Volume V of the History of Ilores

Lord Lisandro Reyez de Vallena rested his chin on his hand and looked glumly at the little dais where Sehzad, court poet to King Lupe of Ilores, was presenting his latest work, an epic poem called ‘Lord Juan the Bastard’.

” A Queen of royal blood the crown did wear;
But a daughter only did she bear.
Not so the rest; for several mothers bore
To Ellorn’s god-like king, several sons, and more.
But since like slaves his bed they did ascend,
No true succession could their seed attend.
Of these the false Lord Juan was worst:
A name to all succeeding ages curst.”

In spite of himself, Lisandro got lost admiring the Savasko poet’s glossy black curls, which were tamed by a gold circlet that brought out the flecks of amber in his heavy-lashed brown eyes. Sehzad held himself confidently, one hand on his chest as the other gestured to emphasise the highs and lows in his recitation. Sehzad was only in his late twenties, but already he had a deep, melodic voice with a slight Savasko accent in the vowels that wrapped around Lisandro and made him warm and shivery.

“Juan was fine of form and fair of face,
An adornment to the King of his race,
But possessed a fiery soul, which working out its way,
O’erleaped the boundaries of its clay.”

“Forgive me for noticing,” said someone at his elbow, and Lisandro turned around, brushing his chin-length black hair out of his eyes to see the speaker. Lord Valentin sat down beside him and continued, “But it seems to me that Lord Juan bears a startling resemblance to your honoured self.”

“Do you think anyone else has realised?”

“Oh, without doubt,” said Valentin. He tilted his chin towards the dais. “Lovers’ tiff?”

“We’re not lovers.” Lisandro sighed. “And don’t say that so loudly. We’re not in Jovan.”


Esprit de Corps

“Please try to stay still, Private Klein,” said the magister as his assistant held the tin appendage to the stump of Simeon’s left arm.

Simeon forced himself not to shift and look down as the metal warmed against his skin. Instead, he looked up at the ceiling of the No 1 Procedure Room of Queen Mary’s Hospital, Roehampton, and considered the weight of the tin fingers resting on his belly.

That is going to be my arm, he thought.


Berliner Luft

When Jim said he wanted to go to Berlin and he thought Alfred ought to come with him, Alfred had imagined a city somewhat like his mother’s stories of Paris before the war: the Arc de Triomphe became the Brandenburger Tor, and Alfred imagined himself and Jim sitting in cafes and drinking coffee while Jim gave Alfred each page of his book as it was typed, and Alfred contributed comments that were invariably well-received by the inspired author.

Of course, he’d heard of Berlin—the cabarets, the prostitutes, the Berliner Luft that made the city’s inhabitants act like madmen—from his mother, repeatedly. She had interspersed these admonishments with wistful remembrances of Alfred’s elder brother Tom, who’d been slaughtered by Germans—probably Berliners—in 1916.

Alfred barely remembered Tom, and barely remembered the war. Jim had said he wanted to work on his book, and he thought the change of scenery would do Alfred good. Alfred had acknowledged that was true and packed his suitcase, discounting his mother’s apocalyptic musings on the sad inevitability of her son’s fall from grace into sin and vice. Now that he was here Alfred felt hopelessly naive for thinking Jim would have been drawn to Berlin by anything other than sin and vice.


Tantantara! Tzing! Boom!

There were three windows open on Freddie’s computer screen. He would classify them as unsatisfactory, terrifying, and baffling, respectively. The first was the spreadsheet where he recorded all the finances of the Woodcross Gilbert and Sullivan Society. The second was an email from his father’s colleague Dudley Baxter, which he had flagged and banished to the depths of his email inbox some days previous. The third was another email, from the Honourable Robin Lionel Coffrey Montgomery-Wells, asking if there was a time when Freddie would be free to have lunch.

Robin Montgomery-Wells. It had been a long time since that name had popped up in his inbox. He clicked the window and dragged it around the screen before dropping it back roughly where it started. The email had been sent to the generic inbox Freddie used for matters relating to the Woodcross Gilbert and Sullivan Society. Well, it had been six years since they last spoke. How was Robin to know Freddie still checked his old Hotmail account?


The King of Bayan

King Tarik of Bayan is seated when Ruari is brought before him with the other slaves. He is dwarfed by the long red canopy over his throne.

Ruari straightens his shoulders. He is wearing nothing but a loincloth, but he refuses to feel ashamed. He is young and strong, with broad shoulders and muscles from hours of outdoor training.

Tarik’s eyes drift over the group. “Yes, fine,” he says to the slavemaster, “use them as you see fit.” His gaze sharpens and he sits up. “Is that one woodkin?” He beckons, and Ruari is shoved forward.

“Halfbreed,” says the slavemaster.


I survived a deadly camping trip with an Australian park ranger

In Simon Carroway’s view, there were three things that were particularly wrong with his current situation.

First, he was stuck up a gumtree and there was a protuberant piece of branch sticking into his arse; second, there were five dingoes sitting under the tree, muzzles upturned as if they expected him to just drop into their waiting jaws; and third, he had no mobile phone reception.

“Hungry, are you?” he called down at them. “Well, I’ve got news for you. Fuck the lot of you; I can sit up here all day.”

One of the dingoes stuck its tongue out of the side of its mouth and panted.


Close bound enough

The heat was stifling. Captain Harry Bridgeman… no, he wasn’t a captain anymore. He was a civilian, enrolled in teacher’s college. He had been demobilised for almost a year. Mr Harry Bridgeman of Milton tried not to get mud on his shiny new Oxfords as he walked up Queen Street towards the river. The sun found him, even under the shop eaves; he had forgotten how the humidity did that. It felt as if he were immersed in hot, dirty washing water, circling the plug hole in the big old shed next to the privy in his parents’ back yard.