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Re: Plot Choice
Don't write a novel. Writing a novel is a massive investment of time which can be utterly futile if you've made some horrendous error right at the start.

I don't necessarily disagree with this, but it really depends on the writer.  I think writing what you find inspiring is most important; even if writing short stories is technically a better route, if you find it boring it won't help.  And the skill-sets are pretty different once you get into it -- you don't really do a lot of world development for short stories, for example.

That said, I think the right mentality is to accept that your first novel is not going to be good for much other than laughing over twenty years from now.  If you get to the point where you've recognized some major flaw, stop, and start writing something else.  Remember, nothing says you can't steal characters, world elements, or plot details from your own unfinished pieces, so if you came up with something cool you can reuse it later in a better work.

Fully agree.  Hemingway said something to the effect that the first million words you write are going to be crap.  That can be awfully discouraging if you're just starting and it's probably a bit of an exaggeration but the only way you're going to learn to write a novel is to write a couple of bad ones.  Yes, it's a lot of work but it isn't wasted work, even if not a word of it ever sees the light of day.  It's the price of learning to write.  Writing is a labor of love, but it's definitely labor.

May 10, 2013, 08:59:07 PM
Magazine Directory for Submissions I think it's great that we have the Open for Submissions board so publishers and the like can advertise they are open for submissions, but I thought it'd be nice to have compiled list of magazines/outlets to send short stories, etc in one handy location. I'll update the primary list as I find more places to submit and I would love to see my fellow writers mention magazines not on the list so I can add them!

Abyss & Apex -
Apex Magazine
Beneath Ceaseless Skies
Black Static
Buzzy Mag
Colored Lens
Crossed Genres
Daily Science Fiction
Fiction Vortex
GigaNotoSaurus -
Holdfast Magazine -
Lightspeed Magazine
Lovecraft Ezine
Nightmare Magazine
Plasma Frequency
Shimmer Magazine
Strange Horizons
Stupefying Stories
Sword and Sorcery Magazine
Wily Writers

Resources for Finding Markets (Thanks to jefGoelz and CameronJohnston for suggesting)
The (Submission) Grinder

Useful numbers to think about from jefGoelz
There are 145 markets for fantasy short stories.
There are 72 markets that are semi-pro or better (I think 1 cent a word or more).
There are 32 markets that are "pro" (5 or more cents a word).

Abyss & Apex -
GigaNotoSaurus -
Heroic Fantasy Quarterly -
Ideomancer -
Holdfast Magazine -

March 24, 2014, 06:58:26 PM
Re: [Mar 2015] - Rogues - Submission Thread I'm first again this month, but after promising this, I had to get it out there.
So here you have it: "One Rogue, Four Women and Escape on a Bicycle"
Coming in at a trim (for me) 1,485 words

Spoiler for Hiden:
         Jack laughed and spread his arms wide. “I swear, it’s true! Four of them at once!” Catcalls and cries of “Liar!” greeted this declaration. Someone threw a fig. The rogue jumped up on the table, setting the chandelier swinging and flinging hot wax on his audience. “You think this couldn’t handle it?” he shouted, grabbing his codpiece to great laughter and guffaws. “My brave soldier here could find the one virgin in a king’s harem with the lights out and my hands tied.”
   “I think your brave soldier couldn’t find the piss pot with the light on and your fly open!” yelled someone from the balcony.
   “I’ll tell you what really happened,” called a new voice, one with feminine tones and a cultured accent. It was lost in the commotion like a flower in a garbage heap until the speaker raised her voice with a righteous cry. “I’ll tell you what really happened!” And the whole room held its breath.

   I’ll tell you what really happened. I was handing around tea for the Delacroix sisters - delightful cucumber sandwiches and good Darjeeling - and they, good souls, were enlightening me about society in my new city; when one of them, Mary, I think, whispered “And then there’s Jack.” Jack Stinson, a rake if I’d ever heard of one, had arrived some months earlier and begun a circuit of the eligible maidens and even the ineligible matrons. He was a fine shot and an honest card player so the men welcomed him. As for we women, I suspect we are all susceptible to strong shoulders and a talented tongue.
   The bell rang and another recent acquaintance appeared. It was not more than three minutes before the poor thing was in tears and weeping on my shoulder. We had the truth out of her, and a great determination filled my soul. Jack Stinson must get what he deserved, or in this case, reap what he had sown.
   I know a little magic. Not your parlor trick, sleight-of-hand frivolity, but a true thing handed down from a branch of my family that once owned plantations on exotic Jamerica. The first order of business was to discover how widely the rogue had spread his affections. I set the calling cards of all the women with whom I’d had intercourse in a circle around a delicate glass bottle, and pushed it into a lazy spin. The four of us held our breaths as the bottle stopped first at one name and then another to expostulations of “She would!” and “I never!” and even “I didn’t think she had it in her”, which made me laugh but caused our poor betrayed one to dissolve in tears again. When the bottle pointed at the senior Miss Delacroix, her younger sister’s mouth twisted as though she’d eaten an unripe persimmon, and when it next pointed to the younger sister, things threatened to storm and thunder right there in my sitting room. However, it was soon evident that the bottle would stop at every one of the twenty-three lady’s cards and we four subsided into a simmering, amazed silence. Then we set our plans.
   I made it known I would appreciate an invitation to Lady Baldwin’s soiree, and I know she was thrilled for me to attend. Jack was there, and came to me like a bee to the finest orchid in the garden. I have to admit pleasure at being the envy of every female eye in the room. I should not have been surprised that Jack was the finest dancer I had ever partnered, or that his conversation was in decidedly good taste. But I was unprepared for the originality of his ideas or the effect of his flattery upon me. We set an assignation for the next day, Herod’s Hotel, noon.
   He arrived in a sweat-stained suit and straw hat, saying he had been experimenting with a velocipede and offering to take me riding with him. I think he was taking my measure. Had I been at leisure to enjoy his company, I might have risen to the bait.
   We had a private room in the restaurant. Not even for this noble cause could I afford to risk my reputation by taking a suite upstairs. We dined - a delicious rump roast and breasts of the finest fowl. As the dessert was served, I at last turned the conversation to magic, explaining that I had gypsy blood and could bring him into contact with the Other World.
   “That would be most rare”, said he, and we began. I set the empty bottle of Tolkane ’54 on its side, and began to spin it lazily.
   “Jack, I have come for you,” said a bodyless voice. “You have betrayed and dishonored me.” I attest that Mary’s imitation of a spirit was so much like the real thing that even I shrank.
   “Who is it?” cried Jack, his eyes wide.
   “One who loved you when alive,” the elder Miss Delacroix continued. “But Lucifer has set me loose on you, Jack.”
   “No!” he cried, “Whichever you are, I swear your death was not on me.”
   But now a second voice called out, and I summoned a mist to swirl through the room. “Jack!” it screamed. The younger Miss Delacroix could certainly have taken lessons from her sister, for I couldn’t believe her to be a spirit for one moment. But Jack was growing more agitated. “Jack! You deceiver. How could you leave me for her!”
   It was terrible acting, but Jack was up from his chair, and pacing around the chamber like a man possessed.
   Now the third voice sounded, and I swear that the very hair on my neck stood on end, so authentic was it in its pain and loss. “Jack,” it whispered. “I loved you, Jack. But you took from me what can never be returned.”
   Jack sputtered in surprise, stopping his pacing and gripping the back of his chair. “Angelica?” he asked hesitantly. “If you’re looking for the pearls, I can explain that -“
   “NO!” screamed our poor sister, “NO!” A cold wind started to whip through the room. “It’s too late, Jack! I told you I would, and I’ve gone and done it!”
   At this, my companions threw open the doors of the room and stood revealed in white robes, holding flaming torches. “We have come for you!” they cried, and Jack, brave Jack, threw himself on my breast, crying “Save me!” then ran screaming from the room. We hunted him then through the hotel, for the staff - well-paid for this adventure - made certain of the front door.
   Suddenly, our man burst from a maid’s closet, dressed in a woman’s sleeping gown, robe and blond wig, pursued by Angelica as though the hounds of hell were at his heals. He hurled himself wildly against the plate glass window of the hotel, shattering it into a thousand pieces and finally rolling into the gutter. The four of us were hard on him, and we chased the rogue into the street. His two-wheeled contraption was there, and he threw himself upon the seat. Then leaning over the steering bars, he pushed desperately with his feet to build up speed. His robe was flapping in the wind behind him as he cycled away, and we truly thought we’d seen the utter end of Jack Stinson.
   We stood in the street, our clothes in disarray, our chests heaving, and smiles of triumph on our faces. (Though poor Angelica was still looking positively ghostly.) Then I raised my hand to straighten my hair and discovered that the scoundrel had stolen my earrings, my necklace and even a small gold ring I wore on my left pinky.
   This wasn’t the story I told the crowd, of course.

   “Please, for the love of God and the saints, have mercy on a fallen woman!” she cried. “This black villain must do as he promised and marry me, or I shall be ruined!”
   At this, the audience turned a bleak though bleary eye on Jack, and some of the more drunk of the jury began to scale the table to seize him. A cry rose up to bring a rope. The rogue ran the length of the table toward his accuser, dodging glasses and tankards with nimble feet, and he might have reached her had not a drunken crone thrown a beer bottle and knocked him off his aim. He ended up face-first in the bosom of the bar maid, who pushed him off with a practiced hand and sent him sprawling to the ground in front of the woman he’d so deeply wronged.
   “I want my jewels back, Jack,” she hissed.
   Jack smiled wickedly and launched himself back onto the table. “That’s not what really happened!” he yelled over the chaos.

   Friends – Let me tell you what really happened.

March 04, 2015, 03:22:34 PM
Re: [Mar 2015] - Rogues - Discussion Thread > "Meat's back on the menu boys!"

Presumably, that is synthetic 31st century bovine culture meat?

Food fit for a thief*?

(*Also known as property redistribution operative or PRO for short?)

March 19, 2015, 06:55:47 PM
Re: [Mar 2015] - Rogues - Discussion Thread

Edit: Scratch that - I've just read some of them and that last one has post apocalyptic sci-fi all over it, so I'll see if I can find some time to knock something out!

F-yeah, post apocalyptic sci fi for the win! Join with yours! But hey. We could call it a dystopian futuristic urban fantasy no?  :P

March 19, 2015, 07:17:28 PM
Re: [Mar 2015] - Rogues - Submission Thread The hardest part about this was deciding what sort of rogue to write about: a lover, a gambler, a thief, a killer, etc... In the end I did pick one and the result is an 814 word (a new record in brevity for me!) story called Your Money or Your Life. Twitter handle is @ChrisElfy. Hope you enjoy.

Spoiler for Hiden:
Your Money or Your Life

“Your money or your life!” the demand thundered over the birdsong. The raucous laughter of a kookaburra perched in the branches of the old gum tree underlined the bushranger’s challenge. The tree hung over the rutted and well travelled dirt road out of the Ballarat diggings to the city of Melbourne, with its banks and trading houses.

Bridles jingled and strained axles complained, as the carriage driver reined in, to bring his vehicle to a halt in front of the mounted figure in the middle of the road.

He was small for a bushranger, although he bore the requisite bushy red beard, and he held the pistol in his hand like he knew how to use it. The bright green mask, and the horse he sat astride, identified him as the notorious Captain Fortune, a bushranger who had been plaguing the roads out of the diggings for some time now.

Despite the presence of the weapon, it was always the horse that drew people’s attention. Tall and rangy, it was bone white, it had rolling red eyes, and even though it was summer, and the sun beat down, making the road ahead shimmer, steam seemed to come from the creature’s nostrils, as it snorted and danced restlessly across the dirt track.

An irritated and insistent rapping came from inside the carriage, and very soon a florid, sweating face, surrounded by an impressive set of white whiskers appeared out the window, and barked, “See here, driver! What the deuce is going on? Get this carriage moving again, now! I have urgent business in Melbourne.”

Fortune’s eyes twinkled behind his mask. He patted the horse and nudged it towards the occupant of the carriage. “Top o’ the mornin’ to ye!” the bushranger greeted the red faced businessman in an unmistakably Irish accent. “I’ll be havin’ that cane o’ yers fer starters. Nice shiny gold top it’s got.” And he snatched the expensive walking stick from out of the shocked man’s pudgy hand. “Now, your money or your life,” he said still in the same avuncular, conversational tone, and he placed the barrel of his gun under the man’s nose.

‘Ladies,” Fortune said, tipping his hat at the two women in the carriage, as the man divested himself of all his valuables, and dropped them in a bag that the bushranger held out. The horse turned it’s head towards the driver and snorted warningly. Fortune swung the revolver around lazily. “Now, ye don’t want to be a hero, son,” he advised. “Ye’ve already got five holes in yer head. I wouldn’t want to add another one.”

The man gulped and his hand strayed from the rifle he had been reaching for, back to the reins.

“That’s a good boy,” Fortune crooned. “I am sorry ladies, but I’ll need yer jewelry as well. Nothin’ personal, ye understand, it’s just how we bushrangers work.”

The iron haired matron in the carriage pressed back against the leather interior, and her mouth opened and closed, but she did as she was bid. The other occupant, a young woman with a peaches and cream complexion, and hair the colour of the gold that the miners all broke their backs searching for, seemed almost amused by the robbery. She smiled as she removed her jewelry, and dropped it into the waiting sack.

Fortune’s eyes challenged her. “I may have to steal a kiss as well,” he said, before standing up in his stirrups, leaning forward and kissing the blonde lady on the lips. She fell back on the seat, tongue licking the just kissed lips, nose twitching at the smell of tobacco and sweat, the feel of the bushranger’s red whiskers still tickling her soft cheek. “I can die a happy man, lass,” Fortune said, turning his mount back to the front of the carriage.

The driver sweated, and gulped as the bushranger looked up at him. “The gold,’ Fortune said in a flat voice, his eyes hard behind their mask.

“Ggold,” the man repeated, a bead of sweat sliding out from beneath his cap, and cutting a clear channel down one dusty cheek.

Fortune sighed. “I know ye’ve got it, so why don’t ye save us all some time and bother, and simply hand it over, then ye can be on yer way.”


“Ye know, Phantom,” Liam O’Shaughnessy said, as he swung down out of the saddle, and began to unload the horse. “This bush ranging gets easier and easier each an’ every time I do it. A man could get to like this life.”

Although at a height 3 feet, five inches, an enviably luxurious fiery beard, and an Irish brogue so thick you could cut it, Liam O’Shaughnessy matched the descriptions victims had given of Captain Fortune, not a person in the diggings ever suspected him. Leprechauns just didn’t do that sort of thing.

March 21, 2015, 12:41:22 AM
Re: [Mar 2015] - Rogues - Submission Thread Finally got around to finishing this, just in time for the deadline. It's distinctly lacking in bicycles though.

Anyway, coming in at 1499 words, here's The 7 Tenets of Rogueishness.

Spoiler for Hiden:
“So what are the 7 Tenets, anyway?”

Darin lowered his spyglass and turned to his apprentice. “What?”

“The 7 Tenets.” Yura sat by the door, fiddling absentmindedly with a switchknife. “You keep mentioning them, but
I don’t think you’ve ever actually explained them to me.”

“Hmm. I guess not.” Darin raised his spyglass again and peered out the window.

Yura waited for his mentor to continue. He didn’t.

“So what are they?”

“They’re a bunch of tenets.” Darin said, helpfully. “And there are 7 of them.”

“I’d guessed that much.”

Darin sighed.

“If you really must know, they’re seven guidelines for rogues to follow” he explained. “They separate the lovable scoundrels from the common cutthroats. Originally they were called the 7 Tenets of Rogueishness but it got shortened because everyone kept mocking the word ‘rogueishness’.

“I was going to say,” Yura smirked slightly, “I’m pretty sure that’s not a real word. Also, since when have you been described as ‘lovable’?”

A low chuckle erupted from the older man’s lips. “Hey, I’m plenty lovable, kid. I’ve done things with women that would make a contortionist jealous.”

“Sure you have. Anyway, can you name me one of the Tenets?”

Darin blinked. “You’d rather talk about those stuffy rules than my sexual escapades?”

“Good Goddess, yes.” Yura shuddered. “I do not want the thought of you having sex swimming around in my head while we’re doing this.”

Darin gave an embarrassed cough. “Sure, whatever. Now, the first tenet is simple and important. Do not follow any tenet if doing so puts your life or prize at risk.”

“Makes sense.” Yura nodded. “Nobody would follow them otherwise. That’s a good first rule. What’s the second?”

“Always have a good line at the ready.”

 “…..Not quite as impressive.”

“It’s a matter of appearances.” Darin said. “If you break into a house, murder the guards and steal anything not nailed down, you get labelled as a brutal thug. But if you leave with a one-liner and a twinkling smile, suddenly you become a charming gentleman thief.”

“Even though I know donkeys more gentlemanly than you.”

“Exactly.” Darin nodded. “Now Tenet 3 is another obvious one. Always have a plan.” He suddenly spied something in his eyeglass. “Speaking of, I think it’s time to put ours into motion…”

Kere unbolted the backdoor and heaved the bucket of scraps behind her. She looked at the largely edible food and sighed. Duke Weston was wasteful enough on a normal day, but when he was throwing a party….. This bucket alone could probably feed a family for a week. And now it would feed the worms. Unless she did something about it.

Kere glanced from side to side. Then she rounded a corner to where a small crowd of beggars waited. Most were children whose eyes lit up at the sight of her. She smiled.

“Extra today.”

As the beggars greedily fell upon the scraps, Kere turned to leave. Her presence would soon be missed at the manor.

“Excuse me miss?” A reedy voice said behind her. “I want to give you my thanks.”

“It’s nothi-mmph!” Kere felt a hankerchief press firmly against her mouth. Hands grabbed her and an
overpowering sweet smell dulled her senses. She struggled for a few seconds before going limp in Darin’s arms as he dragged her body around the corner. The beggars didn’t notice what had occurred.

“This stuff is delicious.” Yura said, chewing on one of the leftovers. “How can people throw good food out?”

“It’s easy to waste when you have too much.” Darin said, stripping off his beggars robes to reveal the immaculate servant’s outfit beneath. “That’s why we’re here to alleviate that problem.”

“Whatever. Seriously, try these pastries.” Yura said, offering the bread to his mentor. “They’re fantastic.”

“You know I don’t eat on the job.” Darin sighed. Then he paused. “Put it in my bag. I’ll eat it once we’re done. Now help me hide this servant girl.”

“I don’t get why we just can’t slit her throat and be done with it.” Yura said. “That paralysing potion isn’t cheap.”

“Tenet 5, kid.” Darin shrugged. “Don’t unnecessarily harm women or children.”

“What happened to Tenet 4?”

“I’ll tell you it later. Now give me a hand.”

Yura sighed and helped dump Kere behind a bin. “5 is stupid. Women and children can be just as dangerous as men. Like Countess Jessica.”

Darin visibly flinched. “Please don’t use the J-word around me.”

Yura couldn’t hide his grin. “Sorry. Forgot you two had a history.”

Darin scowled. “Jessica’s not a woman anyway. She’s a demon in human skin.”

“Was that what you told her when you were dating?” Yura chuckled. “No wonder she tried to decapitate you.”

“Can we stop talking about that bitch now?” Darin neatened up his servants outfit. “I’d be perfectly happy never seeing her again.”

“I can’t believe Jessica was at the party!” Darin desperately slammed the door behind him and began making a makeshift barricade. The shout of guards could be heard getting closer. “Shouldn’t she be eating puppies somewhere?”

“What do we do??” Panic had set in on Yura’s face. “Every guard in the manor is going to be knocking on that door in a second! If you give back the Amber Ruby-”

“Our prize?” Darin smirked. He jogged to the other end of the room where a large portrait of Duke Weston hung. “You’re forgetting Tenet 4.”

“You never told me Tenet 4.”

“Remember Tenet 3?”

“Always have a plan.”

“Well, Tenet 4 is ‘Always be prepared for that plan to go to shit. There’s a reason we ran in here after Jessica spotted us.”

Ignoring the guards banging at the door, Darin tore down the picture frame. Behind it, at the very top of the wall, was a small window. Yura’s jaw dropped.

“I’ll never doubt you again.”

Darin grinned. “Liar. Now, give me a leg up.”

“Got it.” Yura nodded. He helped the older man up and through the narrow window. “Okay, now you pull me through.”

Darin looked at Yura. Then he looked to the door, where the guards had nearly broken the door down. There wasn’t time for both to escape.

“Sorry kid.” He shrugged. “No need for two to be caught when one will suffice. That’s Tenet 6.”

And with that, he took off running down the street, Yura’s screams ringing in his ears.

An hour later and Darin was back at one of his hideouts, the only one Yura didn’t know of. It was a shame about the kid. Darin had liked him. Maybe he’d go into town the next day and tip his hat at the head on display. He probably wouldn’t. Darin knew that for all the posturing about rogues being gentlemen, they were still as every bit as heartless as any other criminal.

But enough reminiscing. It was time to admire his prize.

Darin opened his pouch and fished out a huge, glimmering ruby. It was the prize of Duke Weston’s collection and worth a small castle to the right buyer. Darin stared at the ruby for a few minutes, enraptured by its beauty, before noticing something else in his pouch.

It was a small pastry.

“I suppose this will do as a makeshift toast.” Darin said, taking a bite of the surprisingly sweet bread. “To your memory, Yura.”

That was when Darin felt his arm stiffening up. Within seconds, his body had gone completely limp and it was all the rogue could do to stay sitting up.

“About time.” A voice said. “I thought you’d never eat that damn thing.”

Barely able to turn his head, Darin saw Yura walking towards him, a grin plastered across his face.

“Paralysing potion’s a bitch, isn’t it?” Yura said. “Good thing you don’t eat during a job. Speaking of, I’ll be taking that.”

He snatched the ruby from Darin’s palm, the older man helpless to stop him.

“I’ll admit, you impressed me with that window trick.” Yura said. “Jessica too. I was working with her all along, you know. The original plan was for her to catch us at the party. She’d curry favour with Weston and get to kill you, before vouching for me. Although that last bit happened anyway. The pastry was just my own little Tenet 4. But now, we’ll just get credit for retrieving Weston’s ruby instead.” He paused. “Or at least, we would if I hadn’t received a much better offer for the ruby from a Duke Alegard. Enough to buy my own castle. I don’t think Jessica will be too angry though. Before I left, I slipped her a note telling her about you and ‘the only hideout I don’t know about’. Her men should probably be here within the hour. I don’t envy your fate. You wouldn’t envy mine.”

Beneath his paralysed face, Darin shot Yura a hateful glare. The younger rogue smiled.

“Don’t get angry at me, Darin. You’re the one who forgot Tenet 7. Never trust anyone.”

March 29, 2015, 09:48:25 PM
Re: Bear in Sheep's Genre
But can't people looking for sword and sorcery just look under the "sword and sorcery" subgenre...?

I don't consider swords and sorcery to be a sub-genre of Fantasy, they are the genre.

Start spending $2.00 a click for ad space and you might find yourself a little less willing to share a genre.

See, this is your problem. S&S is not Epic Fantasy. S&S is not Dark Fantasy. S&S is not Urban Fantasy, but they're all encompassed under the same title. Thus, it is a sub-genre. Fantasy denotes "the Fantastical." If that happens to involve a little love with a bear, so be it. The market is bloated with genre-defying monstrosities (especially in the ebook market), and yes, it does get a bit taxing when paranormal romance gets all the love. But you need to remember, it's still a part of the Fantasy spectrum.

You're paying money for ad space that I can assure you won't compete with a brand spanking new Starz "original" series (Outlander). Which strikes me funny because it's obviously Science Fiction, not Fantasy but eh.

But all in all, cordoning off "Romantic Fantasy with a Bear" will get you nowhere. People are still going to buy it. Does having #1 on a chart of some off the wall sub-genre matter at the end of the day? No. People buying your book matters. This is called competition. Genre labeling should not matter in marketing, only through personal reviews and recommendation, but that's an entirely different debate.
You are right, I submit to defeat. I guess the Fantasy I grew up with is dead. I was named after Conan the Barbarian so I guess I am biased. If you can't beat em, join em.
My next protagonist will be a ninja-kitten.
Instant bestseller.  :P

March 30, 2015, 06:54:15 PM
Re: Bear in Sheep's Genre I already said uncle. You do not need to kick me when I have already admitted defeat.
And I'm not a snob, I like romance too.
I love all literature.

March 30, 2015, 07:35:28 PM
Re: [Mar 2015] - Rogues - Submission Thread Here's mine for the month, coming in at 1498 words including title.  There is some mild and brief language. 

Spoiler for Hiden:
A Quiet Night at the Empty Barrels

Palos propped up the bar in the same place he had occupied for the past two weeks.  Sprawled on his stool, languishing in the depths of his seventh tankard of the day, the habitual drivel spewed from his lips.

“It should be me getting married.”

Outwardly, Matthau did not care how much the lout drank, how loud he got, how obnoxiously repetitive he was becoming.  Despite his destitute, decrepit appearance, the man’s sovereigns still glinted even in the gloom of the Empty Barrels.  With lank, greasy hair, heavy circles under his dull green eyes and a pervading reek of vomit and alcohol, he had never seemed the type to have any money to spend.  Yet Palos had paid upfront for Matthau’s best room for the whole month along with the promise of copious patronage and more to follow so he kept his opinions quiet. 

Today Palos’ audience was a solitary, foolish young pickpocket flush with the success of stealing a handful of clinks from some poor sod.  Already Matthau’s remaining regulars had shuffled away before Palos could begin in earnest.  He just wished he had the same luxury. 


Matthau bit bark a retort and braced himself.  At first he had not cared if Palos talked all evening.  To begin with his mad rants had even proven amusing and almost lucrative.  But as the nights went on, the tale had grown stale and had started to drive away business.  A few more days like this and he would have to change the name of the place to just the Empty Barrel and lose his reputation of being able to read a crowd and sell out by the end of the day. 

“We were adventurers.  Lord Aralus and I.  Before all this.”

Arms waving effusively, Palos sloshed ale onto the perpetually sodden straw carpeting the floor around him.  Too full and cheap wine and cheaper beer, the boy looked rapt. 

“Twins too.  Two sides of the same . . . the same coin!”

The groan escaped before Matthau could stop it.  The only resemblance between this pathetic drunk and the confident, cultured Lord Aralus, soon to be the Count of Five Rivers, lay in the genitalia.  Palos just glared at him, tankard thrust forward.

And perhaps the eyes, he thought as he refilled the mug from the half-empty barrel.  And still the first one at that. 

“What happened?”

“It was the last Count who hired us.  No!  The Countess’ uncle.  Her uncle, yes.  The Count had just died, hadn’t he?  She’d gone missing.  Kidnapped.  Kidnapped and forced into marrying some wizened duke or other.  We were promised riches!  Glory!  But the bastard betrayed me.  Now all I got is rags and piss-poor ale.”

At the rear of the tavern another customer slunk away.  True, the man was new, had only ordered a couple of quarts over a couple of consecutive nights, but Matthau could hardly be particular any more.  If it weren’t for the coin, the temptation to kick Palos into the street would have been unbearable.  Instead he just had the fantasy to sustain him.
“But if you’re brothers, why not go see him?  Even if he betrayed you once, surely Lord Aralus will help you now?”

“Because if they’re related, I’m the bloody Queen!”

Palos ignored the shout from the back of the tavern.

“I did.  The moment I heard about the wedding, I came straight here.  But he won’t see me.  He’s too busy for his brother.  Thinks I’ll go away if he ignores me.  But he owes me.  You see it, don’t you?  He owes me.”


By the end of the night only Palos remained and the day’s second barrel was barely finished.  A poor day’s business and Matthau still had the customary task of shifting Palos up the stairs to enjoy.  At least the nonsense had ceased, the man’s eyes wide and staring, his mouth hanging agape and blessedly silent.  Even the young cutpurse had finally grown tired of the ludicrous stories of hidden vaults and haunted forests and been driven out into the darkness. 

“Do I have to drag you off again?” he said, putting as much venom into the question as he dared. 

“Count to fifty, follow me up to my room and listen.  You might learn something.”

Matthau started.  Gone was the drunkard.  Each word was carefully enunciated with none of the weary slurs that had coloured Palos’ every syllable.  As he straightened, Matthau saw a gleam deep within his eyes.  It altered the whole complexion of his face, drawing away some of the haggard lines and he started to wonder. 

Without waiting for any acknowledgement, Palos glided to his feet and walked away.  No staggering, no stumbling, he merely left. 

His mind worked frantically, searching for some sign, anything he might have missed.  Normally he boasted he could spot a drunk at a hundred paces, or hear a liar in the midst of a screaming mob.  He prided himself of seeing inside someone in an instant.  He relied on it.  Yet somehow he had been duped.  Curiosity and annoyance scratched at him with questioning claws.
How long had it been?  He hadn’t been counting.  Cursing under his breath, he all but ran for the stairs, taking them three at a time until he reached Palos’ door.  He pressed his ear against the rough wood.

“ . . . spotted your spy.  I’d never have thought you’d resort to hiring an amateur.”

Even muffled he recognised Palos’ new voice.  But who was in there with him?  No other guests were staying tonight, all the other customers were long gone and this was the securest room in the damned place.  No windows, one door and one key.  And a barkeep whose reputation spoke for itself.  No disreputables ever escaped his discerning eyes. 

“What do you want?”

The voice was smooth and educated.  Matthau’s mind leapt to a conclusion inconceivable mere minutes before.
“You owe me, brother.”

Lord Aralus gave a hard bark of laughter.

“Jealous?  You had the choice, Palos.  You made it so live with it.  If you’ve spent all your wealth, that’s your problem and none of mine.”

“You tricked me.  She should be mine.  You stole my choice and stole her.  You know she – ”

“She saw the truth of you when you chose gold over her.  Anything you think she might have felt disappeared after that.  And besides, this should all be mine by right.  I am the eldest after all.”

“Only by the width of a womb.”

“Even so.”

“And I know you tricked her too.  You must have done.  Agnesa deserves her own choice, not your twisting truths.”

Lord Aralus sighed. 

“I came here as you wanted.  I talked as you wanted but I see you can’t be spoken to.  As usual.  Now, are you going to leave quietly or am I going to have to teach you another lesson?”

For a moment there was nothing.  Matthau’s knees ached and his ear itched.  His sluggish brain was still trying to extract sense from the conversation when the unmistakeable sounds of a struggle erupted.  Wood scraped.  The wet thud of flesh on flesh.  A few ragged gasps.  And the sudden pounding of his heartbeat in his ears as silence fell.

Something was dragged along the floor, the vibrations shuddering up his legs and then quiet.  Someone shuffled inside, careful and unhurried.  He strained to hear as time dragged by.  The door was wrenched open and he pitched forward, unable to do anything to disguise his eavesdropping.  He blinked at the leather shoes before his eyes and stared up at the silken, white hose and shimmering doublet hemmed in gold thread.  Each finger of the man’s hands was adorned with a silver ring that flickered in the corridor’s faint candlelight.  Stern eyes glowered down at him. 

“You might want to clean up the mess.”

“Of course, my lord,” he said, moving to survey the grim scene.
Palos lay spread-eagled on the bed.  A smear along the floorboards marked his passage.  Blood was rapidly soaking the sheets and the air hung thick with the stench of it.  It made him want to gag. 

Without another word, Lord Aralus left. 

Matthau got straight to his task.  If word ever spread about what had happened in this room, he would be ruined.  He would never be able to rent it out again.  Not to any of his regulars anyway. 

And if he noticed that Palos’ body lacked some of its ordinary grime and had gained a few marks around the fingers where rings might once have rested, who was he to argue?  And if there happened to be a bag or two of sovereigns secreted around the room, who was he to say to whom they belonged?  Certainly the dead had no further use of them and Lord Aralus had laid no claim.

Like a lord, a barkeep understood the value of silence. 

March 30, 2015, 09:54:19 PM