I’ll be on Thorne & Cross tonight at 5PM Pacific speaking to Alistair and Tamara about Monstrumfuhrer and doing my best to sound intelligent. Hopefully the kids are quiet! You can listen in below. Don’t worry if you miss the time and day, it becomes a permanent podcast link afterwards.
My tenth novel Monstrumfuhrer is out today from Comet Press. Pick it up here –
Coinciding with that, I was interviewed over on Gingernuts of Horror. Give it a read here –
January 22nd nearly came and went without me marking the birthday of my favorite author, Texan Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan The Barbarian, Solomon Kane, King Kull, and others.
As always, I feel the best way to honor the man is to read his words. This year, I present a selection from The Grey God Passes, Howard’s rendition of the Battle of Clontarf.
“My Lord,” said Conn, fingering the great copper ring around his neck, “I have slain the man who put this thrall-mark on me. I would be free of it.”
Black Turlough took his red stained ax-head in his hands and, pressing it against the ring, drove the keen edge through the softer metal. The keen edge gashed Conn’s shoulder, but neither heeded.
“Now I am truly free,” said Conn, flexing his mighty arms. “My heart is heavy for the chiefs who have fallen, but my mind is mazed with wonder and glory. Will ever such a battle be fought again? Truly it was a feast of ravens, a sea of slaughter….”
His voice trailed off, and he stood like a statue, head flung back, eyes staring into the clouded heavens. The sun was sinking in a dark ocean of scarlet. Great clouds rolled and tumbled, piled mountainously against the smoldering red of the sunset. A wind blew out of them, biting, cold, and borne on the wind, etched shadowy against the clouds, a vague, gigantic form went flying, beard and wild locks streaming in the gale, cloak billowing out like great wings – speeding into the mysterious blue mists that pulsed and shimmered in the brooding North.
“Look up there – in the sky!” cried Conn. “The grey man! It is he! The grey man with the single terrible eye. I saw him in the mountains of Torka. I glimpsed him brooding on the walls of Dublin while the battle raged. I saw him looming above Prince Murrogh as he died. Look! He rides the wind and races the tall clouds. He swindles. He fades into the void. He vanishes!”
“It is Odin, god of the sea-people,” said Turlogh somberly. “His children are broken, his altars crumble, and his worshipers fallen before the swords of the South. He flees the new gods and their children, and returns to the blue gulfs of the North which gave him birth. No more will helpless victims howl beneath the daggers of his priests – no more will he stalk the black clouds.” He shook his head darkly. “The Grey God passes, and we too are passing, though we have conquered. The days of the twilight come on amain, and a strange feeling is upon me as of a waning age. What are we all, too, but ghosts waning into the night?”
And he went on into the dusk, leaving Conn to his freedom – from thralldom and cruelty, as both he and all the Gaels were now free of the shadow of the Grey God and his ruthless worshipers.
The Great Jones Street is a fairly new app that promises to be the Netflix of short fiction, and boasts a searchable database of a wide variety of short stories in various genres, including a couple offerings by yours truly.
Here are direct links to Spearfinger –
Black Tallow –
And The Blood Bay, a favorite of mine –
Download the app and check ’em out.
I was gonna wait till the titles were in place and all, but rather than mar it with my name, I thought I’d give you all a sneak peak of M. Wayne Miller’s art for my forthcoming short fiction collection Angler In Darkness.
I love working with Wayne because while the development of my own art skills was arrested somewhere around my Freshman year of high school, I can float him a meager sketch of what I want and he delivers it so close to how I actually see it in my mind it’s uncanny. He may as well be mind melding with me. The late great Norm Rubenstein introduced me to Wayne when he got him to do the awesome wraparound cover for my Van Helsing novel Terovolas. I only sent him a text description, but he absolutely nailed what Norm and I both envisioned.
Later, I was nervous sending him a sketch of what I envisioned for my story The Boonieman in World War Cthulhu as I didn’t want to offend him as an artist, but he took the bare bones I sent him and just…well, turned it into art.
Anyway, without further ado….
Check out Wayne’s work here.
The opening chapter to my tenth novel, Monstrumfuhrer, due out January 24th from Comet Press.
1936’s December blew a bracing cold through high Ingolstadt. A cream colored new model Opel Olympia hummed through the twisting streets that ran between the crowded old edifices, necessarily clustered because of its encircling wall designed to defend it in its long gone capitol days. The car’s frame shuddered on the chipped cobbles just as the iron tires of the horse drawn carts had once.
A pudgy, flush faced boy paused at a curb to let the car rumble by, seeing himself stretch and thin in the bright world captured in the mud spattered chrome. It was as though he had been granted a brief glimpse of his future, better self to bolster him in the remainder of his awkward years. The boy smiled, and waved to the driver.
The well groomed man at the wheel looked down at the boy through the glass, acknowledging him with a nod for the clear passage granted, and a lazy half-salute. The boy waved harder, an excited puff of warm breath escaping between his teeth; he thought the man might be a movie star.
The car went on.
After a few blocks, it drew up to a curb across the street from one of the old-style gabled houses. This one sprouted a high, stone turret.
The engine of the Olympia cut out, and the driver’s door groaned open, relinquishing its motorist to the cold. The driver shuddered briefly beneath his rich, camel hair coat and set a feathered, Bavarian style hat on his head. One ivory gloved hand pushed the car door shut, and he crossed the street to the door of the house.
There followed a long moment after the visitor sounded the bell, in which the man turned slowly in place with his hands deep in his pockets and his shoulders hunched, stomping his feet for warmth. It was easy to see how the boy had mistaken him for an actor. He seemed too good looking to be anything else. His fine dark hair was neatly trimmed and styled, his face free of stubble, unmarred by even the blemish of cold.
A plump, white haired man with a broom mustache answered the door.
“Hello Friedrich,” the visitor said, doffing his hat.
“Beppo!” the older man exclaimed, stepping aside and waving him in. “Come in! Come in!”
The foyer was warm and the red drained from the visitor’s ears. The older man took his hat, but ‘Beppo (the name seemed a woeful misnomer)’ made no move to surrender his coat.
“Please,” Friedrich said, gesturing to a brass hook on the nearby mirror stand, “let me take your coat.”
“No really,” Beppo demurred. “I’m afraid I can’t stay. I’m expecting important news you see, and I must return to Leipzig in the morning.”
Friedrich held the hat in both hands, his lined face disappointed.
“Ah? Are you sure you can’t stay? At least for supper?”
The younger man shook his head, apologetic.
“I’m afraid not. It’s about my appointment, you see. I really must be there, and I want to get an early start.”
“Of course, of course,” the old man nodded, hanging the hat on the hook. “You’ll stay for a cup of tea, though?”
“Certainly,” Beppo allowed, removing his pristine doeskin gloves and folding them neatly.
The young man took a seat in the adjoining drawing room and regarded the collection of delicate ceramic Capodimonte gypsies capering on the mantle. They were snowed in under a blanket of dust. Nothing a man would keep in his house; these were the exquisite relics of Friedrich’s late wife, whose name escaped his memory. A cuckoo clock poised to release its inmate for hourly exercise hung high on the wall. The young man’s mind again wandered to the trip that lay before him and the important matter that waited at the end of it.
Friedrich returned, bearing a plain tray of china cups and a steaming pot. After a bit of clattering, he handed over a dainty cup and saucer. More womanly remembrances. The young man crossed his legs and sipped the tea as his host took the high-backed chair opposite him.
“How are your father and the factory?” Friedrich asked, brushing at his mustache with a table napkin.
“Thank you, fine,” the younger man replied. “He sends you his best as always.” then, as an afterthought before the tea touched his lips again, “As does mother.”
“Your appointment,” Friedrich ventured, “it will be at the university?”
The younger man shook his head.
“Not at the university proper,” he sipped, relishing his news as though it were contained in the cup. “Actually, Professor Mollinson has recommended me to Professor Von Verscheur’s staff at the Reich Institute.”
Friedrich raised his eyebrows.
The younger man uncrossed his legs and rested his elbows on his knees, excited. Friedrich was the first he’d told, officially.
“Of course, I don’t dare hope that I’ll be accepted, but if I should…,” he smiled uncontrollably revealing a gap between his two front teeth that spoiled his film star looks only slightly. “Think of it, Freidrich!”
Friedrich smiled broadly at his young guest’s enthusiasm. He probably had little more than an inkling of the importance of the news. The Reich Institute he had heard of surely, Von Verscheur, likely he had not.
“But why shouldn’t you hope for the best, Beppo?” he said, wagging a finger in a way his grandfather used to do. “You are a brilliant physician. Your father always knew you would exceed all our expectations.”
The young man rubbed the bridge of his nose and chuckled at the praise. Friedrich knew nothing of the Institute or of his skill as a physician. These were just empty, stupid words of encouragement.
“You embarrass me,” Beppo said. “It’s only an assistant’s position.” Of course it was more, but what did the old man know or care?
“Ah,” said Friedrich, mustering more encouragement, “but Herr Professor Von Verscheur is a great man, is he not? Great men recognize greatness in others.”
The young man sat back and sipped his tea. In his blindness, the old man had stumbled upon a truth. A hope he had not dared to express himself, but one that he harbored nonetheless.
“We are at the threshold of exciting times, Freidrich,” he said, glad to give free rein to his excitement even in this dusty drawing room to an uneducated widower who still called him by his childhood nickname. “In every flowering aspect of our culture, particularly in the realm of scientific knowledge, Germany is at the forefront of revolutionary thought. Human genetics is at last taking its rightful place among the classic sciences. Soon, it may even surpass them. All that is required to usher in the new era are men with the will to put the theories of great thinkers like Von Verscheur to practical application;men with the courage to further the boundaries of human understanding by any means. Men…”
“Men like you, Beppo?” Friedrich interrupted, smiling mischievously across his tea cup, fat fingers shoved into the too small handle.
The young man exhaled, like a ship with slackening sails. He stared at the old man. The nickname was suddenly unwelcome. Like the word ‘life,’ too small and paltry a thing to describe such a grand and expansive concept. It was almost insulting.
He watched the old man’s expression falter, eyes falling, perhaps for the first time, on the party pin on the lapel of his coat.
The young man laughed, shaking his head. He was truly embarrassed now. Did a lion roar at an insect in its path? Ridiculous.
“Yes, Friedrich,” he said, letting the old man know it was alright again. “Like me.”
The last, he said into his empty teacup.
“Exactly like me.”
The cuckoo sprang and toodled out the advancing hour.
After that, conversation dwindled. Friedrich spoke of his wife and the loneliness of the house, and his thoughts of selling and moving back to Gunzburg near the factory. The man pined for the old rustic village and was now intent on returning to his memories of farm tools and beer. Some were born to endless night, the younger man thought. At the end of this maudlin tirade, he glanced at his wristwatch.
He muttered his excuse and they both stood up, he still didn’t know the name of Friedrich’s late wife.
“I’m sorry to see you leave so soon, Beppo,” Friedrich said, as he took his hat off the hook in the foyer.
He looked at the old man, not without affection, for he could hear the sincerity in his voice. This man had worked for his father, had raised him up on his shoulders as a boy and shown him the workings of the factory, though they had bored him even then. He had taken pride in his work nonetheless. He was a good German.
He clapped the old man’s shoulder, pursing his lips.
“It’s regrettable, Friedrich,” he said. “I don’t know when I’ll be in Ingolstadt again.”
The old man shrugged.
“Perhaps if you come to Christmas in Gunzburg, to see your family, you will see me there too, one of these days.”
“Perhaps,” he said, smiling and setting his hat on his head. “Thank you for the tea, Friedrich. It was good seeing you.”
He turned toward the door and opened it, the cold blasting his face.
“Just a moment, Beppo,” the old man said behind him. “I’d almost forgotten.”
He turned, and the old man gestured to a weighty, belted stack of books on the stand beneath the mirror, which the younger man hadn’t noticed before.
“I remembered your fondness for antique books,” the old man explained, smiling behind his moustache. “These are for you.”
The younger man pulled the door closed and moved to the books. He unbelted them and sifted through the stack. They were very old, bound in leather, some of them filigreed, the pages yellowed. His fingers trembled slightly as they traced the embossments, as they always did when physically connecting to old words and in his mind, to the forgotten men who authored them.
“These are very old,” he said, and there was a flutter in his chest. Some of them were probably quite valuable.
He inspected the titles, his marvel building with each subsequent name. Here was Paracelsus and the great Agrippa…Frater Albertus…the legendary Eirenaues Philalethes…mad Alhazred…John Dee…some even he had never encountered in his readings.
These were the alchemical and magical texts of the old masters, some dating back to the 15th century at least, and in good condition, hand copied. Their teachings were of course obsolete, but the books themselves were a treasure trove of historical value. He considered refusing the gift, shaking the old man by the shoulders and making him aware of the literal fortune which he sought to give away. An antiquarian or a museum, maybe even the Reich Institute would pay out a charitable sum for these books. They would be carefully preserved and copied as cultural artifacts. But if he did, what would Freidrich truly do with them? He would laugh at his young guest’s enthusiasm and leave them here in the foyer to gather dust like the dainty gypsy figurines his wife had left behind.
Money from their sale would help him and his new bride immensely as well. Who could use it more; an old man bumping about the cavernous, waning days of a lonesome twilight, or a young doctor with promising years ahead of him?
He struggled to retain his composure and smiled.
“Wherever did you get these, Freidrich?”
Friedrich waved off their importance.
“Oh, the prior owner was an invalid. She didn’t get out, let alone upstairs. I found them in an attic room. Old textbooks, most of them, left over from the university days, no doubt.”
The younger man nodded, thumbing briefly but lovingly through the aged pages, inspecting the hand-inked paragraphs with their quasi-mystical formulas and complex diagrams. The university Freidrich spoke of was the old Jesuit university in Ingolstadt, where the astronomer Christoph Scheiner and Weishaupt, the founder of the Illuminati had taught. It had been closed in 1800 by Maximillian.
“This was a boarding house back then,” Freidrich went on. “Many of the students and young priests stayed here over the years.
The doctor paused on one of the pages, admiring an astoundingly detailed anatomical cross section of a human eye. It looked to be hand drawn, accurate to the minutest detail and annotated in a broad, handsome Latin. The drawing was strikingly beautiful. An eye so laid bare and removed from the context of the body was like a fanciful creature, alien of form, sprung entirely from whimsy.
Friedrich ran his liver-spotted hand over the back of his neck modestly.
“Probably just a lot of quaint old foolishness compared to what they assign you to read in Munich.”
“Not at all,” the doctor said, reluctantly closing the book and reading the cover. It was some sort of experimental log, unpublished. He didn’t recognize the author’s name. Some anonymous medical student long dead. “One should never disparage things of the past, Friedrich. Who can say what has been written and perhaps forgotten?”
“Well,” Friedrich smiled. “They are yours, Herr Doktor.”
The doctor smiled thinly. Herr Doktor. It was infinitely better than ‘Beppo.’
“Thank you again, Freidrich. I will cherish these.”
Friedrich waved him off and moved to open the door for him.
He stepped out into the cold again, hugging the books as if they would warm him. Snow drifted down outside like the remnants of frozen, dying stars.
“Drive carefully,” the old man said.
The doctor stepped out into the street.
There was no traffic, and he crossed easily. The old man lingered in the doorway behind him and called;
“Give my love to your mother and father!”
The young doctor raised one gloved hand but did not look back. He reached the Olympia, now frosted with ice.
He wrenched open the door and slid in, setting the books on the passenger’s seat beside him.
“And to all the Mengeles!” Friedrich called.
Dr. Josef Mengele nodded as he closed the door, and mouthed a final goodbye. He shivered and turned the engine over, revving the accelerator, flooding its oily heart with combustible life. He could see his own breath. He wanted to let the car idle a bit before he began, but he saw that Friedrich intended to wait in the open doorway and see him off.
The old man’s love for the Mengele family was admirable, but a bit dogged for one who had drawn simple foreman’s wages and enjoyed only a passing friendship at his father’s tool factory. He knew his father had aided Freidrich’s family in some way long ago. Some trouble with the man’s son, he believed. But where was that son now? In his lonesomeness, the old man had practically adopted Josef in the short span of time they had spent together.
Still, he could not begrudge Friedrich his gift.
Mengele glanced at the spines of the books on the seat as he put the car into reverse and prepared to draw away from the curb. Paracelsus’ Der Grossen Wundartzney leapt out at him. So too, Albertus Magnus’ Physica. And then there was that enticing book with the drawing of the eye, marked in French, ‘Journal Experimental.’ The one by the unknown author, M. Victor Frankenstein.
When he shifted back into first gear and eased the Olympia onto the street, Friedrich was still waving from the doorway of the old house. The snow pelted the windscreen furiously as he guided the car out of Ingolstadt. A driving storm greeted him when he at last pointed it toward Leipzig.
I haven’t seen Rogue One as of this writing, but I’ve seen the trailers.
Can we talk about Death Troopers?
These are a variant on the black-clad ‘elite’ stormtroopers or Shadow Troopers that sprang from the EU in its Legends days and gradually grew in popularity among the 501st cosplayers at conventions, and are now about to charge full blown into Star Wars canon onscreen.
Yeah, they look really cool.
But I’m not a fan….AND I’LL TELL YA WHY!
Stormtroopers are about shock and awe. They wear this pristine white armor not because it’s practical, but because there’s something incongruous to their appearance when they kick in your door or come hut hut hutting out of a dropship.
I remember the first time I saw them blasting their way onto the Tantive IV in A New Hope. Their appearance made my brain misfire. In my kid’s mind, bad guys wore black (Zorro notwithstanding, but he was sort of pretending to be a bad guy). Soldiers are gruff, down and dirty, but stormtroopers are spotless, unblemished, and regimental. There’s something in that that gives the mind pause (and in that pause is where Stormtroopers shine).
Stormtroopers represent the Imperial notion of Order with a capital O. They’re not interested in practicality, they’re there to overwhelm you, both mentally and physically. All jokes about them not being able to hit a thing (yes yes, they don’t hit waddling 3PO and R2 in the hallway when they wander through that firefight…very amusing. But on the other side of them, a whole lot of Rebel troopers are shown getting dropped. The plain truth is…they weren’t AIMING for the droids.), it takes something to go marching into a combat zone in bright white armor. Stupidity, you may say, but I say thee nay! Discipline and fanaticism -two things you want to foment in a stormtrooper recruit.
It’s the same assurance that puts the TIE fighter pilots (the ONLY front liners who deserve to wear the black) into the cockpits of unshielded ships. Survivability is not a concern of stormtroopers. They’re a cog in a really big, really nasty machine and they know they can be replaced. That’s why the Emperor did away with all those pretty primary colored unit designations and emblems from the Clone Wars. The New Order isn’t about unit distinction, it’s about raw power.
Look at the Scout Troopers on Endor. No camouflage seems silly, right? When the Scouts hit the ground, the Empire is sending a message. That message is, we don’t give a laughin’ fuzzball about your planet. Not about your flora, not your fauna. We’ll stomp your trees with our AT-AT’s (rhymes with Rat-a-tat-tat-tat-a-tat-like that. And I never hesitate to put a Rebel on his back). Our Scouts don’t hide. They fly by on their speeder bikes and leave you smoking.
But what about Snowtroopers (my faves), you might say? They’re all white, they buy into the appeal of camo. Nope. Snowtroopers wear what Snowtroopers wear to keep warm. Hoth just happens to compliment Snowtroopers. It’s not the other way around. That’s why they run the joint. Snowtroopers weren’t made for Hoth. Hoth was made for Snowtroopers.
So yeah, black-clad stormtroopers. They just go against the whole notion of crushing faceless uniformity I’ve come to love in the Empire. You wanna be a special snowflake, go be a Royal Guard. The job is cushier and you get a pointy movealong and a flashy red dress.
On top of all that….when I’m playing Battlefront I can never see the little buggers.
May The Force Be Witcha.
Issue #4 of Cirsova: Heroic Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine is now available, featuring another great cover by Jabari Weathers, this one illustrating my story The Lady of The Amorous City, a Lovecraftian retelling of the Arthurian legend of the Fish Knight.
The Fish Knight legend originated in a 14th century French Arthurian novel called Le Chevalier du Papegau, which featured Arthur as a knight errant accompanied by a talkative parrot.
The parrot didn’t make it into my story (I substituted Arthur’s foster brother Sir Kay), but the Fish Knight, a monstrous being who was at once fish, and man and horse all at once, features prominently.
Set in Arthur’s squire days, prior to the realization of his true parentage, the story could be considered a prequel to my forthcoming Arthurian fantasy novel, The Knight With Two Swords, coming from Ragnarok Books this January.
Here’s an excerpt –
A dream of maidenhood drifted up the lane through the rolling mists that spilled across the valley off Pemble Mere. She was Arthur’s age, and wore her stark, white-blonde hair unbound. Her marble skin was blemished with the cold, her long neck, encircled by a green knit muffler against the chill air, plunged into a tangle of pine colored fabric which attended her slight form. She rode a smooth-gaited white palfrey, its black mane braided with silver bells that tinkled as she came.
“Is this Caer Gai?” she called to them in a clear voice as she neared the gate. “The home of Sir Ector?”
She was not a classic beauty. She was too thin, and her oil black eyes were overlarge and bugged a bit in her narrow face. The slope of her nose was a bit too dramatic. Yet Arthur found attraction in her strangeness.
“It is,” answered Kay, stepping in front of Arthur. “I am his son, Sir Kay.”
Arthur rankled at the lie. Kay had not earned his accolade nor sworn his oath yet. He was only a few years older than Arthur.
“I am Harddwch heb Drwg, daughter of Count Valsin,” she said, tossing back her hair, “and the Lady of the Amorous City. I have come to ask the aide of your father, Sir Ector.”
Arthur glanced at Kay, and was relieved to see the brute had no more idea who she was than he did.
Nevertheless, Kay ploughed along, fists planted on his wide belt impressively, though Arthur knew it was to hide his bloody knuckles.
“My father is away, campaigning with King Bernant against the Saxons,” said Kay. “In his absence, I am lord of Caer Gai. How may I be of assistance?”
Harddwch looked dubiously from Kay to Arthur, and Arthur became keenly aware of the state of his own appearance. In the absence of their father and with no one but an elderly maid to order them bootlessly to their chores and ablutions, the two of them had been mucking about all day, riding and fighting. They were mud splashed, and Kay’s torn tunic was anything but regal.
“I came seeking a champion of Uther’s table, not a boy.”
“King Uther’s day is passed, my lady,” Kay said impressively. “What need have you of a champion?”
“My city is besieged by a monster.”
Arthur said nothing. A monster? Monsters were bodachs and redcaps, changelings and will ‘o wisps; stories to keep children in line, not anything to be spoken of seriously in the light of God’s day.
“A what?” Kay said, smirking, decidedly less diplomatic.
“My father told me that the knights of Uther fought dragons and giants. Was your father the exception?”
“Oh yes, he won all this from a giant,” Kay said, sweeping the land with the point of his wooden sword. “He used to tell us all about it…at bedtime.”
“There are monsters,” the girl said sharply. “I have seen them. I have seen drawn out specters all aglow, swept along like leaves in a current on the shrieking Helm Wind. I have heard them, clicking claws in the blackness beneath the shrubs along these benighted roads. I have felt them, scraping at the bottoms of boats on the lakes. And among all I have seen and heard, he is a monster to be remembered.”
“Who?” Arthur asked.
“Marchog Psygod, the Fish Knight. He rose from the bottom of Blencarn Lake, where many a worm has been content to wage secret wars in the murky depths against sightless enemies. Maybe he looked up and caught a glimpse of the moon and was tantalized, or maybe Joseph of Arimathea sunk a devil into Blencarn and it wove a vehicle of fish carcasses together for his black soul to ride out onto the lands and do evil. Whatever he is, Marchog Pysgod roams the countryside, and leaves the corpses of men, women, and children in the slime of his wake from Mallerstang to the Eden Valley, even in the sight of the Amorous City. Sixty knights have faced him and sixty knights he has laid low.”
Arthur was chilled by the girl’s talk, and unconsciously gripped the silver cross that hung over his heart beneath his tunic.
Even Kay seemed spellbound.
“Where is this Amorous City?” Kay asked.
The girl turned in her saddle and pointed north across the River Dee.
“Three days, to Rheged.”
Kay looked off in that direction as if he could see the destination if he tried.
“My sword is yours, Lady,” Kay declared. “Take her to the stables, squire. We will pack for the journey.”
Without another word, he went off toward the keep.
Arthur bit his lip at his brother’s airs, but dutifully took the reins of the horse. He led the lady toward the stables, a thousand questions roiling in his mind, a thousand names to call his brother when they were alone. But he was too mindful of offending the strange lady, so he said nothing.
“He calls you squire,” said Harddwch, when they were halfway to the stables. “Are you not his brother?”
“I’m the adopted son of Ector,” Arthur said.
“What is your name?”
“Arthur,” he said.
“Who are your real parents?”
“No one knows that, my Lady. I was left here as a babe.”
“I was orphaned by the Saxon raiders from the sea,” she said. “Count Valsin made me his ward.”
She was like him.
“We are blessed to have known such charity, my Lady.”
“Yes,” she said, “blessed.”
He found Kay in his chamber strapping himself into his armor.
“At last!” he cried as Arthur appeared. “I can’t find my helm.”
“We can’t go to Rheged!” Arthur exclaimed. “What are you thinking? What will father say?”
“When I return to Caer Gai with the head of a monster and the gratitude of this Lady of the Amorous City? Maybe her hand? What do you think he’ll say?”
Her hand? Arthur felt his blood surge, though he didn’t know why.
“He’ll box your ears!”
“The hell he will. I’ll be the son he’s always wanted at last.”
That stopped Arthur.
“You already are that, Kay.”
“No, you’re that, Arthur,” Kay said, staring hard at him. “You’re a better squire than I ever was, and everyone knows you’ll be a better knight one day.”
“You’ll be the master of Caer Gai.”
“Is an inheritance something to boast about? My father won these lands, just as you’ll win something for yourself one day. I need something for myself, to build upon.”
“Kay….,” Arthur began. But he couldn’t think of anything to say. “You think there really is a monster?”
“Monsters are rare in these times, and usually turn out to be nothing more than the overactive imaginations of peasants. Even King Pellinore’s old beast has conveniently only ever been seen by Pellinoire himself. Maybe Marchog Pysgod’s just some villainous knight traipsing about. There’s only one way to find out.”
Arthur chewed his lip. Although he knew it was folly, he badly wanted to go. He’d never been out of sight of Pemble Mere. He wished this lady had arrived when Ector was here. Maybe Ector would have brought them both along.
“But sixty knights!” he heard himself whine.
“I’m going, Arthur,” Kay said. Right or wrong headed, Kay was always a bull. “Will you come with me, brother?”
Arthur felt his heart tremble. Kay rarely ever called him that. Every day he lived with the knowledge that he was no man’s son. No man’s brother, not really. He loved Ector for calling him son, and though he hated to admit it almost as much as Kay, there was love between them as they were each the closest thing to a brother either of them had. He might never rightly bear the charge of Ector on his own shield, but what was that compared to a true brother?
Arthur clasped his hand.
“Good. Now help me with these God-cursed vambraces!”
No, it’s not the start of a D&D joke, it’s the latest adventure of The Muttwhelp, Mogarth of Glean, the half-ork antihero who debuted in Ragnarok Publications’ companion kickstarter collection The Black List.
In The Hillbound Hearth, exclusive to my patreon, Colander Bucklebuster, a world-renowned halfling chef, opens his newly constructed home to any hungry traveler for his first dinner party, in accordance with his peoples’ pious traditions of Holy Propriety, set forth in the Green Book of Catholic Manners.
The usual august personages take their seats for the twelve course sacred banquet, an elf lord and his lady, the high sheriff and her husband….but when the houseboy answers an inordinately heavy knock on the door, he finds an unwelcome pair of would-be dinner guests waiting to be admitted….half-ork bandit Mogarth and his savage goblin companion Redshat.
But this isn’t just a comedy of clashing cultures. Something’s not not quite right at Hillbound Manor….
Here’s an excerpt –
“Fill the glasses, Chopfork,” Mr. Bucklebuster instructed as he regained his place at the head of the table. “My friends, some of you are perhaps only marginally aware of the traditions of our gods and goddesses of hearth and home, of the dutifulness with which every pious Halfling cleaves to the edicts of Holy Propriety as written down in our Green Book of Catholic Manners. Of our twenty one deities none is more revered on the night of First Dinner than St. Doremett, patron of hospitality. We are commanded to turn no one away who comes seeking shelter or food, despite our personal feelings. To do otherwise is to invite Ill Luck to claim the place we have denied the weary traveler. Tonight two travelers have come to my door, and I am obliged to invite them to sit with us. I hope you will understand.”
Chopfork refilled the wine glasses. They would need something to prepare themselves for their new dinner mates, he thought.
“Please welcome Mogarth of Glean and his traveling companion, Mr. Redshat.”
Chopfork winced as the two newcomers entered, and was at hand to catch Mayor Buttercurler’s spoon and fling a towel into Lady Eanatha’s spilled wine before it reached the centerpiece.
“Evening, all,” said Mogarth.
He had not doffed his hauberk or his cleaver, and he had one hand planted firmly on top of the goblin’s bald head, to keep it from jumping in place. It’s large eyes were wide and dilated in its inky face at the sight of the table, though whether it was the food upon it or the guests seated at it he coveted, Chopfork didn’t wish to know.
“Please, my friends, sit,” said Mr. Bucklebuster.
Every flap of dirty foot on tile, every sniff of the goblin’s prodigious nose, every creak and jangle of Mogarth’s armor could be heard in the deathly stillness as they took their seats. Mogarth sat opposite Mr. Bucklebuster at the end of the long table, and Redshat was seated next to Knork Mezzaluna, who laid aside his plate and grew pale as the goblin stood on the chair, hands on the table, smelling the tablecloth, his empty dish, and then Knork’s arm.
Best to get the soup out fast.
Chopfork ladled out the thick split pea and sausage course in the small two handled bowls and was sad to see that no one appeared to much appreciate it. Mr. Lapida stirred it but kept his eyes fixed to it. The Mayor, trembling, took out some sort of antacid packet, sprinkled it into his wine, and drank it down in a gulp. The two elves only looked coldly toward the end of the table, as though the mere presence of Mogarth and Redshat were a personal affront to them. The Sheriff was looking hard at Mr. Bucklebuster, and her husband Knork appeared to be concerned mainly with the goblin at his side, who had slurped down his own bowl before Mogarth had been served, and then, after prodding poor Knork a few times with his long finger, proceeded to take his and down it as well.
When the second bowl had been drained, Redshat looked around at all the others. Only Mr. Bucklebuster and Mogarth were partaking. He put one dirty black foot up on the tablecloth, about to boost himself up and walk across to claim a third bowl, but Mograrth caught him by the arm and shook his head.
“Pace yourself,” he advised. “You’re never gonna make it to dessert.”
The goblin seemed to see the logic in this and took his foot off the table. But he had left a dark, unsightly foot smear upon the tablecloth.
To Chopfork’s chagrin, Mr. Bucklebuster chuckled.
“He’s an eager eater. That’s commendable. You said you were from Glean, Mogarth?”
Mogarth nodded as he stuffed another spoonful of sausage into his maw.
“That’s in The Valley of The Golden Lap, isn’t it?”
Mogarth nodded again.
“Ah, you and Mr. Lapida are practically neighbors. He resides just over the Wentri Hills in Steelshore.”
Mr. Bucklebuster looked at Mr. Lapida, inviting him to partake in the conversation, but Lapida only hunched his shoulders and stirred his cooling soup.
Mr. Bucklebuster was unperturbed.
“Tell me, wherever did you meet your little friend, Mr. Redshat?” And then, as an afterthought, Mr. Bucklebuster frowned. “I’m sorry. Does he speak?”
“When spoken to,” said Mogarth.
Redshat was tearing up the dinner napkin loudly with his teeth.
“I met Redshat in the woods around Crossbow Hollow. He and his kin lived there.”
“I knew of a gang of goblin bandits that plagued Crossbow Hollow for a time,” said Sheriff Ivy. “The Bellygashers, they were called. What they did to travelers caught in their forest is not fit for dinner conversation.”
“Bellygashers,” Redshat croaked. “All gone. All dead. Pinkskins kill them.”
“Yeah,” said Mogarth thoughtfully. “The Hartslayers took them out. The leader…”
“Pickscab,” said Redshat.
“Yeah. I think Pickscab was his name,” Mogarth said with a grin. “They cut him open and tied his guts to the back of the prison wagon, made him walk half way to Crossbow Hollow, then dragged him when he died. What the little kids of the Hollow did to his body isn’t fit for table talk either.”
“Many were the cruelties each race inflicted on the other,” said Mr. Bucklebuster, over his folded hands. “And regrettable.”
“And yet they are as nothing compared to the depredations of the war,” said Lord Oliendell in a fury.
“I saw your sword had a name on the blade,” said Mogarth, finishing his soup. “What was it?”
“Ork Ender,” said Lord Oliendell with cold pride. “And it lived up to that name on the Field of Bantilloy. Does that meat cleaver you carry have a name, or were you just another butcher in Odius Khan’s horde?”
“I call it Old Age,” said Mogarth with a savage smile. “Your people like to claim immortality, but you’d be surprised to know how many died of Old Age.”
The Hillbound Hearth, now up at my patreon for $5.00 and above backers, along with eleven other exclusive or little seen short stories by yours truly –
Comet Press, publishers of my psychosexual revenge western Coyote’s Trail, is bringing my tenth novel your way in January of 2017: Monstrumührer.
Dr. Josef Mengele discovers Victor Frankenstein’s lab journal in the attic of an Ingolstadt dormitory and is tasked by the Reich Institute with replicating his experiments. In a bookstore in Warsaw, a pair of Jewish twin brothers, Jotham and Eli Podczaski, come across the letters of Captain Walton to his sister, detailing the story of Frankenstein.
When Jotham and Eli encounter Mengele in the confines of Auschwitz KZ, Jotham hatches a plan to escape and travel north, to find the only being capable of stopping Mengele who will believe them….Frankenstein’s original Creature.
Cover art by Amy Wilkins.