from Burning House, The Farm Will Always Have Us, by Richard Winters. The story was based upon a excerpt from his 2017 novel, Sawhorse.

From New Flash Fiction Review, The Difference Between Alligators and Crocodiles.

Your father was an elm tree compared to you.

LITERARY EPHEMERA

Lastly, from Irevou, 12 Books That Will Surely Make You Cry by Cristian Mihai which offers up some solid recommendations of moving novels (though it stands doubtful how many of them will actually make you shed a tear).

The Mire

The ruddy mire impressed itself upon the mind of the man as a great and reeking carcass. He stood over the bracken and the quitch, smoking languidly, the fetid smell of the swamp ranging over his senses like a titanic and pestilential wave. The sun was robed in thick and swirling clouds above which girded the infernal moor from whence it’s dazzling light was shrouded and all about below the buzzing of insects, their wings whipping through the air like needles on the brain. The man walked aways up what little land was afforded to him, the rest of the reach lost to sunken and muddy clay, covered over with pools of roiling sludge wherein the larvae of mosquitoes squirmed in hideous pirouettes. Massive snakes coiled about the reedy marsh here and there, moving with a soundless slithering and the wind was scarce and whence it came the stench of carrion followed with it. The man took a long drag of the cigarette and turned his keen green eyes to the south of the fen where the mountains obscured the passage to the hillocks of the outerlands and then east, to the misty forests, ranging up over the mire like the bristles of some great and feral boar, and then to the west, to the high-champaign, dotted over with rune-stones and mist and a curious scattering of skulls, man and animal alike, and then at the last to the north, to the long and winding and narrow pass which let out some miles up unto an elevated thoroughfare, scare-worn by the soles of those brave or mad enough to make passage to the town what lay beyond.

Somewhere off in the distance a howl broke the chthonic din, cascading off the sloping moorish hills and raising up the hairs of the traveler’s spine. His fear of the place was matched only by his loathing. It was all so very ugly. It were as it some humongous being beyond all reckoning had fallen victim to calamity arcane and the multitudinous swarms of all the earth had there found succor in the intestines and the blood of it’s gutted and expiring frame. Peering through the fern arrayed about his tattered chassis the traveler spied a dim light not far off; curiosity primed, he trammeled across the bog towards it, taking care in the placement of his mud-stained boots. The wind swept up with great agitation, throwing his cloak all to spasm. Half a mile he struggled against the peat and the savage increase of the gale and found a hollowed cairn in the middle of the mire in which lay a crackling fire and beside it, a strange and shriveled man, all wreathed in cloth; his visage, where not obscured by dressing, was riddled with pock-marks of the ague. The cachexic man waxed rale in address.

“What apparition is this that deigns to greet me upon this blessed demense?”

“No apparition, sir. I swan, but a traveler. By Miras am I known. A mechanist of Tor to the barton of Morrow come; but err’d in jaunt some ways aback and here find right castigation by this sloughy heath. Thy face, withered and wrapped withal, is most heartening, for I’ve crossbeamed this accursed fen for nearly a fortnight and passed neither man nor beast, save for insect, snake and the occasional, hapless ram.”

The traveler gestured behind him at the marshen expanse with great agitation as the cachexic man took in his measure with eyes that danced with the reflection of the open flame.

“Thy fortunes are most unhappy; Marta frowns upon you surely! To recompense, I greet thee warmly, Miras the Wayward. I am Glaedwine of Kwizling. But enough – seat thyself and rub thy weary joints about the fire. I’ve little to spare but some rain-catch, if it should please thee.”

Miras looked to a small, overturned tortoise shell which sat beside the sickly man and held up his hand in dismissal and then did as he was bade, seating himself upon a squarish stone adjacent the firekeeper who sat upon a similarly irregular rock, hands upon his knees and a smile upon his wild-bearded face. After a pace, Miras looked over the man keenly, then inquiring, “Wherefore the bandages?”

The bandaged man paused and fell into a fit. He coughed and covered his mouth with a sleeve and coughed and blood trickled red unto the fabric and coughed and spit blood and bile into the fire.

“Egad man, what malady chafes thee?”

“No illness,” the man replied upon recovering from his spasm, “but a gift. A gift from Our Dear Lady.”

“What sir? You speak in riddles.”

“Our Lady Marta. Bright-Mother. The Reaper of Woe. The Balancer of the Scales. Keep ye not the faith, wayfarer?”

Miras regarded the strange and tatterdemalion man with a visage deeply affected by both puzzlement and grave concern.

“You’re not well. To my ears there is water about the lungs. Pneumonia, perchance. It were best thee enjoin this place and make passage with me to Morrow. Before our leave-taking I could gift thee with a vial that should put the humors aright.”

“Eck! I’ll none of that sorcery. It were Marta’s will that I am as I am and so I shall be. All else is blasphemy.”

“How is it you have come to knowledge of the ineffable?”

The cachexic man turned a page in his little book and spoke with reverence.

“’Thee shall know ME by prayer in the wastes beyond the machinations of MAN. Get ye hence to solitude and study, to silence and mindfulness in the realms beyond the horse and hammer, in the demesne beyond the quill and hall, in the warrens and the lion dens, in the marsh and the mire, in the desert and the sightless wood; there shall you find ME.’ Corpus Callosum, Book I, Verse V. Her words are scrawled by mortal hands, by Callosum the Wise and Athelwyn the Stoic; so great was her love that she deigned to reveal herself to miserable creatures such as us. Her voice a soothing balm upon our listless suffering. Even her disease is a blessing, for the suffering of the flesh is nothing to the bliss of her eternal embrace; I meditated long upon the end, knowing soon that erelong I should die of this affliction, seeking to rectify my pitiful state with the love of Our Dearest Lady. But then it dawned upon my foggy brain, that all is a part of her plan; she seeks the peaceful emancipation of all, yet, long as one lives, long as one is bound to the mortal coil there can be no peace, there can be no true reprieve from suffering; not of just the flesh, but of the soul; this, in her infinite wisdom, Our Lady well knows. To correct the error of our lives she must first end them, only then can we be truly free.”

The wayfarer stroked his smooth and stubbly chin and spoke with his eyes fixed upon the wretched specimen before him.

“I mean no offense but that strikes me a philosophy most cowardly. To flee the buffets of the world into some other, why what upright man should hold himself to such lowly standards of valor? Thy philosophy is one of incontinence! A valorious man should stand proudly, proclaiming his defiance to the yawning chasm that seeks his end from the very beginning. He should defy the limitations of all the world surrounding, the better to bend it to his will. Such a desire would be, for the valorious man, born, not out of selfishness alone, but out of his grave concern for his people, his clan, his lover, the fruit of their loins and all their line stretching out and beyond the horizon of conception.”

The ralic man’s eyes widened and he rose quick as his affliction would allow, the whole of his form tense with agitation.

“You profane this sacred cairn. Get thee gone.”

Shortly after he had finished speaking the sickly man began coughing once more and doubled over, falling to a knee and bracing himself upon the squarish stone upon which he had previously sat. Miras started, his face filled with grim concern.

“Calm yourself, stress will do nothing but further exacerbate the illness.”

“Silence thy wretched tongue, heretic! Begone! Begone!”

“Thy fever worsens; erelong to fall. Thy disease is familiar to me and easy would it be to concoct a potion to cure it, if thee would but see it done.”

“I’ll none of thy magicks, sorcerer!”

With great abruptness the man, snarling, lunged fiercely at Miras who sidestepped the crazed hermit and backed out of the cairn, prescient of the infection’s contamination. Miras, after having escaped into the mire, turned full about, furrowing his brow, and issued forth a dire condemnation, his voice cold as the chill air surrounding.

“Fool. May thy accursed cairn collapse upon thee!”

Without another word the wayfarer spun upon his heel and left the mad zealot and the noisome sludge of the mire.

He paused upon a low hillock that let out to the grasslands and then looked back and down upon the cursed place from which he had left and vowed that one day he would return and drain the damnable bog, raze the forests and shutter the stars from the very sky with the smoke-stacks of a dozen factories or more.

“This place, so malformed that it distorts and poisons the body as much as the mind! Think you to take my mind like as to the abstemious, o’ heinous mire? Tis not yours for the taking! Only mine for the giving-away! But your tangled branches, your reeds and sludge, your insect-laden wastes and bone filigreed bracken; I shall snatch all away! No further minds shall you terrorize whence you’re trammeled over by a hundred-thousand cobblestones! Hear me, you rotted skein? I, Miras Vlotho, shall unmake you in my image!”

The Farm and the Forest (Part VI)

~6~

A New Day Dawns

The winter had been long and grueling. More than a few animals on the Farm had succumbed to the cold or shortages in rations. Others had been dragged off in the twilight hours by the ravenous animals of the Forest who always struggled in the cold months and became frantic in their search for sustenance. As if this were not bad enough, internecine violence had exploded within certain groups of animals. The geese, their ranks bolstered by the growing numbers of wild geese crowding in from the Forest, had become particularly self destructive. Most of the Forest geese fled south for the winter, but the change in the Rules inspired the craftiest, and laziest, of their number to move onto the Farm instead. Even with all of the troubles plaguing the Farm, it was still a far and away better life to live in pens, receive any kind of ration, and sleep somewhat soundly under the watchful eyes of the dogs. This influx pushed the accommodations to the breaking point, which in turn caused unrest among the geese who unleashed their angst on the neighboring chickens and ducks. Birds are quick to anger, and it never took much for violence to break out, particularly at feeding times.

One bright and bitter morning, as a service sheep was filling the feeding troughs of the birds under the less than watchful eye of a shivering, young pig, a perturbed Forest goose bullied his way to the front of the line. He was larger than any of the ducks or chickens and with hisses and honks he forced a gap that a gaggle of other geese quickly sought to exploit. The service sheep, who had never felt like he was accommodated adequately for the job with which he was tasked, elected to just dump the entire bag of morning ration in a pile and skeedaddle on to safer pastures. This caused a feathered frenzy as every bird lunged towards the fast shrinking lump of feed. The pig tasked with overseeing the fair distribution of rations squealed in dismay and remonstration, but the three flocks ignored his protestations so he beat a hasty retreat to a less violent corner of the farm for propriety’s sake. The battle began in earnest when the mound had been dispersed and trampled. The geese formed a ring around what was left of the scattered seed and used their size and ferocity to great effect, beating back the uncoordinated assaults of the chickens and ducks. Having been rebuffed, they turned on each other in an effort to capture what few morsels the geese were not defending. It was a terrifying many minutes before a brace of dogs and a horse finally quelled the riot.

The tally of casualties stood at four dead ducks, a dozen dead chickens, and more than a few hovels completely destroyed. Even after the fighting had stopped, the triumphant geese refused to give up any seed. The guard dogs were incapable of reasoning with the geese on one side and were equally unsuited to calming the wrath of the aggrieved chickens and ducks. The horse who had helped stop the violence hoofed off to find a pig, leaving the two dogs as the only level heads in the bunch. Unseen in the corner, a youngish rat crept quietly in amongst the geese. She bode her time, waiting until she found the legs of the original boisterous goose that had started the whole fracas, then bit him viciously on the webs and belly. The boisterous goose trumpeted wildly in pain and anger and proceeded to strike out at any bird within range. This caused the conflict to boil up once more, only now it was in the presence of two dogs who were already at the limit of their natural tolerance. They were trained to keep order through barks and nips, but they were evolved to rip and rend. As the battle was joined anew by the chickens and ducks, who were still ravenous from their slumber and seeking to break their fast at almost any cost, the dogs saw no recourse but to wade in and put down the riot by any means necessary.

Their work was quick and brutal. They snapped the necks of the three biggest geese and mangled a handful of both chickens and ducks. The carnage served to quell any baser motivations of greed or hunger and the three separate flocks segregated themselves in abject fear and horror, their lamentations rising louder than their battle cries. When a handful of pigs and a coterie of rats finally made it to the scene, the sight was grim. It looked as if blood mad wolves had tore into the flock of innocent and starving birds. More than a few of the pigs wretched in disgust as the rats made a show of investigating each and every corpse repeatedly, lapping at the weeping wounds and poking into the rent carcasses. No one noticed the addition of an extra rat to their number as they were all coated in the syrupy blood of the unwitting sacrifices. The death toll now stood at three geese, thirteen ducks and almost a score of chickens. The two guard pups, their muzzles covered in blood, feathers, and down, sat at attention as they were trained. The pigs could not bear to look them in the eye, being cowed by their potential violence, and were given over to frantic whispers with their rat compatriots. The matronly German Shepherd was sent for, as well as more horses. The hullabaloo had caused a crowd of Farm animals to gather and, having no background information to go on, they began to speculate wildly as to what in fact had occurred. By the time the matronly German Shepherd had arrived, the rumors of near rabid dogs going on a murderous rampage had spread to every corner of the Farm, causing hue and cry to be raised against this grave injustice perpetrated by the violent dogs against the poor, starving flocks of geese, chickens, and ducks. A council was quickly convened in front of the Big Barn.

This is bad, very bad. These two pups have violated every code and custom we hold dear on this blessed Farm. Their carnivorous evil cannot be tolerated. The pigs have decided that an example must be made. They must be executed forthwith if any semblance of law and order is to be maintained. Of course you understand that we the pigs, as peaceful and just leaders, cannot carry out this sentence, so it falls to you and your ilk to do what it appears you relish in… that being murder most foul.”

The rats did not even attempt to hide their amusement at the less than clever wordplay. The other pigs all murmured their agreement. In the distance, the geese were still trumpeting their despair. The matronly German Shepherd slumped to her belly in complete disbelief.

This… this is not the way of things. We have Rules here, and these pups deserve a fair chance to-”

A fair chance‽ As fair a chance as the poor, starving geese had when they were attacked by the greedy ducks‽ As fair a chance as all the birds had against two blood mad, wolfish mongrels hellbent on murder most foul‽”

The youngish rat, now clean from the blood that had coated her snout to tail, stood on two paws with her tail keeping her propped up as she excoriated the matronly German Shepherd with her shrill rhetorical inquiries. The pigs murmured their assent to this sentiment, and the matronly German Shepherd could do nothing more than pant and whine in frustration and confusion. She had been overwhelmed by events and her iron allegiance to tradition and hierarchy left her ill equipped to handle the overwhelming sorrow that had overtaken her simple mind. She was left to act on her instincts, and chief among them was her instinct to obey. So she rose to her paws and lowered her head in supplication.

I… I will do as I am commanded. If the Rules say that murder is required, then murder I shall provide.”

She bowed her head again, and with a yip she loped away to the kennel where the two guard pups were being detained by their kin. As they matronly German Shepherd approached, the rest of the dogs rose at the ready.

What shall it be mother? Who shall be held responsible for those damnable geese and their wanton ways?”

We… we are… we are ordered to execute the Farmer’s justice, and we shall do as we are commanded to…”

They assembled dogs barked and bounded in elation, for it is always a dog’s greatest pleasure to follow a command for the good of the pack.

What then, dearest mother? How best can we obey?”

The matronly German Shepherd could only gaze into the unfeeling depths of the cold and distant Forest as she issued her command:

Fall upon your brothers and wring their necks until they are dead. Do it now and make no delay.”

And in the way of their kind, the pack did as they were ordered. The two guard pups keened in despair and rolled belly up in submission which only served to hasten their demise. When the grim deed was done, the matronly German Shepherd and one of her sons grabbed the corpses by the scruff and dragged them to the front of the Big Barn. The pigs and rats were waiting there, as well as a large crowd of other animals, both Farm and Forest. When the bodies were cast down before them, a cry of joy and righteous indignation rose up from the assembled. In unison, the pigs and rats intoned:

Justice has been done.”

The two dogs began to slink away, but they were halted by a command from one of the younger pigs.

Halt! Stand fast and accept the wise and just judgment of the leaders of this Farm.”

The matronly German Shepherd turned and sat, and her son rolled onto his back, belly exposed and tongue lolling.

Forthwith, the dogs of this Farm will no longer be the keepers of the peace. In their stead, the horses and goats shall keep the peace. The dogs are to stay in their kennels for the safety of the Farm. The dogs are to sit in quiet contemplation of their murderous inclinations. Perhaps in time they will seek to progress to a higher level of peaceful coexistence. Begone, curs, and see that you obey or there will be greater and more grievous sanction rendered. Of course, it is still the responsibility of the dogs to defend the borders of our great and good Farm, but they must do so in accordance with the reformed Rules. As such, they may only patrol at night. And they must avoid, at all costs, any temptation to bring harm to peace loving animals, whither they hail from Farm or Forest. Go now, and do not disobey. Flee!”

As ordered, the two dogs fled, their tails between their legs. After their exit, the pigs waited for the hubbub to die down, then ordered the rest of the animals back to their quarters. When only the pigs and rats remained, a secret council was instated. The pigs discussed the particulars of how the running of the Farm would continue with the dogs absent from the bulk of their traditional duties. The rats listened in silence, twitching their whiskers.

This is terrible, simply terrible. Slavish brutes though they be, the dogs did serve an important purpose in the running of this Farm. Who now will protect the peace should honest and understandable disagreements arise?”

Why, the horses will have to finally pull their weight around here. Yes, and the goats too. Why, a goat can be a fearsome beast. I mean, they do have horns after all.”

Indeed. The goats and horses, then, shall be tasked with keeping our great and good Farm safe and civil. Of course, if we have need of them, it is certain the dogs will come when called. They always do.”

The pigs continued back and forth like this for quite some time. The rats listened intently but made no statements, least ways not to any of the pigs. In quiet whispers to each other, they made note of the proceedings. Occasionally, one or two would slink off on some task even as others appeared with whispered news of this or that. In the midst of it all, the big fat rat sat stone still, the youngish rat at his side, slowly preening her whiskers in silence. After much bombastic discourse, the pigs found their way to a conclusion and declared the secret council adjourned. They went on about their day, each to his own little fiefdom, leaving the rats to their own council. They gathered in a close circle around the big fat rat, awaiting his guidance. The youngish rat held her station it his side.

My sibling-children, the great work set before us would be daunting to a humbler and less canny race than we. Our deep history of wandering and injustice at the hands of mongrel mutts is coming to an end. A brave, new world awaits all animals of the Farm. Though we have accomplished so much, this is only the beginning. Evil forces hide within the midst of this Farm, biding their time, waiting to strike a blow against peace and equality. We must remain steadfast and resilient, for change does not come naturally to the simple races. It is our solemn duty to carry these poor, ignorant creatures into the light of a new day. You know what must be done. Go now, and continue the good work that has been started.”

To a rat they scattered to the four corners of the Farm, but the big fat rat remained, stock still like the statue of a rodent from ages past. He slowly cast his glance about him, taking in all he could see. A dark greed welled up inside him, making his beady eyes flash red. He bared his sizable teeth and spoke quietly to the youngish rat, still loyally at his side.

The farm is ours to lose, daughter. See that we do not.”

It has been said that for evil to triumph, the good need only remain idle. In truth, all the evil need are a few of the good to blindly obey.

 

Tomb of the Father: Chapter Two, Home & Hearth

Gunvald woke in the dark and buried the brigand upon the northern hill opposite the shepherd’s encampment and departed from the old vaquero wordlessly, before his waking, as the halcyon sphere drifted up across the high, jagged peaks of the far mountain. He made his way over the thin, reedy grass from the northern hill and from there to the stony outcropping where he’d slept as the sheep bawled and yapped like insane children and then passed down between the precarious tors into the lowlands which were spotted here and there with small tufts of shrubbery and strange boulders incised with markings from some people that had since passed from the world’s collective remembrance. The man stopped as if the stones had rooted him to his shadow by some eldritch witchery and slowly reached out to touch the curious monolith before him, gingerly running his dry and cloth wrapped hands across the smooth-hewn crevices of the mighty artifact. He closed his eyes and inhaled and exhaled deeply until his breathing became as rhythmic as a drumbeat and he felt as if his hands and those that had wrought the arcane inscriptions where one and the same. Past called to future. Dead to living. As if the stone were whispering to him, tales for forgotten times and well lived lives and those less well lived and what their folly entailed for the ignorant persisting. It was a peculiar feeling, one that the weary traveler struggled to rationalize but felt powerfully all the same. At length, he opened his eyes and slowly withdrew his hand from the stone and retreated a pace and looked over the monolith entire, from tip to base and judged the breadth and width; some eight feet high, some seven feet wide. The weight of the thing the gods only knew.

When he’d taken in the stone in all its facets he turned full from it and made his way out through the quitch and bracken and past other stones, both larger and smaller than the first, and all similarly marked by ancient hands, the symbols there incised beyond the travelers reckoning. Here and there a recognizable representation, half-masked in abstraction: a man, a woman, a wolf, a bear, a fish, a snail, a tree. The symbol most oft represented was the wolf, over and over again it was inscribed, with near mechanical precision and a primal beauty that he’d scarcely witnessed in even the most lavish of paintings. He could almost hear its call.

Beyond the rune-stones the ground flattened out with astounding brevity, the bracken and quitch giving way to queer lichen and strange vines with small purple shoots and thick, raw swatches of muddy-clay, filled all with fetid water that buzzed with insects of ever size and shape. The further out the man cast his gaze the larger the water-filled depressions grew until they merged unto a singularity, one vast marshen heap of rain-catch and sod and sand and silt. Bogland.

He recalled the old man’s words, “The first false step means death, to man or beast.”

Suddenly there came a raucous calling, a intonation, nearby and strangely human. The traveler whirled, spotting, some forty yards out into the mire, a huge male ram, only his forelegs, chest, neck and horn-crowned head clear above the bog-hold. The creature struggled a moment, flailing its powerful legs against the silt and sand-water and then, quite suddenly, it vanished, sucked down at last; even the tips of its horns sinking below the grim surface of that plane of death.

Gunvald watched the unhappy affair with a mixture equal parts despair and fascination. It seemed too sudden, the way the earth could so swiftly devour. Such a thing to the traveler’s mind was as fantastical as copper turning to gold or water to dust. The bog had not been there when last he’d traversed the moor, those seven years ago. It seemed a whole panoply of lifetimes compressed into the scattered crystalline fragments of his memories and dreams.

He recalled the long march beside his kinsmen, How high their banners flew, the colors of all the clan houses of Tor; after decades of internecine violence, united at last against a common foe, the gray-men of the Hinterlands, those they called, Rimners. How young and wild and full of lofty opinions they had been!

As Gunvald looked out across the moor his opinions flew at considerably lower altitude.

*

Finding no passage through the peat, Gunvald opted to travel round it by the southernmost way. The trek lasted two days and brought him past all manner of queer shrubs and bone piles and dying trees that looked more akin to the phantasmal skeletons of some macabre stage-play. Beyond the surmounted wetlands lay a quiet vale through which ran a babbling brook, girded on all sides by dry forest and vine, the ground verdant-lush and teeming with all manner of skittering things both foul and fair. He sat by the snaking divet and withdrew a wood cup from his travel satchel and dipped it in the water and drank deeply, the liquid sweet and cool to his parched and desirous throat. Then he watched the solar plumes play across the waves as a small school of fish nudged up to the surface, their huge, lidless eyes gazing upon the sun-scorned figure as if appetent of conversation. Gunvald withdrew the last of his stock, a dry half-loaf of bread and broke it into small pieces, eating some and then throwing the rest to the fishes who gobbled at the flotsam and then nervously retreated, wary of Man’s latent, yet ever present perfidy.

Moments later, the sound of creaking wood could be heard all throughout the vale, followed swiftly by a muted cascade of footfalls. The sound followed the wake of an old cart, rope-dragged by four men, filthy, disheveled and dressed all in furs. Their faces were covered by cloth halfmasks, securing the nose and mouth from nature’s multitudinous ravishments. Gunvald rose to observe the strange and solemn congression, eyes widening with horror as he beheld their vessel’s grisly cargo.

Bodies.

Some fifteen in number, human and decaying under the harsh auspice of the sun. They were male and female alike, from babe to crone, covered in all manner of hideous rashes and boils, their skin ashen-red and peeling like the hide of some overripe fruit. Whatever disease it was that had snatched from them the breath of life seemed for the moment to have no hold upon the cart-pullers who paused momentarily, all turning to the man by the river.

One of their number addressed Gunvald sharply, as if in reprimand for some past transgression.

“What easy fool is this?”

“No fool, sir. But a traveler.”

“Those that here make passage are foolish enough to warrant the epithet. Canst thou not see our sorry wares?”

“Tis a pitiable sight. Wherefore didst they meet Dactyl’s scythe?”

Upon the utterance of that most singular name the men collectively gasped, the former speaker, a short man, bow-backed, balding and scarfaced, muttered a muted prayer and then gestured towards Gunvald as if casting some devious vermin from his presence.

“Sound not that unutterable traducement!”

“I meant no offense. Superstition has surely deranged thy temperament.”

“Enough, heretic, we darest not tarry, lest thy, with your calumnious tongue, conjure some new evil to surpass the one that now burdens our aching backs!”

The other workers nodded as if there was great wisdom in the bald man’s words and then they adjusted their masks and ropes and muttered another prayer and bent once more to their toil and moved out across the rutted and grassy way, vanishing at last beneath the cavernous canopy of the wood, swallowed whole by the shadows therein.

Gunvald watched them go and decided to follow the cartmen at a distance, for their path and his were, for the time being, one and the same.

Gunvald rose and gave chase, passing through the thick and tangled forest of oak and ash and fir and gave silent thanks for the thick moss-bed beneath that masked the clattering of his bulky armored frame. Over moss and stone and leaves, dead and alive, he walked, keeping himself well hidden and well apart from the odd foursome and their rickety old cart. After a couple hundred feet the forest opened up, the trees and shrubbery now growing more sparsely, the grass turning from green to yellow-green to a dull orange-yellow. Dying. The cart-pullers took a sharp right and passed fully beyond the forest unto a thin, dirt road that stretched out to the gray northwestern hill-lands like the great and ossified tendril of some mighty leviathan. The road ran down a slight decline in the hummock ridden surface of the world and then diverged, one track splitting off to a small city to the south and the other branching to a butte which rose as the pass to the low, south-eastern mountains. Gunvald waited until the men had disappeared beyond the curvature of the earth and then took the lonely path towards the town stopping by a small wooden sign, hastily constructed, which read:

Ħaberale

The sign was adorned with a large off-white arrow, comprised of some woodland dye, which pointed towards the clearly present outline of the town in the short-off distance, half obscured by small tussles of old trees which poked above a field of withering wheat and the ruins of some primeval fort that lay there beyond. Before the man had fully risen from his observation of the sign the sound of thundering hooves rose up from somewhere nearby, plumes of dust whirling up towards the immediate northern road. Shortly, a fearsome cavalcade stood before the weary and cautious wayfarer, five in number and all armed and armored in strict uniformity. Knights or sell-swords or something worse. Gunvald knew instantly they were not of this land, by both their expensive attire and peculiar breed of destrier, he fancied them denizens of Tor, a kingdom someways off and rarely concerned with its outlying provinces. The leader of the group and the eldest, a man of middling height and some fifty years, at length addressed the armored wayfarer.

“Hail, traveler. A moment to query?”

Gunvald nodded in wordless acquiescence, though he knew that it was not a question proper.

“I am Cyneweard, second-commander of Tor. Word of brigand raids have reached our gracious Lord, Cenhelm, and by his leave we make way to Haberale to rope the misbegotten scoundrels.”

“If that is your venture then you’re headed the way all awrong. Your foe lies beyond the northern forest, past the bogland in the high moors.”

“You’ve seen them?”

“The night last I was assailed upon the moor by three fiends, peasants it seemed.”

“Three you say?”

“Now two.”

“We thank thee kindly. Might I inquire as to your business, traveler?”

“My business is my own to keep.”

“Suit thyself. One word of parting, take heed in Haberale, the town is much changed. For the worse I am afeared. With thanks, we leave you, sir.”

Without another word the knights straightened in their leather saddles and flicked the reigns of their war-beasts and clattered off down the road toward the moor. When they had gone all was silent save for the heavy breath of the western wind that sent the traveler’s long, wavy locks all aflutter. He brushed his locks from out his eyes and adjusted his scabbard-belt and wondered at the knight’s words. Haberale had always been a sleepy little idyll, the only heed one had need to take was of how uneventful it was likely to be so as to better remedy the doldrums. Then he thought of the bandits and the dead men in the cart and the living ones pulling it and the strange masks on their faces, all deep, emerald green. Times had changed indeed.

Gunvald left off down the way and crossed through the fading wheat and the hard clay ground and made camp in the ruins of some old fort as darkness closed about him in minacious plume.

*

Gunvald woke in twilight and passed through the northern archway of the quaint little conglomeration of hamlets as the sun rose full and fierce above the distant mountains heralding the end of Night’s devious reign. Through and beyond the northern stone archway ran a well worn path of rough cobbled stone which merged with the town’s main thoroughfare. It was at this junction that a statue of the goddess Marta lay, a man standing beneath it. The man was young and slim and dreadfully pale and wore a thin leather patch about his left eye. He was dressed all in tatters and sat cross-legged upon the ground beside a little wooden bowl which he glanced at from time to time as if he were afraid it might grow legs of its own and run off to be with its own kith and kin.

Gunvald’s footfalls sounded in short order upon the little, tatterdemalion man’s ears at which point he languidly raised his shaggy, windswept head and affixed the traveler with a most marvelous gold-green eye.

“Greetings and salutations, m’lord.”

“I’m not yer lord, beggar.”

“Not yet, good sir, not yet. Give it goodly time.”

Gunvald wondered momentarily if the man were mad, decided that it mattered not; he was pitiable all the same.

“Wherefore do thy wear that mangy patch?”

“Tis not for fashion, sure enough. But for those necessities of form that civilized men do aspire to. When War upon the Men of the Rimn was declared I, to my everlasting shame, made to abscond from those duties that bind blood to blood. Alas, I failed even in my wretched treachery and was apprehended and press-ganged to the front lines in service to Tor. It was there mine eye met the fearsome edge of a grayman’s axe, hence the patch.”

“Then thou must except my apologies, I myself am a veteran of that heinous enterprise and would never have spoken so tersely to thee had I known…”

The yellow eyed man held up his hands in entreaty and shook his head sadly, knowingly.

“Tis nothing. One as wretched as I am deserving of no apologies.”

Shamed to silence, Gunvald stood a moment in awkward contemplation, his thoughts coming to him with unusual langoriousness. It was in that meditative reverie that he spotted a small cloth mat, rolled and neatly bound with an old vine. A sleeping cover more suited for a cot than the rocky, pitted ground.

“Have you lodgings?”

“No, m’lord. All that I have I carry on my person. Everything else I lost in the war. Now I lodge with the goddess, who, in her grace, has embraced me warmly.”

With a look of horror and self-vexation, Gunvald dug into his left pocket and withdrew a small handful of coins, silver and stamped with the Royal Seal of Tor, a stylized chimera perching atop a proud, jagged spire of stone on one side and on the other the stylized face of King Chester III, Sovereign of Tor.

He proffered the mintage to the faineant without hesitation.

“I can’t accept that, m’lord. Tis far too great a sum.”

“If you shan’t accept my gift I shall force it upon thee.”

“Your magnanimity exceeds all expectations, sire. May Marta bless thee!”

The man-at-arms cracked a wry smile.

“Of that, she’ll have a most arduous time. Tell me, vagrant, what do I call thee?”

“Frey, m’lord. Jameson Frey.”

“Well met, Jasmeson. I am Gunvald. May Marta bless thee likewise.”

“One word, before your leave-taking, m’lord.”

“What is it?”

“The town overfloweth scoundrels.”

Without another word he turned and left off from the shrine as the pale vagrant bowed respectfully as if to some imperial magistrate. Some forty feet down the road Gunvald entered the town proper, passing through the old, low, stone archway which let out into the thin and winding main thoroughfare, passing between two old cobblestone huts, their smokestacks painting the sky gray with their exhaustive alcahest. He followed the road aways, passing between row after row of small cobbled huts with low hanging roofs of laiden brown thatch, small circular windows exposing the heads of a silent and solemn population who gazed out upon the lone wanderer with a mixture of wonder and fear. Their eyes spoke volumes, the unmuttered words those of caution, a collective flashing of looks that seemed to say, “Beware!”

His pace quickened in tandem to his pace, soon he settled into a light jog and closed his hand about the door of the fourth house to the left of the entryway. He braced himself for the coming encounter and feared his heart might wake the inhabitants with its knocking. Then he entered.

Inside there was only a old woman who looked up without surprise, as if she had been expecting him. After a moment, her eyes adjusted and a look of somber knowing came unto her face.

“I remember that face. Gunvald Wegferend, it pleases me to see you alive and well, dour faced as ever.”

He remembered the old crone, Paega well, she the former nurse-maid to his beloved and a fishwife at that.

“I trust you’ve been well, old fox.”

“Ack, don’t try your charms on me, I’m too old for flattery.”

“Very well.”

“To answer true… I’ve been better, all here have-”

He interrupted suddenly, unable to contained his excitement and curiosity.

“Leofflaed… is she here?”

The fishwife paused and gave a long, sad sigh before answering.

“Leofflaed is gone.”

“G-gone?”

“Due your feelings for her I shan’t keep anything aback. Her father sold her to Lord Eadwulf, the cattle baron, I trust you remember him. She lives with the lord even still, in that old stone manse upon the southern plain.”

“Hamon sold her?”

“Yes.”

“For what purpose.”

“To pay off a gambling debt.”

“What purpose for Eadwulf?”

“It were better I not say.”

Gunvald face was red with wrath, his fists trembling. He wanted to loose his rage without hesitation and would have had Eadwulf been there before him.

“My Leofflaed, sold like a common whore!”

“Hush, now, young master Gunvald. She was never promised to you. All vows made were between thee and she alone and none other. Now come, sit, you must be weary with your travels.”

“Nay, but I thank thee for thy troubles, Paega.”

He turned to leave but the old woman rose and grasped his forearm.

“Do nothing rash, young master, Eadwulf will not permit it and-”

“I’ll not be lectured to, especially not by a woman. Now take your hand from me this instant.”

She did as he commanded, fear and worry mixing in equal measure from the dull pallor of her withered cheeks and the slight glint in her weathered, squinting eyes.

Without another word he left off out of the house without closing the door and stalked through the streets with a lion’s fury. For a moment the man was directionless and then he remembered the old inn. A drink would well enough calm the nerves as it dulled the senses. For the present the soldier wished to feel nothing at all.

As he made way to the old inn Gunvald was perplexed by the empty streets which, in his youth, had been so full of mirth and gaiety and merchants haggling their glitzy baubles and minstrels singing songs of heroic struggles of some olden, mythic age, all of lion-slaying and monsters and magical princes and damsels and goddesses so fair they would blind all mortals who dared gaze upon their supple, naked forms. Now there was nothing but silence, broken at sullen intervals by the cracking of the old flags, green and emblazoned with the chimeric crest of Tor, that flew above the ramshackle houses from the watchtowers where they stood before the low, stone walls, overgrown with moss and unkempt as if in abandonment.

It looked liken to the domain of the dead.

He continued along the thoroughfare and passed beyond the low-born housing and moved on to the town square and passed the shuttered armory and the barren fish-market where only a few shadow-faced gypsies sulked, and moved to stand before the inn as an icy wind blew in from the north and crows gathered in the sky and landed upon the eaves, cackling as if with malicious mirth at his present plight. The looked to be Loessians, those curious folk what had crossed the great desert that moored itself to the World Spine and bulwarked the whole of the Kingdom of Tor from the other noted lands. Gunvald wondered at their presence: What were they doing so far from home?

Abruptly, one of them looked to Gunvald with keen interested and muttered something in a foreign tongue to a younger compatriot. The younger man drew himself up and instantly ran off, headed for inn to which Gunvald was headed. The armored traveler paid the boy no minded and moved to stand upon the low, flat veranda of the venerable establishment. He barley recognized the place, so hewn with odd etchings and strange graffiti was it, all in some foreign hand. Loessian, he fancied.

A old man sat upon a overturned bucket upon the leftmost side of the wide porch of the itinerant’s lodge. He was a sunken-eyed creature, dour and vacant, garbed in a thick fur coat and hat, a long wooden pipe gently set between his small, yellowed teeth upon which he puffed from time to time with methodical regularity. At length he spoke without turning.

“You know what they say? Those wall-scrawlings?”

Gunvald shook his head.

“I’ve little penchant for symbolism.”

“Tisn’t symbolism, tis Loessian. I don’t like the way they leer. Like cats.”

Gunvald waited a moment, expecting the old man to say something else and at length, after a long, meditating puff of his wickwood pipe, he did.

“You know how to swing that sword you carry?”

“Well as any.”

“You’ll need it shortly. The sword and the knowledge of its swinging.”

“Is that a threat, old man?”

The withered smoker screwed up his face, as if insulted and then spoke with forced restraint.

“Nay, a warning. I remember you. Gunvald, wasn’t it? Allotar and Aedelstein’s boy, but a boy no longer.”

“I don’t recall ye, old man.”

“Didn’t expect ye to. I knew your parents, knew them well. Thyself I met but on two occasions, ye but a babe, dew-eyed and grasping.”

“I do not wish to be rude, but I’m in no mood for chit-chat.”

“Fine then. To the heart of my warning. This lodge is owned by Lord Eadwulf’s right-hand man, Baldric, a very dangerous and intemperate man. His cohorts are seldom better. It is also, formerly, the favored haunt of the Loessian gypsies you see leering at us so ill-mannerly. Baldric can’t abide the Loessians and they, likewise. There are often fights. Killings. There are other places to drink than here and for a triumphant Son of Tor, I would gladly spare the whole depth and breadth of my samovar twice over, or more.”

As Gunvald opened his mouth to answer the doors to the inn swung open at the behest of a powerful hand, a powerful form swiftly following. A man, some six feet tall emerged, looked left then right then left again towards the duo and moved to stand before Gunvald. Gunvald turned full about and beheld the newcomer. He was some forty years of age with a thick and well trimmed beard all of red set below small black eyes and innumerable scars that ran from temple to cheek and from chin to neck. Gifts of the battlefield.

For a moment all was silent as the scar-faced man gazed upon Gunvald with great intensity. The next moment he surged forwards and latched Gunvald with a powerful embrace.

“Valiant Son of Tor! Welcome back, welcome back! A venerable procession I would have prepared had I known of thy arrival!”

Gunvald returned the old battle-hound’s embrace with a merry smile.

“You’re looking well, Uncle.”

*

The men sat around the rickety wooden round table in the center of the raucous inn. The lodging was all of thick-cut timber, with a small chandelier made of antlers and bone and which illuminated the laughing faces and the amber brew, overflowing, below. Gunvald smiled faintly as he looked about the old establishment. Exactly as he had left it. It was good to know at least some things had remained the same since the passing of the war. The room was still long and rectangular. The pitted, polished bar still stood in the back left corner, arranged all with brilliant crystalline glasses that proudly shone down upon the stuffed animal heads that lined the walls like curious spirits and the chortling merry-makers who swilled their hearty brew and smoked their oversized pipes, dancing light like dutiful sentries. Prune-faced was the owner who barked orders at the service wenches, their youthful limbs, limber and fast dancing about the shuttered ambit, wheeling great mugs of ale and mead and some strange smelling concoction that escaped Gunvald’s ken to the baying host therein who clacked their heels and struck up a tune here, or there quipped back and forth, arguing over a game of cards. The whole of the place a whizgig of energy and motion. A pen of mirthful chaos.

Gunvald starred down into his mug, watching the light play across the contents halcyon surface as Baldric conversed with his men, they all armed to the teeth and red-nosed with alcohol. At length he turned and raised his glass to the meditative veteran.

“Here’s to Gunvald of Tor, Hero of South, Scourge of the Gray!”

“To Gunvald!” The men exclaimed with ecstatic unison as they tipped weighty flasks to lips and downed half the contents therein. They were young to middle aged, armed and armored, but poorly, and each bearing the sigil of Lord Eadwulf, a furious, brass bull, upon the pommels of their well-sheathed swords.

Gunvald at length raised his own glass and looked to each and every local visage and then intoned imperiously.

“To Tor, and all her bloodied men!”

“Here, here!”

After the cheers the Baldric ordered them back to their posts around the perimeter of the town, leaving the gruff vassal alone with his nephew. He turned to Gunvald and glanced to his cup; empty.

“Well that surely won’t do. Not at’tall.”

“I’ve had well enough.”

“Of mead, perhaps, what say you to the other delectable treats afforded us?”

Baldric smiled mischievously as a sultry waitress sided up to him, bearing a bowel of nuts and two fresh pints of mead, which she set gingerly down before the two seated warriors. She looked first to Baldric then to Gunvald and smiled pleasantly. When Gunvald made to pay her she shook her head and held up her heands in entreaty.

“For a hero such as thee, tis on the house. As many as you like. Tis our pleasure, m’lord.”

“I thank thee, and you’re old master,” Gunvald responded stoically, his eyes leaving the dark pool of his cup only briefly, then returning to distanced reverie. The bar maiden stood uncertainly for a moment, as if she wished to speak but could not formulate the words until at last she bowed, saying only, “Well, I do not wish to disturb thee any longer.”

Baldric gave a laugh and, as she left off, slapped her straight upon the bum.

“Get ye off to the other guests, Ebba, my pretty, little minx.”

“Incorrigible scoundrel!”

The bar maid made a show of huffing and puffing but crack a delighted smile despite herself and whirled away tsk-tsking.

“Have ye lost ye manhood entire to the cup?”

“Nay.”

“Ya didn’t even spare Ebba a glance, an she a right ole looker – oh how she makes my heart leap with every new visage! Should go after her, I saw the way she was a’looking at ya-”

“That isn’t what I want.”

“Well, what do ya want? Hell, you and the rest of the town haven’t yet realized it, but you’re a bloody hero, you can have anything you want. Anything. Hear me, lad? I should know, I read you’re letters and the missives tracking your legions movements through the Rimn. When I read the last one my soul nearly leapt from my body, my heart, ceased it’s knocking and… I don’t mind saying it, tears sprang into me eyes. It had come by wing from one of Eadwulf’s falconers; it read:

Fenrald’s 3rd Legion surprised by Grey ambush at Rivenlore.

No survivors.

“Upon its reading I froze and there starred at the words and read them again, but they did not change. The horror was immovable. So many of my friends. Dead. Buried or burnt all. The worst of it was the casting of my mind to thyself, my dearest nephew – to have lost you to that stony, ice-wrapt waste… I know not what I would have done! And yet, here ye sit, glum and stolid as ever, but here and well and alive none the less! I was o’erjoyed when the next letter came – the war was ended; the Grey Chief slain. Split from knave to chops and shoulder to shoulder, his head unseamed from his villainous corpse! And by none other than by thee, my dearest nephew.”

“I’m surprised ye have yet to send for Eadwulf. He’ll be desirous to know of my presence.”

“Oh, no ye don’t, I know you’re ways, ye want me ta call him so that ye can return to the dutiful fold of His Grace. So that you can get aback te fighting! Well, ya’ave slain well enough and now, to rest.”

“Twas four months in the crossing from the Rimn to Tor alone. I’m rested well enough. Now send for Lord Eadwulf.”

“Ack, that kin wait – looky ere, tis Freyda. Isn’t she just the bonniest thing-”

Without warning, Gunvald slammed his fist hard into the table and turned frightfully upon his uncle, his eyes wide, intense and burning with some effulgent property that filled Baldric’s mind with a sudden terror.

“Spare me the bar-room whores. Take me to Eadwulf. Now.”