Where Angels Die: Episode 1, chapter 1

A preview of my new serial, now in progress. I posted a teaser (call it that, rather than a prologue) earlier.


Chapter 1

The Taken


The first snow fell on the fourth day out from Suranaya, just before midday, though the calendar insisted that it was still early autumn. Three men on sturdy bay horses rode slowly up the zig-zag road towards the northern mountains. A wintry mantle had already settled on the jagged peaks. In full daylight they would have been dazzling white, but they looked like tarnished silver under this livid and sunless sky.

The riders went single file, but drew up three abreast when the leader halted at a bend in the road. He pointed at a deep, narrow rift in the mountain range on the northern horizon. ‘Sai Jilon,’ he said in his own Anayan tongue, his voice as dull and grey as the clouds. Then, for the benefit of his companions, he translated it into the speech of the Commonwealth: ‘Cleft of Bones.’

The other riders looked up at the cleft uneasily. ‘Charming name,’ said the younger of the two, a lean, dark youth with close-cropped hair. He wore a plain woollen riding cloak with brown boots and gloves, and a cynical expression that fell just short of being a smirk. He looked like the sort of person that is always being told to take that look off his face.

‘Take that look off your face, Revel,’ said the third rider, throwing back his hood. He was dressed like the younger man, except for a bright blue sash round his waist, but there the resemblance ended. He was taller than his companion, broad-shouldered, with a wide, honest face that seemed equally ready for anger or laughter. Though he was no more than thirty, his hair was marked by two white streaks, running straight back from the corners of his forehead.

‘You take it off, Badger-brock. I’m not going up there till our friend tells us whose bones it’s named after.’

‘Not bones of men,’ said the Anayan. ‘Come. Dangerous to stop here.’ [Read more…]

The summons

(An introductory epistle to my serial in progress, Where Angels Die. Comments are most welcome.)


Hannon, first Baron Vail, Lord and Chatelain of Angel Keep, Knight Commander of the Most Noble Order of the Ram, Brevet Colonel of the Host of Assistance in Northern Anai,

to His Serene Excellency Kimraz li Jansun, Rector General of the Covenant of Justice, Commander Palatine for the Pearl Islands, greeting. May the Ram of Heaven continue to bless you and your Order.

It is still summer by the calendar as I write these words, but already the first snows are falling. It is the demons’ own weather, and as always, it heralds their attack. Already the demons, or rather, the wretched mortals whose bodies they have taken, have fallen upon us in main force. Not three days ago, we drove off their first assault with great loss to ourselves. We are trapped within our fortifications by the storms, and no strength of troops can be sent to our aid. I am sending this letter by my hardiest and most trusty messenger, with Prince Jasru’s prior approval, in the hope that he may get through safely: for I have desperate need of Your Excellency’s help.

It was agreed between you and His Highness that there should be five paladins of your Order stationed here at Angel Keep, to repel the demons and give succour and exorcism to the souls they have possessed. Three of our five have fallen in battle. I entreat Your Excellency to send at once three tried and battle-hardened paladins in their place; more if you can find them. We cannot hope to resist the demons without your help.

Also, of your courtesy, send word to your sister Order, asking them to send several experienced Daughters of the Covenant of Mercy at the earliest fair weather. Our own Angels are sufficient in number, but young and untested, and the tumult of battle has shaken their courage. Our chief D.C.M. is a lady of spirit and capacity, but in Your Excellency’s private ear, she is not entirely satisfactory as a leader.

Timely gifts are double gifts, as the poets say. We live or die by the speed of Your Excellency’s help. The men you send will decide whether Angel Keep shall stand or fall. By Heaven and the Ram of Heaven, send them soon!

Given under my hand on the thirteenth day of the fifth month,
in the year 839 from the coming of the Ram,


The End of Earth and Sky

The Eye of the Maker

Book One



Now available exclusively from Amazon


Young Calin Lowford sees his best friend slain by a creature not seen in the land since the ancient wars.  Forbidden to join the fight against these foes, he is sent as servant to the wizard Rijeth, to learn of strange magics and stranger omens. His quest to avenge his friend will lead him through sorcery and peril to a secret at the end of the world — the mysterious Eye of the Maker.

[Read more…]

Lord Talon’s Revenge



A man with no name, no country, no face, has one simple desire: revenge on the tyrant who robbed him of all else. Just a few small obstacles stand in his way. . . .

Greed: Sagrendus the Golden, Prince of Dragons, has a good business: abduct princess, collect ransom, repeat until rich. He charges extra for taking sides.

War: General Griffin, ogre mercenary, always fights for his client — even if there is nobody to fight against.

Hatred: Princess Jacinth hates the man she will have to marry — whoever he is. She also hates kings, rescuers, men, women, and especially porcelain dolls.

Betrayal: What keeps King Talvos on the throne of Ilberion? He’s better at double-crossing than anyone who double-crosses him.

And then there is one young fool with a sword, who still believes in heroes. Revenge is about to get a lot more complicated.

[Read more…]

Interview with the Oldest Member

This passed on by Sherwood Smith in one of her Bittercon posts:

Elves are glamorous. They’re tall, cooler than people, dress well, have great taste in music, and are all-round athletes, as well as being immortals with magical powers. And they’re in tune with nature, too. But are they really? Most elvish societies are intensely hierarchical with a few uberelfen at the top and many more peons at the bottom. And there’s no way for a peon to work his way up, since the master race is genetic. Tolkien’s Elves were fairly benign, but the elves in many of the derivative fantasies that followed on don’t look all that different from what we could imagine finding in a world a thousand years after a Nazi victory: the horrors at the start are long forgotten, but now there is a master race. Unfair?

Certainly unfair, if the elves are not permitted to respond on their own behalf. To remedy the obvious injustice of allowing mortals to sit in judgement upon the Fair Folk by gossiping among themselves — and consulting, moreover, those who have never known or even seen an elf — it seemed natural to me to find an elf, an old and notorious one, and if possible one of the ‘Uberelfen’, and put him on the witness stand.

Since it is Tolkien’s elves who are the principal corpora vilia in this debate, that gave me a clearer idea where I had to look. After some difficult negotiation, I was able to procure an interview with a particularly senior and ‘uber’ one of his Eldar, the results of which I now humbly offer in aid of justice.

[Read more…]

Smallbold vacuums the cat

I have just spent an hour or two going into the etymology of the name Håkar, given to two characters in the Octopus, one ancient and heroic, one modern and rather ambivalent. It is of course a Palandine name, which accounts for the diacritic, but despite the pronunciation and the obvious shortened form, it has nothing to do with the word hawk.

Orthodox theory derives it from *há-kári, meaning the wind in a high place. Indeed Håkar the Red was partly descended from the mountain-dwelling Ascoli; the trouble is that of his ancestors, they were not the ones that spoke Old Palandine.

B. R. Smallbold, who occasionally drops in to rub my lack of erudition in my face, came to my relief by explaining his own theory; and Smallbold being Smallbold, I am inclined to back him against a whole team of orthodoxen. He says it comes from the dialect of Ulfmark, Old Pyrandine with a strong Palandine overlay, and was originally Hákaru, meaning ‘towering sorrow’ or, alternatively, ‘the cares of a ruler’. Both meanings suit his history tragically well. But he was not content with that. He delved deep into the history of Ulfmark, pulling dusty volumes from untidy shelves, talking about historical periods with queer names like ‘the Grace of Tonúr’, and reading bits of incomprehensibly archaic poetry at me. The upshot is that while Håkar has indeed nothing to do with hawk, people have been linking the two with puns for a thousand years. By the time he had explained all this to me, and then disappeared in his customary way, my evening’s work was rather thoroughly spoilt.

It is very strange when one’s characters volunteer to help one avoid writing about them.

Murphy’s Widow

An excerpt from a work long in progress.

Chapter Zero:
Your call will be answered in the order in which it is received

Life, they say, was simple once.

When Man first appeared, none of the older and wiser animals would have bet a well-chewed bone on him to rule the world one day. He wasn’t as strong as the gorilla, or as sociable as the chimp, and the orangutan was much more handy with his feet. You would never notice this new kind of ape in a mug line, unless you happened to spot the crude wooden club clutched in his hand. A mere detail, said the older and wiser animals. Why, it wasn’t even part of him, not like fangs or claws or a good set of running muscles. How could carrying a silly stick help anyone take over the world?

It was at that moment that Man came up behind the older and wiser animals, swung his club, and smashed their brains into jelly.

As strategies go, this was an all-time winner. In a blink of the cosmic eye, Man conquered the earth. Oh, the club was upgraded a few times along the way, replaced by the knapped flint, the spear, the M16 rifle. But the hand that controlled the tool stayed just the same, and the brain that controlled the hand—well, it could still just about cope with the finer nuances of, ‘Swing club. Smash head. Repeat as necessary.’

Nowadays, life is far too complicated. But the ape with the club is nothing if not an optimist, and still hopes to find some grand theory that will explain everything and make it simple again. Science, religion, philosophy, daytime soap operas, all were created to meet this primal need: the craving to feel that we understand. But of course we don’t understand. So we think there must be something more—a conspiracy, perhaps. There must be someone out there who pulls every string, rigs every game; someone who breaks every gadget the day the warranty expires, and turns every neat square knot into an unsolvable granny. Someone we can’t see; someone very, very powerful. And someone, alas, who doesn’t seem to like us very much. If only this conspiracy could be unmasked and defeated, life would be good, the world would be our playground, and everything would just make an amazing amount of sense.

By a remarkable coincidence, the ape with the club is the only species of animal that gets locked up in mental institutions.

[Read more…]