Tag Archives: original fantasy

India Bones and the Indigo Caves available now!

The second book in the pirate fantasy series India Bones is available now on Amazon here.

I hope you all enjoy it; I had the most fun writing it. Packed full of pirate adventure (and danger).

Blurb:

India Bones was once just an ambitious street kid from Mexico Island, without family, without money, and without experience of the wider world.
Much has changed. Now he is an eager crewmember of the pirate ship the Devil’s Dress, sailing the Caribbean under the captaincy of his skeleton friend Grimmer, seeking adventure, glory, and stolen booty.
But sometimes adventures – those of the riskiest kind – aren’t looked for. When the powerful and unscrupulous merchant king Hong Kong Silver demands the crew seek out the pirate revolutionary Ebon Caesar, they are given little choice but to comply.
Yet Caesar is not in the Caribbean. To find him they must travel to Afrika, a vast land full of all new wonders and dangers. And that’s just the beginning of their troubles, for Caesar has his own dark plans . 

India Bones and the Indigo Caves extract

Morning rose, and they were too dead on their feet to keep going, especially with the shimmering wave of heat that struck them with the rising sun. Old Neg fainted, and that was that. They splashed water on his face, then half-carried him to a small gorge where they laid up in its shadows. Ink took the first watch; the rest were out like a light.

They were roused by Bilge Joe at midday, and wobbled their way out the gorge and west once more.

They relaxed somewhat as the days passed, for no pursuit seemed to be coming. Maybe Caesar really had decided he had better things to do than chase them down. They deviated from their course slightly to approach an old village. Half-naked children played in the red dust, and stopped to stare at the strangers. Somewhere women were singing, wailing, an ethereal sound that carried through the village. It spoke to India of waving lemon grass, of a boiling sun that rose giant and scarlet over the rim of the world as a million birds took to the air. Of titanic mumaphants shaking the earth with their steps, and rhinosaurs rolling in the mud. Of children playing and laughing in the dust and the doom palms and the fever trees.

They struggled to make themselves understood to the villagers, but with enough pantomiming by Bilge Joe they succeeded in both buying food and hiring camels – the only ones, it seemed, the village had. Bilge Joe thrust a handful of battered silver coins at them and their faces opened in wonder and delight.

‘Good thing too,’ India heard him mutter to Bill Timber. ‘I very much doubt they’re gettin’ these camels back.’

Their progress was much better mounted, and not having to pass the bags of gear between them. They kept the camels in a trot for a while – the beasts seemed eager for the rare chance to run – then settled them into a steady walk when they got tired.

There was still no sign of Captain Grimmer and the rest of the crew. India, now worried, asked if they should go back for them (despite absolutely not wanting to retrace all those steps and returning to their place of imprisonment), but Ink and Bilge Joe snorted practically in unison.

‘They’ll be out, don’t you worry,’ the first mate said. ‘Straight west, Cap’n’s orders. We ain’t to go against that.’

‘And if we don’t see him?’

‘Then we don’t see him,’ Bill Timber said in his deep voice.

‘We’re a crew up to a point, lad,’ Bilge Joe said. ‘After that, well, sometimes you can’t do somethin’ for someone more than they can do it for themselves. You understand?’

India didn’t, but kept his mouth closed.

*

Days, nights, days. The sky was cloudless, the country arid, but for verdant watering holes, crowded with grazing animals of every shape and size. Eventually long grasses returned, the air thicker, the trees frequent. They passed lines of quiver trees alternating with petrified wood in the most unnatural shapes; they looked almost like people who had been magicked into statues by one of the less merciful Afrikan gods. Bushwillows followed, and then, as the foliage grew denser and the climate more humid, red silk-cottons and giant kokrodua and heavy-leafed coffin trees, and many not one of them could name. There were no rocks in this land.

Another day and their camels rode awkwardly and out-of-place along winding forest trails. Black hardwoods and evergreens and blossoming flowers of every colour. The undergrowth thickened, and sometimes the way ahead to smoother grass had to be hacked away with Ink’s machete. Sweat rolled down every inch of their skin. The buzz of insects were regular, and Bilge Joe was attacked on countless occasions; they seemed to be the only things in the world that liked his odour.

They had shifted to riding in the days; the nights here seemed too dangerous, fraught by frightening animal cries. The forest became a predator. They saw slinking shapes away from the light of the campfire, and chittering in the trees, heard prey pounced upon and eaten. One night they all woke up one by one to the sound of discordant humming. None of them were making the noise – it was coming from the forest. Bilge Joe and Ink were on watch, and told them firmly not to investigate. India thought that wise, though he wondered at its source – the humming was wordless singing, now. It was scarier just for the lack of knowing. Oshun and Meria’s stories came back to him. Were they Obambo bush ghosts? Biloko treasure guardians? Mashetani spirits? Was it the trickster god Ogo in one of his disguises? Or was it the Rompo, that corpse-feeder that crooned as it ate?

India shuddered. Much as he liked to experience new things, he didn’t fancy meeting whatever was making that sound, at least not in the middle of the night.

Thankfully the sound faded into the forest, and after a while of staring into the black-green foliage and seeing things that weren’t there, India eventually drifted back into an uneasy sleep.

India Bones and the Indigo Caves is a work in progress. The first book in this series, India Bones and the Ship of the Dead, is currently available FREE as a US/UK ebook here.

India Bones and the Indigo Caves

I’m happy to report I’m working hard on my next book. ‘Tis the sequel to the pirate fantasy India Bones and the Ship of the Dead, and it’s called India Bones and the Indigo Caves. It’s vaguely standalone like the first (although it does reference the first), as well as being part of a series, so you don’t completely need to have read the first to enjoy it (though you should anyway!). You can find the first on Amazon here, currently free as an ebook in US and UK.

What to expect from the new one? AFRIKA. Hong Kong Silver. Die Kraai. Louisiana swamps. Le Jour des Morts. Mumaphants. Hammertown. Tartarus. Antlered cats…

The art used in the heading image is by Marina Ortega.

The Fifth Place Book 3: VOLSYNG now available!

The third book in the sci-fi/fantasy/dark western/dystopian series The Fifth Place is completed and up on Amazon! You can find it here.

I hope those who have been following this series enjoy this dark new chapter, as different again as SLADE was to WULF, but still featuring our diverse and tragic anti-heroes we can’t help but root for.

 

Volsyng Cover medium

SLADE excerpt – The Fifth Place Book 2

Read below for a snippet from Book 2 of the Fifth Place. Don’t read if you haven’t read WULF (Book 1) yet and/or don’t want any spoilers!

 

 

‘Miss Slade, it is my delight to inform you that you will not die today. You are, in fact, coming with me.’

That’s what he’d told her, before he’d gone on with himself. She hadn’t been able to reply, given the silver band around her throat that stopped her from speaking, except when he allowed her to. Not that she would have offered much; it was the first time in her life she felt she could have outdone Savvi on swearing.

He never offered his name, but he referred to himself as a “Servant”. Information beyond that was scant. When she woke up (she’d no idea how he’d knocked her out and taken her; the last thing she remembered was talking to Jay in a bar in Stoneswell – had he drugged her drink?), she found herself in the middle of nowhere, her ankles and wrists bound with silver loops held together with a kind of slithery, jelly-like cord.

The design wasn’t wholly unlike common manacles, but as the days would wear on, she would be forced to acknowledge their superiority. The cuffs seemed to sense the tensions of her body, and perhaps even her mind. They were only loosely connected most of the time, allowing her to walk almost normally and use her hands. Whenever she tried to escape however (which was about eight times in all), and even when she was only preparing to escape, the glistening silver tentacle that connected the loops would draw itself in, quickly shortening the distance between her limbs. The more she struggled, the closer her ankles and wrists would press together, and the tighter the bands would be. Her legs would be unable to manage even the slowest shuffle, and her hands would clasp with such force that she was unable to use her fingers. This had been particularly frustrating when she’d tried to pick up a rock to hit her captor over the head while he’d been asleep. She thought he’d been asleep, at least, but maybe he never did. He’d opened his eyes glowing green in the night like a cat, and watched her with cool interest as she fell back down, tired and angry and hopeless.

The next day he’d handed her his gun. It was a cold grey thing, as smooth and featureless as a piece of paper. She knew at once it was pointless, but she aimed at him without emotion and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened, of course. She let it drop to the ground and he picked it up, and aimed at a stub of a tree and fired. He gave her what he must have thought was a smile. She stared back. It was a gun that only he could fire. She’d never heard of something like that before, but it didn’t matter. She understood. Until something changed, there was nothing she could do.

After that moment, she only tried to escape twice more.

At the beginning she thought he’d make her walk in front of him, but he never did. They walked in tandem, or side by side, close together or thirty feet apart. It hadn’t mattered. Unless she followed his direction, the bands tightened and she could no longer move. She thought she’d die from the frustration, the impotence.

They walked on in silence, west through the golden Sol Forests, and then into the wilds beyond. Always towards the Black Circle.

 

SLADE can be bought on Amazon here.

 

SLADE cover med-small

VOLSYNG teaser – The Fifth Place Book 3

I’m currently working on the third book in The Fifth Place series. Here’s a short teaser that doesn’t really spoil previous books, if you haven’t read them yet (which you should!)

The first book in the series, WULF, can be found here, currently free!

 

He was born small, smaller than the other kids. Some called him a runt, others protected him – though even at an early age he could see the disappointment in their eyes.

He had more enemies than friends, but he preferred it that way. Better an enemy than a friend that turned on you. Enemies were supposed to be mean; friends weren’t. But it seemed his friends were always the type to flip like a coin.

He was told to grow thicker skin, and he did. But as his skin thickened, so too the cruelty of others increased, growing in sync, and just like everything else, he couldn’t catch up. He was too white in a white culture and too short in a world where the buildings rose higher every day.

He was beaten often. He stopped wanting to leave the house; it was a big house after all, a great manor, one with plenty of places to explore.

He remembered the adults standing over him, always over him, looking down at him with their bright eyes and sharp teeth. He never knew who his parents were, he was never told. Perhaps none of them were, perhaps his parents had died. He was raised by the Family, and when he tried to remember them, after they had disappeared one by one, they were only black, looming shapes, indistinguishable from each other.

One day, after he came home bloody and bruised, they told him about himself. They said he was not like those he played with, those who hurt him and acted his friend. He was better (the word stuck a little in their throats) than them. He would outlive them all. In his life he would see riches turn to poverty and back to riches, and when he was poor he would have to hide from them, but when he was rich, when he had power, they would be at his mercy.

Many times over the years, they would ask him: ‘What are they?’

And he would reply, as they had taught him: ‘They are weakness masquerading as strength.’

And they would ask him: And what are you?

And he would reply, ‘I am strength masquerading as weakness.’

The next evening after they had told him about who he was, about the history of their kind, he left the house again. He was grabbed by his tormentors and one, the biggest, the meanest, put a hand over his mouth to stop him shouting out.

He bit it. Hard. The boy screamed.

The blood tasted good, but the pain tested better.

The boy tried to pull his hand away, but he came with it, still biting.

It was his first taste of justice. It felt right. That those who would harm him would themselves be harmed. The punisher would be punished.

Over the crawl of following years, as the memory of that boy’s wounded cries were joined by the cries of many others, he would come to know the idea as Equilibrium.

 

Vrowd art

India Bones and the Ship of the Dead #6

Following on from Part 5.

Find it on Amazon here.

*

 

‘Where is that?’ India asked, spyglass trained on the land mass that passed slowly before them. He saw bright forests and white beaches, and in the centre, with trees marched up its slopes, a single mountain peak that in the light seemed capped with silver.

‘West Indigo,’ Hairless said. ‘Just you wait honey, you’re soon to see something even better.’

A while later, separated by only a turquoise channel whose lush beauty betrayed its shallowness (India wondered if you could wade through it without even needing a boat), East Indigo floated into view.

‘What the shank is that?’ India gasped.

‘Nice, ain’t it?’ rumbled Big Cage.

‘That’s the East Indigo Palace,’ Hairless said. ‘Abode of Hong Kong Silver.’

‘I’ve heard of him.’

‘You’d be hard pressed not to, sugar. Biggest merchant trader in the Caribbean. And I mean biggest.’

‘That’s sure a nice way of putting it,’ Dessica chimed in, joining them at the rail and leaning over, the sun turning her skull gold. ‘Silver might be as rich as an Aztec, but he’s also the most disreputable man in the Caribbean. The man’s got to where he is by being a double-crossing crook. Would sell his own grandmother if it added another inch to his piles of gold. You’d call him a pirate if he ever set sail.’

‘I never said he was an honest merchant trader,’ Hairless said. ‘If there’s any such thing.’

‘Nice, ain’t it?’ Big Cage said again.

‘It sure is,’ India said. A path of golden sand, somehow hardened and set like stone, wound from the beach and carved up a hill, flanked on both sides by the tallest palm trees he’d ever seen. Away from the path, vibrant greenery gave way to tangled jungle, which clustered in, eager to get closer to the palace, and steal its photosynthetic radiance. Huge white domes burst like soap bubbles from the island’s centre at the top of the hill, only matched in shining dominance by two gold-and-white minarets that stabbed into the blue sky.

‘He must be swimming in coin,’ India murmured. He looked at where the path broadened and met the palace, huge gates that glowed in the sunlight – and perhaps they too were made of gold.

‘Oh, he is,’ Hairless said. ‘Don’t get jealous now.’

‘Too late,’ India said. He imagined what it would be like to live in such a place, a place fit for an emperor. When East Indigo was finally lost to his vision, he retired quietly to his cabin and closed his eyes, basking in the idea that he did indeed live and rule there, waking up every morning on a shifting bed of Aztec coins.

 

*

 

India was roused from his bed one morning by Spares mumbling at him and shaking his arm. India felt a flash of fear; it was only the second time he’d been woken up to the face of a skeleton staring down at him, and this one was a lot closer, far too close. Whilst they no longer troubled him when he was up and about (with the possible exception of Blackbone), it was different when you were surprised out of the dull confusion and uncertainties of sleep into confronting a grinning visage of the dead.

Spares must have noticed the shock that passed briefly across his face, for he took a step back. ‘Begging your pardon, mate,’ he said. ‘Didn’t mean to shock you or nothing.’

‘Spares,’ India said, letting his heart rate slow back down. ‘What’s going on?’

‘We’re here, that’s what,’ Spares said. ‘Grimmer told me to fetch you.’

‘Here, where’s here?’ India sat up and rubbed the sleep from his eyes.

‘We’re anchored at Lonely Carib. Dropping the boats now.’

‘Oh.’

Spares left and India got up and dressed, pausing before putting on the coat Hairless had found him. It felt heavier than usual. He looked out the porthole and saw a sliver of beach, grey in the dawn light.

He ran a hand through his hair, rough and shaggy from all the sea spray. Mrs Wayles would have held him down and forced a brush through it, he thought with a small smile. Not that it would have helped; he’d only have been straight back out tumbling in the muddy alleys of Rug, or pushing through the jungle, raked by bad-tempered undergrowth on the way to the Aztec Tomb.

‘Is that a boy under there?’ Mrs Wayles used to say. ‘Or is it a bush? Has part of the jungle just uprooted and walked in? For the life of me I just can’t tell.’

 

*

 

India felt a strange, uncomfortable pang as they rowed towards the beach. He hadn’t said anything since he’d got in the boat. Grimmer too was especially quiet. Ahead of them the beach looked cold and sad.

Two of the skeletons got out into the water and pulled it up onto the shore. India got out and walked up the beach a short way. The hard sand crunched under his boots. It was the first time his feet had touched anything other than Mexico Island. It was a surreal and unsettling experience. He looked back at the ship, but saw only a thick, dark mist. He squinted and tried to envisage the ship there, knowing it was there, and bit by bit he saw the sails, the grey hull . . . but as soon as he relaxed the mist crawled in once more.

The skeletons were sitting about on the beach. A couple had wandered into the jungle. Some were speaking in couples or small groups, others like Grimmer were looking back out at the sea, or drawing idle patterns in the sand. Perhaps it was all in his head, but there seemed a melancholy air over everything. He sensed this was a different kind of escape for these ‘jolly rogers’, a different kind of relief than the drinking and dancing that had formed their last landing.

‘This is it,’ Dessica said as she approached him, her head low. ‘We’re all sorry to see you go.’

‘I don’t want to go,’ India said. A few of the other skeletons were standing up and coming over. Big Cage. Hairless. Spares.

Dessica shook her head, smiling. ‘Don’t be silly. The dead are no company for the living.’

‘You’ve got your whole life to live, honey,’ Hairless said.

‘Sorry you gotta go, mate,’ Spares said. ‘We’ve all enjoyed, uh, having you on board. It’s been lively.’

‘I have to?’

‘You know you do,’ Hairless said, gently.

‘Never meant to capture you in the first place,’ Spares said, kicking the sand with his feet. ‘Gotta watch the drinking.’

Big Cage came forward, and reached out with his arms. India awkwardly opened his own arms and Big Cage hugged him, almost crushing him.

‘Leave off him you big oaf,’ Spares said. ‘You’ll crush the lad.’ He shook his head as though annoyed, and wandered off.

‘Miss you,’ Big Cage said, and turned and followed Spares.

‘You too,’ India said, too quiet for Big Cage to hear.

‘Go and say your farewells to Grimmer,’ Dessica said. She touched her skull, and Hairless blew him a kiss, and the two of them walked away.

India saw a few of the other skeletons on the beach give him nods and waves, and he waved back. He pinched his eyes and approached Grimmer, who was still sat on the sand.

‘Come with me,’ India said.

‘No,’ Grimmer said, not looking at him. ‘I can’t.’

‘Why not?’

‘Don’t be naïve. Look, go on.’

‘I don’t want to.’

‘Why not?’

‘I don’t want to be by myself.’

‘You’ll be fine,’ Grimmer said. When India still hadn’t moved, he picked up a pebble, tightened his bone fingers around it and then turned and threw it at him. India dodged it; he didn’t know if it was supposed to hit him or not.

‘Go away!’ Grimmer said. ‘Leave me be. Go and join the land of the damned living.’

India looked at him with hurt, angry eyes, and then turned and walked away. When he’d reached the edge of the beach he glanced back. Grimmer was sat in the same spot, not moving, staring down at the sand.

India stuffed his hands into his coat pockets and disappeared into the jungle.

 

India Bones small cover

WULF sequel SLADE now available!

It’s my pleasure to announce that the next Fifth Place book, the sequel to the weird science fantasy western WULF, is finished and available HERE!

It’s called SLADE – it’s more irreverent, darker, crazier, more complex and twice as epic! This is where things really get going in the series. And if you want answers to all the questions raised in WULF, here is where you’ll find them!

 

SLADE cover med-small

SLADE (The Fifth Place Book 2) finished!

I’ve been working on the crazy sci-fi adventure SLADE, the sequel to WULF, for god knows how long, but I’m so pleased to say that as of today I finally finished it! Well, sort-of. It still needs a careful read through and editing away issues and mistakes – and fervent praying that there’s no gaping plotholes… but still!

It’s currently 123,353 words long, making it longer than its predecessor WULF by 50,000 words, and longer than the longest novel I’ve written by 40,000 words. It just kept getting longer!

It was the hardest thing I’ve ever written for numerous reasons. I really hope fans of WULF will enjoy this epic.  It answers just about all the main questions raised by WULF while still setting up the pieces for a future installment.

Can’t wait for you to read it!

Oh, and here’s the cover!

SLADE cover med-small

 

WULF #9

Following on from Part 8. You can find it in full on Amazon.

There was a rumble behind him, and he stepped out of the way of a carriage drawn by two huge yellow horses with long muzzles. The cart was roughly spherical, of a silver dulled long in the desert. In the centre was an opening covered by rich purple curtains. Only a hand was visible, clutching the fabric, as though the owner was undecided about pulling the curtain back. Jay heard raised voices coming from within, as it rolled past with spoked wheels the size of uppity mole-eyed clerks. A woman’s voice and a man’s; it was the woman’s hand, and it withdrew.

Jay saw he was back on the thoroughfare. He could just make out the rest house and the bar – Buha’s Tap & Griller – up ahead. That was another interesting thing: just like spoken words that immediately translated themselves into his thoughts, the words written on these signs were not any language he could recognise, nor alphabet, and yet . . . there they were, in plain English in his brain.

Griller. That meant meat, and meat meant food. He might only have four jackals to his name (his mind seemed unwilling or unable to call up an exchange rate, but then he supposed one would have little purpose here), but maybe Sav would lend him some money, at least for one half-decent meal. He figured that even though she might have been a . . . mercenary kind of girl, if you tried often enough the mercurial sometimes granted you boons, and surely a wilderness woman like her would know what it was like to go hungry.

Hungry? I’m starving. He suddenly felt lightheaded, feeling himself sway. He put out a hand on the side of a building to catch himself. When had he last eaten? A lifetime ago? When had Old Jay (as he had started to name the last owner of this body, and the imprints and voices left behind) last eaten?

He entered Buha’s. Sal was there, and she scowled at him when she saw him approach. ‘Yes?’ she said.

‘Hello again. You work here too, huh? Is Sav about?’

‘No.’

He sighed and sat down on a bar stool. ‘What can I get to eat, for four jackals?’

Sal turned her back on him. When she turned again, she had a wooden bowl that she placed in front of him. He looked in it. It was empty.

‘What’s this?’

‘It’s nothing.’

‘Ah.’

Sal dropped a spoon in the bowl. ‘Better than nothing, in fact. Nothing is what you deserve. For four jackals. Instead, you get a good bowl full of clean hearty air.’ She dropped a spoon in the bowl. ‘Eat up your air. Don’t let it go to waste.’

Jay looked forlornly down at the bowl. He stirred the spoon, while Sal shook her head slowly at him. He got to his feet. ‘I need to find Sav. It’s an emergency.’

‘You need her to buy you some food.’

‘Maybe.’

‘Well, she’s not here.’

‘Any idea where she might be?’

‘No. She left town.’

‘What? What do you mean she left town?’

‘She left town,’ Sal repeated.

‘Where to?’

Sal shrugged.

‘But . . . she said she’d be here today.’

‘And you believed her?’ Sal arched her brow. ‘She’s not much interested in keeping pets, not if they need looking after. And not if they’re always trying to hump her leg.’

‘Great,’ Jay said. ‘Just great.’ Sal looked at him without pity, folding her arms. ‘Look,’ he said. ‘I mean . . . I’m sorry. For how I was with you, that time. Times? I don’t remem- I mean, I’m just sorry.’

Sal sniffed and took the bowl from him. ‘Savvi was right, you have changed.’

‘For the better, I hope?’

‘That remains to be seen. Could hardly have got much worse.’

Jay smiled. ‘Fair enough. I’m gonna go and see what I can get in this town for four jackals.’

‘Right.’

He left the bar and headed further along the thoroughfare. The fruit of the stalls he had passed earlier did not encourage him; too much of that and he’d get the runs. He needed something substantial – bread or meat, ideally. There was a whole host of smells on the breeze, familiar and foreign, but after a hundred yards his nose picked up on the right one, and he followed it.

A stall selling what looked like bread. The loaves were cut into ovals and cylinders, and even spheres, and it looked rather soft and spongey, but the smell was good. The vendor – male or female? Or both? Neither? – had four breasts like shelves on the chest, and a black-and-white beard that was forked in all directions. The eyes were big and lidless and without irises.

‘Good morning, Rathian!’ the vendor said, in a high, squirrely voice, clasping two four-fingered hands together. ‘What good crust can I offer such a warrior like yourself on this fine hour?’

‘Um,’ Jay said, taking his hand out his pocket. ‘What can I get for four jackals?’

‘A host of loaf, Rathian!’ the vendor cried, arms sweeping the assortment of breads.

‘Oh, good. What do you recommend?’

The vendor picked up a big ball of bread, spotted orange. ‘A sunbursted loaf for a sunbursted man! A handsome Rathian, with such beautiful patterns! Four jackals, just for you!’

‘Thank you,’ Jay said, raising his eyes and handing over the coins. The vendor placed the bread in his hands as though it were the sword of Excalibur.

‘Treat it well, eat it well!’ called the vendor as Jay, thanking him once more, hurried off, munching into it as he left. It was soft, but it was very good, and with a bit of a . . . kick, too. It was bread-and-not-bread, just like so much else he had encountered: both known and not known.

He stopped at the side of the street, leaning against a wall, his mouth full, his jaw working avidly away. On the other side of the thoroughfare a grey-whiskered man in a tall black hat and red cravat was inspecting some trinkets from a stall. They flashed in the light of the sun as the man turned them over in his hands. Beside him was an attractive younger woman, in her early twenties perhaps. Her back was against the stall, and she looked around as she talked off-and-on with the man. By the age differences, and the familiarity and manner that existed between the two, Jay guessed that the older man was her father.

He couldn’t take his eyes off her. Truth be told, she wasn’t another Sav. With Sav he always felt like he shouldn’t be looking at her, that her appearance drew the male (and any other) gaze, much against its will, and it turned men like him – not me, Old Jay – no, you too fella, don’t kid yourself, you too – into, well, walking in dumb reverie: you had to make sure you kept your lips closed so as not to drool. Sav commanded attention from everybody, and rode all over anybody who gave it. Hmm, ridden by Savvi, now there’s a happy thought . . .

This girl was another matter. She wasn’t classically beautiful, not in that statuesque, instantly stunning way. But to Jay she was pretty, that kind of pretty where it wasn’t clear how others saw her, and who knew if she might only affect a handful, or him and him alone. Her hair was the colour of sand and sunset; a beach blonde kissed by ruddy swathes that seemed to move as she did. Her skin the colour of pinkened milk. She had a loose green dress on, wrapped around a body that was short and just shy of festively plump. Jay mentally slapped himself for the phrase.

Her eyes roamed the street, seeming to float all over before quickly darting to him. He looked away, but couldn’t help but look back up a few seconds later. She still had eyes on him. He was relieved to see she was smiling, in that quizzical do-I-know-you?-not-that-I-much-mind-you-looking way. He grinned back, really trying to avoid looking sleazy. She turned and gave her father a big hug, and then –

Oh god, she’s walking over. Finish your mouthful finish your mouthful.

Good for you, now fuck her and be done with it.

What?!

‘Hello,’ she said. ‘I saw you staring.’

Jay swallowed. ‘I’m sorry. I . . . couldn’t . . . didn’t mean to . . . I mean, hello.’

She laughed, and Jay couldn’t remember the last time he’d heard such a lovely sound. She had blue-green eyes like a tropical lagoon and they creased at the corners when she smiled. Old Jay was busy making being-sick noises.

‘Relax,’ she said. ‘For someone who looks the way you do, you’re awfully . . .’ She hesitated.

‘Awkward?’

‘You said it, not me!’ She looks so happy when she talks. Why didn’t I ever look that happy? She seemed to be waiting for him to say something, and when a couple of seconds of silence had passed, they both laughed.

‘Good, is it?’ she said, nodding to the loaf of bread Jay was holding with a series of big bite marks in it.

‘Aha, yeah. I was starving. I only had four jackals on me.’

‘Well, that won’t do.’ She gave him that curious look again. ‘Tell you what, if you throw that thing away, I’ll buy you a proper meal and a drink.’

‘Oh, no, I couldn’t accept that. Besides, I can’t just throw away good food!’

‘Of course you can. Plus, I insist. My father is boring me to tears, and most of the people in this town . . .’ She trailed off with an ominous tone. ‘But you. Well, I’m not sure about you. How you look and how you act are at odds.’

‘I’m not sure about me either. But you don’t need to spend money on me.’

‘Oh, stop talking.’ She smiled again, and he felt another sense of weight, another burst of warmth in him – higher up this time. ‘You can either gnaw on your loaf in the street like a beggar, or we can both go for a meal and a drink. Besides, you’re not putting me out one bit. Check this out.’ She reached into her dress and pulled out a wad of red-and-white notes from her cleavage.

‘That’s a lot of money,’ Jay said.

‘It’s a nice amount.’ She fanned her face with it.

‘Ain’t you afraid of getting robbed?’

‘My father wouldn’t like that. He’s quite the shot with his pistol, and he has some tough friends. Besides,’ she patted the top line of her dress. ‘It was hidden.’

‘First place I’d look,’ Jay said, immediately regretting it. I’d never have said something like that. It’s this body. It’s Old Jay making himself known.

No. Old Jay doesn’t live here anymore. It’s just you shaping yourself. Filling out in a new environment. A room, a house, catacombs . . . Swords and guns on the walls, bloodstains on the floorboards, and naked women on furs.

He hadn’t apologised, as he should have; he’d punctuated the line with a grin, and it must have worked, for the girl was laughing. With him or at him, it didn’t really matter.

‘I’m sure it would be,’ she said, still smiling, her eyes so perfectly creased. Part of him wanted to tickle her, just to keep it going, to push her smiles and laughter further and further.

‘Alright,’ he said at last. ‘Thank you. It would be my pleasure. I’ll owe you.’

‘The pleasure will be all mine,’ she replied. ‘And yes, yes you will.’

They started walking. ‘Do you need to tell your father you’re heading off with a stranger?’

‘I’m a big girl,’ she said simply.

‘Let’s go here,’ Jay said, as they approached Buha’s Bar & Griller.

‘You read my mind.’

‘I haven’t asked you your name.’

‘That’s right, you haven’t. It’s -’

‘Alexia!’ The man in the tall hat had run after them, panting slightly. ‘Alexia, my dear, I have been robbed!’

The girl clapped her hands to her face. ‘Father, no! Are you sure?’

‘It is as I have said. I am short changed, considerably so.’

‘Can you remember when you last had it?’

‘In the carriage, my dear. I swear, if that scoundrel Jerrens took it -’

‘Jerrens is a good man, father. You know he wouldn’t. Perhaps you should ask around everywhere you were from leaving the carriage up to now. Start with the rest house. Maybe you dropped it and somebody has handed it in.’

‘Perhaps. I will do that now, I think. If I have lost it for good then . . . no harm done.’ He sighed. ‘It is just vexing. I seem to have been losing money as of late. I fear I am growing old.’ The man seemed to only just notice Jay, and he raised his brow. ‘And who is your friend?’

‘Do not judge on looks, father. He is a close friend of Cam, and I have met him before, back in Stoneswell.’

‘Then I say how do you do to him,’ the man bowed stiffly. ‘And now I must busy myself accounting for fallen money. Likely the wind has it now, if not ruffians. I will see you back at the rest house.’ He tipped his hat to Jay and departed, his long legs carrying him briskly along the thoroughfare.

‘That’s unfortunate,’ Jay said.

‘It is, isn’t it,’ Alexia said, fanning herself with the money once more, which had magically slipped away during the conversation.

Jay’s eyes widened. ‘You stole it.’

Alexia yawned. ‘Oh, come on. He’s got far too much money for one man.’

‘But he’s your father.’

‘And you’re not. Don’t be boring. Let’s go eat until we’re sick.’ She pushed open the door to Buha’s. ‘Oh,’ she said. ‘What’s your name?’

‘I’m Jay. Jay Wulf.’ The name came naturally to his lips, without hesitation.

‘Pleased to meet you Jay.’

‘Likewise, Alexia.’

 

 

wulfcover-2-medium