Monday, 6 May 2013

An Enchantress Enchanted - Part 1

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Magical or enchanted items play a big part in many stories of fantasy. Often there'll be tales of weapons or other objects that appear to have an awareness, an intelligence, even a life of their own. 

Though the fantasy piece I'm working on currently is a humorous piece, there's a 'character' in it who takes the form of an enchanted sword. I couldn't expect readers to just accept the existence of such a thing, with no explanation but I didn't want to complicate the plot unnecessarily. 

I decided to create an origin story. I originally set out to maintain the light hearted flavour of the parent work, but found that impossible considering the more sinister themes of the story. 

It was a somewhat bigger task than I intended. To make the concept believable (yes, it's fantasy, but I'm talking 'believable' in fantasy terms,) the characters involved had to be believable, and the events that led to the creation of the enchanted sword had to be readily acceptable and not too far-fetched.

What follows is the first half of the story. This part makes no mention of an enchanted sword, but all will become clear in the second half. 

Knowing where the story will eventually lead, see if you can work out how it's likely to develop. I'd be interested in your ideas if you'd like to add comments. 

In the meantime, if you'd like to read a short tale that actually involves the enchanted sword, you can find one *HERE*.
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For centuries the lands known as ‘the north country had existed independently of the Three Kingdoms, without ever being part of any one of them for very long. Oakendale was a place like many of the other towns and villages that existed in those lands. Some of the older, larger settlements nearby still had the remains of town walls, erected as defences by various occupation forces centuries ago, in the years when armies from the Three Kingdoms had fought for control. Oakendale had no such defences though: it had sprung up since the times of walled towns, in the years since the Three Kingdoms had finally reached a truce that left the north country non-aligned and independent of the rule of any of them.

Oakendale was little more than a cluster of houses, a handful of stores and other merchants' premises; there were also stables, a smithy and a couple of inns. The village’s merchants did most of their trade with local farmers or with travellers between the Three Kingdoms. At times dwarves from the western mountains would pass through, or very occasionally even the elves from the distant forests further to the north had been known to visit. With the regular business from travellers, it seemed that the two inns in Oakendale did more trade than the merchants did, and there had always been competition between them. They both brewed their own ale, but to be honest there was very little difference between the two local brews. They both supplied food which was pretty much the basic, unremarkable sort available from inns everywhere. The rooms that both the inns provided where of a similar standard too, so whenever travellers and locals frequented one of the inns in preference to the other, it was due to factors other than these.

Siobhan was one of those factors. She'd started out first as a kitchen hand, then as a serving maid in one of the inns and had worked there ever since she'd been old enough to work. As she'd got a little older though, everyone was aware that she'd grown into a very attractive woman. The landlord of the rival inn had recognised that her looks alone were enough to attract patrons to his competitor's premises and had lured her away with promises of higher wages and better conditions, so now she slept in one of his better rooms without having to share, and earned more than any of the other girls in either of Oakendale's inns did.

Though she was privileged in a way, that wasn't enough for Siobhan; she had her mind and her heart set on even greater things. She knew that her appearance alone provided her with the potential to earn more. She knew that some of the girls from both inns would sell their favours to men, and Siobhan recognised that as a way of earning more money. She knew though, that her appeal gave her the advantage over her colleagues should she ever turn her efforts to such things, but also that she could earn as much as the other girls without having to resort to those extremes.

Outwardly, Siobhan had a pleasing personality and a happy disposition. If that, and the sight of her face and body, wasn't enough to endear herself to patrons, then her habit of singing and dancing whenever the chance arose certainly was; in fact it was the dancing that gave Siobhan her chance to increase her earnings. Her landlord had long since accepted that she wouldn't do as much serving as his other girls and accepted that, because the mere fact that she was there on his premises was enough to increase his business, so while others served the drinks and food to the public, Siobhan would wander amongst them, being generally friendly and pleasant. When music was playing, she would dance, and when she did she would command the attention of men. Often some men would ask her to dance for them specifically, and would be willing to pay for it. Occasionally men would ask her to go to their rooms or even outside of the inn to dance for them privately. Siobhan realised that the payment on offer for that was more than the coppers they offered in the inn, but also that it was almost definitely payment for more than just dancing, so she always politely declined. She did keep the idea in mind though, for a possible source of income in the future.

Then one day, the old man came to the inn. By this time Siobhan had taken to dancing at one end of the main common room to the inn’s assembled patrons; the landlord had even cleared part of the floor there for her purposes, and chairs had been arranged nearby to be occupied by the men who would come to the inn especially to see Siobhan: to fill the landlord's pockets by buying ale, and to fill Siobhan's pockets by paying her to dance.

The old man occupied one of these chairs tonight. He had done for the past three nights, ever since he'd arrived in Oakendale. As Siobhan began her first dance tonight, she saw him there and she frowned. Three nights so far and he'd not even given her a copper penny. Of course there had been others like him before, free-loaders enjoying her dancing without ever thinking to pay her for it, but she'd always known how to deal with that sort. She'd always make sure to pay particular attention to those men who were willing to pay, and sure enough, the tight fisted ones would soon loosen their purse strings, but this old man was different. He watched her closely enough, but the expression on his face showed that she didn't interest him in the same way that she did the others. He never showed any sign of pleasure in watching her dance. It was almost as though he was judging her.

She took a break and sat at a table in a quieter corner of the inn. She was surprised to see the old man approaching her. So that was it: It seemed he was one of those who wanted more from her than just dances. She turned to face him, determined that he wouldn't have his way with her, but also determined that she would take him for as much money as she could.

"You dance very well," he said to her. "Your talent extends to more than skill; looking at the effect you have on all these men, I would even say you have the ability to enchant."

"I don't seem to be having much effect on you sir," she replied. "As yet, my enchantment has been insufficient to persuade you even to open your purse."

"I enjoy your dancing as much as the rest do," he said, "though I may not show it in the same way that the others do. As for enchantment: It's difficult for even such as you to enchant one who's business is enchantment."

She talked to him at length, and found him to be a very interesting person, if a little sinister in his ways. He was right about his business being enchantment: that was clear. She found herself believing whatever he said, for no other reason than because he said it. He said that he was a sorcerer and though she’d never as much as seen a sorcerer before and doubted that such people even existed, she had no reason to doubt him and accepted his word. He told her that he could demonstrate powers over people to rival her power over men and she believed him. She found herself telling him freely of her disdain for the men who she danced for and even admitting her contempt for men in general, even though she'd never dared to share that with anyone before: he just seemed able to draw the truth out of her without really trying. She trusted him, and only enchantment could have made her act that way.

The other men in the bar were calling for her to dance again but she found herself reluctant to leave this old man's company. "Go," he said, "Dance for the men. When you next take a rest, come back to me and I'll tell you of a way you can enchant them even more, how you can draw even more men into your influence and how you can take even more of their money."

So later that night she sat with the old man again and this time he told her that he had a pact in mind. Her power over men was useful to them both and he could help her profit more from it, but her hatred of men could also be particularly useful to him. "For my part," he said, "I will reveal to you a way of improving your lot, of enticing more men, of earning far more from them. For your own part you must give me your word that you will do favours for me in return, whenever I call for you to."

There was never any doubt that she would agree. This man had enchanted her as much as she enchanted those who came here to see her. She knew it was enchantment; she recognised it as such, but that didn't matter to her, so she eagerly listened as he explained in detail what she had to do for herself. For now he didn't mention exactly what she'd need to do for him, but she didn't care. She knew she'd do it anyway, whatever it was.

~o~O~o~

The blacksmith rested for a moment and took a drink to soothe the burning in his throat. His work was hard but business was healthy, though not as brisk as he’d have liked it to be. He mentally reviewed the jobs he had left on his work rosta and hoped that trade would improve a little soon. The occasional traveller with a horse to be shod wasn't really going to make him his fortune.

He was skilled in all forms of metalwork but saw himself particularly as an armourer. He had once been known for producing some of the finest swords there were, back in the day when he lived in the Eastern Kingdom, in the days before his debts had caused him to flee his creditors and hide here in this hole of a village in the north country, so now he made a reasonable enough living, but if he was ever to even dream of returning to his previous, more prosperous life then he needed to take on bigger jobs that paid more.

The creaking of the door to his forge made him look up suddenly. The early morning sun shining through the door into his darkened smithy showed just the silhouette of the person standing there, but that was enough for him to recognise her. It was the girl from the inn. He'd watched her dance countless times, and had willingly given her money he couldn't really afford to spend, just to watch her dance. He'd had many dreams of her since he first watched her: dreams of all kinds, both sleeping ones and waking ones. And now here she was visiting his place of work for some reason.

She walked slowly into the forge and looked around the workshop before saying: "Do you only cater for horses, or do your skills extend to bigger things than horseshoes?" then she walked over to his bench and picked up a sickle blade he'd made earlier, running her long slender finger along the edge of the blade.

"As you can see," he said to her, "I'm skilled in making tools: blade making I'm especially skilled in, both domestic and military, though I doubt you're in the market for a scythe or a sword. A dagger perhaps?"

She turned to him and smiled. "You work with steel," It was a statement, not a question, "I have a task for you, working with steel. How long could you make a shaft of steel? Rounded like a pole, slender but still strong enough that nothing could bend or break it?"

"There is no piece of metal strong enough to resist breaking entirely," He said, "but I could fashion something for you that would be immune to the efforts of the strongest man to bend or break it."

"It's enough for it to stay in one place and not bend or break, under nothing more than the weight of a slender young girl," she said as she laughed.

He laughed too: "No problem with that," he said "Tell me exactly what it is you need. Though steel isn't cheap. I have some, but I reserve it for making my best farm implements." He didn't mention that he had a small secret stock of the very best weapons grade steel that he’d brought with him years ago and that he kept back for making swords, for when the orders started coming back in.

She explained to him what she wanted: A steel pole hardly thicker than her wrist, but long enough to span the space between the floor and the ceiling of the common room at the inn where she worked. He told her he could make what she wanted, but that it would not be cheap. Then she told him that though she couldn't pay him right away, she was confident that within days of him completing the job, she would be in a position to settle the bill. Something about her smile convinced him to believe every word she said, and when she smiled at him again and he felt her eyes meet his, he knew at that moment he was going to use his best sword steel for this job.

~o~O~o~

The pole had been in place for just over a week now. The old man hadn't lied. Each night since the blacksmith had delivered it and fitted it in place, Siobhan had danced around the pole. Swinging around it, rubbing herself suggestively against it, climbing it, all came naturally to her as though she'd been doing it all her life. The men in the bar reacted better than she could possibly have hoped. The landlord had asked her what the hell she was doing to begin with, but once word had got around and it seemed that every man in the region was making a point of visiting his bar, he'd appreciated what an asset Siobhan and her pole were to his business. He'd increased the size of the area of the common room where Siobhan danced, and had even trebled the number of chairs there.

If the inn's profits had increased, then Siobhan's own income had increased on a massive scale. The landlord didn't realise it yet, but Siobhan suspected that the public were spending more watching her dance than they were buying food and drink from the landlord. She smiled to herself. At this rate she'd be in a position to buy an inn of her own in little more than a year or two. Perhaps even sooner: her landlord's rival had begun to see his own business suffer and might well be ready to sell up within the year.

She walked into the common room and already the men had started gathering, claiming the best seats in the front row. She didn't intend to start dancing just yet, though it didn't surprise her that her public were keen to get to the inn early just in case. The blacksmith was standing by the bar, waiting for her. he passed her a piece of paper as she approached him: his bill. She unfolded it and looked at it. She hadn't had much of an idea how much the work would cost, but was quite surprised that it was so much. It didn't matter though. She could afford it now. She went behind the bar and into an alcove there, took a key from within the folds of her dress and unlocked a strongbox fastened to the ground. She took out three bags of silver and passed them to the blacksmith. He weighed each of them in his hand, then opened one to examine the contents. "This is too much," he said, "Much more than my bill says."

"That's OK," she replied, "You did a good job and your work is already showing it's worth to me. Take it all."

He pulled a single silver coin from one of the bags. "Then I thank you," he said, "Let me at least buy you a drink before you start working tonight."

"No need," she said, "I never drink before I work, but let me buy you one. Ale I take it? I hope you'll stay a while and watch my performance. There's still one chair in the front row there that you can sit in."

So it was that Siobhan performed again that night to a full house of eager lusty males, none more so than the blacksmith sitting in the front row, his infatuation for her showing clearly in his eyes every time she looked longingly toward him as she danced. It would have been natural for him to have glanced toward the pole as she danced; after all it was his own handiwork, but his eyes only ever left Siobhan's face and body long enough to take another silver coin from the bags in his hand and toss it toward her, to fall with the other hundreds of coins of copper and silver.

More and more men arrived at the Inn, and though the place was crowded more than it had ever been, though their chances of buying refreshment were remote, since the landlord and his serving maids just couldn't keep up, still they came, until it was standing room only. None of the chairs were vacated all evening and when eventually the inn closed for the night, the blacksmith was the last to leave his seat and begin his journey home, carrying with him not all three, not even two, but only one of his bags of silver, and that one only half full.

~o~O~o~

Siobhan had to admit that the pole had been an excellent idea, but she knew that it was more than that: there was magic and enchantment involved. The more popular she became when she danced at the pole, the less she seemed to appeal to the men she met in the times in between. She’d always noticed the looks of the men she passed in the streets of the village during the daylight hours, but just lately, she’d been able to walk amongst them almost unnoticed. Occasionally she’d recognise one of her regular audience and she’d smile and nod toward them, only to find herself being totally ignored. In the old days that had only ever happened if they’d had their wives with them, and then it had been accompanied by embarrassment on the man’s part. Recently, if she ever detected a look from them of any kind it was always one of disinterest.

Things were totally different when evening came around and she was back in the inn. Tonight she stood beside the pole in the time before the men arrived. She stroked her hand down part of its length. It felt somehow different. When the blacksmith had first installed it and she’d had her first try at rehearsing with it, she’d been aware of it’s coldness, of it’s strength and she liked that, but now there was more: now she felt the power within it, felt that it even had a soul, like a living thing. Not only that, but it felt like that soul was connected to her in some way, as though she and the pole shared something. It felt to her as if she was never complete unless she was here, beside her pole.

The effect had become noticeable after the first couple of days, but had become even more apparent as time went on. This morning she’d awoken in panic; she felt the presence of someone else in her room, but when she’d jumped out of her bed there had been nobody there. Her instinct made her race downstairs, just in time to see one of the other serving girls: Beth, who she’d thought of as a friend, stroking her own hand down the length of her pole.

What are you doing?” she shouted.

Beth turned to face her, a look of guilt on her face as she said “I’m sorry Siobhan, I was just looking at it. It’s so very cold and strong and shiny.”

It’s also mine,” she snapped, “So keep your hands off it. If I see you with as much as a fingertip on it again, you’ll be sorry.”

Beth apologised again then left the common room, looking hurt and a little shocked. Siobhan knew right then that if anyone ever tried to take the pole away from her, she would kill them.

~o~O~o~

It was a few more days before the old man returned to the inn. Siobhan thought she’d seen him at the back of the crowd the night before, so when he walked into the inn that next morning as she ate her breakfast, she was hardly surprised. She’d wondered all this time about what the favours he’d want from her would be, and to begin with she’d worried about it, but recently she’d made up her mind that any price she’d have to pay would be worth it. The pole was worth it: not just for the incredible income she was able to make with it, but because it was now a part of her, and if she lost it she knew it would feel like a kind of bereavement to her; no, more than that: it would feel like losing a part of herself.

It seems our agreement is working well for you my dear,” he said as he approached the table she sat at. “Now the time has come for it to start working for me too.”

What exactly is it that you want me to do?” she asked, though she knew she would agree to anything. Even if this old man wanted her to lie with him, even that would not be too much of a price to pay.

I want you to do anything that I ask of you, whenever I ask it of you,” he said firmly, “though for now I have a specific job for you. Do you know the travelling merchant: Hal of Outgate?”

She nodded. She knew him. Hal was a regular visitor to Oakendale, always with wares from faraway places and always at prices most of the locals couldn’t afford. He kept on returning to the village again and again because of the number of people who owed him money from his earlier visits, and of course with new wares that the people longed for, so he could trap more into becoming his customers. “Do you owe him money?” she asked.

Not at all,” he replied. He paused before continuing: “He has information about me that I’d prefer he didn’t share with others. He also possesses tokens and charms that render him immune to my own powers. That makes him very dangerous to me. Let’s just say that he’s my enemy.”

She realised at that moment that the old man wanted her to kill the merchant. She was surprised that the thought didn’t particularly bother her. Admittedly she’d never liked this Hal, but she’d never had anything against him personally. The thought of killing him ought to have been abhorrent to her, but at that moment, it seemed like a reasonable thing for the old man to ask.

He’ll be here in the inn tonight. Pay him special attention as you dance. He’s particularly wealthy though not known to be free with his riches. Nevertheless I think he’ll be eager to donate toward your income. He probably won’t be content to just throw coins like the common people do though. I predict that a little attention from you, together with the odd smile and he’ll be requesting a private dance.”

And you want me to arrange to meet him outside later and kill him?” she asked.

No, that wouldn’t work. You’re at your most attractive and most dangerous when you’re with your pole. Persuade him instead to come back to the inn when everyone else has left. Dance for him and when he tries to get closer to you, use this.” He passed her a long slender dagger. “Between his ribs should do it. Aim for the heart.”

I can’t do that,” she said, “What about the body? People will know it was me.”

Don’t worry about the body,” he said, “There will be no body. Just do as I say. It’s what we agreed. If you break our pact I have it in my power to take the pole away from you.”

She wasn’t sure she understood what he meant by “there will be no body,” but his powers of enchantment prevented her from doubting his word, so she nodded and tucked the dagger into the bodice of her dress.

~o~O~o~

She sat at that same table later that night, counting the evening’s takings.

The merchant had behaved exactly like the old man said he would. He’d watched her dance with all the lust of the other men present, but had kept a tight grasp on the contents of his purse until she made a point to direct her charm to him specifically. She started by smiling at him, then looking directly at him with such a look that some of the other men began to show signs of jealousy. At last he took a silver coin from within his clothing and instead of tossing it at her feet, he held it out in front of him offering it to her. She swung around the pole, holding on with her left hand as she reached out to take it from his hand with her right. She smiled then raised his coin to her lips; she kissed it, then licked the coin and smiled again before she tucked it into her bodice.

She expected the merchant to approach her at her next break, but he didn’t. She’d noticed these past couple of nights that the men had stopped pestering her between performances, instead just sitting patiently facing the area of the floor where the pole stood. The merchant did likewise, as though her own appeal had drained away the further from the pole she was. She decided to approach him. She walked toward her dancing area and all the men became more attentive as she did. The few who had been standing at the bar followed her to stand in the crowd.

As she passed the front row of chairs, she placed her hand on the merchant’s shoulder and bending she whispered in his ear: “If you have a lot more of those big silver coins, perhaps I could dance for you privately later.”

He turned toward her then back to the pole, then back to her as he smiled. “I have more than you can imagine,” he said, “perhaps even enough to buy more than just a dance from you.”

She smiled as she continued toward the pole. The men cheered as she jumped toward it, wrapping her arm and her legs around it. She spun around the pole to face the merchant and she nodded at him and smiled, as she thought: “Yes, you’ll certainly get more than a dance from me.”

She gathered her coins up now as he walked back into the common room. He was staying at the inn but neither she nor he had suggested that she visit him in his room, because of course, that wasn’t where the pole was.

Bear with me for a little while,” she said as she walked behind the bar, unlocked her strong box and put her money inside. She locked the box again and replaced the key in her bodice, checking that she had the dagger the old man had given her.

Let’s hurry this up,” the merchant said. “You know what I’m here for.” His tone wasn’t one of someone who lusted after her, and the expression on his face was one of someone who disapproved of her, rather than one who wanted her. She walked toward the pole, picking up one of the chairs as she passed. She placed the chair forward of the rest, closer to the pole and facing it. She rubbed her back against the pole and smiled. The look he gave her as he took his place on the chair was different from how it had been only a moment before. Now it was the look of a man who wanted her, wanted her so much that he had to have her.

He took a large bag of silver from inside his cloak, opened it, and poured out a few coins onto the floor in front of him. He tossed the bag, with the remainder of its contents down and she began to dance.

As she danced she noticed how she was affecting him, but more than that, she noticed something different from the pole. As his lust increased, so the feeling of desire from the pole seemed to do too. Though what came from the pole wasn’t a desire for her, it was a desire for something different, something she couldn’t quite explain though she did detect a similar though lesser desire within herself.

She danced for a couple of minutes more as her one man audience seemed to get more and more excited. Then he held up his hand to signal her to stop. She did and his hand went back into his cloak; when he pulled it out, it held another bag of silver, this one somewhat larger than the last one.

She smiled at him and blew him a kiss. He took yet another bag out and nodded toward the silver on the floor. “That,” he said, “for dancing for me. This one,” he raised the hand holding the second bag of coins, “If you’ll dance for me naked. And this…” He left his sentence unfinished as his other hand lifted the third bag.

She smiled and rubbed her body against the pole. “Naked?” she said, “Let me think about it.” She lifted her skirt to show a little more leg, then pressed her body to the pole as she rotated around it. “Very well,” she said, “providing you’ll come over here and undress me.”

He didn’t need further persuasion. He stood up, dropping both his extra bags of coins and walked briskly toward her, his hands stretching out in front of him as his eyes widened and he almost drooled from his lips. She giggled and moved her body behind the pole, to the side opposite to him. He reached around the pole to touch her and as he did, she felt a surge of lust coming from the pole. Finally she recognised it. This was lust yes, but it was blood lust The pole wanted his death.

She swung around the pole so that she was behind him now, pinning his body between the pole and her own. Her teeth closed on his ear as she breathed into it, groaning slightly. The groan that he returned was much more audible. She reached into her bodice and pulled out the dagger. Rubbing herself up and down his body, she lifted his cloak then pushed the dagger into his back, knowing the blade was long and slender enough to pass between his ribs and right into his heart.

His body slipped down the pole as it bled; and how it bled: more blood than she’d ever seen flowed from his corpse as it lay at the foot of the pole. “There’ll be no body, eh?” she thought, then as she stood back from the pole she watched as more blood gushed forth from his corpse. More blood than she thought possible gathered in a pool around the pole; his body seemed to be shrinking as the blood increased, until even his clothing seem to be dissolving in the blood or perhaps turning into blood itself; then as the corpse began to reduce further in size, so too did the pool of blood. It was as if the blood was being drawn into the pole. She stood and watched, amazed and excited as first the merchant’s flesh and clothing disappeared, then as every single drop of the blood was drawn into the pole.

She looked at the pole. It was as bright and shiny as it had ever been. There wasn’t a sign or a stain of blood anywhere on it. She turned and looked at all the silver on the floor by the chair and smiled to herself, then she walked closer toward the pole. She placed her hand on it, and recognised that the pole’s lust for blood had been quenched as much as her own had, but there was more. The soul she’d detected from within the pole a few days earlier was recognisable now. It was her own soul. The pole had become an extension of her being. It was a part of her.

~o~O~o~

Sunday, 5 February 2012

The Stoor's Prophecy - Chapter One - Part 1

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Here's a draft version of about three quarters of the first chapter of The Stoor's Prophecy, my-work-in-progress humorous fantasy project. This part introduces three of the main characters: Rufus of Farcliffe, a man with a more distinguished past than his current circumstances would imply, Shirley son of Hogan, an elf from the northern forests who's having to cope with anti-fae prejudice, and Barwick of Balmar, who was born in The Three Kingdoms, but faces problems of xenophobia just because he's a dwarf. (don't worry, I think you'll find it a little funnier than it looks like here.)
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Barwick picked the crumbs from his beard.

"That's the last of the bread," said the elf sitting opposite, "So I hope we're going to be there soon."

Barwick looked at the particularly large bread crumb between his fingers; he considered his options for a moment, then popped it into his mouth and began to chew. He did it casually, and even faked a cough as his hand went to his mouth. There was no need for him to do that really: bad manners were almost expected of him; that's the way everyone assumed a dwarf would behave, but Barwick had lived much of his life amongst mortal men, and had decided long ago that if there was to be any chance whatsoever of him ever being treated by them as their equal, then his own demeanor had to at least appear to be superior to theirs...

The elf was still rooting through his haversack. "I told you we should have bought elven bread," he said. "It's thinner so it takes up less space; it's lighter so it isn't such a burden to carry and it lasts much longer before it starts to get mouldy. Oh, and don't even get me started about its superior nutritional value."

"What you're failing to point out though Shirley," the man sitting a little further away on the dwarf's other side said to the elf, "is that it's six times as expensive as ordinary bread, not to mention, and this is a major point that really should be mentioned: it tastes like shit."

The elf let out a disgruntled "humph!" then turned his head away muttering in what seemed like a somewhat effeminate, affronted fashion, He fastened up the haversack then lifted it from where it sat between his legs and threw it behind him in disgust.

From Barwick's position where he sat on the ground, he was facing the elf, and seated quite close, so the removal of the haversack presented the dwarf with a view he didn't really want. He could see right up into Shirley's tunic, revealing more of the elf's green tights than Barwick would have liked. The tights were particularly snug where they clung to the elf's crotch so that it looked for all the world as though he was concealing his own personal haversack up there, and to Barwick's single good eye, it even appeared that he'd been keeping a couple of small baps and a finger roll in reserve.

"Anyway," continued the man as he stood and scanned his surroundings, "I think we're almost there. We're certainly in the Curzak lands now. All we've seen in the fields for the last twenty or so miles have been horses, and horses are all the Curzaks keep; they live on horses."

Barwick rose to his feet and used his one eye to scan the horizon, or at least as close to the horizon as his diminutive height would allow.

"The land grows higher in the direction we're walking," he said "I thought you said that Jyppo stood on the river, Rufus. Wouldn't that mean we should be travelling downhill?"

"Yes Barwick," the man, Rufus replied, "We're travelling uphill now into 'the thighs of the giant,' the low hills that flank the river. If you look far to the west there, you'll see two higher rounder hills. Those are the giant's buttocks. the river runs down from there, and down the Gussett valley between the thighs"

The elf's heavily made up eyes widened as each sentence left Rufus' lips, until eventually he said: "Hold on a moment! Giant buttocks? Thighs? GUSSET? This all sounds a little bit dodgy!"

"It isn't," Rufus assured him, "It's quite common among the races of men for geographical features to be named after something they resemble, and from downriver in the Gussett valley, the hills look just like the thighs and the rump of a giant."

"Gusset valley though? Come on, really?"

"A couple of hundred years ago," Rufus explained, "A map maker called GUSSETT was recording the nearby terrain and discovered that the Kurzaks had no name for the valley, so he took advantage of that and named it after himself on all the maps he drew. It's been called 'The Gussett Valley' ever since."

"So the river we're heading for is The River Gussett then?" inquired Barwick.

"No," his companion answered, "The river is known by it's Kurzak name. Generations ago, in olden times, it was their only source of drinking water, so its name is The Yorewyne"

"Urine?" asked Shirley, "Now I've heard it all."

"Not Urine, Yorewyne as in 'Yore' and 'Wine' - I admit it does sound a little like Urine, and from what I remember, the water does have a distinctive bouquet not dissimilar to the smell of piss."

"So let me get this straight: We're travelling over the thighs to where the urine runs down the gusset from the giant's buttocks. Is that what you're telling us?" asked the elf, grinning.

"No elf," answered Rufus, "I'm trying to tell you that we'll reach the Yorewyne in a couple of hours, then if we turn east, and follow the river's flow downstream, we'll be in Jyppo by nightfall."

"So we won't get to eat again until this evening then?" said Barwick. "What about lunch?"

"You've only just eaten your breakfast, dwarf," the elf reprimanded him, "Surely your stomach hasn't started complaining again already."

"Well when we reach the river," explained Rufus, "if you like, we can take a rest, and catch a couple of fishes for our lunch."

"And how are we going to do that?" asked Shirley.

"Think about it," said Rufus, "Barwick is a dwarf. He's bound to have a fishing rod in his backpack."

"That's gnomes," said Barwick quietly.

"What?" asked Rufus.

"That's gnomes," repeated Barwick, "It's gnomes that have the fishing rods." He was clearly offended, "I'm a dwarf. I carry nothing save my trusty axe and my battle hammer."

"That's just typical of the prejudice of you men," Shirley said to Rufus. Barwick found it strange that whenever the elf referred to 'men' in that tone of voice, it seemed like he was talking about the gender rather than the species. "You have to apply bloody stereotypes to everyone who's different from you, don't you; and considering how often it is that you all do it, you'd think you'd be practiced enough to get the bloody stereotypes right."

"My apologies Barwick," said Rufus, "I do you a disservice. You're right of course, but I know very few dwarves and even less gnomes, and I forgot for a moment which customs applied to which people. I had no intention of stereotyping you at all."

"Incidentally though Barwick," asked Shirley, as they all picked up their haversacks to continue their journey, "You're carrying your hammer, and your axe is there, tucked into your belt, so what exactly are you carrying in your pack that makes it clank about so much as you walk."

Barwick paused for a short while as he looked down toward his feet a little awkwardly, before staring his companions defiantly in the eyes and saying: "All right. It's a shovel and a pick and a walking stick. But I'm a fucking dwarf, so what did you expect?"

~o~O~o~

The companions walked eastward along the north bank of the Yorewyne for a few hours before the natural track underfoot changed to a proper bridal path spread with sand and gravel; then as the miles went by, it widened into a real road with a genuine, bona fide, proper, artificial surface, which confirmed that they were nearly out of the wilderness and almost amongst civilized society. A little time later the new road veered away from the river a little, but continued to follow it, though somewhat further up the bank. Other signs of civilization began to appear, mostly farrier's shops and blacksmith's forges. Soon other buildings including a few houses appeared as they made their way into the town of Jyppo.

"So you know this town well then Rufus." It was a statement from Barwick, but was meant as a question. The man had already demonstrated he was familiar with this place, but the dwarf wondered exactly how familiar.

"I knew it well back in my youth," Rufus replied, "I was very much involved in jousting tourneys, and chariot racing. I was even in the junior national jousting team for the eastern kingdom as a lad."

He paused and smiled as if he expected some kind of praise or admiration, but Barwick wasn't even sure what jousting was. He felt compelled to respond in some way though. "Great?" he offered through a forced but well intentioned grin, then seeing Rufus' disappointed look, he added a speculative: "Well done you?"

Rufus' face dropped even further. "Anyway," he continued, "most of the big equestrian sporting fixtures are held here. The hippodrome in the centre of town is the foremost stadium in the three kingdoms, so I've been here a lot. At least on this side of the river, anyway."

"This side of the river?" Shirley enquired, "Why only this side of the river?"

"This is the decent side, the quality side. The shady part of town is on the southern side of the river. I never went there. Never wanted to., never dared to."

Both the elf and the dwarf, looked over the river to the opposite bank. There were buildings there but mostly dilapidated and battered ones. There seemed to be a kind of shadow, a sort of ominous 'greyness' about the town on that side of the water.

"And where, dare I ask," Shirley dared to ask, "are we supposed to be meeting that wizard tomorrow?"

Rufus grinned an embarrassed grin as he avoided answering the elf's question. He couldn't help his eyes giving him away though, as he glanced involuntarily at the river to his right.

"Oh that's just bloody great," said the elf.

"Don't worry about it," Rufus assured him, "We don't need to cross the river just yet. Tonight we can stay on this side. There's a really good inn that I remember, near the hippodrome. 'The Winners Enclosure' it's called."

They walked on as the road curved away from the river now, and wound it's way amongst buildings, that seemed to grow larger as the party walked onward.

Barwick looked around. There were a number of inns here, all of a decent quality, and each of them had a name that was clearly related in one way or another to horses. He asked Rufus about it.

"That's the way with all the inns in Jyppo. They all refer to one of the aspects of a horse-centric society, so look over there: there's 'The Blacksmiths Arms', a couple of blocks back we passed 'The Happy Stablemaid' and if I remember correctly, just around the corner up this way is 'The Proud Stallion'."

"So what's the name of the inn where we meet the wizard then?" asked Shirley the elf.

"You have to realise," said Rufus, "that on the other side of the river, trade is less sophisticated, a little more basic, and the inn names reflect that."

"What's it called Rufus?" the elf demanded.

"It is in the public stabling district," Rufus said.

"What's its bloody name?"

"It's called The Shitshovel and Pitchfork," Rufus finally revealed.

"Sounds delightful," was the elf's response as he slowly shook his head.

Barwick noticed there were various shops amongst the inns and smithies now. Many of them were just selling saddles and tack, but there were quite a few that actually catered for the inhabitants of the town rather than just the horses. Most of the clothing stores did seem to concentrate on riding breeches and boots, but there were a few food shops too, and Barwick was beginning to get very hungry indeed.

They'd just passed the third butchers shop he'd seen and he'd noticed that none of them seemed to have the usual chickens or rabbits hanging outside. In fact all the joints of meat he saw in the butchers' shops seemed to come from much larger animals. He hadn't even seen any sheep or goats, let alone cattle in the surrounding countryside, and as Barwick looked at a particularly large haunch of meat hanging in the latest butcher's window, he wondered what kind of animal it might have come from and thought about mentioning it to Rufus, then he remembered what Rufus had said about the Curzaks 'living on horses' and suddenly realisation dawned and he decided not to bother.

Rufus led them around a corner and the immense white stone structure of the hippodrome loomed before them, on the other side of a large town square. They eventually arrived outside a pleasant looking inn. "This is the place," announced Rufus, "I've spent many a decent night here."

Shirley nudged Barwick and nodded toward a sign by the door. Barwick looked at it and then asked Rufus: "So what about that sign?"

"What sign?" enquired Rufus.

"That sign! There, by the door!" the other two shouted almost in unison.

Rufus looked a little puzzled as he glanced toward the inn door, then glanced back at Barwick and Shirley. "It says 'Welcome One and All'," he said, "What about it?"

"Not that sign," said Shirley, "the other sign, on the other side of the door."

Rufus turned around again; on the opposite side of the door to the 'welcome' sign was another that was headed 'Door Policy'. He studied it:


DOOR POLICY

(i) No elves, pixies, piscies, leprechauns, brownies, fairies, faeries
(ii) No gnomes, dwarves, halflings (hobbits, fallohides, harfoots OR stoors)
(iii) No giants, goblins, ogres, orcs, uruks, trollocks
(iv) No trolls(stone, wood, cave or any other variety)
(v) No griffins, gryphons, dragons, wyverns
(vi) No cavewights, balrogs, viles, ur-viles
(vii) No vampires, zombies or other undead
(viii) No dogs or demon-hounds (except for guide dogs and guide demon-hounds)
(werewolves, wargs and direwolves should be tied up outside.)

ON MATCH DAYS DEFINITELY NO AWAY SUPPORTERS

The management thank you in anticipation of your kind cooperation


"I think you'll find that excludes two thirds of our party from entering your favourite inn then Rufus," Shirley said, pointing out the obvious.

"Perhaps we can find somewhere else?" suggested Barwick hopefully. "Hey!" he called to a passing old man, "Are there any inns around here that will allow dwarves and elves inside?"

"Oy durn't think so," replied the local, "not on north side o' river any roads. If yer cross bridge over to t'other side, most of th'inns there'll be all royt 'bout it. Most of the rough 'uns'll let anybody in, save gnomes. No bugger'll serve gnomes. but we dernt gerra lorra gnomes in these parts, any roads."

"I'm not bloody surprised you dernt, I mean don't," said Shirley, "Thanks for your help then old man. Goodbye now." He ushered the old chap on his way and then turned to Rufus. "Look, we could disguise ourselves. You must have a hat I can cover my ears with, and a spare pair of those hideous trousers you wear, that you can lend me to put over my tights. We can give shorty here a haircut, oh, and a shave because that bloody beard is a dead giveaway, then providing he shuts up and stays sitting, they may not even realise he's a dwarf."

"I'm not having a shave," protested Barwick, "My beard's a part of who I am, so it is!"

"That's all very well, Shirley," Rufus replied, "We might very well be able to cover up the fact that Barwick is a dwarf, and we could try disguising you with one of my hats and a pair of my pants, but you'll still look like an elf."

"How so?" enquired Shirley.

"Well it's the make-up, isn't it? The eyeshadow is a big giveaway that you're fae. It's usually only women who wear it in the three kingdoms, and even in the north, only elves wear it that heavily; not only that, but you're wearing lipstick aren't you?"

"Just a touch," replied Shirley, "There's nothing wrong with it. It's what we elves do. I thought I'd applied it very subtly to be honest."

"It marks you as an elf though," Rufus pointed out, "Barwick having his beard shaved off is one thing, but you'll have to wash your make up off too: all of it."

The elf thought for a moment about the prospect of going 'natural' before sighing and pulling a small hand mirror from a pocket in his tunic. He looked at his image in the mirror from a couple of different angles, then sighed again, shrugged and put his mirror away. He refastened his pocket securely and smoothed down his tunic. "Come on then," he said, "let's see if we can find that bridge. Looks like we're drinking on the rough side of the river tonight.

~o~O~o~


Shirley was bored.

He and Rufus were sitting at a table in the bar of The Shitshovel and Pitchfork. Rufus insisted that they would eat and drink later. He said that he needed to brief them first, but still had some paperwork to do. Barwick had decided before they'd arrived that he'd prefer to spend the night in a stable rather than in a real bed, so had taken advantage of this free time to go outside and seek out suitable places for him to bed down.

"Can't I just have a half?" he asked Rufus.

"No!" replied Rufus, "and shut up, I'm trying to concentrate."

"Surely a half won't affect my faculties. I'm not going to get pissed on a half."

Rufus put down his pen. "Just a small one then," he said, "But listen. The local beer tastes crap and will give you the runs. Even some of the locals can't stomach it. Have the imported stuff, but I'd advise bottled, not draught."

"Why not draught?"

Rufus lowered his voice to a whisper and beckoned Shirley closer. "Because they're well known in these parts for watering their ale."

"Well surely," Shirley pointed out, "If you want me to stay sober, watered down beer doesn't seem like such a bad thing."

"They dilute it with water from the Yorewyne though," said Rufus, "So it probably ends up a little stronger: perhaps it has less alcohol, but it has more of something else that seems to be present in the water around here."

"More of what?" asked Shirley.

"I've no idea," said Rufus, "But I know you end up with a hangover that doesn't just make you feel like you're dying, it makes you hope you are. A few people have even been known to slit their own throats the morning after a good night out. I'd stick to the bottles if I were you."

Shirley went to the bar. Rufus returned to his paperwork.

The wizard had sent instructions in the form of a letter. He hadn't wanted knowledge of their plans to fall into the wrong hands, but knowing that Rufus had been classically educated, he'd written the letter in Toshishish, an ancient and obscure language that hadn't been spoken or even written outside of academic establishments for over a thousand years. What the wizard hadn't been aware of though, was that though Rufus' education had been the best available in what was then the Eastern Kingdom; that was over forty years ago, and even then, he hadn't been the most attentive of students.

He'd worked out the main gist of the letter, of course; they wouldn't have got this far if he hadn't, but there were still bits in the middle that he still hadn't translated properly. The problem was, that even though the wizard knew Toshishish, the dialect he'd used was a long way from the classical form that Rufus had tried to learn as a lad.

Shirley drank from the bottle of North Country dark ale he held in his hand. He was hoping that Rufus wouldn't notice it was a large bottle; well they didn't do half pint ones, and he had been advised to avoid the draught beer, so what choice did he have. Well, he supposed that he could have just drunk half of it, but it was against his principles to ever leave a beer half finished.

"Right then," said Rufus, putting his pen down, "I'm ready. Nip outside and find Barwick will you, it's time for your briefing."

Shirley drained his bottle of beer, and placed the empty bottle on the table, Rufus' eyes settled on it, and the elf thought better of it, picking it up and placing it on the bar, at the far end, so that it looked that bit smaller from a distance and so that the label was well out of Rufus' reading range. He went outside to find the dwarf.

Rufus picked up his translated letter and decided to give it a quick read through, before the other two returned. He read:


Greetings Rufus of Farcliffe,

At our last meeting, I instructed you to seek out others to join our alliance in opposition to our enemy. I trust that by now you have gathered many allies who are willing to aid us in our quest.

I would prefer this force to be made up mainly of individuals who share our cause and our concerms, though mercenaries are also acceptable if you can guarantee they will be reliable, trustworthy individuals, men of honour, soldiers who are trained and well disciplined, though keep it foremost in your mind that our financial resources are somewhat limited.

It seems that after spending months idle on the western side of the border, HIS armies are becoming restless. There is talk of new generals who are motivating them into action by use of fear and dread.

There have been many more mysterious deaths in the South Kingdom, mainly among would be suitors to the crown princess. As you can imagine, she is somewhat annoyed at this. I am sure that our enemy is behind these murders, though as yet I have no idea who his agents in the south might be.

It has also come to my attention that others under HIS command are searching for the whereabouts of our talented halfling friend; his life is in grave danger and my most pressing task now, is to find sanctuary for this young stoor and his companions.

Our enemy is aware of our cause and is bound to move against us sooner rather than later; I would advise you to be wary of anyone and everyone you come into contact with, since even the most seemingly well meaning of them may be an agent of our enemy.

HE knows that the fulfilment of our small friend's prophecy will be fatal to him. By now he will have examined every possibility available to him to avoid the prophecy coming to pass. The most direct way would of course be to dispose of the princess. He may do this by force of arms, or by subterfuge. Either way, we must provide her with what protection we can to ensure that she survives and thus that the prophecy is fulfilled.

I intend to send you and your force to the South Kingdom as protection for the crown princess, and to that aim I request that you and your chosen officers meet with me in the town of Jyppo in the Kurzak lands to discuss our actions.

I believe you are familiar with the geography of Jyppo. There's an Inn located in the public stabling district known as 'The Shitshovel and Pitchfork' We will meet there at noon on the day after the next new moon.



When he looked up from the letter. Shirley and Barwick had not only both re-entered the bar, but they'd also got another beer in. They returned to the table and Barwick said "Here you go Rufus, I got you one." he attempted to pass the beer but as he put it on the table, he upset the bottle and it fell over. The contents rushed out of the bottle neck and poured all over Rufus' translated letter. The beer merged with the ink to produce a piece of paper with an even, lilac tint, but certainly with no legible writing at all.

Rufus wasn't sure he could remember most of the letter's content, but he certainly didn't have time to translate it all again. Barwick had quickly rescued the original, picking it up from the table, just as the beer had begun to spread across toward its edge. He glanced at it.

"Oh, this is Toshishish isn't it?" he asked. "Yes it is. I read Toshishish like a native Tosh. I have done for years. This isn't what you've spent so long translating is it Rufus? You needn't have bothered."

"Yes," said Rufus, "It isn't classical Toshishish though. It's some obscure dialect. It wasn't so much translating it as deciphering the dialect and identifying the obscure linguistic components. Not an easy job you know?"

"Oh I know it isn't classical Toshishish," said Barwick, "it's Westhill dialect. Do you want me to read it? I'll have to read it in it's dialect form though."

He didn't wait for Rufus to answer. He sat at the table with his beer in one hand and the letter in the other. He looked over the letter while the other two returned to their seats. He took a swig from the neck of his beer bottle, then he began:


Yo! Rufus of Farcliffe.

Last time we put our heads together, I told you we needed more muscle.

I hope you've got your firm together by now to give us a decent bit of backup.

It's best if you get guys who think like we do, but paid heavies are fine if they're cool, decent dudes: hard bastards who can take orders. Make sure they don't cost an arm and a leg though.

HIS mob have been sitting around on their arses for ages now, but it looks like some new boss has put the wind up them and they're getting tooled up as we speak.

There are fellas dropping like flies down south and it looks like everybody who looks like he's close to getting a bit of princess tail, gets himself snuffed which is really pissing her off. It's a fair bet HE's pulling the strings, but I'm buggered if I know who he's got doing the deed for him.

It looks like there's some of his sneaky gits poking around trying to find the little guy too. His number could be up if I don't  find him somewhere for him and his mates to keep their heads down.

The bad guys are onto us so watch your backs. Make sure you check out any shifty prats you come across, because even if they look harmless, the twats could just be trying to wangle themselves into your good books.

The big bastard knows full well that this prophecy is going to drop him right in the shit, so he'll be looking for ways to fix things for himself. Quickest way would be for him to bump off the princess, so he might have his boys come at her in force, or he may just sneak someone in to do her in quietly. Whatever, we have to provide some insurance to keep her alive, or the whole prophecy could go tits up.

I'm going to send your lads south to look after the princess, so you and your main men need to get your arses over to Jyppo for a meet to sort things out.

I think you know your way round Jyppo. There's a boozer near the public stables, called The Shitshovel and Pitchfork, so make sure you all get your arses over there to see me at lunchtime on the first of next month.



Barwick handed the letter back to Rufus and smiled. Shirley patted the dwarf on the shoulder and said "Hey, I'm impressed."

Barwick looked toward Rufus for appreciation and Rufus just nodded and said "Yes, I think you just about got the gist of it there."

Monday, 16 January 2012

A Little Taste Of Jinn

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Currently, I'm experimenting with a new protagonist/antagonist race in urban fantasy (I think vampires are becoming a little stale now, and werewolves, zombies and witches have all been well used too.) I've chosen The Jinn, who are mentioned throughout legend, even in the Old Testament and the Q'oran. I've tried to bring things up-to-date a little while still retaining the traditional legends.

One such legend concerns The Seal Of Solomon, which is likely to be at the centre of my first attempt at a Jinn novel. This artifact is said to have existed as a ring owned by King Solomon, which gave the bearer the power to control the Jinn. (it's where the stories of genies in bottles originated.)

What follows is a first draft short story introducing a couple of my Jinn characters: Irwin Hall, (also called Sakhr) a part breed Jinn who tries to exist in human society and is somewhat of a rogue, and Asmodeus, a pure bred Jinn with immense power who is one of the ruling class of the Jinn.

As usual, this piece is the result of a 'just sit down and write' session, so it's definitely first draft, (if not earlier!) and probably full of mistakes, which will be corrected as I come across them.

I'd appreciate any comments you might have, understanding that I'm particularly eager for points made about the potential of the genre, the storylines, etc.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Introducing The Seal Of Solomon


It was time for me to leave.

I’d been a long way from home last night; it had got colder as it got darker and I’d decided to spend the night here. Of course I could have found a hotel, but I wasn’t at all certain where the best hotels in this town were to be found, and I only ever stayed at the best hotels.

I’d picked out this house as one of the smarter ones in what looked like the most affluent area of town I’d walked through, so it promised to be adequately comfortable as indeed it had proved to be.

I’d had a restful night, uneventful and unexpectedly profitable. I stood in the hallway now, my jacket pockets crammed with jewellery. I glanced around for some kind of bag I could take, but couldn’t see anything suitable. That was a shame: Of course I could easily have left my booty in my pockets, but there was a platinum and amethyst necklace in particular that gave me an uncomfortable feeling being so close to me. It was the amethysts that did it. My people had a problem with amethysts.

I could hear voices coming from the kitchen. The man of the house raising his voice as though angry: “So how the hell did they get in then!” and a woman protesting through her sobbing: “I DID put the alarm on. I always make sure I do, every night before I go up.” I could also hear the voice of the girl, a youngster of around twelve years old who I’d met only moments earlier. She was trying to gain her father’s attention: “Dad, dad,” she kept repeating.

She was good, this child. She really ought to have forgotten me by now. She’d walked downstairs into the hallway over two minutes ago; she’d shrieked at the sight of me, and then rushed into the kitchen where her parents were arguing.

“For God’s sake Lydia,” I heard the father say, “What the hell is it?”

Both he and his wife were silent for a while, not so much anxious to know what was bothering their daughter, but more to put a stop to her constant pestering. The girl spoke after a silent pause: “What?”

“What do you want?” her mother asked, “You’ve been nagging at your dad for ages now.”

“I don’t know,” replied the girl, “I can’t remember what it was I wanted.”

I smiled. There were four people living in this house, and now I’d been seen by three of them, and none of them remembered meeting me at all. The woman was telling the truth: she had set the burglar alarm last night. I’d heard her do it. When I’d let myself into the house, the only person still downstairs was the lady in question. She’d walked in from the kitchen as I was settling myself on their couch.  The sight of me stopped her in her tracks, and she looked as though she was going to scream at first. That usually complicated matters, so I’m glad she didn’t. She just demanded to know who I was, and ‘what the hell’ I was doing sitting on her sofa.

I was used to this kind of thing happening and it was surprisingly easy to overcome. I smiled, muttered something about being a friend of her husband, and looked up, toward the sitting room door just behind her; I smiled a little more and nodded then. It was a natural reaction of hers to turn to see who had entered the room. Once she did, I knew that she’d forget she’d even seen me, but that wasn’t enough. As soon as she looked back toward me, she’d see me again and we’d go through the whole situation again. After all, I wasn’t invisible. That was one of abilities that only pure bred Jinn had, and I must say, I envied them for it. The best I could do was to cast a compulsion on the lady, so that she would subconsciously resist looking toward me. She turned back from the door but automatically averted her eyes from where I was sitting. She tidied a few magazines she’d been reading then she walked into the hallway, closing the door behind her. I heard the tell-tale beeping of the house alarm being set, then heard her climbing the stairs. I was all ready to settle down for the night, but it crossed my mind that if this house was alarmed, there was probably something worth stealing in here. I decided to wait for about an hour, then to search the house for valuables I’d be able to carry away.

I know that by human standards, robbing people’s homes like this was wrong, and the human part of me left me with feelings of conscience every time I did it. But I only ever stole from the wealthiest people I came across, and I’m sure they’d have been adequately insured. It was what I’d heard other humans call ‘a victimless crime.’ OK, so perhaps what I did led to other less well off people paying higher premiums for their insurance, but I saw it as a kind of social security payment. There were humans who lived on benefit payments all their lives, at the expense of other humans, so what I was doing amounted to pretty much the same thing. I didn’t use crime to make myself rich: I only stole occasionally and then only enough to support myself.

I would rather have worked for a living, however difficult that was in a human society where nobody ever remembered me. Over the years I had worked, though of course it always had to be casual work, at the end of every day, I’d be paid and go home, knowing that if I’d managed to work tomorrow, it would be like starting the job again.

I’d been sitting on the sofa examining the jewellery I’d acquired when I heard the panic upstairs. They’d discovered that they’d been burgled. I began to stuff my jacket pockets with my takings. I considered leaving the amethysts as they made me shudder a little just to hold them, but I knew the sheer number and size of the stones, coupled with the platinum they were set in would fetch a decent price.

I was walking past the stairs as the man of the house came down them. He spotted me, so I suddenly backed up into the hallway toward the sitting room door I’d just come out of. I did my little compulsion trick and as he rushed down the stairs, he looked all around but never directly toward me. He called out to his wife who was coming down the stairs behind him: “Did you see anything then,” he asked, “I thought I saw someone down here for a moment.”

“No,” she replied. “There’s nobody here, you’re seeing things. You’re probably just in a panic because we’ve been robbed. Did you call the police from upstairs?”

“Yes,” he replied, “while you were in the bathroom.” With that the pair of them walked into the kitchen.
So now I stood in the hallway, zipping up my jacket as I prepared to leave. Suddenly I heard a voice.

“Who are you? Are you the burglar?” I turned to see a small boy of about seven standing behind me.

“Yes,” I said, “I am.”

“You don’t look like a robber,” the little boy said.

“Well, my striped pullover is in the laundry,” I said, “and I left my mask on the bus.”

“I should call my dad,” he said. I noticed he had a purple velour bag with a pyjama cord drawstring that he was swinging it from.

“What’s that bag?” I asked. He glanced down toward the bag as he said “It has my gym shoes in it,” then he looked up again and appeared surprised to see me standing there.

“Who are you?” he asked again. “You must be the burglar.”

“I am,” I replied, nodding. “Can I have that bag?”

“No,” he said, “it’s for my gym shoes. I could fetch my father you know.”

“You could,” I said to him, “but you won’t. If you’re not looking at me, you won’t even remember me.”

“I will” he said.

“You won’t,” I assured him. “You just forgot me a moment ago when you looked at your plimsoll bag.”

He glanced away from me again, back toward his shoe bag. He turned toward me again and said “Hey! Who are you?”

I didn’t particularly like using my abilities on children, but that bag was exactly what I wanted. “Give me the bag,” I said quietly as I stared into his eyes. He passed me the bag and I removed a pair of plimsolls from it and put them on the hallway table. “Now off you go into the kitchen; your mum, dad and sister are waiting for you there.”

He turned and walked away. I emptied the contents of my pockets into the bag, taking special care handling the dreaded amethysts. I pulled the drawstring tight and turned toward the door and examined it, it was clearly still bolted and was no doubt still locked from the night before. I turned the handle and the door opened. I walked out into the crisp morning air, closing the door behind me and suddenly the door was locked and bolted once again. I didn’t even think about it; this was one of my abilities that I tended to take for granted.

As I walked down the path toward the street, I remembered times when I’d have likely had the chance to have run into the police as I left, but they didn’t seem to treat burglaries with the same kind of urgency as they had thirty or forty years ago, so I wasn’t surprised to see the street deserted.

Deserted that was, apart from the solitary figure I spotted standing a few yards along the road, looking right toward me. I recognised the colourful robes he wore. I knew they would very likely stand out in any modern environment but knew that wouldn’t matter at all to someone like him. I walked toward him. I really had no choice. I was convinced he’d come looking for me, and it would be pointless trying to walk or even run away. He’d found me this time. His kind had a knack for finding people, so I knew there’d be no doubt he could find me again.

There was a slight feeling of dread in my stomach. I knew I hadn’t done anything, but if this individual thought I had and chose to punish me, then I was right to fear him. I respected his kind, though also despised them in a way. Whenever in their presence, I gauged how far I dare push things and always made certain to show them as little respect as I could get away with.

“You know who I am?” he said as I approached.

“I know what you are,” I replied, “and if those bottle green and yellow robes are really meant to be emerald and gold, that would make you Asmodeus of the Ifrit, one of the Purest.”

He half smiled as though being both annoyed and amused by my attitude to him. “And you,” he said, “I presume you prefer to be addressed by your human name? ‘Hall’ is it?”

“Irwin Hall,” I replied. “It’s a name I’ve got used to. It served me as well as any other this past century.”

I sensed him looking me up and down; I suppose since he didn’t spend too much time in human society, the sight of my trekking boots, denim pants and leather bomber jacket looked as ridiculous to him as his ornate robes looked to me.

“So why the robes then?” I asked him. “If you’re walking among the humans, I’d have thought a more conventional form of dress would be advisable. I know they can’t see you unless you want them to, but you’d be surprised how many of them there are with just a little Jinn blood in their ancestry. Any one of those may see you even if you don’t allow it.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised at anything,” he said, “I know as much about your type as you do.” It annoyed me when he referred to my type. He was grouping me in with these mostly human types.

“They’re not my type,” I almost shouted at him. “I am Jinn. I can trace my line back for thousands of years; they are for the most part human, they have no abilities to speak of, and most of them aren’t even aware they have Jinn ancestry.”

“It’s all a matter of proportion,” he said. “You’re all part-bred; none of you are pure Jinn. What’s the matter? Does your human conscience bother you more when you consider you may have been stealing from your own kind?”

“I know who my kind are,” I replied, “and it isn’t any kind of humans, no matter how little Jinn blood they have, or how much human blood I have. Anyway, why are you here, what do you want me for?”

“You would do well to show a little respect to your betters boy,” he said.

It annoyed me to hear him refer to me as a ‘boy’. I was a hundred and one years old, and that was almost middle aged for one of the Jinn, though this one was of the Purest, with no human blood corrupting his Jinn ancestry at all, and they measured their lifespan in centuries, so to him, I probably was only a boy. “I don’t see you as my better,” I replied, “More powerful than me, I’ll admit, and you could probably make me suffer if you wanted to, but I know the old customs: you can’t punish me unless I’ve done something to offend you. I don’t think standing up to you counts as offending you, does it?”

“You’re correct; you haven’t offended me,” He said. “Your clever remarks and attempts at mock courage don’t bother me one way or the other. I’m here because I have a task for you.”

Traditionally, the Purest, had the right to demand favours from the other Jinn; nobody had exercised this privilege for years, and I wondered if I dare refuse his demands.

“Have you heard tell of ‘The Book’?” he asked me.

“I’ve heard of many books,” I replied, “I’ve even read two or three of them in my time,” though I knew exactly what book he was referring to.

“The book in question has shown up again,” he said.

I was a little surprised. I half believed that the book he was clearly talking about was an object of legend, more up-to-date than all of the other mythical items of course, but not real, nevertheless. There were a couple of things I’d heard about the book that made me have my own doubts though.

“So what does that have to do with me?” I asked, “I don’t have it; and if it even exists, I have no idea where it is.”

“We need to talk,” he said, “Get in” and he opened the passenger door of the BMW saloon he stood next to, before walking around to the driver’s door and getting in himself.

I got into the car. “A car?” I said to him, “I didn’t expect to see one of The Purest making use of a human invention.”

“The humans have always had their uses,” he said, “forms of transport are things they’re particular skilled at producing. I’m not so prejudiced against them that I won’t accept it when they’ve done something well.”

“Doesn’t it prove difficult when the humans see this thing driving around, but can’t see you driving it?” I asked, “That would really freak them out.”

“I make certain that they see someone driving,” he replied, even if it isn’t me.

I thought he was going to drive me somewhere, but he seemed content to just sit in the car talking.

“Does the name ‘Genevieve Larard’ mean anything to you?” he asked.

“I’ve heard of her,” I replied, “She was a part-bred, like me, Genevieve was the name given to her by her human mother. She chose to live amongst the humans and married a human male, George Larard, the man who’s supposed to have written the book.”

“No ‘supposed to’ about it,” he said. “She lived with the Larard man for over two years, until they were separated by war. When he returned home, she had left him, disappeared in fact. She found she couldn’t survive in human society being what she was.”

“So did she return to the Jinn?” I asked.

“No,” he replied, “We can only assume she continued to live amongst the humans but reclusively. But it was her desertion that led to Larard devoting part of his life to finding her. He never did, but he did learn more about us than he had a right to, and he wrote it all down in a book. It was published, though only a few copies were ever printed. We located most of them and destroyed them, though one remained hidden, until now that is.”

“So what’s the problem?” I asked, “I heard this story years ago, and always wondered what the big deal was. So if anyone read his book, they’d never believe it; surely they’d just see it as a work of fiction. Our anonymity would be safe.”

“That’s a chance we of The Purest weren’t willing to take,” he said, “so we tracked down every copy of the book we could and had it destroyed, although the incompetents who took on the task didn’t ever consider delivering a copy to us. We knew that it contained details of our background, our history, who we are and where to find us. It also recounted our legends, and these exist in ancient testaments of human civilization also, and that was the danger as we saw it: that the humans would see Larard’s book as much as a gospel as they did their own mythical works. We saw the danger, but we didn’t see the extent of the danger.”

“The extent of the danger?” I asked.

“It was only after the destruction of the last copy of the book we’d located, that it came to light that it contained other more sensitive information,” he said, “I fear that the book contains clues, perhaps even details as to the location of The King’s Ring.”

“The King’s Ring?” I almost laughed. “You mean the legendary ring of King Solomon? Now that really is a thing of legend, surely?”

“It exists,” he replied, “What do you know of it?”

“Only that it was a magical seal set into a ring that was possessed by King Solomon, an ancient human king and that it supposedly gave him command over the Jinn,” I thought for a moment, searching my mind for details I’d been taught as a child. “Hold on, didn’t he use it to capture a Jinn in a wine skin? Wasn’t that Jinn called Asmodeus? That isn’t you is it?”

“Of course not,” he snapped at me, “Even The Purest mark their years in centuries, not millennia. There have been many named Asmodeus since then. You know that it has always been the tradition of pure bred Jinn to use the traditional names, occasionally not just pure bred either.” He looked at me accusingly.

“My maternal grandmother was pure bred,” I said, “She was of the Marid, and it was she who chose that name for me. I had nothing to do with it, and surely if it causes offence to The Purest, then I’ve made up for it by adopting my human name.”

“But ‘Sakhr’ was hardly just a traditional name was it?” he asked, “Sakhr was a king over the Jinn, and for a time over human tribes also. You’re not worthy of that name; your grandmother had no right to bestow it on you, what with you being part bred, though I ought to expect nothing more respectful from the Marid.”

I’d been away from Jinn politics for many years, but it seemed that the old differences and prejudices still existed, that the feud between the Ifrit and the Marid was still around too.

“Aren’t we getting away from the point?” I asked, “Let’s assume that Solomon’s seal did exist and that it can still be found; is that what you’re afraid of: spending the rest of your life imprisoned in a bottle? That I’m sure is just something from human legend.”

“Whoever holds that seal has power of command over other Jinn,” Asmodeus looked positively frightened now. “If the humans find it, we could all see ourselves become enslaved by them, if we found it, of course we’d destroy it.”

“Of course,” I agreed, though it crossed my mind that someone like Asmodeus would relish having command over all Jinn.

“After Larard wrote his book,” Asmodeus continued, “He eventually gave up on finding his Genevieve again, and thinking her dead, he married another, a human woman. He died two years into that marriage, but we’ve always been certain that he, and afterwards she, knew of the whereabouts of the last copy of his book. For years we did everything we could to find it. She died a few months ago, but it seems she had a son, another called George Larard, so we kept watch in case the book had been passed to him, hoping that if he didn’t realise its true importance, that his guard would be down and we could retrieve it.

“It seems though that others had similar ideas, and we discovered recently that the book has fallen into the hands of the Saytanites.”

I knew of the Saytanites.  They were one of those extreme groups who publically nobody took particularly seriously, but who privately just about everyone feared. They followed the mythical leader of the Jinn, Iblis who in legend had been the cause of the Jinn being cast out of heaven. The Saytanites called him by his alternative name of Say-tan, a name that was also known to the humans. Outside of the Saytanites, most of the Jinn didn’t believe that Iblis still existed, or indeed if he ever had, but they all recognised that in their support of him and what he’s supposed to have stood for, the Saytanites were a dangerous group themselves.

Asmodeus spoke again: “If the Saytanites locate the seal, they will use it for their own ends, and will enslave their own people; certainly The Purest, though it’s doubtful a Jinn would have the ability to use it’s power on one with human blood, but whoever holds the ring and thus commands The Purest could use it’s power to force us to destroy first the part bred, and then even the humans themselves. And believe me, that is something that the Saytanites wouldn’t hesitate in doing.”

I was still a little confused about what my part in all this was supposed to be. “So where do I come in then?” I asked, “You must have some reason to need my assistance.”

“Well of course, I want you to help hunt down the seal,” he said, “I want you to attempt to locate it before our enemies, Saytanite and human might. You have certain talents outside of your Jinn abilities that may help. Plus of course, being a part bred, if the Saytanites find the ring first, you’ll be less susceptible to any efforts they may have to wield its power. In addition, there is another reason.”

“Another reason?” I was curious what that might be.

“This current George Larard may have clues himself as to the whereabouts of the seal, and he may have the desire to see his father’s book returned to him. You’re someone he may trust to help him, someone he may even confide in.”

“Me?” I asked, “Why should he?” though I suspected I already knew the answer.

“Because you knew his father,” Asmodeus confirmed my suspicions.

When I’d originally heard tales of the book, I’d laughed it off as a modern myth, but when I heard the name of the supposed author: George Larard, I’d wondered if it was the same George Larard that I’d known.

In 1940, I’d had what I always thought of as my great adventure. The humans were at war and had taken to killing each other worldwide, though mainly in Europe. This was a conflict that the Jinn took no part in, just like most of the others throughout history, but I took a special interest in it. I knew my entire lineage back as far as Jinn records allowed, and I knew that there were only two humans amongst my ancestors. One back in the 1640s and one around 1810, but both came from eastern Europe. I saw what the Nazis were doing to the other humans in Europe and especially to the eastern Europeans, and I didn’t like what I saw, at least the human part of me didn’t like it, so I went to war in Europe. Of course I couldn’t enlist, because as far as society was concerned, I didn’t exist, but I donned a British uniform and went to France to fight the Nazis. I was a particular asset to the allies, though I say so myself, working behind enemy lines was simplicity itself for me, so I found myself achieving things that my human compatriots never could. Amongst all the men in the regiment I chose to serve with, only one ever remembered me from one day to the next, only one welcomed me back from my missions; I assumed that he must have some level of Jinn blood himself, just to be able to do that. More than that though, he recognised me for what I was. He knew of the Jinn, as though he’d had personal dealings with us himself. He and I became great friends, but when he returned to England later in the war, I remained and when France fell, I attached myself to the resistance and fought on. I never saw my friend George again.

“So where do I find this George Larard then?” I asked.