Flash Fantasy No 4: Non-Epic tales of other lands

Jepeth's people believed that dressing in bright colours prevented a dragon noticing you. Jepeth's people fared badly in matters of common sense. And they had never won a pub quiz.

Japeth’s people believed that dressing in bright colours prevented a dragon noticing you. Japeth’s people fared badly in matters of common sense. And they had never won a pub quiz.

The whole of the Mynrii Valley stretched out before Japeth, a child’s patchwork blanket, rumpled but still scattered with toy farms and houses. At the North end of the valley grew the foothills of the Gormir mountains, twin ranges to the edifices that Japeth was resting on. The difference was that the Gormir mountains held the Dragonryder academy, and the bustling trade and government centre that flourished thanks to the ease of transport a-dragonback. Messages or cargo could be flown across the land faster than the fleetest vessel on the seas, and they could reach a mountain stronghold as easily as a lowland farm.

Japeth tore his gaze away and turned back to the goat-track that he had been following for the last three hours. It was easier to find now the sun was above the horizon, but that meant he had less time to achieve his goal. He must reach the caves before noon. The urgency wasn’t just down to his impatience. There was no academy on these mountains, the grim and forbidding Hagomir Peaks. No government centre would be built here, for this range held the breeding colonies for the giant beasts themselves. Breeding dragons in captivity had never succeeded, so each year a group of specially trained boys would leave the academy and make the hazardous climb up the Hagomir peaks. If they had studied hard and proved themselves worthy, they would join with a young dragon and begin a new life as dragonryders. If they failed…Well, then they would be missed by their mothers, Japeth supposed. His own mother hadn’t even noticed he was gone, he was certain. Mareth had seven children, with Japeth buried in the middle so firmly that they had three times missed his birthday, and once given his prized hide jacket to a cousin, believing it to belong to an older brother who had outgrown it.

“They’ll see,” muttered Japeth, as his second-hand boots clung to the goat-trail and his hands grabbed at craw-grass to aid his uphill climb, “they’ll remember my name when I fly down out of the sun on my own dragon and burn the damn barn to cinders!”

Brindmir, Japeth’s younger sister, had learned of his plan and tried to talk him out of it. Though he loved her best of all his siblings, Japeth had become enraged when Brindmir would not accept that he stood a chance of taming a wild dragon.

“It’s my destiny!” he had shouted, and heard the echo rebound from the mountains beyond their farm. Surely that was a sign? Brindmir had crossed her arms and wrinkled her nose in a pose that looked so much like their mother he had felt momentarily ashamed of himself. She sniffed and he scowled.

“What do they learn, those boys up at the academy? What’s the first thing they learn when they arrive at that place?”

Japeth shrugged.

“Well, I dunno, do I? Never been.”

“So there you have it Japeth! You don’t know THE FIRST THING about taming a dragon. It’s foolishness.”

And she had flounced away. Maybe if she had called him stupid, he might have reconsidered. But “foolishness” was a word their mother used all too often in connection with the things that Japeth loved, and to hear it from his sister goaded him beyond reason. He had gone straight to the kitchen and packed some provisions for his climb, then begun the ascent in the darkness before dawn, trusting his uncanny night vision to keep from tumbling down the mountainside to his doom.

Drenched in sweat, he reached the first of the den-caves when the sun was still around an hour from its zenith. He plunged without hesitation into the nearest den, barely noticing the cooling of his damp shirt as he stepped out of the sunshine. He closed his eyes and counted to ten, restoring the night vision he would need because he hadn’t thought to bring a light with him.

The cave was narrow near the opening, though still reaching to more than twice his height. The edges of the opening had been scoured smooth by generations of dragonhide pushing past. Tiny bones clicked and cracked under Japeth’s feet, regurgitated remains of meals long past. The air was cooler than outside, but there was a warmth to it that put Japeth in mind of the stables at home – the air had already been breathed once or twice by larger lungs than his. A dry rustling sounded from ahead, just around a curve in the cave wall, and Japeth hurried forward eagerly. His destiny was so close now! The final answer to all those indignities and injustices! He would show them all!

The dragon was still sitting in the remains of its egg, though it looked to have hatched several months ago. Already ten feet from nose to tail, the scales had hardened enough to scrape sparks from the floor when it lurched forward towards Japeth. He stopped as if running into a wall, and the dragon pulled up too. It cocked its head quizzically at him, as if trying to understand why he was there, and who he was.

For the first time, Japeth began to appreciate the scale of a dragon. Not the hide, but the size in relation to himself. He had seen dozens, but always wheeling and circling overhead. He’d never actually seen one up close. This one was huge, each tooth the length of his hands, and with a jaw wide enough to fit in his whole head! The nostrils flared and contracted, and Japeth felt the air around him drawn in to the mighty head. It was sniffing him!

He couldn’t help feeling a flicker of hope. This was it! This was the moment when the dragon would recognise him, when it and he would join together for life… Wasn’t it? Japeth was suddenly acutely aware that he didn’t actually, when you got right down to it, know how that actually happened. Was it really a mystical thing, or was it more like old Barker at home, training the dogs to obey by feeding them treats at the right time? Should he, perhaps, have brought some kind of treat for the dragon?

A silvery tongue was flickering in and out of the huge mouth now, weaving amongst the fangs like a sentient thing. One clawed foot rose, wavered, and came down again, closer to Japeth. A second rose…The thing was coming towards him! This was, clearly, a very, very bad idea…..But Japeth could not bring himself to turn his back on the dragon. He tried to take a hesitant step backwards, but his feet would not move.

Then, miraculously, the dragon ahead of him stopped moving forward! It lowered its head, laying one cheek on the floor. This was a sign of submission! Japeth was elated, his dreams were coming true at last. The dragon was submitting to him as its master. But his cowardly feet would no more move forward than they would retreat before. And there was a new sound, he realised. A heavy, crunching sound that…was…coming…from…behind…him.

He didn’t need to turn. The great head of the mother dragon slid silently across the roof of the cave above him. It was to this presence that the young dragon had been submitting. The mother made a deep booming noise in her throat and the young dragon gave a surprisingly light chirrup in response, rolling back to its feet and reaching up its long neck to caress the huge jawbone of the mother with its own headcrest. When the crashing noise of their greeting was done, both heads swung to look at Japeth.

“That moment,” he thought, “just then when they were looking at each other. That was when I should have made a dash for the way out.” The heads slid towards him as if on rails and his terror finally communicated itself to his feet who moved at last but too slowly…

The mother watched her child feeding with pride. It wasn’t often that food delivered itself to the mountain. She couldn’t help feeling there was something special about this one.

The Flash Fantasy Project 3: non-epic tales of other lands

mega castle part two

Brin stepped out into the light at last. Here, in the one area of the hall where sunlight fell, no one could miss him. His mane of golden hair seemed to blaze in the last rays of daylight and he towered over the nearest goblins.

They shrank back, hissing, as they recognised their master’s mortal foe. Grimnok himself, however, seemed unsurprised by Brin’s appearance.

“Ah, Brin. The Chosen One himself honours us with his presence.”

Grimnok’s eyes flickered over the dark corners of his hall, and the cowering ranks of goblins.

“If we’d known you were coming, we might have made more of an effort.”

Brin stood tall in the face of the dark one’s sarcasm.

“You don’t scare me anymore, Grimnok. I’ve read the prophecy, and I know what it means. You can’t kill me, and if you can’t kill me then this war is over. No one else needs to die. I’ve come here to prevent any more bloodshed. It’s over. Get out, and leave Nimeria in peace!”

Grimnok stroked his thin beard as he looked at Brin. The boy had grown in his time with the Wizards of Nimeria, there was no denying it. And he had found out the truth of the prophecy. It was possible that this changed things, that his plan to crush the Nimerian resistance forever was, in fact, doomed to fail.

“Well Brin, I’m glad you read the prophecy. Reading is good for you, it broadens the mind. And it’s true, the Sage did foresee that the Wizard’s meddling spells would prevent me from killing you.”

Everyone in the hall saw Brin’s shoulders drop a little, as if he had let out a breath he had been holding. But surely even a great hero like the Chosen One would not come into the hall of his greatest enemy while uncertain of his own protection? Grimnok smiled and gave a carefree wave of his hand.

“Certainly, it’s possible that you have me at a disadvantage. Not being able to kill you myself DOES put a crimp in my plans. However, if you’ll indulge me, there is a little something I’d like to try before surrendering.”

This time he waved his other hand and a third of the goblin horde drew bows from under their tattered cloaks and fired.

For a second, Brin resembled a rearing hedgehog, but then his knees gave way and he crashed to the floor, a human pincushion.

“Thought so.” muttered Grimnok. “Arkleblog? Begin the invasion, would you? I’ll be in my study.”

 

The LazyBee Scripts newsletter for January 2015

I don’t have any scripts mentioned in this newsletter, because the new writing is still underway, but there are some great plays, sketches and musical pieces to be found here.

From LazyBee Scripts:

As ever, almost everything from this newsletter (and much more) can be found via the Lazy Bee Scripts web site.

This time, because I’ve been promising them for a while, I’ll start with the new murder mysteries…

Murder Mysteries

Murder Mysteries – the interactive ones, where the audience has to work out whodunnit – are responsible for one of the complexities of the web site.  Because some groups run these competitively, with prizes for the best solution from the audience, we don’t display the scripts on-line (we have tasters instead), and they have their own section of the site.  We’ve recently added:-

  • Murder in Hollywood by Giles Black, a scripted scene (on a film set), leading to a murder, followed by audience interrogation of the suspects, plus a smattering of written clues.
  • Let Sleeping Frogs Die, a fully-scripted murder mystery by Patricia G., which still challenges the audience to work out who killed the wealthy victim, Monsieur le Comte d’Avignon.
  • Following the same pattern, Roger Lee’s Death at the Shangri-La is fully scripted.  (It has a core cast of 9 plus three optional roles, with multiple versions of the script to accommodate the different cast sizes.)
  • After the scripted section of Joanne Mercer’s Murder at Rancho Mucho Denaros the audience have the opportunity to interrogate the suspects, and the murder mystery pack even includes a special currency to allow the audience to bribe the cast into revealing additional information!

 

Musicals, Musical Plays and Plays with Music

  • The Wicked Witch & The Magic Shop by William Arnold Ashbrook is a large-cast family show with original songs and opportunities for audience participation (therefore occupying a theatrical space close to British Pantomime).
  • We already have several treatments of Aesop stories on our books, but we felt that Peter Nuttall’s Aesop’s Famous Fables and Twisted Tales was sufficiently different.  It’s intended for performance by children or by adults to an audience of children, and ends with an audience participation song, which should be tremendous fun for small children.
  • Nicholas Richards is a teacher (of languages, I think, but specialising in classics).  He was looking for a treatment of The Labours Of Heracles and couldn’t find one, so wrote his own as a comedy play with four (optional) songs.  Intended for school productions from Year 6 (US Grade 5) upwards.
  • Martin R.  Collin manages to tell a sentimental story about an inspirational and much-loved teacher without straying into mawkishness.  I Love You When It’s Raining, Roy G Biv is a one-act play with suggestions for a couple of public domain songs.
  • It may be a little late to say It’s Christmas Time!, but Sharon Stace-Smith’s musical nativity play (with scores for 9 songs and 8 pieces of incidental music) will still be available at the end of the year.

 

Plays for Schools and Youth Theatre

  • We start with a light comedy for kids in the form of Anything You Say, Your Majesty by Geoff Bamber, in which a queen wishes to be featured in a celebrity gossip magazine, and the queen’s word is law…
  • Sarah Brown gives a knowing treatment of a school class trying to get to grips with the English and Drama syllabus in Shakespeare – It’s All Greek To Me!
  • Opening Doors by Keith Badham is an ensemble piece for a youth theatre company (28 roles played by a minimum of 10 actors).  It’s intended for a aimple set with just one prop: a free-standing doorway.
  • The award-winning Call To Duty by Nettie Baskcomb Brown is an even more multi-layered piece, taking the characters through drama rehearsals and console games into a recreation of the trenches of the First World War.

 

Pantomimes

  • We’ve published two new pantomimes by Luke Reilly, both on themes that are not so common in the pantomime canon.  There’s The Princess and the Pea, built around the Hans Christian Andersen story and Hickory Dickory Dock, a completely original story, created around some familiar nursery rhyme characters and a wicked spider.  A good choice for companies who have already worked through the usual pantomime stories.
  • Peter Pan occupies a unique position in British copyright law, so that we pay half the author’s royalties to Great Ormond Street Hospital on all our derivatives of J M Barrie’s story.  The latest one is Peter Pan – A Pantomime by Stephen and Rachel Humphreys – the usual lost boys, pirates and mermaids, but given a pantomime twist with Smee becoming Mrs Smee, Captain Hook’s Nanny.
  • Bob Tucker’s outlaw story is not the usual family show.  Robin Hood – An Investigation Into His Life And Times is a short, risqué sort of British panto, something of a parody of the genre, rather than a straight retelling of the story.

 

Full-Length Plays

  • Geoff Bamber has a long (and, he assures me, distinguished) history as a member of a pub quiz team.  Some of this experience has been brought into Quizzers, a farce set in the study where Keith Smedley is trying to prepare for just such a quiz.  (4M, 4F)
  • As you might expect from the title, The Prisoners’ Dilemma by Matthew Lynch is set in a cell where a group of strangers are incarcerated for reasons they cannot comprehend…  (3M, 3F, 4 either)
  • Maverick Cop by Paul John Matthews is a comedy caper in which the police force, baffled by a series of murders, decide to recall a rule-breaking detective.  His individual approach is somewhat reminiscent of Inspector Clouseau.  (6M, 5F)
  • Ethan Bortman’s thriller Obvious Guilt opens in a living room where there is plenty of evidence of a crime, but no body…  (A minimum of 4M, 2F)
  • Michael Baulch has created a full-length play from Jane Austen’s Emma.  A well-thought-out staging has three locations created by redressing a single interior set.  (5M, 6F)
  • The Horrific Case Of Mr Valdemar is a story by Edgar Allen Poe, brought to the stage in suitably melodramatic fashion by Richard Layton.  (2M, 1F)

 

One-Act Plays

  • Richard Coleman has embarked on a series of comic verse plays that rearrange familiar stories.  The first of these is Scrooge’s Scruples which gives a major twist to Dickens’ A Christmas Carol to show Scrooge as a determined do-gooder.  (A minimum cast of 16.)
  • It’s difficult to classify The Dial Conspiracy by Bob Tucker.  It’s a sort of comedy-farce-crime-caper, set in a remote hotel where weird and wonderful stratagems are used by a succession of unlikely characters vying with National Security officers.  (A cast of 12, of whom at least 4M, 2F)
  • Set on David’s birthday, Fifty! by Archie Wilson is more definitely a farce.  A surprise birthday party thrown by the wife and daughter and interrupted by the mistress.  (5M, 6F)
  • The Pagan Priests by Jim Pinnock is a farce for a cast of 7 (5M, 2F), set, unusually, in a church sacristy where the Bishop’s attempts to overhaul the management of a parish go drastically off the rails.
  • We’ve published two new one-act comedy plays by Cheryl Barrett, both developed from her own shorter plays.  A Matter Of Health and Safety (3M, 4F) is set at a village fete whilst You’ll Suit Just Fine (3M, 1F) is set in a small menswear shop, where Kevin, the new trainee, is trying to come to grips with customer service.
  • A couple with a history of neighbour disputes throw a dinner party in their new home.  What could possibly go wrong?  Find out as John Peel offers the chance to Meet The Neighbours (1M, 4F)
  • Robin Wilson’s Minutes By Air is a short light comedy for a cast of 2M, 3F, set in a meeting awaiting a crucial participant.
  • A different sort of meeting is the focus of Stephen Mercer’s comedy The Coven’s Convention, where the planning of a village fete is thrown off course by the enthusiasm of a new member.  (3M, 5F)
  • In Impatience and Improbability, Nic Dawson performs a neat comedic trick of intertwining 19th century manners with the present day.  It’s set in the gardens of a modern hotel which is running a Jane Austen-themed weekend.  (4M, 4F)
  • Moving from the comedy and on to the drama, Father’s Day by Allan Williams sees an old soldier visited by a young man investigating a gas leak.  Neither is entirely what the other expects.  (2M, 1F)
  • Guernica Goodbye, an award-winning play by William Campbell is a powerful drama in which Spanish refugees living in Chartres find themselves once again embroiled in conflict in the aftermath of the Second World War.  (2M, 1F)
  • Peter Appleton’s Sweet Dreams is a twisted psychological drama, verging on the melodramatic.  Anne has trouble telling reality from her dreams.  Is her fiancé alive or dead?  Is her father helping her, or holding her prisoner?  Can she even trust her oldest friend?  (3M, 2F)
  • All in the Past by Wendy Ash is a revenge drama in which Trevor renews his acquaintance with the men who bullied him years ago when they were all at school.  (3M, 1F)
  • Whilst there are two speaking roles, and a couple of silent dancers in Remember Scarborough by James Baynes, almost all the weight falls on the old man, waiting for his daughter on a park bench, poignantly reminiscing about the Second World War, his best friend and his wife.  (2M, 2F)
  • I saw the Sky Blue Theatre production of Frank Canino’s Nightwalking as part of the Cambridge Theatre Challenge winners’ showcase, and I was knocked-out by it.  A chamber theatre piece – black-box set, with a stepladder as the sole piece of furniture.  The actors communicate through interior monologues and movement.  (1M, 2F)
  • Jennifer Marie Sancho’s Politically Correct was the runner-up in the same competition.  Her drama is set in the ‘common room’ of an asylum where four inmates plan an escape.  And what a collection of rebels – Jane Austen, Margaret Thatcher, Emmeline Pankhurst and Florence Nightingale!  (1M, 4F)
  • The third of the Cambridge Theatre Challenge finalists (in our one act category – there are a couple more amongst the shorter plays) is A Darker Shade Of Closure by Richard Charles.  It’s a thriller set in an apartment where Tina is in a tight spot, blackmailed over her behaviour.  (1M, 2F)
  • Cold Blooded Killer by Geoff Rose-Michael is another award winner, this time of the new writing award from the 2013 Leatherhead Drama Festival.  A thriller that starts with a break-in at the home of the recently widowed Jack and leads to a shocking conclusion.  (Cast of three, of whom 1M, 1F)

 

Sketches, Skits and Short Plays

  • Continuing with the Cambridge Theatre Challenge finalists, we’ve published Brian Coyle’s The Proposition in which Alan has been picked up, but not for the purposes he first assumed.  Leo and Laila have something different in mind – it’s disturbing, but it’s all about art…  (2M, 1F)
  • The last of our CTC finalists (in this set) was Ashley Harris with Baking Bread, set on a park bench by a lake, where Bella is waiting to meet John.  (3M, 1F)
  • Croft & Barnett introduce us to Dr Death, a comedy sketch for 2M, set in the surgery of a doctor with a rather unusual approach to pain.
  • We’ve published a new pair of shorts from Jonathan Edgington.  The Slim Blonde Beauty is a romantic comedy inspired by a short personal ad in a free newspaper (2M, 4F).  She Came In Through The Bathroom Window (1M, 1F) is a surreal comedy in which a chap finds a strange woman in his bath.  (The sort of thing that might happen to anyone.)
  • Next in the multi-publications category, we have three comedy sketches from Robert Black.  The Also-Ran Club (3M, 1F) finds a group of unsuccessful inventors trying to form an organisation.  Message For Sophie will resonate – or possibly ring a bell – with those close to mobile phone addicts (1M, 1F).  Billy Loves Brenda (1M, 1F) finds the hero trying to explain-away a new tattoo.
  • Finally, we have two new comedies from Cheryl Barrett.  Bring Me Sunshine (4M, 2F) was inspired by a real incident – the damage to a statue on Morecambe sea front.  Around The Fridge In Eighty Calories is a monologue for a woman who is larger than she thinks she should be.

 

 

That’s all for now, but, as noted at the start, there’s a cascade of new material coming through.

A Happy New Year to one and all,

Stuart Ardern
Lazy Bee Scripts

To read these scripts online, go to http://www.lazybeescripts.co.uk and use the “search title” function to bring up the script you’re looking for. Remember, these scripts are free to READ, not free to USE.

It’s a brand New Year…Again

My actual white board, now no longer actually white. "Omar Serif" and "They're taking the robots to Alderaan" are jokes I haven't gotten around to yet. Be relieved about that.

My actual white board, now no longer actually white. “Omar Serif” and “They’re taking the robots to Alderaan” are jokes I haven’t gotten around to yet. Be relieved about that.

It’s nearly the end of the first week of January, and this is the first post I’ve managed in 2015, which means I ought to be talking about Resolutions.

But, as you may know from last year, I don’t do so well with resolving to change. I need a list every day just to get through the things that keep the house running, so adding grand aspirations to that list has been somewhat problematic in the past.

However, last year, I decided to just write more stuff. This was a simple enough idea that I could keep it in mind, and even put it up on my white board above my desk. “Write more stuff” translates easily into whatever project I feel like doing, and as long as there is more stuff at the end of the year, then it’s working. That’s a measurable goal, that is.

And last year I produced more plays, a new ebook and a lot of sketches. I found that the break of fifteen minutes at work is just long enough to eat a sandwich and write a page and a half of sketch, resulting in a sketch every week. That’s a sketch each week written at work, plus the stuff I can write when I’m at home. Like every published writer is fond of saying, there IS time to write, you just have to choose to use it for writing.

Like last year, most of what I plan to complete and publish won’t reach the marketplace until the later half of the year, so I’m not going to list my projects here. I will post about them when they’re complete, and then put up reminders with links when they get published. I’m hoping the Appraisal Service continues to keep me busy, and that life at the Library remains as fulfilling and entertaining as it had proven so far.

What are the big projects for YOU this 2015? Are you going to write that novel or sequel? Are you going to try writing something that’s outside your comfort zone, like a romance, or a horror story, or a poem? Are you thinking of writing for the first time? Because I have a really good feeling about this year. I think it’s YOUR year. I mean, obviously that’s bad news for everyone else, but we’ll cope, honest. Don’t feel bad for us, you just go on and make the most of it.

We’ll be over here. In the corner. Maybe crying just a little bit.

Flash Fantasy Number 2: Non-Epic tales of other lands

Castle

Lomaeus lounged in the throne, using a fragment of ermine robe to clean the blood from Fangor, his serrated broadsword. The owner of both robe and blood had been dragged away several hours ago and handed over to a roaring crowd, who cheerfully dismembered the corpse. Lomaeus had no idea what happened to the pieces, nor any inclination to find out.

Sword clean, he heaved himself out of the throne to re-sheathe it, then strolled down the massive central aisle of the throne room until he reached a fireplace. He threw the bloodied rag into the flames. His stomach rumbled.

“DEEPS!” he roared. When no reply was forthcoming, he roared the name again, so loud that the echoes rolled for a full minute. Soon the scarred face of his second in command appeared at the entrance to the throne room. Lomaeus fumed during the five minutes it took the other man to stride the length of the room and meet him. Deeps bowed.

“My King.”

Lomaeus flapped a hand at him, secretly rather pleased.

“You don’t need to do that, Deeps. Unless there are people watching.”

Deeps straightened again.

“Of course. What was it you wanted?”

For a moment, Lomaeus thought how much better that question would have sounded if it ended in “Sire?”, but his stomach rumbled again.

“Food, Deeps. I’m famished! Think I missed lunch today… You know, when I was liberating a kingdom and dispatching a foul tyrant.”

Deeps nodded impassively.

“I remember, sir.”

Despite his hunger, Lomaeus couldn’t help but feel there was a note of reproof in his Lieutenant’s words. Well, he was king now, wasn’t he? Absolute ruler, at least. Liberator. That should be worth a cheese sandwich of anyone’s money…

“You couldn’t round up some decent scoff, could you Deeps?”

He was alarmed at the pleading tone in his voice, but decided that a correction would only draw attention to it.

Deeps shrugged.

“The kitchen staff have run off. They were slaves, and you announced that the death of the tyrant had freed all slaves. They all left right then.”

He looked up at Deeps.

“I don’t suppose you could…?”

Deeps raised an eyebrow that was bisected by an old sword cut.

“I’m supervising the burial troops, sir. And the distribution of the treasure. There was a good deal of looting and fighting until I stepped in there.”

“Well, good, that was the right… Sorry, hang on, DISTRIBUTION of the treasure? The treasure of the palace, as such?”

Deeps looked surprised.

“Well, yes sir, as per your orders sir.”

Lomaeus frowned, trying to remember giving any such order.

“I told you to hand out the fabulous treasure of the tyrant?”

“Not me directly sir. But you have said a number of times during the campaign that when the palace walls were broken down, the slaves would be freed and the wealth of the palace returned to the citizens, sir. They were being a bit zealous and undemocratic in their attempts to follow your orders, as it were, so I regulated things a bit. Made sure no one hogged all the good stuff.”

Lomaeus trudged back towards the throne, urgently feeling the need to sit down. Of course the treasure belonged to the citizens, that was obvious. And yes, he had said about freeing the slaves, because that was what you did, wasn’t it? But it would have been really, really nice to have freed the slaves and still had dinner, and maybe a chance to wallow in the treasure rooms for a while. He had seen the distribution of the wealth as more, you know, something he did himself. Magnanimously. Bit by bit. Endowing new buildings and things. Maybe the odd statue of…of…well, alright, of himself. But he was the liberator, wasn’t he? It was thanks to him that the bloody peasants were free of their shackles and able to bugger off home with armfulls of his bloody treasure, while he had to make his own bloody sandwiches.

“Will that be all, sir?”

Deeps’ voice echoed through the hall, as he hadn’t followed Lomaeus back to the throne. Would that be all? It was quite enough, Lomaeus thought. He waved the man away, then noticed another figure strutting down the aisle of the throne room. This bloody place is too big. I want a nice room with a door I can shut, thought Lomaeus. And a kitchen just off to one side.

The messenger huffed to a halt and threw himself flat on the floor in front of the throne.

“I bear tidings for the Great King Lomaeus, Liberator of Slaves and Giver of Wealth.”

Lomaeus grinned, frowned and growled at the messenger’s words.

“Get up, get up, man! What tidings?”

The messenger struggled to his feet and spoke, still averting his eyes.

“Sire, the peasants are flooding into the city from the surrounding countryside. Your army burned the fields around the capital to starve out the Tyrant, and now there is no food for the people. They are choking every gate, and there is panic in the centre of the city as people try to hoard the remaining food. Stores have been ransacked, Sire.”

Before the man had finished speaking, a second messenger was prostrate on the floor in front of Lomaeus. This man didn’t even get through his greeting before Lomaeus prompted him for his message.

“Sire, the Archmages of Westermount present their greetings and congratulations on your victory. They are concerned, however, that the slave trade between the city and their Magedom will be threatened by your determination to free the slaves here. They seek assurances that this is not the case, and to that end have dispatched a wing of Winter Dragyns to the South Wall.”

When the messenger had finished, the only sound in the immense room was the grinding of Lomaeus’ teeth and the slapping footfalls of a third messenger. Seeing the look on the Liberator’s face, and the way his fingers worked at the grip of his mighty sword, the new messenger gulped, skipped the formal greetings and ploughed straight into his message.

“Sire, several of the escaping…I mean, the liberated slaves took revenge upon their former masters. Fighting has broken out in some areas of the city between former slaves and masters, as well as treasure looters and food hoarders. Some of the former slaves that were leaving by the South Gate were eaten by Winter Dragyns, but then the starving peasants from the outer kingdom attacked the Dragyns, killing one and wounding two. The others retreated and the peasants are roasting the beast outside the walls. A goodly number of the food hoarders are said to be heading that way now. Also, a second wing of Winter Dragyns has been seen approaching from the West.”

All three messengers cowered in fear of Lomaeus’ response. He struck a kingly pose upon the throne, apparently deep in thought, then held out a gracious hand.

“Friends, give me leave to think on this. I shall send for you directly with orders that will set all arights. This day has seen a mighty victory, it shall not also see the dissolution of this mighty city. Be brave, my friends, and give me your patience.”

They exited with many bows and profuse thanks and blessings. Lomaeus smiled wisely and kindly until his cheeks hurt. Once the hall was empty again, he stood and walked behind the throne. Just before he had been run through, the Tyrant had been scrabbling back….here! There was a concealed lever behind the throne, opening a secret door. Whistling a merry tune, Lomaeus entered the dark tunnel. He didn’t know what was beyond the doorway, but the Tyrant had thought it a better option than facing a well-armed opponent, and Lomaeus was willing to bet he’d find a neat escape route, maybe some treasure and, possibly, some decent food.

The closing of the secret door made no sound in the suddenly empty throne room.

Working on the workplace

The outgoing Check Out Desk

The outgoing Check Out Desk

In my other life, where I interact with real people, I work in a library. It’s a brilliant job for a bibliophile, since you can borrow excellent books all the time at no cost (provided I return them before the due date or renew them online or by phone. What, you thought I wouldn’t pay fines?)

Libraries are an old idea (the library of Alexandria was constructed in the 3rd century BC and lasted until 30 BC), but there’s a reason they’re still around today. They provide access to knowledge, access to people that will help you find the way to ask the right question, collections of information that weren’t available in one place until the advent of the internet, and they have music and movies too. There’s also the crucial point that libraries provide free access to the internet for people who can’t afford their own computer or connection, or are away from home. They provide vital cultural information for new immigrants, and study materials for students of all ages.

The library I work at has an eye on the future. Things change, and it’s never smart to continue doing things the old way just “because that’s the way it’s always been done”. Over the next six weeks, we’re installing four new self-check out stations, allowing patrons to check out their own books. Why? Well, for one thing, that’s twice as many stations as currently exist, so lines will be cut down. There’s greater privacy for patrons too, since they don’t have to hand their books over to a clerk like me to check it out. We’ve improved the tagging system for better security and easier tracking.

Some people won’t like it. You can’t please all the people all the time (hey, that’s catchy…) Some people will hate it forever, and some will come to love it. That’s fine. We’ll have more staff over on the other desk, the improved customer service area, and we’ll be happy to manually check out your books there if you would prefer that. This isn’t a dastardly scheme to make patrons miserable.

In the meantime, I and my fellow workers are clearing back the library materials so that the contractors can get to work. We’re still pulling the books and dvds that you request by phone or online, and we’re still checking in the books that you drop off in the outside book drops or other branches. We’re still here, still working.

The DVD and CD shelves look ominously bare - because they're going to be replaced with better ones that hold the full collection.

The DVD and CD shelves look ominously bare – because they’re going to be replaced with better ones that hold the full collection.

So, in mid-January we should be cautiously open again – a reduced service while the finishing touches are put in place. We’ve only closed completely for two days, with access through the Programme Room for people to collect their holds or make renewals, or even check out the Speed Reads. We know it’s inconvenient, that many people love the library as a work space or study area, but this is an investment in the future. The library needs to stay relevant so that these peripheral benefits remain available into the future.

Flash Fantasy No 1 : Non-epic tales of other lands

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The bell jangled merrily as Wesley pushed through the doorway at last. He’d been staring in through the window of the Curiosity Shoppe for more than a week now, trying to work out the intricacies of the puzzle box that lay, almost out of sight, on a velvet cushion in the corner of the window display.

Inside, the sound of the traffic on the street was reduced to a quiet murmur, and a smell of dust and age crept up his nose. He fought the urge to sneeze, and his fingers tightened on the wad of notes crammed into his pocket. There was no price on the box, so he’d brought all his savings, almost fifty dollars.

He looked around the dim interior uncertainly. There was an abundance of dark wood, of beautifully carved and jointed furniture, though he wasn’t sure what function it would serve. There were dozens of clocks on the walls, all telling different times – some without numbers, some without hands. Cabinets lined a kind of alleyway through the centre of the shops, glass fronts staring blankly, the insides too dark to reveal their contents. Wesley shuddered involuntarily, trying not to imagine what might be held inside.

“Can I help you…sir?”

The voice wheezed out of the dark space at the end of the alley of cabinets, and an old man shuffled into the light from the door, starling Wesley into stepping back. His back bumped up against the door, and he was trapped. The door opened into the shop, and to escape he would have to step towards the aincient, doddery figure now getting closer and… But wait. Now he was illuminated by the daylight, the shopkeeper was just a harmless old man, like someone’s grandpa, or a great-uncle. The shroud around him was a homely cardigan, and the stunted hooves were just mouldy carpet slippers. The sickly gleam was nothing more than a reflection from the eyeglasses he wore low on his nose. Wesley blew out a big sigh and tried to find his voice.

“Yes..Yes, you can. I mean, I’d like to buy the puzzle box in the window, please. I mean, if I can afford it. I mean, how much…?”

The man’s head cocked to one side, suddenly, like a curious bird examining a worm. Then he chuckled, like he’d read about it once and decided to try it out.

“The puzzle box? Well now…well now…That puzzle box, young man, is a very special thing. More than a puzzle, you see? For the right person, the right young man, that puzzle box is a gateway.”

Wesley fought down a rising sense of excitement, trying to concentrate on not being conned into paying too much for the box, but those words… He’d always felt he was meant for more than Math and Chemistry, more than the stupid pushing and yelling of the playground. Was this really his chance at REAL adventure? The old man had padded off to the window, his carpet slippers flapping slightly at each step, and he returned now with the box still on its cushion. He held it out to Wesley, quite formally.

“Take it, young sir. Open it, if you can, and you will step through into another world and meet your destiny.”

Wesley’s money was forgotten. As he had imagined doing for so many days and nights, he grasped the box in both eager hands. He was sure he hadn’t imagined the thrill that rushed through his fingers, a shiver that came from the box itself. He twisted, pushed, pressed and pulled, the sequence half guided by his eye and half by the feelings in his fingers. The box wanted to open, wanted him to open it.

And then a hidden seam gaped wide. Not the false seam running around the middle of the box – that was nothing more than a groove in the surface of the wood. This seam opened in the unbroken grain, wider, wider than Wesley could have believed. A dazzling light poured out, making him turn his head away. He could feel warmth on his cheek, fell it on his closed eyes. Warmth….heat…hot…so hot!

There was a pattering of ashes on the shop floor, then a solid THOK! as the box itself bounced onto the floor. It was closed up tight again, and none of the ashes from the vaporised body of poor young Wesley so much as dusted the deeply polished surface. With the edge of one old carpet slipper, now looking more hoof-like than a few seconds ago, the old shopkeeper nudged the box back onto its cushion and replaced it in the window.

Heading to the back to fetch his dustpan and brush, he sighed heavily. Clearly, this young man was NOT the chosen one.