Posts Tagged ‘Fantasy’

[Note: This short piece originally appeared in Pendragon (now defunct) but it’s been almost 8 years since it saw print, so I thought I’d throw it up here.]

“Cups! Get your cups here! I’ve got flagons, tankards, skins, and steins! Cups! Get your cups here!”

The old man pushed his cart down the cobblestoned street, his wares clinking and banging together. The sun was just dipping below the city skyline, long and ominous shadows reaching like grasping fingers along the walls and ground.

He stopped outside a tavern, the sign swinging back and forth declaring its name as The Knight of the Burning Pestle. A few younger folk were lounging outside, pipes clutched in teeth. The mayor, in his infinite wisdom, had recently declared smoking inside verboten, citing fears of fires. Most people thought it was because he couldn’t stand the smell of pipe smoke, while he did enjoy taking in the local color at every opportunity.

“What’s that you’ve got there?”  one the smokers asked, pointing to the canvas that covered a number of the cup-maker’s wares.  Given the weapons they carried and the clothes they wore, the old man took them to be adventurers or mercenaries. Wasn’t much difference between the two when you got down  to it.

The old man smiled, resting against the handles of the cart. It was obvious he’d been a large man once in life, and his frame still possessed a large portion of that strength. “Oh, just a few trifles,” he said. 

He pulled aside the cover, revealing a variety of goblets. Each was unique in their grotesquerie, stylized as a severed head, but with gemstones where the eyes were to be. In most cases the lower jaw was missing, having been worked into the base of the drinking vessel.

“You made these yourself?” a woman asked. From her robes and the staff she carried, the old man marked her as a mage.

He nodded. “Took me a long time to get it right, too. Skulls make for a piss-poor vessel you see. All those holes. It’s not just where the eyes were either. There’s the ear holes, the place where the nose used to be, and you have to seal the bottom part neatly too, otherwise all the wine runs out. I found the trick is using something to seal all those little holes. Resin works pretty well, and I found a way to make it stand up to alcohol as well.”

“What? You expect us to believe that those are actual skulls? Ha!” the biggest of the group laughed. His hand rested on a massive broad sword, and his beard was tangled with bits of food and bone. “If that were true, old man, I’d have you killed for a murderer or worse.” He scratched at his beard. “Of course, you could just be a graverobber. That’s almost as bad.”

The old man shook his head. “Oh no, I’ve acquired all of these over the years from the bodies of those that have crossed me,” he laughed. “Ever heard the tale of King Latimer the Friendless?”

A slender man, a lute slung on his back, nodded slowly. “I heard he abdicated his throne ten years ago. There’s rumors he went away, looking to perfect a secret technique and vowing to return to his kingdom when he felt the time was right. Honestly, we’re better off without him. He was a tyrant and a despot of the worst sort.”

The old man grinned, drawing a silver-runed axe from under the cart. “Friendless? Hmm. I suppose. But I did finally figure out how to drink wine from my enemies’ skull, and let me tell you, there are few things as sweet as that.”

The screams that rose that night heralded the return of King Latimer, and that night he earned the new appellation of Skulldrinker, his legend and his infamy echoing down the centuries. 

The Blazing Chief by [Matt Spencer]
Cover to The Blazing Chief

Matt Spencer wraps up his Descembine Trilogy in spectacular fashion, wrapping up the trials and tribulations of Rob Coscan, Sally Wildfire, Sheldon and the rest.

The first part is a bit bloated and drags in places, with the feeling that Spencer had so much he wanted to cram into the book that I’m a little afraid to see what was left on the proverbial cutting room floor. The worldbuilding and detail is highly original, eschewing the typical fantasy standards of elves and dwarves, or their urban equivalents in ghosts and werewolves and vampires. The downside to the originality is that at times stumbles with weaving the backstory into the narrative. If a writer says “vampire” or “werewolf” or “zombie”, you’e got a pretty good idea as to what to expect. But Crimbone? Or Spirelight? It’s going to take a bit to get into it. As a result, there are a number of infodumps that come across as intrusive and overwhelming and wishing Spencer would get back to the action.

And that is where he truly shines – when he cuts loose and lets the action (and blood, and gore) flow. There’s a Robert Howard-esque feel to the violence, less of following each sword stroke and parry, and more for a visceral sense of action and motion. And yes, I’m going to admit a certain bias to that. Some of the gore and viscera at times borders on the gratuitous, as if Spencer is letting out his inner ‘80s splatterpunk self, but it fits with his barbarian type characters – grinning through a veil of blood from their foes.

Spencer also has a more clear-eyed view of his characters this time, the fact that what is viewed as typical heroic (or even superheroic) actions can well be viewed as sociopathic behavior by others, and how some people can be the shining knight and the bloodied berserker all rolled into one. As a result, some of the villains feel like they walked straight out of a death metal album given how how black and gore soaked they can get (looking at you Balthazar).

This is definitely fantasy through a dark lens, at times bleak and hopeless, but it never (in my opinion) goes full grimdark. There are still innocents in this world, and the sides aren’t exactly black on black and at most, the heroes stay a light grey throughout, even when they find themselves at odds with each other.

If you are looking for a fantasy trilogy that’s going to kick you in your teeth, then yeah, this is what you’re looking for.

You can grab a copy at Amazon.

This picks up from here.

A few days later, sitting in an open air café, the trio gather. Ramiro tosses two pouches onto the table in front of Viktoria and Graciano, accompanied by his lop-sided smile as he slumps into his chair and calls for a mug of fortified wine.

“Think they’ll try to find us?” Graciano asks.

Ramiro shrugs. “Maybe? I don’t intend to stick around long enough to find out. That little sloop we liberated is a fine ship, and well suited to my purposes. My share is enough seed to start a new venture, though I’ll probably stick to small, easily transported goods from now on. What about you?”

Viktoria shakes her head and sips from a small porcelain cup. Graciano gets a whiff of the bitter chocolate drink, a new libation starting to become popular. Still, it was normally prohibitively expensive. “I will go back to my practice, I think.” She smiles, the corners of her eyes crinkling to show it was genuine emotion she was displaying. “I still have patients, and well, I’m sure the two of you will have need of my services in the future.”

“What, you think I can’t forgo getting stabbed?” Graciano asks.

She rolls her eyes, but hides her lips by taking another sip of her drink.

“What about you, Graciano?” Ramiro asks.

The soldier rolls his shoulder and winces. It is still sore where he took the blow, though Viktoria told him it should heal fine. “I, ah, got myself a commission.” He hefts the pouch of coin, weighing it carefully. “I figure most of this will be spent on harness and provisions, but I should be able to buy a few bottles of the good stuff.”

Ramiro whistles low through his teeth and Viktoria’s eyes widen.

“Horse or foot?” she asks.

“Foot,” he responds, and Viktoria’s frown deepens. Ramiro tries to look anywhere but at the two of them.

“So you are going to get stabbed. Again.” She drains the last of her drink, stands up to leave. “In that case, I expect I’ll be seeing you again, but in a purely professional way.”

Graciano opened his mouth to retort, but she’d already swept out of the café with a rustle of her skirts.

“What did I do?” the grizzled soldier asks. He tugs on his moustache, a sure sign of his frustration.

“Did you talk to her before taking the commission?” the smuggler asks, a merry glint in his eye.

“No. Why should I?”

Ramiro sighs and places a hand on Graciano’s soldier. “You are a gifted fighter and a fine soldier, my friend. But let me tell you, you are awful with women. Well, maybe not all women. But most assuredly with that one.” He points in the direction Viktoria had disappeared.

Graciano snorts. “Like you are better?”

Ramiro leans back in his chair, his teeth gleaming as he smiles. “Benefit to my line of work? If I sink a relationship in one port, there is always another.” He leans closer. “But I offer you this free bit of advice, friend: don’t let a woman like that slip away from her.

“When do you report?”

Graciano laughs and shrugs, and calls for another bottle. “Tomorrow.”

Ramiro shakes his head and grins. “Best we celebrate tonight then, for who knows what tomorrow will bring?”

FIN

That’s it folks. Less than 10k words than what I might have originally envisioned, but that’s what I get for not having a roadmap. One of the longer pieces of fiction I’ve written and completed. Not sure yet what I’ll do with it, but think I might make a summer project of going through the collected piece and editing it. I hope you enjoyed it for what it was, and I might even come back to these characters one day, even if it was poorly disguised 7th Sea fanfic. It also means I might finally get off my ass and work more on “No Honor Among Thieves” seeing as that’s been wallowing way too long for comfort.

Part Seven! And less than a month from the last one! I know, I am as shocked as you are!

Anyway, here is the latest installment of the trouble three thieves get into when their old boss thinks they are more of a liability than an asset. And we finally find out who Simeon is and why’s he’s trouble for the the thieves of Milieux.

Part one is here. Part two is here. Part three is here. Part four is here. Part five is here. Part six is here. Comments are always welcome!

(more…)

Part one is here. Part two is here. Part three is here. Part four is here. Part five is here. Comments are always welcome! (And yes, it’s been eight months since this last updated. Oof.)

(more…)

Haven’t done one of these challenges in a while, but decided to try and knock some of the rust off. So, yes, a story featuring Good and Evil. Or, Good versus Evil. Though this may be more Evil vs. Evil. Ahh well. Enjoy. Original challenge can be found here! (more…)

Wait, are you still reading this? After a three month hiatus? You are some kind of masochist aren’t you? Anyway, continues on from here.

(Oh, hey, almost coming up on a year of having started it).

(more…)

This week’s challenge: To Behold the Divine. I took the opportunity to get Liam the Black back out there, even for a non-canon story, to explain a little bit more where he comes from and why has little patience for gods, spirits and other such hoodoo. Maybe not quite what the challenge was calling for, but given my current state of mind it was good to write something, maybe even especially because a Liam the Black story was just rejected. Comments and such are welcome, as always.

(more…)

This week’s challenge: the random flickr challenge. Get a picture, use it as inspiration.

I ended up with mmcclair‘s image of Eilean Donan‘s castle in Scotland. Reasonably happy with how it turned out, and it gave me an excuse to take Heinrik and Viona back out for a spin. If you enjoy they’re anctics, you’ll be happy to know a story featuring them was accepted by New Realm magazine. Also- in which I am reminded that writing “quick” sword and sorcery is in some ways harder than writing the long stuff.

As always, comments, likes, and shares are much appreciated.

(more…)

Being the continuation of my fantasy thieves serial.

Part one is here. Part two is here. Part three is here. Part four is here. Comments are always welcome!

(more…)