Friday, 6 December 2013

Bad Road Trip (Part 4)

It's taken me four days to get here, but I don't know that. I just pulled up and slept in the car when I'd had enough. Didn't even get out of the seat, just kind of scrunched down with a couple of woolly jumpers as pillows. I can sleep pretty much anywhere.

Northern Spain and I kind of know the roads. Through the mountains - well, certainly big hills but probably mountains - from San Sabastian (I manage not to get back on the unnecessary road to Bolbao like I did last time - waste of fuel but then I didn't care) to Miranda is almost fun.

Somehow it's suddenly warm and as soon as I'm away from the coast road the traffic - dense there and lots of truck, one of whom was down right unfriendly in his unnecessary attempt to carve me up - anyway, the traffic fades to the usual not much. I'm feeling quietly confident, enjoying the sun, thinking a little less about route as it's fairly simple from here. Burgos comes and goes, no problem, and I'm on the right road for Madrid. Hard to miss so no concern about it. Yeah, it's going to be all fine from here.

Pretty much as soon as I think this, about half way to Madrid, maybe a little closer, sometime in the mid afternoon, there's one of those sudden horrible sounds that make you jump. Kind of loud and ongoing, it takes me a moment to realise a tyre has blown out. The handling isn't effect and I'm slowing up anyway. This particular piece of two lane motorway has a nice enough hard shoulder (you may not use this term for it but you know what I mean - spare bit tacked on the side of the road) so I pull on to it. It's fine.

I have a spare wheel.

And a jack. Two, actually.

But nothing to take the wheel off with other than my bare hands. Which isn't going to work.

I strip out the Jeep of almost every damn thing in it but see nothing that will even approximate something that will take a nut off a wheel. Or put one back on again after the wheel's changed.

I phone to see if there's a secret wrench or something hidden somewhere in the car. Apparently not.

Of course I should have checked through the Jeep before heading out. I mean, obviously. No one to blame but myself. I try not to think about it as I watch the odd car go by, vaguely thinking that I might succeed in waving down a Jeep size vehicle and borrow a wrench. Yeah, like that's gong to happen. There have been enough car-jacking stories to scare people off the idea of 'stopping to help' that no one's going to give the idea serious thought.

About that time. Frowning at the sun that's going toward the horizon, I notice that I am, in fact, exactly 500m from an off ramp that's hidden just over the brow of the hill. The peak of what looks like an abandoned Hotel is just visible. With little choice in it, I pack up the stuff back in the Jeep and nurture it gently to the turn off and up to the toll booth, where the guy wants some money before I park up and talk about solving my problem.

This is one of those places where two highways in the seeming middle of nowhere join up for no readily apparent reason. You can jump off one and onto the other just a short way away from where I am. There's pretty much an abundance of sod all but the toll booth guy points out a Gasilonaria in the distance. A little cluster of random other stuff is there also. Well, I've been in a shedload of Spanish Gasilonarias and never seen much in the way of tools but someone down there might have what I need for the borrow - or, worst case scenario, buy. Damned if I have enough money to just pay someone, which is what toll booth guy is suggesting.

Well, the walk isn't desperately unpleasant. The Gas station's small to medium and there's a shop associated. My efforts to borrow or arrange an assist for next to nothing fall pretty flat. Nope, I don;t have one, and so forth. But it turns out this is the only place I've ever seen were they do in fact sell what I need. For cars, anyway. It looks like there are two sizes, and on the principle that I might be lucky, I buy it for €15 and wonder out loud if he'll do a refund if it's no good to me. Nope.

Well, worth a try.

Turns out there are four options, not two. And one fits the nuts holding my wheel in place. Doesn't fix the inertia and semi-welding that ally on iron produces after a while, but some leverage fixes that. For some reason there is a garden fork in the back of the Jeep. Leverage. Just as well, otherwise I would have had to turn into a Donkey to do it. Not a trick I've ever had much success with.

From here it's all pretty much an anti-climax, I'm glad to say. I grab some sleep and then go for Madrid at night, when the ringroad will be quiet and my f*ck-up's unnoticed. Everything's changed since the last time I was there; it's all swish and shiny an new and the road I want seems to be completely unmarked. After a while of off an on again -including some really interesting tunnels that drop you in the middle of town - I stop and ask a Taxi driver. A simple but very useful trick. Of course, he knows how the road I want is marked and cheerfully tells me.

After this it's plain sailing. I mean, apart from the slight panic attack come dawn when it's not quire light enough to read the map I have and I'm convinced I'm on the wrong road. But it is a road going south. Says so every few hundred yards. Must be right. Turns out it is.

Granada. Malaga. All easy and familiar for me. The drive from Granada to Malaga is a joy because I know for a fact I have enough gas. Luxury. And I can open up the Jeep a bit and see that it will do a fair speed and is, in fact, a pleasure to drive the 4.0L three and a bit thousand pound chunk of metal.

I roll up where I'm going with exactly €15 to my name.

Well, hell. With that money I could have taken a detour and had some fun.


Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Bad Road Trip (Part Three)

Daylight, raining some, back on the autopista (or whatever the french call them, you know freeways/motorways, whatever). As I had free internet I googlemapped Le Mans and confirmed that, yes, of course, I could continue by getting back on the same place I got off the day before. Obvious, really, but by now I'm feeling a little paranoid about details. I really can't afford for anything to go wrong.

There's a little fretting and concentration as I make sure I'm pushing on in the right direction. The sort of thing that goes, 'yes, it's okay to head for Orleans because Tours is also on the sign' but after a while I'm confident I'm set of Tours and after a while I'm seeing Bordeaux on the signs and a green E05 and it's the E05 and I know I'm fine right the Spanish border. Yay. And all I have to do is stay on this road. I have slight misgivings about Bordeaux as I've driven round it, in inadvertently into it, once before. But all fine for now. Tours, Poitiers, and I'm kind of tired and for some reason decide it's okay to drive in Bordeaux at night.

I still recognise some things, though, so it's okay. Big arc of bridge, check. Funny kind of looks-like-it-should-be-something-else bridge, check. Follow the E05. It's fine. It's fine. And the signs are less than ideal, but I come up to a turn off for the E05 that looks like it might be the turn or should be the turn but it looks dark and poky and uninviting and... I decide on the spur of the moment to come back onto the ringroad because surely that dingy little thing can't be the main drag south from here....

But it is, because the E05 doesn't show anywhere and, oh, nuts. Bordeaux. Did it again. Off into a gas station and park up. Buggrit. I need a map of Bordeaux. I'm done guessing. Well they have a map, and coffee because I want to buy the right to point at the map and ask where the heck am I on this map? Just after te turn I wanted? Oh. Perfect.

The people are sweet and one has some Spanish so we are fine. I'm glad because the last thing my tired brain wants to do is strain to hear and grasp any French. My brain likes Spanish fine, but won't cooperate with Spanish. For the record, it also does German fine. Odd, I know, but that's just the way it is.

Anyway, I decide I'm too tired to go on and I'm going to sleep in the car. Inside the ringroad, Bordeaux, despite the associative name, looks very seedy. I remember the centre looking pretty run down when I accidentally drove into it years ago, and the ringroad looks just as grim. Not my first choice of place to sleep but it's a gas station and there are cameras and just over a barrier there are a few trucks with the drivers doing the same as me. Head down and snooze. It's coldish and not that comfortable and I more snatch naps than sleep, but it's okay. I've slept less comfortable and colder places, though not in recent history. Dawn rolls around seemingly slowly and I know that there is a cambio de sentido ... which reminds me. A truck driver once phoned me for directions to a small town in southern Spain. He said "I'm somewhere near Cambio de Sentido, must be a big place because I'm seeing it everywhere. Anyway, I don't want to get back on the ringroad and the map says I can come of at the next exit into some backroads that will take me round the block to the road I'm on.

The map lies. Or, more accurately, it is less than entirely truthful. For an hour or so I follow the map through the suburbs of Bordeax. Through Gradingnan, through the nice suburb of Canejan, and really quite pleasant suburb of Cestus (yes, a fighting claw, which strikes me as an odd name for a town but probably it means something else in French) and there are no roads that link to the 1010 which I know from the map will take me to the E05 which is, you may remember, where I want to be. The map suggests there might be but non. Still, it's pleasant enough and I am once again struck by how little road traffic there seems to be in France - it's something I've noticed before but never investigated. Maybe it's just that the country is big and people more spread out. Whatever. I head on to Le Barp and soon find myself presented with a sign to the desired E05 and make it back on without issue and relax.

It's easy from here, I know. I'm still putting gas in the tank in dribs and drabs because available funds are tight. The sun comes out for the first time and it's warm and pleasant enough and I keep running figures in my head and I'm not going to make it. It's somewhere round Bayonne where I'm absolutely sure I just don't have enough to put in the tank to make the distance. The guides are rubbish, the mileage of the Jeep isn't close to what the book says, whatever.

Well, just after Bayonne I come off at a gas station and there's nothing else to do but phone Jane, the best person I know, my editor, my friend and one best wife imaginable. We are still close. Still friends. Friends for ever. And, as I know will, Jane drops a couple of hundred bucks into my account and I relax some. I'm back to probably going to make it and I'm close to the border, so I chill a little, invest in a bottle of water so I stop dehydrating and take the advice to actually eat something. A cheap packet of cookies.

Next day I stop for gas somewhere and the guy speak Spanish and though I overrun the meter by a couple of cents he shrugs and just takes the note with a causal 'forget the few cents, dude' - I would put that in Spanish but I forget exactly what he actually said and don't want to make something up without being obvious about it (if that makes sense to anyone I'll be surprised). I relax a good deal at this. In Spain I know how things work. In Spain I can do stuff to fix problems.

Which is just as well.

And my time is up. Back to work. And the work is going fine. I think it's going to be a very productive year.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Bad Road Trip (Part Two)

Where did I leave us? Oh, yeah. Right there.

I'd had just enough credit on my phone to try and go through the long process of saying 'yeah, it's okay, it's me, and I'd run out during the helpful bank listing things I'd paid and cash I'd taken. Incomplete, but I had given passwords on a multiple choice basis. Incomplete, though, so I was concerned when I came off the toll road at Le Mans.

Of course, had a human been involved they might ave though something along the lines of "Oh, look, he booked the Channel Tunnel with the card so he's likely to be in France then, isn't he? No worries." But no. No human involved and the usual mess for software.

Okay, so I'm just off the toll road, just off a roundabout, in an paligano... I mean industrial estate, or whatever you habitually call this kind of area. No gas station in sight, no ATM in sight, but I'm stopped, parked, thinking. It's raining some so it's jacket on and a quick walk about to see without stress what the signs say and try and figure out my next move. Still no gas station and no ATM, both of which I want even though I suspect both will be useless to me. But one thing at a time, right?

I toy with the idea of walking further to investigate but decide, sod it, I'll drive but short exploratory moves. In short, all plans aside, I follow my nose. Back onto what I suspect is a ringroad(ish) kind of thing and then off again by instinct. A little ways through more paligano, then stop, pause think. Hmmm, nothing looks good here, so back the way I came and there's a way under the ringroad. Instinct again, yes. Then a road up to a Restaurant and again, instinct, yes. I'm sure going to have to talk to someone and get directions and this will do nicely.

The guy behind the bar has some English, which is handy as my French is so bad as to be useless. I express my desire for an ATM and gas station in the same place. "Ocean," he says, emphatically. "Shopping centre," or words to that effect. A Mall, in other words. Just the job, I think as I try and interpret his pointing figure. Roughly the way I was going before I came into the Restaurant. Yay. I hope it's not far as I've no idea what fuel is left in the Cherokee (it runs for ages on empty but it already has, so.... who knows?).

I drop back down to the road, follow the way I was going round a corner. More Paligano. A roundabout and I decide I'll go straight on, intuition again. And another one. Same same. And there it is. "Auchen" it says in big bold letters tacked on the side of a Mall. There's a gas station and a big carpark so I nod and sigh to myself and park up.

I'm not leaving here without gas.

No matter what happens. I'm no stuck with what I have available right here. ATM. Gas Station. It aint gunna get any better. Stay put. Solve the problem here.

But I'm cautiously pessimistic (not optimistic, truly) as I wonder into the Mall and look around for an ATM and find one and find... use of this card is suspended.

Ok, good. Now I need a phone. I have five bucks in my pocket in change (no idea why, I just do. I guess I must have bought something other than gas with cash but I have no idea what at this point and sure don't remember now). The phones I find are no cash card only type phones. Perfect.

Sit around and wait for someone to call me and see how things are doing? It is to laugh. That could be days. No cash, no water, no food, no shelter but the Jeep. And boredom boredom boredom ... nope. Not liking that idea.

Well, I have five bucks so maybe I can get some credit on my phone. Nope. I knew that but it was worth a try. Same company but nope, we can't charge a foreign phone here, even if we are the same company (thanks Orange, you're so cool I could drop you in a vodka and be happy). I have a Spanish chip I used a few months ago but... it has no credit on it either. So, more trogging up and down. More thinking. I need credit on my phone, contact with the outside world. What are the alternatives? Abandon the Jeep and start walking? Head for where? Paris, maybe where I can find the Consulate maybe and get repatriated to an airport probably with no cash to call anyone so it would be a long walk from the airport to somewhere useful.... and I don't like this idea. It isn't a solution as I'd have to re-jig money and come get the jeep and continue.

In any case, I'm lucky. I have my laptop and when I spot a small sign saying Free WiFi I know I'm in with a shout. I have a bad battery in the laptop but there just might be time to send one email if I can get into the system fast, into my emails fast and write and send fast. Maybe.


Big sigh. In some parts of the world free wifi all over is taken for granted, but not here. Relief and despondency and swearing are the order of events. Close. Real close. But no cigar. Yet... this is the answer. I need somewhere to plug into power and keep the laptop juiced and send out an SOS

There's a cafe and I wonder in, waving the plug and asking if there's a socket I can use. The guy is cool about it and points one out with a 'hell yes, of course, no worries' air that I like very much. Problem solved, bar the waiting. I sit and send out some SOS's of the 'hey, can someone please put some credit on my phone so I can get this dumb thing sorted?'

I also get into my online banking page, find who to bitch to and bitch away. Phone twice, fraud prevention squad, because you don;t know what's happening on the end of the phone and this is your customer who could be in any situation and you know what the first rule of business is? Don't try and kill your customers. Don't put hem at risk. They don't much like it as a rule. Asshats.

I also think they might get the message (action required section(s) is filed in No.1 "Reactivate my card. NOW!" But what happens first is some credit kindly put on my phone by a well loved family member. Yay. I call the fraud squad. They fix it. Card works. Double yay!

The gas station only takes credit cards (not my sole debit card) and there won;t be anyone to take cash until the next morning, nine hours away. Booo.

But I have cash ... that I dare not spend because I'm doing this on a shoestring budget and I'm still in northern France and unsure I have enough funds available for gas to get there. In fact, I rather doubt it.

Turns out my doubts are justified and I don't, but that's to tell another day. I'll leave it there for now.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Bad Road Trip

It became necessary to move a Jeep (the call it a Limited Edition Cherokee but I've seen hundreds of them) from the UK to Spain. It is a Spanish Jeep and not much use in the UK, and that was surely part of the reason. It turned out there was no one else to move it but me, and I more or less wanted to be in Spain anyway.

Simples. I'd drive it. No problem.

Okay, I knew I had a very limited budget because... weelll, these days I always have a very limited budget. Still, I did some research, found the tank size and milage of the vehicle, did a route planner thing on line, saw it was possible. It looked possible. I knew it was going to be tight and when I rolled up in southern Spain at the destination town (ish) of Malaga I would be doing it on fumes. Still, I'm brave and strong. Nothing could go wrong that I couldn't deal with.

I won't go into details about what money was in my account, but think 'not much' and then halve that figure. It was always going to be tight, even if all the figures were bang on the money. No room for error. No room at all. I was going to be sleeping in the Jeep, just for example, right from the start. I had no plans to eat. Eating wasn't in the budget. I'd done the trip before, from Roscoff having taken a ferry from Plymouth. In a classic mini. Heads down mindless boogie, stopping only for fuel, 80mph all the way, twenty-hours none stop driving. It was fine, except the boredom and fatigue and the storm that started before Granada and had wrecked Malaga. I stopped after seeing three parallel cars in a ditch on the road from Granada to Malaga with the weather in mid storm. I slept in the Mini in a Gasilonaria carpark. Drove on in the morning and wimbled around malaga trying to find a road out that hadn't been washed out. Then I had credit-cards and spare cash and frankly didn't care much what happened. No stress except that which I put on myself. It was almost fun. Almost.

The first part of the Cherokee trip went well. M5, A303, M3, M25... well, the M25 is the ring road around London and it sucks. Not as bad as Paris, which is not as bad as Bordeaux, which is better in many ways than Madrid, but I get ahead of myself.

The M25 is where I had to speed up some from my gas saving 50mph as much as possible target speed. I didn't want to burn gas and the M25 made me. Bad M25. Then the M whatever to the Channel Tunnel. I stopped for fuel by guesswork one off-ramp early and had to go ask directions for the gas station in a pub (bar) bur didn't stay for a drink. I was on schedule and didn't want to blow it. More gas, then, next off ramp and a new experience.

The Channel Tunnel is great. It's brilliant. Cheap (£65-£70 for a one way trip). The getting on experience is easy, the ride is smooth and almost pleasant and best of all, short.

Anyone who has driven long distances knows that the bulk of all thought is focused on the next right road going to the next right town and I'll spare you the boring details. The first part of the trip was night driving and easy enough, No one pushing me for speed. i pulled in somewhere and slept, then pushed on the next day. Lots of looking at gauges - fuel! - and fretting. If anything went wrong I knew I had no budget to fix it. I wanted very badly for nothing to go wrong. My plan was to nurse it through France, where gas is expensive, and chill through Spain. I put in €20's and €30's of gas and ran lots on empty - knowing that I had 'a bunch of miles' before empty really meant empty. The Cherokee is an automatic so I really didn't want to run out of fuel, but I really didn't want to put much in at a time either. Slow for max fuel economy and never much fuel in it.

Yeah, this was getting to be fun already. Oil, Fuel, Temp, road, signs, repeat. Give up the fight for non-toll roads, as my powers of concentration and decision making weren't up to it and I'd waste more gas than I'd save in tolls. Forget it. Stay on the main drag. So I did and all was well. I could see my budget stretching fine already. I was pretty sure I wasn't going to make it. May I would, though.

It was Ruen where things got interesting. The freeway/motorway/toll road just ended. No warning, some cones and a divert into Ruen (I'm pretty sure it was Ruen and I missed that it sounded like Ruin). In traffic, trusting my instincts to take me to the next road I needed as I sure hadn't planned on this (though it always seems to happen that I get diverted into a town somehow) the phone rings. I'm in traffic, strange town, hunting for the exit sigh which must must must be in the right direction and I don;t want to burn fuel in the town) so I don't even think about answering it.

I find my way out easy enough, more luck than judgement, but that's normal for me and I don't sweat it. I'm on a road that goes the right way after a little complexity and I have fuel. I continue to Le Mans, where I am now low on fuel and thinking to press on to the next gas station but... the read gets complicated with junctions and I'm suddenly done making decisions. I pull out and drop into the edge of Le Mans, knowing I need gas (I've been on empty a good while) and pull up just of a roundabout in a (place that's more warehouses than anything else - small business - there are words but none of them in any language are coming to mind right now). And I stretch, think about how I'm to find a gas station without too much running around as I don;t want to run out of fuel in traffic, and check my phone.

I missed call, one message. The message is my very nice bank telling me to call them at once as my card may be spending money without me. It hasn't been, of course, but they have suspended my card until I confirm I'm me.

Small problem. No credit on my phone. *sigh* Well, I have a Spanish chip and planned to swap and I'm working on a budget, you know? Pointless now as I have no cash, no fuel, and no functioning card.

What fun.

I think I have to leave it there for now - I'll let you know what happened next in par two. Right now I have stuff to do that needs doing and there is, as is often the case, only me to do it. So, have fun thinking about what you would do next. I know I did.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Sapphire and Sumto: Two Books To Come

I've been looking around for the story to the next Sumto book for a while. I knew what pattern was needed and had a few ideas about what I might want to deal with next but the story wasn't there. I was even nosing around in roughly the right places for it but still couldn't smell it out. I guess I was too tied up in other things so I couldn't think the way I need to for this series. I did plan and plot half a dozen other books that I want to write but didn't have the next TPOF story... until I did.

I just spent a five days driving across Europe to move a car from where it was to where it was needed; basically a family thing. I was doing it on a shoestring budget and every decision was critical. I won't go into details here, though one day I might, but suffice it to say that is was very stressful, slow, long nasty risky journey. I made it. And as soon as my conscious mind relaxed a little, just on the last familiar stretch and sure that no matter what happened I would get where I was going (baring a fatal crash or something horrid) an my sub-conscious decided it would be cool to let me know what it had been doing while I was busy. Two novels dropped into my head pretty much entire.

Book Five (Book one of sequence 2, if you see what I mean): This is from Sapphire's point of view. His story of what happens to him in the north and what the consequences are. Some of the motives of others, Sumto's father for one, and some details that straighten out apparent kinks in the story so far. Most of it, of course, will be Sapphire doing what he does. We will see into his mind, and ... well, you'll see.

Book Six: This back to Sumto and will pick up at the end of his year in Exile. What he has been doing will be made clear enough but the focus will immediately be what he is doing 'now' - that being immediately I the moment where we leave off with Sapphire at the end of book Five.

I haven't yet looked round for the story to book seven (book 3 in the new sequence) but am certainly now toying with the idea of writing Jocasta's story. I'd like to and I think she deserves it. Also, it is now possible having set the precedent of changing POV's to people other than Sumto. We will see.

Speed is what you will want to know about if you are reading this. I think these two books will come along quite fast. I'm already happily into book five (one) and it's going well. It could be as little as a couple of months. I think that's most likely. In any case it will be as fast as I can make it.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Illegal Sex in Fiction

In my last post on the subject of sex in fiction I hope I made my position clear. I've no interest myself but see no reason why readers who want access to erotic material should have a problem buying. For retailers the solution to avoiding offence to those who might find erotica offensive is simple and employed on sites such as Smashwords. A filter that has to be actively switched by the reader to access erotica. Mine is left in the default position, off, simply because it's not my market and I have no particular interest.

WH smith and Kobo could have instigated the same system easily. It isn't complicated. They did not do so.

Because some people who can string a sentence together see the ebook market as a quick hit get rich scheme and have less than scrupulous morals, material that is both offensive and in some countries illegal was deliberately placed to maximise exposure. Had WH Smith and Kobo paid enough attention to their own business – rather than grabbed the milk-cow and start pumping – then this would have been impossible. The material – forced sex, incest, bestiality, sex with minors, and so forth – appeared on the retailers sites. People complained – and that's no surprise, and I would have done exactly that had I be one to stumble across this kind of garbage. Not erotica, not tasteless for some, not okay for the reasonable individual, but flat out illegal.

WH Smith panicked. Instead of taking ownership of the problem – we messed up, our filters aren't up to the job, we weren't paying attention, we didn't care as long as we were making money and we were wrong – they shifted the blame, closed the site, pointed at the evil writers. I think the possibility that they did not realise that this kind of objectionable material existed so remote that it is not worthy of consideration. That no one thought of it is not implausible, however. Competence is a rare commodity and under-appreciated in every organization of ever been exposed to. The incompetent don't like it and good people get eased out the door. But that's another subject.

Kobo panicked also, because the mainstream media pointed to them as the source of the illegal material. Just as WH Smith tried to shift the blame to Kobo, Kobo decided to shift the blame to independent writers and remove ALL content not traditionally published from their site.

This is what Kobo are saying: "We want to protect the reputation of self-publishing as a whole," a spokeswoman said, adding that the problem was limited to a minority of publishers and authors who had violated content policies.

"While some may find our measures extreme, we are confident that we are taking the necessary measures to ensure the exceptions that have caused this current situation will not have a lasting effect on what is an exciting new channel that connects readers to a wealth of books."

Indeed, indeed. They use the word wealth with no sense of irony... had they and Smiths been paying attention to anything other than the money they were making then this issue would not have arisen. They are responsible for what they sell, just as every other retailer in any other business.

I'm going to swear mildly now, so any who might be offended can simply look away. What pisses me off is the contempt with which writers are held by the retailers. Kobo did not notify Draft2Digitial of the action they had taken – this from D2D: “We have discovered that over the weekend Kobo removed all books published through our account. While we have received no official word concerning this issue, we believe this is related to recent articles in the media concerning erotica titles available at WH Smith and Kobo’s storefronts.” Consequently Draft2Digital could not notify writers.

On a related subject, I personally sent two emails to those who distribute my work, namely draft2Digital and Smashwords. I find the responses illuminating. Draft2Digital responded promptly and have responded three times with updates on their communications with Kobo and the current situation. Smashwords (and yes, I keep all emails) have just responded with a link to my Kobo page (empty) and the shocking information that I have opted out of Kobo via Smashwords.... and they probably will wonder why I opted out of some channels until the end of time. There is just no telling some people because they aren't listening. The message from Draft2Digital is clear – we are on it, we are all over it, we will resolve it. The message from Smashwords is equally clear – we have no clue and could care less.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Legal Sex in Fiction

An article in a much disregarded online rag pointed the finger at Amazon just recently, picking out few titles which contained some naughty bits. Sex (gasps). You know about sex, right? Pretty much everyone does. It's instinct or something. Probably to do with reproducing the species. It's kind of a necessary prerequisite to you reading this so there's no pretending it doesn't happen.

Sex in it's basic form consists of “here, have some sperm,” and is achieved in many different ways depending on species. Personally, I like our way best – at least I assume I do, having so far had no inclination to try other methods. I like sex. Sorry of that bothers anyone but really not that sorry as I know that you almost certainly also like sex. It's something we can all pretty much agree on, right?

Well, no, or so it seems.

There are people who don't like other people reading about sex that they don't approve of. Filth, as they call it. Or, as it might be called, Personal choice sex. I'll come back to this in a minute.

Amazon has taken some action, presumably as a response, pulling titles and requesting changes (mostly to covers). Kobo has pulled a huge number of books – including all of mine (SF and Fantasy as you doubtless know, and containing no sex and little swearing) – and WH Smith have closed their site entirely. Yes, all books are withdrawn by WH Smith of the UK, thought their stores are still open and selling copies of, just for example, 50 Shades of Whatever, which is a book including sex and bondage – certainly objectionable to some, who lucky for them, don't have to read it because, guess what, no one can force you to read a book. You have to want to... you have to find a copy... open it.... continue reading after the first bit you find iffy. It's your call.

Let me just briefly mention that the erotica of a more lurid – what has been described as barely legal, meaning legal, meaning if you were actually doing it you wouldn't be breaking the law so reading about it is fine if you want – of a more lurid type takes a good deal of tracking down on the Amazon site.... unless you are a traditionally published author in which case graphic sex scenes involving a teacher and a minor is fine, of course. I won't name the book or author I have in mind but you won't have any trouble finding it if you are interested. There are others. The fairly well know (so I don't mind the negative plug) Flowers in the Attic is an incest story between two underage characters and features sexual violence. But that's fine, just fine, our trashy porn good, your trashy porn bad – I mean it's listed under Mystery & suspense, Literature & Fiction, Genre Fiction/Sagas... not tucked away in a dusty behind-the-curtain backroom corner.

Here's a link to a site were the kind of material we are actually talking about is discussed, mostly by writers, so that you can begin to get a handle on the subject matter in question. There are also links to some erotica if you want to read some... though you won't be able to buy at WH Smith at the moment, might not be able to buy at Kobo and possibly not Amazon, but this is the information age and you will be able to buy somewhere. Feel free.

I'm going to wrap this up with a couple of contextual comments. I myself don't read about or watch other people having sex for exactly the same reason I don't spend any time reading about watching other people eat. I don't need any help getting hungry and I don't find watching or reading about other people eating in any way satisfying. No judgements on anyone else in that, that's just the way my mind works.

If a site that sells books is going to block some (and I agree there should be some sane and reasonable limits) it should clearly have a reasonable and upfront policy that applies to all. A fellow writer had a book removed from Amazon for using the word virgin in the blurb, I'm told. So, you know, that's banned but many traditionally published books use the word virgin in their blurbs and that's fine. No it isn't fine, apart from just being ridiculous in and of itself. Hiding the true content, apparently the current new policy, by changing the covers and blurb is only going to lead to nasty shocks for readers getting something unexpected. Not a step forward, I think.

This is the information age. Nothing can be expunged, only unlooked for and maybe made more difficult to find. I would rather sexual violence not exist in the real world, and I'd prefer not to read about it in fiction – though it does crop up and I've never thrown a book across the room because of it, though I have chosen not to read a book because I didn't care for the subject matter or merely assumed I wouldn't. I do not want anyone making that choice for me, because five minutes down the line they will be making other choices for me – and I approve of the concept of freedom, both mine and yours....

...and the booksellers, but if you want to be sure of what you are selling and that it appears only in the appropriate category then look at it properly and employ IT people who know what their job is. I know that latter category is hard to find but if you want to hire one I can supply you with a CV for probably the best currently unhired SBA around. No problem.

Okay. I think I'm more or less done with this subject for now. Feel free to comment and/or ask questions. This isn't everything I think on the subject but it will have to do for now.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Prison of Power

At some point today, depending on where you are, Kindleboards will run an add for Prison of Power, a novel peripherally related to The Price of Freedom sequence. Prison of Power is the first book I published as an indie, more as an experiment than anything else. It sold a few copies and that was enough encouragement to convince me to press forward.

Prison of Power follows several characters as a fairly complex political situation unfolds. Here's the full blurb:

All the powers of the world are seeking for an heir to the Crimson Throne, an heir to inherit all the powers of the long dead High King. Many have been found; none have lived. The Yhar'sharem seek a restoration; the Unbound Enchanters control kingdoms surrounding the capitol city, where lies the Crimson Throne, and kill any of the royal blood that fall into their hands.

Yissa is the concubine of Duke Castal and childhood sweetheart of Clavis, a mercenary enhanced with powerful magic designed to keep him alive no matter what. When Ormindas, a sorcerer and priest under Castal's protection, creates a functional gate through which troops can be rapidly moved, the Unbound Enchanter known as the Eyeless King perceives a threat and moves against Castal.

Regret Yhar'sharem senses an heir in the region of the first battle, but loses him again in chaos of the following rout.

Further from the field of battle, Hebron feels he can no longer wait for his master's return and sets off on a voyage of self-discovery. He can wield an ancient power but insists he is neither prophet nor angel; though cannot say what he truly is, because he does not himself know.

Abbethia, the greatest general of her age, is content with her retirement from the battlefield, but old habits are hard to break.

Grylantha stands in every camp and has a talent for mayhem - but no one knows his secret heart.

When the High King was slain his bloodline numbered in the hundreds. Ninety years later, there remains only one. One last chance for a restoration, a restoration that many fear and few desire. Unknown to himself, the last heir is caught in a Prison of Power that he quite simply cannot escape.


The world of Clavis, Abbethia, Yissa, and the others shares the same basic rules as The Price of Freedom. There is a very good reason for this, but that is something I don't think I want to go into right now. There is a follow up book planned, though Prison of Power stands well enough as a stand alone novel that I'm in no hurry to write The Crimson Throne. For now, those who enjoy the adventures of Sumto will likely enjoy this book well enough, though it is a little dark and lacks the humour that Sumto lends to his story. If you like The Black Company by Glen Cook then you will like as not enjoy Prison of Power, and that's about all I'm going to say about it for now.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Why Is This Book Not Selling?

This is a question every writer asks sometimes. We have some judgement about idea and story quality, and I'm quite sure of my own writing ability. In short, I know the stories are good - at least by some measure, as no story is good in any absolute sense. No matter how good a story is, someone, somewhere won't like it. In any case, the written work goes out into the world and sometimes simply doesn't sell.

When this happens, and it happens to everyone, doubts niggle at us. Maybe we are wrong, maybe it isn't as good as we thought. After taking a critical look and listening to a few reviews and some thinking, maybe a few minor changes are made. And it still doesn't sell. So, maybe a little promotion. Still nothing. And there is no sense in asking ourselves why, so then it's time to ask another professional.

And here is one of the few places where this is possible. I'm glad to see a return of Why is this book not selling? A place where I have recently submitted this book in order to try and gain some insights into why potential readers are passing it by and buying other similar books instead.

Just when you think a book is going to fail to catch anyone's attention, a review site picks it up and you get this.

It is rare to come across a really new end of the world story, but within Chris Northern's new book there are four takes on an idea that is, at least, new to me. In a way, these four stories read like an unfinished Thriller because there are unanswered questions. But I still found each of the four stories fulfilling enough in its way and can only hope my investment in the characters will be justified by more of the same.

Here's the basic idea: some individual or organisation has developed and released a virus that brings on a permanent psychosis, a mental disorder, different for everyone but definitely 100% contagious. That's right, over a fairly short period of time, everyone goes crazy. Everyone!

The results aren't hard to guess at. It's the end of the world by virtue of mass insanity. More complicatingly, the same 'Mad Genius' responsible for the virus that makes people crazy is also distributing a vaccine to a chosen few - we assume - who then can inoculate a handful of people to try and keep some kind of society going.

You would think that would be enough to make some pretty entertaining stories, and it would be, but the Mad Genius mentioned above (at least we must assume he or they are responsible) are also releasing genetically engineered monsters into the mix and all of a sudden the title, Dancing with Darwin, started to make sense to me... can humanity, insane and without the benefit of civilization, survive against the new competitor species?

I really hope we see more of these from Chris Northern, a relatively unknown indie author.

Reviewed by: Rob A.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Win a Kindle Fire

The Goodreads Giveaway competition has run its course and the winners are in. The prize is a signed copy of The Last King's Amulet and copies will be sent out this week. Congratulations to Cheng-Wen Hsu, Cara Cole and Daniel Smallwood.

Kindle Books & Tips will be doing a promotion for the book this August. If you would like the chance to win a Kindle Fire, go to their site below. It takes only a few seconds to enter and I hear the Fire is a pretty good machine.

Kindle books and tips

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

The Cranberries - Zombie

Perceptions are funny.... well, truer to say that perceptions are subjective. I like to know that, and I think it's a good thing to understand that what is said is not necessarily what is understood, but sometimes I forget. And then there are songs that remind me. Here's one. Music is intensely subjective. When I first heard Zombie I had no idea about it's context and so subconsciously applied my own. Even now, long later and knowing the intended context, it still evokes the same response.


Another head hangs lowly Child is slowly taken
And if violence causes the silence 
Who are we mistaking 
But you see it's not me 
It's not my family In your head in your head
 They are fighting
With their tanks and their bombs 

And their bombs and their guns In your head in your head they are crying

[Chorus]In your head 
In your head Zombie zombie zombie ei ei
What's in your head In your head
 Zombie, zombie, zombie ei, ei, ei, oh do,do,do,do,do,do,do,do

Another mother's breaking heart is taking over the violence causes silence 
We must be mistaken 
It's the same old thing since 1916 
In your head in your head
 Their still fighting 
With their tanks and their bombs
And their bombs and their guns In your head in your head they are dying

[Chorus]In your head 
In your head Zombie zombie zombie ei ei
What's in your head In your head
 Zombie, zombie, zombie ei, ei, ei, oh do,do,do,do,do,do,do,do 
And life is, as they say, unique and strange and .... subjective. Consider this my random thought of the day.


Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Freefall - Science Fiction Cartoon

Sometimes I'll stumble across something really good and then forget to share it. Here's an example. This cartoon has been running for a good while now, and you can go read it online, for free, unless you want to donate something - which I actuall recommend doing at some point. Good things should be supported or they stop happening.

Freefall, both funny and fun

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Smashwords Summer Promotion

As a working writer I'm never very happy to see this roll around. It simply doesn't do me any good. Traffic to SW increases as a good number of writers make their work free. The result is a slowdown of sales elsewhere.

As ever with a thing that exists, I have to make a decision what to do with it. It makes sense to me to offer up free and discounted copies of work that is not selling, but that I think should reach a wider readership who would likely enjoy it.

Some time ago I wrote a series of shorter works collectively called Dancing with Darwin. These stories are Science Fiction, Apocalyptic and Post Apocalyptic fun and I have a whole bunch of them planned. An alien intelligence brings about an apocalyptic event, he destroys the world by spreading a virus that makes us all uniquely crazy. Imagine the fun that ensues as everyone on the planet develops their own unique form of crazy. For reasons it's futile to guess at, they didn't catch. I mean, I think they are good, and some reviewers do also. But they just failed to catch on. So, here's a chance to grab one of them free and to buy the collection at a reduced price.

Evolving Environment is free here:

And if you like that one - and why wouldn't you? - then the collection is on sale for a dollar fifty.

Dancing with Darwin (Sane?) is available here:

Oh, and The Last King's Amulet ebook is reduced most places to a bargain basement price of 99cents for the month of July. I may have said this elsewhere but it bares repeating.

Now it's time for me to go back and work.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Excerpt from John Daulton's Blog

If you are not a writer, it makes no difference. I thoroughly recommend that you click on the link and read the whole piece on John Daulton's blog, here: What is a REAL Author Anyway?

What is a REAL Author Anyway? The Difference Between Perdurance and Endurance

I’m writing this for a writer friend of mine who is struggling right now as an artist. She’s hit a rough patch on the already rough road of writing, and now she’s wondering if she even is “a writer” at all. She’s wondering if she is “a real author” at all. And I’ve seen other people ask themselves this question a lot. I’ve seen them beat themselves up about the very same thing they love. I’ve seen long debates on writers forums about indie authors versus traditional authors, different people arguing about whether indie or “self-published” (a pejorative to many) are or are not “real” authors from the start. Some argue that people who write, no matter if published at all, are only “real” authors based on some abstract criteria they’ve dug up, while some others affix any number of arbitrary sales figures or income figures to their understanding of what it means to be a “real” author.
I think they are all missing the point.
Perdurance is a word I first heard in a metaphysics class. It’s also a word I am dedicating to my friend. And to all my fellow writer friends out there, whether I’ve met them or not. Perdurance is what I think my friend, and anyone else out there, needs to understand to find joy in their work, their art and their career. And since I know it’s not a commonly used word, or even a definitively defined one, I’ll explain it as best I can.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Goodreads Giveaway

Goodreads Giveaway active now. You will need a Goodreads account, and I'll post a link below so that you can go grab one. Then you will need to do a search for The Last King's Amulet, click on a button, and give some basic information (so that I know where to send the book if you win).
The Prize: The winners will receive autographed paperback copy of The Last King's Amulet, book #1 of a four part series culminating in the recently released All The King's Bastards. There are five signed copies up for grabs.

Entry: Simple, sign up to Goodreads, a great site that allows you to rate and review books and recommends books to you based on your own preferences. To enter the contest, this is the page you will need to take a look at:

Then simply press the Enter to Win button, and fill in some info. Job done.

Good luck.

Giveaway dates: Jun 02 - Jul 31, 2013
3 copies available, 1 person requesting
Countries available: US, CA, and GB more 

Monday, 3 June 2013

What Sapphire thinks about Everyone He meets

I haven't finished reading Game of Thrones, and probably won't do so any time soon. It seemed to lose focus... that and the advent of the TV series, which I have watched some of, kind of muddied the waters so much that I basically lost interest. I probably have the same issue as many - not enough focus on my favourite characters and too much of people who I basically don't remember. This is not a problem Sapphire has; he kills most people he meets so that his memory doesn't get cluttered up with names he has to remember.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

All The King's Bastards Availablity

It was my intention, originally, to allow Smashwords to handle all distribution of my work. Time has shown that that is not an option, initially with Amazon.

Now Barnes & Noble are handled by Draft 2 Digital. I thought Nook users would like to know. No more waiting, you get the books as fast as Kindle users.

All The King's Bastards/Barnes & Noble

And now available at Apple ibookstore.

All The King's Bastards should normally retail at $4.99 - for a brief period this was $5.99 and may return to that price at a later date.

Friday, 17 May 2013

All The King's Bastards - Available Now

All The King's Bastards is the last of the four novels in The Price of Freedom sequence.

My name is Sumto and I was once content to drink and gamble and idle my days away in the company of good books, dubious friends and casual women. Still, money and power have their lure and I have accepted I must acquire them as a matter of survival.

As the son of a Patron, Sumto has set his feet unsteadily upon a path that will one day allow him to take his place amongst the Assembly of Patrons, the rulers of the city. Banned from remaining in the north, Sumto must return to the city to face trial for a range of charges that culminate in treason. A trial he confidently expects to win.

Unknown to Sumto, his enemies in the Assembly have other plans for his future and have already taken action against him.

The last of four novels that follow the career of Sumto, a reluctant hero of dubious morals.

Book One: The Last King's Amulet
Book Two: The Key To The Grave
Book Three: The Invisible Hand
Book Four: All The King's Bastards

The four novels are best considered to be one novel in four parts, though each is novel length.


Thursday, 2 May 2013

Preview: All The King's Bastards


They can't do that.” I rubbed at the stone set in my forehead.

My uncle Orlyan didn't look happy either. He leaned forward, heavy arms resting on the table between us, which complained loudly over the noises of the camp that were filtering through the fabric of the tent. Beyond that the sounds of a thousand axes reached us the from forest edge as land was cleared around the Eyrie, now to be known as the town of Roken, the northernmost point of the new Client State of Alendia. His clients were arriving in droves and making the lands of the Alendi their own. He and my father had succeeded magnificently and would both be the richer for it.

By contrast, I had just learned that I'd done even less well than I'd thought.

They can and they have,” my uncle repeated. “You were tried in your absence for the least of the charges against you, illegally raising troops in the name of the Assembly, and you were found guilty and sentenced.”

It's unconstitutional.” It was; no citizen of my class could be tried on any charge unless he was present to defend himself. Aside from the fact that I would have argued that I was technically innocent of the charge, though it was true that I'd gained the authority after I'd raised the troops. Until now I had considered that a mere detail.

You think I'm making this up, Sumto? The official notification of your exile is on its way here as we speak, and the legality of it is beyond question. The junior Consul raised the issue of your legal status with the Assembly, the Censor consulted the roles, the Pontifax Maximus himself scoured the temple's records and found that you had not so much as an ounce of gold stored there. Your legal status is Freeman, not citizen, your rights under the law that of a commoner. The Consul feigned surprise, the matter of your trial was passed to the Urban Praetor and the evidence against you reviewed, a judgment made and sentence passed before the sun went down that same day. You are a commoner under the law and you raised troops. You are guilty by definition. It's done and there's nothing we can do about it.”

I watched him watching me as the news sank in, slowly. “Tradition...” I let the sentence trail off. Traditionally the children of a Patron held the same class. But according to the constitution, class was established by gold held within the temples, relics of an ancient past when we held such buildings sacred. There was no heredity of class within the constitution; that the absence of personal wealth was traditionally overlooked for the offspring of the highest classes had no weight under the law. I re-arranged my internal landscape to accommodate the fact. Under the constitution I was a commoner, a man without sufficient surplus wealth to secure even the sixth class. Unrepresented and unprotected by the rights gained by membership of a class. The consequences were enormous, and the implications significant. It was too much to take in. It changed everything.

I stood up and began pacing the confines of Orlyan's command tent, thinking frantically. “My father was present at that meeting?”

He was. There was no division. How could there have been? It was a constitutional matter, beyond law or statute. It came as a complete surprise, but no one spoke against it.”

I kept my back to him as I poured wine for us and carried a cup back to the table for him, gulping down a good mouthful of my own as I did so.

I still couldn't sit. I was lost and I knew it. “There will be other charges.”

Of course, and it is clearly planned that you be absent for each trial.”

At least there was that. Each charge would be tried individually, a calendar month between them. To bunch charges together was a tool of tyrants; the assumption being that with so many charges the defendant must be guilty of something; conviction of one or more charges was almost assured. Thank fate for the constitution, at least in this instance.

I need to get some gold lodged with the temples and secure a class before the next trial,” I muttered, glancing his way as I passed, heading back to get more wine. I was exhausted, despite two days rest in Twobridges as his client's guest. “That way I can't be tried in absentia again.” And as an exile I clearly couldn't attend, so the rest of the charges would then have to await my return from exile. It was just putting things off, but that looked like being the best I could hope for.

The price of gold is on the rise.”

It would be. Patrons and Equestes were scrabbling to buy enough to secure their children's class, and their rights under the law, lest the same trick be pulled on them. Doubtless my father was not among them.

I gave it a moment as I poured more wine, a moment where Orlyan could comment that my father was taking care of it. My uncle sat silent, just as I'd expected. I turned back and raised my glass in ironic salute. “Next time you speak to my father, assure him that I have enough gold to secure at least the sixth class. No need for him to intervene on my behalf.” At least I hoped I had enough gold.

Orlyan's lips twitched but he didn't quite smile. He knew as well as I that no such intervention had been planned. “You managed to bring something out of the north, then?”

I had. Caliran had cleared the gold from my treasury at Darklake, but he and his men had been slain on the shore and the gold recovered by my men. I'd planned to use it to pay the maniple their spoils of the campaign. In fact, it had already been lodged with Orlyan's own camp treasurer for that purpose. I'd taken leave of Trethant and Parast, the two centurions , just minutes ago, having relinquished command of them as soon as we entered the camp. They were supervising the counting of the gold as their last duty to me. I just hoped there was enough to leave a little left over for my needs. Five thousand in gold would do. I might be lucky. I doubted it.

I gave an absent nod as I paced back to the table and sat down again. If there wasn't enough for me, I'd have to borrow the coin. A problem in itself. I didn't have a good reputation for returning borrowed money. After the events of today became common knowledge, I wouldn't have much of a reputation at all, with criminal and exile added to the count against me.


For the next two days I didn't do anything but rest. I developed a wet cough that came with a fever. The healers called it pneumonia and weren't surprised to hear that I had nearly drowned in the waters of Darklake. Or maybe I had drowned. My memories were fuzzy and confused, though two visions stood out strongly; myself as the husband of Jocasta and at peace, and myself as blood drenched warrior bringing ruin to the world. I shied away from both visions of the future, deeming each to be as impossible as the other. Aside from which, prophecy and religion go hand in hand and I do not choose to think of myself as a tool in the hand of some mythical god. In any case, I spent the next days under the care of the camp healers. The fever broke and the cough faded fast under their care but I stayed where I was. I needed the rest. Also, I had nowhere to go.

The healers had put me in a room of my own, as though I were an officer. I still held the white rod, still had imperium until the letter from the Assembly arrived to strip it from me, so technically I suppose I was. Meran ran errands for me and gathered supplies for a journey. He'd taken the news of my exile well; but then he probably didn't fully grasp what it meant.

I slept and ate and healed. No one visited, save Meran and the healers. There was plenty of time for the reality of my situation to sink in.

I can't have clients,” I told Meran as soon as the thought occurred to me.

He scrunched up his ugly, scarred face as he turned his attention from the clothes he packed. New clothes bought from the traders who had come to Roken to supply the burgeoning population. I didn't ask him where the money came from. It was probably his own. “It's temporary.”

I let the matter drop. He was a freedman and I was a freeman, our status under the law little different. He was free to do as he chose and had apparently chosen.

I have to write to Elendas.” I'd been meaning to do so anyway, to give him advice, make suggestions, formalize matters between us. His small kingdom would have had no status under our law as the Assembly had already put it beyond our borders. No citizen could pass north of Roken under the agreement I had made with the Keeplords. Everyone seemed to want the same thing. But between Elendas and I, there were issues to be addressed. Our relationship would be informal, and in any military sense I could only have helped him with foreign mercenaries. To advise and assist him I could have sent only slaves or foreigners. Now I couldn't do anything. He was not my client.

Does he need to know?”

I leaned my head back against the wall and looked up at the ceiling. “News will reach him. From here to Twobridges, from there to him.” My gaze wandered around the room, fell to the bedside table where a few loose leaves of paper lay. They were the maps of Darklake that I had taken from Caliran before his library had burned. Somehow they had come through intact and been unpacked here as part of Meran's attempts to organize me. I'd send the maps to Elendas, explain the situation, and probably never hear from him again. At least someone would make use of them. Darklake might still develop into the wealthy town I had imagined. Not that it would do me much good. I wasn't his patron. He wasn't my client. He owed me nothing.

A year isn't so long,” Meran offered as he put a writing table on my lap, setting out ink, pen and paper for me.

I knew what he meant. In a year my exile would be over. After the gold from Darklake was disbursed to the men of my maniple there had been two thousand in gold left for me. Not enough, but better than nothing. I needed more. Elendas might not be my client but there were the maps, and they had a significant value. And he had money. My money once, to be sure, but it was his now. I'd have to word the letter with care, but I saw no reason why he should not buy the maps for a reasonable sum. Enough to fix my most immediate problem, at least.

That money, when it arrived, would be lodged with my Uncle. He had agreed that he would, when I made the money available, send word to my father to place five thousand coin to secure me membership of the sixth class. After my exile was done I would have at least that status, and my legal right to acquire clients would be regained. Although I would not have much to offer them. The rights and privileges of the sixth class were nothing compared to those of the Equestes or Patrons.

And I would have the stigma of exile permanently hanging over me. Sumto the exile, to add to the list of black marks against my name. True, the Assembly would not be able to arrange trials in absentia while I was exiled. But I would still face the remaining charges on my return. Any optimism about the future faded over the horizon when I thought of it.

Stop sighing,” Meran sounded impatient.

I didn't realize I had. “What about you?”

He shrugged. “I'll take my chances with you.”

I didn't want to point out how well that had worked out for him so far. “Tunics.”


Buy the men tunics, the centuries of Trethant and Parast. The best quality you can find.” My mind was starting to clear from the fever and exhaustion. I had promises to keep, even if they were promises I'd made only to myself

He shrugged and left, not asking why. I had always liked him for that.

With what I promised myself would be my last sigh, I bent to the task of writing to Elendas, organizing what I wanted to say and how best to say it. It took a while.


Word from the Assembly arrived the next day. My Uncle Orlyan brought it to me himself. He also brought one of his officers with him.

He tossed the letter into my lap without any hint of formality. “As commander in the north, I've already been informed of the contents in dispatches. Read it and obey it.”

The room seemed crowded and I felt at a disadvantage. I was still in bed, though the healers had told me I was well enough to leave and should be moving if I expected to regain my strength. I'd pleaded exhaustion, which wasn't far from the truth. The last weeks had taken their toll, depleting my resources to the point where I felt I could lay in bed for weeks and do nothing but eat and sleep. A read, maybe. A woman would be nice but not really necessary. Nothing had been said, but I was sure they were rationing the amount of wine I took with meals. And it was well watered. If it weren't for Meran sneaking in the odd bottle, I would have been out of bed days earlier. As it was, I was content to stay there, crawling from my pit only to make the short journey to the latrines and the bathhouse. Slowly, I was starting to feel better.

Until now.

I eyed the letter where it lay, the seal of the Assembly seeming to glare at me like a malevolent eye. They were out to get me. Not all of them, certainly, but enough. They were putting their minds to it, whoever they were. First the charges, and then the idea of trials in my absence. Stripped of rank and class, and exiled, I would make an easy target should they want to finish the job.

I picked up the letter and broke the seal. There was really no other option. I skipped over the contents, picking out the significant meaning.

Having been found guilty of raising troops without authority... lay down imperium and its protections, giving them into the hand of the first representative of the city encountered... to be beyond eight hundred miles of the city by the middle of the sixth month, not to return within our borders for one year from that date on pain of death.

I didn't bother with the rest. Leaning from my bed, I scooped up a satchel containing my letter of authority and the white rod of my imperium and passed it to my uncle.

Orlyan took it without a word. He checked the contents and then passed the satchel to his witness. He frowned blackly at me for a moment and then tossed another letter on the bed at my feet. “Get up and be about it,” he told me, and left without looking back

The other letter was from my father. Well, I needed a distraction.


You were supposed to spy in the north, not embark on a war of conquest. I assumed you would understand that the imperium was a sinecure and a legal fiction, not a tool for your use. You have made a mess for us that it is going to take time to clean up. The ants' nest is stirred and will take time to settle. Better that you are out of things, dealt with as far as certain factions within the Assembly are concerned. Still, some good has come of it; I now know more than I did and have potentially gained some leverage over certain others of my peers. Better it had been done quietly, but at least it is done.

Sapphire will stay in the north, so don't wait for him. While you are in exile, you might as well be doing something useful. A king who owed me much has recently died, leaving his Kingdom of Brithada to me in his will. I have no time to deal with this. Go to Brithada and interview his illegitimate heirs, for none are legitimate; select the one most likely to be malleable and offer him client status. The mere knowledge that he has my backing should be enough to quell opposition and see him to his throne. You may call for military support from Ysindral if needs be. Make sure there is no need. Armies cost money and that money would be wasted in this instance.

Orlyan will provision you.

Try not to make a mess. Destroy this.

The letter was unsigned.

Your loving father, Valarian,” I muttered sarcastically to myself.

Both angry and dispirited, perhaps depressed, I got myself out of bed and went for a bath. I needed to think and I always do my best thinking while soaking in hot water.


The afternoon found me wandering the camp, more or less aimlessly. I had fresh clothing and physically felt better than I had since my incarceration at Undralt. My body was looking forward to weeks, perhaps a whole year, without being battered, burned or half drowned. I felt well, both rested and recovering, but I still hadn't made any decision. I knew I would have to talk to my Uncle about Valarian's suggestion before I left, but the middle of the month was far enough away that I didn't feel pressed. Each day I remained here was a day that I was fed without cost. And money was the ever present problem. Trethant had come through with a little over two thousand in gold for my use but that was already earmarked for another purpose. If I didn't take my father's offer I would be pressed for funds. If I took the job on, I would be funded sufficient to make it possible to carry out the task. My choices were between penniless and idle or just hard-up and with a job to do.

Neither course of action appealed to me.

The camp was pretty much empty during the day. My Uncle was using his men to drive a road south; the road north having been abandoned due to recent events. To either side of that work in progress, the forest had been cleared for half a mile. The trees didn't lie where they were felled, but were dragged up to the new town of Roken, to be laid down for timber or fashioned into log cabins that would serve the new population for their first year or more, until they could afford better. I climbed the walls to watch the process for a while, until a sentinel politely asked me to bugger off. That stung, but he was right to do it. As I climbed down and turned to scan the near empty camp, I wondered what I thought I was doing.

Thinking. Or trying to. I had to go somewhere, and I would have to make a decision. Other Patrons might send their sons a long list of friendly clients who would put them up for a year in good style, but not mine. Not that I can blame him much; I'd abused his familial generosity shamelessly over the years. I could hardly blame him that it had run out now, when I actually needed it.

South would mean passing through, or at least close to, the city before I started putting eight hundred miles between me and it. That didn't seem like a good idea either. East would take me to Our Sea in fairly short order, and west would take me to the western sea almost as quickly. Of the two, I preferred Our Sea; we don't call it ours for no reason. It would be safer, and the western sea had nasty things called tides to contend with, not to mention fierce storms that could wreck any vessel not protected by a weather mage. Also in the west was Brithada, where my father wanted me to go; though it was rather more south than west, I'd already calculated that river and sea passage would be a far easier route to the sea than slogging through endless miles of dense and mountainous woodland..

In some ways the decision seemed an easy one. Do what my father wanted and take some money to get it done. The simple fact was that I didn't want to. I ran through the options again, and again saw that there weren't any. Still I prevaricated. There was no rush. I could make the necessary journey in plenty of time. I could rest here before heading west, through the lands of the Ensibi, for whom this war had originally been fought, to the border of the Kingdom of Aratria where there was a mighty river and plenty of river traffic to the coast and the port of Vantira. Then to sea.

The dangerously storm-ridden western sea. There was plenty of time. I didn't have to decide now, so I wouldn't. I turned and walked in the shadow of the wall and let my mind settle on unnecessary things.

Maybe I should write some letters home; to my mother and sisters. Maybe later. Or Jocasta.

I winced. What would I say to Jocasta? You were right to leave me. I'm... I sighed, kicked a clod of earth thrown up by hob-nail boots. Broke. A commoner. An exile. Not worthy of you. Not by half. Maybe never was.


I needed a diversion. Something to keep my thoughts from running in circles, something to keep me from dwelling on... well, the past. That was the problem. Everything I wanted was in the past; I was left with what was possible. All the advantages I'd taken for granted since childhood were gone. My Uncle hadn't so much as invited me to dine with him, though he must know I was well enough to make that short journey. He wouldn't. I was the wrong class.

True, I mused as I headed for the north gate, thinking to take in a view of the Eyrie as it transformed itself into the new town of Roken, true that we had never exactly been close. Also true that in other families I might have volunteered some of the intelligence I had gathered about the north. An invitation to speak more of it over a meal might then have been forthcoming. But he hadn't asked and I hadn't offered him anything. In fact, I'd sent but one letter to my father from Darklake, and that spare of information. I'd assumed that Sapphire would be giving regular reports, had alluded to that in the letter by use of the phrase, 'ask Sapphire for details,' and 'you will have learned from Sapphire.' Well, where was Sapphire now? In the north, doing the same job, the job that my father had clearly never truly needed me for. It had been, as he had said, a sinecure. Something to do that would advance my career and place me as a useful piece on his game board; just like my Uncle. I didn't doubt for a second that half the people migrating to Roken were my father's clients. Probably more than half. My Uncle may have fought the war but I was pretty sure my father had funded it.

I was doing it again. Dwelling, brooding. I lifted my head and straightened my back. Just ahead of me, the two guards on the gate turned at my approach. My footsteps crunched on the gravel that had been compacted onto stone slabs to form the surface of the road. They watched but made no move to bar my passage. Now that the area was secure, they were there to keep an eye on things, not challenge everyone who passed.

I looked past them at the mile or so that lay between us and the Eyrie. There were two or three hundred people in sight , leading draft horses pulling out the stumps of trees or dragging the logs up to the new town. The cleared land would be used for pasture, I guessed. The walls were being repaired; Roken would remain a walled town. Behind me I could hear wagons on the new road, passing through the fort. The sound of it all drifted to my ears on a warm breeze as I stepped between the guards.

New tunic, patron?”

I stopped and glanced at the soldier who had spoken. His voice didn't seem baiting but good humored, so I responded in kind. “Can't afford one,” I told him. “And it's patron no more.” I was bored. If they wanted to talk, I'd stop and talk a moment.

We heard, patron.” He didn't sound happy about it. “Trethant's century is billeted by ours,” his attention was focused on the wagons behind me.

And that's not all we heard,” the other chimed in. “we heard you stood against an army on your own after doing for a priest by drowning him and damn near drowned yourself to do it, and that after a full night's fighting and worse the day before.”

Word gets around, patron.”

Hetkla told that they found you in Learneth, having taken on the whole town and beat them so thoroughly there was nothing left for the men to do.”

Then rode out after your enemies alone and dealt with the last of the necromancers while you were about it.”

And that with a head wound newly treated.”

That hadn't been the way it had happened, but I couldn't see any easy way to tell the truth of it. “I had good men with me all the way,” I told them.

The noise of the wagons was louder now and the two men moved a little to watch them as they closed on the gate.

Veterans,” the first soldier agreed. “Hard men to impress.”

I glanced over my shoulder. I needed to move to clear the road, and their attention wasn't on me any longer. I stepped through the gate.

You ever need the loan of a tunic...”

I glanced back but neither soldier was looking at me as they raised a hand to halt the wagons. won't need to look far to find one.”

There was nothing to say and no one waiting to hear it, so I left them to their duties and headed for Roken. Maybe there was some beer left in the keep of the Eyrie.

Though this time I'd have to pay for it.