Archive | March 2014

Chapter One- Jet

Face pressed against the cold glass of her window, Jet watched a new day dawn in the free city of Sinfall. From her house set high on the Seaview Terraces, her view over the endless spires and domes was almost worth the monotony of being a lady. To the East, beyond the marble of the great walls, the crags and bluffs stretched out over miles of rocky coast, all the way to the churning sea that marked the end of the world. Not a half day’s ride from the city gates, it was a stormy nightmare that no man had ever challenged and lived to return.

North, towering over the other terraces was the imposing silhouette of the Royal Hold, the ancient castle in which the King of Sinfall and his court made their homes, back in the days of the Dynasty. No king lived there now; the glory of the world had long faded, leaving a weak man sat on the city throne. Her Father often spoke of the place, ‘a monument to human stupidity’.

I wish I could fight in wars and save cities. I wish I could fight the evil church and kill Saints. But they were foolish dreams for children and Jet knew it. I’m thirteen, high-born and a girl. Even if there was a war, I’d be made to sit in a hall safe in the Royal Hold, protected from the big bad soldiers. She hated being a child sometimes. Turning away from her high window, she slipped into one of the expensive silken gowns in her wardrobe, which for some reason the merchants and nobles seemed to think was required of her. She winced at the memory of the slap she’d received when she ran into a traders’ meeting in leather tunic, although it was worth the look on he Father’s face.

Looking into the full-length mirror on her wall, she saw a stranger looking back, some lady dressed in a fancy gown and with ribbons in her hair. This isn’t me. This is my Mother come again, just like Father wants me to be. She remembered her clearly, a thin, beautiful woman with wavy, blonde hair cascading down her shoulders. She was beautiful, but I’m… I’m not, and I don’t want to be. Unlike her mother, her hair was completely straight and dark as night, jet black. That’s where her name came from; Jet, sleek and dark. It fit her well, a girl of small stature and dark features, swift and deft as a shadow.

‘Jessica love,’ came a high pitched call from the other side of the heavy oak door, ‘you must come down now, your father awaits your presence.’ Bloody hell, not this idiot. Why would she act like that, she’s a grown woman. Can’t she act normally? That, of course, was no way to treat a maid, so as she walked out of her room, she gave a little curtsey to the fat woman.

‘Bertha,’ she replied with a delicate voice, the very definition of courteous, ‘you’re looking especially lovely today.’ You fat old cow. 

‘It’s kind of you to say so, my lady,’ came a whimper from between her nose and chins. It disgusted her. She was still a little girl, how could this oaf be intimidated by her? Having decided she was bored of the façade of politeness, she ran off down the spiralling stairs. If there was one thing to be said for living on a hill, there were a lot of stairs to run around, which drove the maids mad. It was one of the few fun things to do in there though, since most of the house was reserved for her father’s councils.

Wandering through the main corridor, she saw her father talking to some member of the merchants guild. Why does he take his job so seriously? He makes so much money we can live in a place like this, then can’t enjoy because he’s always worrying about his job. Why not get a different job, have a bit less money, but be happier? What’s so important about money? She wouldn’t dare say that to her father, though. She had a gut feeling that pointing out where he was going wrong would cause him to be angry, but she wasn’t sure why. Just as she was contemplating slinking off to the kitchens to get food from Simon, the cook’s son, her father turned and caught her eye. Looks like I’ll be introduced to Baron von Who-cares? now. Great.

‘Ah, Jessica, this is Lord Vanmeich, one of my fellow Merchants. He’s here from Oldgarden to trade us some supplies and will be with us at council tonight. That is if you bother to turn up to this one. All this running off isn’t good for you. Anyway, we can’t be too careful nowadays…’ he trailed off. Saving her questions for later, she stepped forward to shake his hand. As she touched his skin, a shudder ran down the length of her body. He’s so cold. Cold and clammy like a corpse. Looking up at his face, the experience didn’t improve. Although dressed in a rich crimson velvet suit, his face lay gaunt and tight, his bones seemingly trying to escape their skin. Seeing her expression, he smiled a smile which was probably meant to be reassuring, but his dead eyes and clammy skin turned it grotesque. His eyes are wrong. They shouldn’t be so small. Small they may have been, but as he stared at her they seemed to strip her to her soul.

‘Jessica,’ came her father’s voice with a hint of worry, ‘remember your manners.’ Her trance broken by his interruption, she blinked and smiled at the merchant. Lord Mech? Von Meich? I can’t even remember his name, he’s just some merchant. So why was I so captivated?

‘Nice to meet you, my lord,’ she purred, bowing to him, just like a good little lady. ‘I apologise, I seem to have been miles away.’ Idiot. Lord? Why the hell would he be a Lord?

‘Oh, it’s quite all right, my little friend. It’s early and I’m sure you have better things to do than bother talking to stuffy old businessmen. Your father means well, but don’t make an effort on my behalf. Go, have fun!’ His jolly manner was quite at odds with his appearance, but as she looked closer, she saw a lively fire in his small eyes. Not dead, just tired. Why did I think him scary? She decided she quite liked this merchant, not that she’d seen him before.

‘Good day then, Sir. Morning, Father,’ she said in greeting, before running of towards the kitchens. It was only then she realised he hadn’t said a word since his friend started talking. She wondered what he meant about being careful.  There was probably some reason, but history bored her to death and she normally ignored her tutors.

Deep in thought, she realised she was already at the kitchens and had actually walked a few doors too far down the carpeted corridor. Turning around, she ran back to the familiar iron door, behind which many smells were brewing, beckoning her in. Checking to make sure no-one was coming, she pushed the door open a crack and crept inside. I don’t need to hide, they’ll give me whatever I want. It’s more fun though, creeping about and spying. Her father always said her eavesdropping would get her into trouble one day, but she highly doubted that. I’ll only get in trouble if I get caught. I never get caught.

Sliding along the wall to the ovens, she caught the sleeve of her dress on the rough stone. Goddamn these things. I wouldn’t have this problem if I was a boy. The kitchens were a large, airy set of rooms set back into the hill on which the house was built, with huge vents in the ceiling to keep the smoke from building. Despite this, a haze of  black spread itself over the quarters in the morning, with the combined effort of the numerous ovens and hundreds of braziers set along the wall. It wasn’t a place for a high-born lady, a dirty, smelly smoky place full of peasant workers, boiling pots and steps you could easily fall down and break a bone, yet it was Jet’s favourite place in the entire villa. I wonder where Simon is. He’s normally working the bellows at breakfast… Spying a small boy with curly brown hair carrying a large silver vat almost as big as himself, she let out a laugh. He’s so stubborn he won’t even ask for help. I’d better help him before he falls over and gets my dinner all over himself. Abandoning her pretence of stealth, she hitched her dress up and ran after him. ‘Simon,’ she said with a good natured laugh, ‘I hope you’re not planning to join that soup, because if you drop it, that’s where the cooks will put you!’ He was a silly, timid boy most of the time, but when they were alone he came out of his shell and after all, he made her laugh. Laughter was a rare sight in her father’s villa.

‘Oh, hello Jet.’ He sounded rather tired, but that was hardly surprising considering his job.

‘Do you need any help?’ she asked teasingly. He hates admitting he can’t do something, stupid prideful boy. ‘That looks quite heavy for one person.’

‘Oh, no, no, I can manage it, I don’t need your help, I can do it, you shouldn’t be here if your father comes he’ll, he’ll-‘ he stuttered. Bless him, he’s terrified just because I’m in the kitchens. Anyone else acting like that would have made her angry, but the kitchen boy was too nice to anger anyone. Ignoring his protests, she grabbed the other side of the steaming pot and together they carried it to the serving counter on the far side of the room.

‘Do you have the afternoon off, Simon? I’m bored to death here. I want to go to the library, stand on the roof and look over the city. Want to come?’ I hope he is free. There’s nothing to do here and I’m not allowed with the children from the lower city. She understood that it was dangerous for someone from the guild to go to the lower city, but it wasn’t her fault she’d been born into a bloody merchant’s family.

‘Sorry, Jet, but we’re putting on a reception for a group of Dukes. The Church is getting nearer all the time, so everyone’s making preparations to fight them off. There’s talk of spies in the city… maybe even Crimson Cloaks in disguise! Still, that doesn’t mean I can’t see you, I have no father to stop me going out because of a chance of war.  I have an hour for lunch, we can go to the gardens if you want?’

‘Crimson Cloaks? I always wanted to be one of them, fighting wars… mind you, I still hate the Church.’

‘Did you even hear a word I said? I swear, things are getting bad. Our army’s getting desperate, they’re even apparently looking for squires! I would join, although I don’t want to leave you alone… who’d cook make your soup then? A squire, though… One day I could even be a knight! ‘ His face lit up as he explained it, obviously excited by the news. So he wants to leave too. He’s going to go off and be a knight and I’ll be left here. Still, he’s wanted this for so long, I can’t begrudge him his dream. When he talks about squires and knights and honour, he’s the happiest I’ve ever seen him. When the time comes, I’ll say goodbye with a smile, not with tears.

‘I’ll keep an eye out for anyone who walks past in armour then. I might join with you!’ If I could, I honestly would. 

‘No, they only accept boys.’ She groaned inside. Obviously he didn’t understand the notion of sarcasm.

‘Well… see you, then. I’ll be at the courtyard for midday.’ Looks like I’ll be alone until then. It seems I’ll have to get used to being alone nowadays.

‘No, Jet, I… I can’t meet you there. I’m not allowed on the plaza, remember? I’m only a servant.’

‘Oh… yes, I know. Well, back here then.’ Stupid, stupid, stupid! Why did I have to say that? She left the kitchens in a substantially worse mood than she’d entered in. Anger was boiling in her stomach, anger at him for not being rich, at the bloody merchants for keeping him busy, at her father for never being there, at the world itself for how unfair it was, but most of all at herself for being such an idiot.  I need to do something today, or I’ll be given another tutor to tell me about some queen hundreds of years ago and teach me how to write. I already know how to write, why would I need a tutor for it? 

Deciding against returning to speak to her father and his friend, she set out to the back entrance to the villa, the quickest way to reach the Library of Sinfall and its gardens. Once she was certain no-one was around, she began running down the carpeted hallway towards the door, enjoying the feeling of the light breeze running through her long, brown hair. Before going outside, she grabbed hold of her necklace and pulled it over her head. Attached by a small silver chain to the bottom of it, the key was pulled up from its hiding place down her dress.

Taking one last glance, she unlocked the door to the storeroom  and headed into the dark room.

No more of this bloody dress, thank goodness. Groping around in the darkness, she laid her hands on the box of matches where she’d left them, on a small shelf to the left of the doorway. Carefully lighting a match, she held the small flame to each of  the candelabras in the room, before throwing it to the floor as the flame began to burn the tips of her calloused fingers. My private treasure chest. The light from the candles lit the storeroom in a soft orange glow, creating a warm, cosy atmosphere. Closing the door behind her, she quickly unlaced her dress and stuffed it into one of the barrels in the corner, placing her jewellery on top of it before covering it with a sheet. From the barrel next to it, she pulled out her old tunic and breeches, pulling the rough leather over her head and stepping into the soft cloth, tying it with a cotton rope. Finally, in place of the heeled shoes she’d worn, she tied a pair of simple sandals, rendering her transformation complete.

Having put the matches back in their accustomed place, she snuffed out the candles, locking the door behind her and hiding the key in the top pocket of the tunic. Pockets. No one appreciates how useful they are until they have to wear dresses every day. 

Stepping out the door into the open air of the communal gardens of the terraces, she stretched and tied her hair up, looking all the part of one of the servants. It felt good to not only be out of uncomfortable clothes and out of the villa, but also good to be out of her position as an upper-class lady. The kitchen staff may be poor, but their lives are more exciting than mine ever will be. Striding out amongst the trees, she made straight for the road leading down to the library, where she planned to sit in the shade reading for an hour. Although she’d only be allowed on the lower floor, where the lower classes were permitted, it was still a great deal better than having to remember to be courteous there and forced to go to the section with books ‘suitable’ for children. Why can’t I read the same books as adults? I’ve talked to enough people, I know about the world, no matter how hard father tries to protect my innocent little mind, the fool. 

As she was about to pass through the gate, she became aware of someone behind her.

‘Jessica, my dear,’ came a familiar voice from behind her, ‘your father would go positively mad if he saw you dressed in that get-up! What do you think you are doing?’ Turning around, her face broke into a childish grin of delight as she saw her uncle eyeing her with a raised eyebrow and a smirk on his thin but friendly face. He too had dark hair, just like her and her father, although his was short and styled in the fashion of the southern nations, where he had been forging trading alliances for years. He seemed to be down there just as much as he was in his own country, causing his brother to affectionately call him ‘The Foreigner’. When he’s here, Father’s always in a good mood!

‘Uncle John! What are you doing here?’ she asked in wonder, all her anger forgotten.

‘Boring trading business I’m afraid, but it’s good to see you again. It must be almost a year since I last saw you. My, how you’ve grown. That outfit… I hate to say it, but you make a wonderful peasant.’

She giggled, glad to have a friendly face around again. Maybe things aren’t quite as bad as I thought they were here. Uncle’s here, Simon will be free this afternoon and I have hours before I have to be back for council. ‘Thank you… I try my best. You won’t tell father, will you?’ Please say he’s nice to me. Please, please, please.

‘Of course not, he’s my brother. Why would I make things easy for him? Now, don’t tell me, you’re off to the library. Go on with you then, just remember to come back! I should imagine you’re wanted this evening. I know you find it boring, but your father is holding court for the whole city- it’s a big occasion. Then again, big things are happening at the moment. I think things could change rather a lot in the next few days. There’s been strange talk on the way here. ‘ He had a quizzical expression on his face, which put a smile on hers.

Running off again, she left the villa’s grounds and made her way down the street, the towers of the library looming over her, the sunlight shining on the ornate stained glass of the building. ‘Things could change rather a lot.’ I hope so. Something needs to happen in this glorious, shining, boring city. 

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Dangerous Women

DK Ellis

I belatedly (but still in the timeframe!) give you Martin Monday.

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Today I finally got my hands on the Dangerous Women anthology of short stories, edited by the GRRM Reaper and Gardner Dozois.

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I promptly read George’s piece, The Princess and the Queen, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The Dance of Dragons was a brilliantly bloody tale of a brother and a sister’s claims to the Iron Throne. SOOOOO many people died by the end of that novella. And the war isn’t even finished yet.

I especially loved the different kinds of women George brought to the table. Of course, being entitled Dangerous Women, we would expect…well…dangerous women. And boy, did we get a few. Princess/Queen Rhaenyra was particularly interesting, opening with quite a horrible blow to her life and culminating in her inevitable fate. Queen Alicent, formerly Hightower, was a much nicer Queen Dowager than Cersei.

The…

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Sorry, cover designers, but…

What even is this… the good old days of bad cover art. Now we’re in the days of bad CGI cover art.

Sonya's Stuff

If this is the fiftieth anniversary edition of The Hobbit, this book is from 1987. What were they on when they thought that was a good cover?!

The Hobbit 50th Anniversary Edition

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The Awkward Second Day

So, although I haven’t posted any more chapters due to a busy schedule of drama rehearsal, I’ve got rather a lot done today.
Firstly, I’ve penned eight chapters ready to write, with a general idea of each character’s arc in the first part of the novel, how they converge and what their goals are. Additionally, I’ve got the overall plot worked out, specifically how all the parts come into play and where they are by the end.
Secondly, I have a map drawn out for the world in which the novel is set, along with an in depth map of the capital city ‘Sinfall’. This is one of the primary locations, where The Church has political goals and the hometown of one of the lead characters, who will be in the next chapter I publish. It’s by no mean a final map, but the key elements are all down there.
Finally, I’ve been thinking up a backstory to the two ruling powers- The Church and Sin’s Republic (Sin being the ideal of individualism as opposed to The Church’s strict order) which is where my problems arise. In the story I have so far, The Church is the dominant power, however Sinfall is a free city. Some of the backstory doesn’t match up, which means I’ll have to rearrange a lot of my drafts, but luckily I have the day off tomorrow to sort it all out. By tommorow, I wholeheartedly hope to have another chapter or two out and a map of Sinfall up.
So, please subscribe if you want to get updates and once more thanks for reading!

Prologue- Faith and Justice

The small, square courtyard of the church was completely and utterly silent. On the one side, four nooses hung in the gallows, with four people hung in the nooses; a woman and her children. Opposite, ten men in red lined the walls, nine clad in ornate capes. Between the gallows and soldiers, a hundred or peasants stood in a cramped, sweaty mass of flesh, those who had nothing better to do than watch their neighbours be killed.

Karlson knew the prisoners shouldn’t die, but it wasn’t his place to say so. Standing in the crimson armour of the Archangel Guard, the ten swords sworn to protecting the leader of the faith, he glanced side to side, searching the faces of his fellow guards, desperately seeking for some sign that they too harboured doubts. His search proved fruitless. All nine were solid as stone, impassive faces carved into an expression of nonchalance. How could they be so calm in the face of blatant murder?

The only comforting thought was that the suffering of the family would be short. Once put to the noose, it was said amongst the faith that within seconds the spirit departed the body, to be with Kel.

‘Murderer! You bloody murderer,’ one of the crowd screamed at him. ‘Murdering dog!’ The words should not have hurt him, coming as they did from a peasant in a fit of anger. In truth, they didn’t hurt, not really, as after twenty years in the Crusaders, the Church’s military, he’d grown used to the hate of the smallfolk. What hurt was the fact he agreed with him. Even as he was shouting the abuse, a pair of lesser guards dragged him off. To defy a Crusader was to defy the Church and the Church did not tolerate defiance.

Today was the day he would at last be enrolled into the Archangel’s personal guard, The Crimson Cloaks. Having been born a bastard to a mercenary, it was unheard of for someone to rise the ranks so far. But having served for twenty one years since he joined the Brigade, the junior leagues of the Cusaders, he had experience and proof of his valour and loyalty.

All too quickly, the bell in the tower above the gathering began to toll. Three rings, then the square fell deadly silent. He hardly dared to breathe, lest all their eyes be turned to him, despite the fact that they would all be watching in a moment anyway. From the doorway into the small church of the district, the priest emerged, swathed in fancy silk robes with a chain around his thick neck, a cold, hard, golden proof of his piety. Watching him waddle over, the soon to be executioner had to fight to suppress a laugh, a bizarre notion to have before executing criminals, if they could be called that. The man was enormously fat. Weighing at least half that of a small cow, he’d worked up a sweat merely climbing the steps to the judge’s altar. With a cough, he began to speak, stirring an anxious feeling in his stomach and sending one of the people in the gallows into a fit of tears.

‘My people,’ he boomed,  ‘before you stand four traitors. Traitors, I say! Traitors to your city, your country… traitors to your very lord.’ Karlson had seen this farce many times before, but taking part in it made the whole thing seem much more terrifying. Not that he’d admit it, of course. ‘They have committed the most evil of crimes. Perpetrated the very worst of sins! Yes, these… these peasants have been found to be atheist.’ With that, angry mutterings arose within the crowd, like a pack of rabid dogs fighting over pray. They didn’t care a bit for whether the poor prisoners were religious or not; they’d come for death and they wanted to see it. ‘Now, the punishment for this,’ he continued, ‘is hanging. So, my people, to destroy this infection of lies, we must sterilise the wound. You’ll get your reward for being loyal. Today, you shall see these scum die!’

A cheer went up from the mass that had gathered, praising the lord and declaring their love and faith to the priest. Despite the clamour, for every man who celebrated, many still looked on with anger burning in their eyes. The great city of Summerhold had only been taken by the Church a few months before. To its people, the Faith was a foreign force in a city of realists and traders. To them, he was the enemy. An angry feeling rose his chest, but he had to fight it. The fear was obvious in the face of the poor woman on the platform, but the tears had stopped. She had none left. Instead of the crowd, he turned his attention to the nooses. On the left were the woman and her eldest sun, defiantly staring at him. On the right the two younger ones, a boy and girl of no more than ten. The injustice of it clawed at his throat, ripped open his heart. And still he stared back, back at the people he must kill for the simple crime of not believing.

A hush had fallen over the people once more, as the priest held up a fat little hand. ‘Now, for the deed. To end the lives of these sinners, I call upon thee of The Faith, Karlson Accrington, soon to be of the Crimson Cloaks, newest of the Archangel’s guard. I beseech you to prove your faith and put an end to this display.’ The bile rising in his throat, he put one foot forward and strode out amongst the crowd. Out amongst the dogs, the parasitic, sycophantic dogs, hot at the heels of their new masters. A voice in the back of his whispered that he was  the same, a voice that often spoke up at unfortunate times. Fortunately, he was well practised in ignoring it.  Almost in a dream, he ascended the podium and stood in the place of honour, ready to prove himself to his masters. Something about the whole business left a foul taste in his mouth, but he considered it rather too late to back down now.

‘When you’re ready, my child.’

He counted from three. He just had to pull the switch and it would all be over. The traitors would die and he’d be made a full member of the guard. One movement and he’d have honour and glory beyond imagination for the rest of his days. He reached two, his gut cramping horribly. Faith and justice they called it. But if the murder of these humans was right, why did it feel so wrong? How could killing children please any God? One came at last, leaving him to get the whole thing over with. At the last moment, he realised he should probably say something. ‘I’m…’ he fished for the words, suddenly at a loss for what to say. ‘I’m a-‘

‘Bastard,’ the woman screamed at him, ‘you utter bastard!’

‘Stop,’ the priest shouted, smirking slightly, ‘don’t let them drop yet. It seems our friend has something to say. More than you, at least, heh.’

Karlson stopped. He didn’t need to be told twice not to kill them. But he could only imagine the fate they’d have in store now. He’d come to know the priest well over the past weeks and he was a petty, cruel man. He surely had some plan waiting to unfold.  Still, if it meant he didn’t have to do the deed now, he was thankful. What worse could the fat little man do? The four of them were going to die anyway, what more could he do?

‘Karlson,’ the priest began, with an evil twist of his mouth in the mockery of a smile, a blood curdling sneer directed at him of all people. ‘This woman appears to disagree with us. Don’t kill her just yet.’

‘Yes, my father,’ he replied, a feeling of apprehension building deep down.  The woman had started sobbing again, this time with misplaced relief. Karlson felt sorry for her and the false hope she carried. There would be no kindness for her at the hands of the benevolent father.

‘Kill her children first.’

 

The Start of my Blog

Good evening people! (Or… whatever time it is when you’re reading this.)

Just a post to introduce myself and what this blog’s about. My name’s Peter Hughes and I’m an aspiring author from England, aged sixteen. By author, I mean I write a load of rubbish down and think it’s amazing, look at it again an hour later, throw it away, then start over and write even more rubbish. But, as (I think) someone said, success is how many times you can fail and carry on.

So, with a pen and notepad I’ve set out to pen a novel which I hope will actually be completed, despite having to be fitted around exams nowadays. The idea is that if I write it in a notepad, I can rip out a page if it goes wrong and carry on.

This particular novel begins with a church, a mass organised religion preaching piety and faith, yet corrupted to the core. As the advent of an election in the last free city Sinfall dawns, The Church is posed to take control. A small group of people are determined to stop this, but as they are hunted by old friends and servants of God alike, the price of freedom grows ever higher. A price that must be paid in blood.

Sin may fall, but if The Church takes control, all else will be lost to oblivion.