Archive for April, 2008

Ladies Knickers

Posted in News and Tittle Tattle on April 18, 2008 by craigherbertson

Ladies Underwear

With the CD party coming up. and Ladies being in the fore, I thought its time to talk about knickers. Specifically, Ladies’ Knickers… and more specifically to avoid any suggestion of bias – English Ladies’ Knickers

Barbirolli Square is the site of ‘Tommy Duck’s’, one of the great pubs of Manchester. It was located in a late eighteenth century house, and was named when the signwriter was sorting out the name of the landlord, Thomas Duckworth, but ran out of space: ‘Duckworth’s’ became ‘Duck’s’.

The pub was quite unique. Inside there was a skeleton in a glass lidded coffin sat amidst a priceless collection of Victorian theatre and music hall posters. The ceiling, god bless the landlord, was covered with ladies knickers. From thongs to bloomers, (and everything in between, if you pardon my liberality with English}.

Female customers were invited to donate a pair. Then they were autographed, dated, and pinned up with a bit of a ceremony.)

The pub was demolished in a controversial fashion. Not by feminists but overnight and underhand – or so they say.

In any case, I was lucky enough to play there, in 1984, with the appropriately named ‘I Giggle When I’m Tickled’ and our guest Ladies ‘The Three Electras’

I forgot how the music went that evening but some of those pairs of knickers have stuck in mind


Fantasy Writing. A Set of Tips and Admonitions to the Unwise. No3/ Things to avoid

Posted in Fantasy Writing with tags , , , , on April 16, 2008 by craigherbertson

Dragons, elves, dwarves, A dark lord,

The Queen of Mastaskara – Chapter 4

Posted in Unpublished Works in Progress on April 16, 2008 by craigherbertson

In which Granville makes a Catch

Macool could still see the distant arch of Hafver’s bridge. The company of solders had long since dwindled to the size of loose thread, heading it seemed for the castle. He gave them one glance and then sprinted down towards the shoreline and the retreating path of Granville.

Macool had also heard his oldest brother rise but that had been no awakening. Macool had been up before the sun had set its first tendrils out across the sky. He had also known of the fishing and he also wanted to catch a trout. Granville had told him all about it, conjuring images of still lakes, cool bursting springs and rivers, green moss and lichened stones with frogs, newts and other ghastly creatures inhabiting the banks of the Gorge Bendure waters. Macool could almost taste the wild strawberries and the freshly cooked trout. But his brother would never let him go for fear of his mother’s wrath and also by his own inclination. So many times had Macool asked, begged, pleaded for the chance to accompany his brother and so many times had he been rebuffed. Now he had no recourse but to follow.

Granville’s mind would be changed when he had no choice. It was a plan Macool had been concocting for a week and nothing would prevent it.

It was a very simple plan. An attacker might wish to spy out the castle but only a fool would really wish to sneak out. Macool was small enough to fit in an empty apple barrel and it as a matter of moments and he was through the front gate with a Meath farmer on his way back top the plains of Leath.

It had been simple enough to wait until he was well clear of the gates, flip the top off the barrel and leap from the cart. Macool could map Granville’s every move. Granville, never talkative, still confided his schemes in a joking manner to both brothers. Occasionally he would mention half-formed plans and these words were easy to link with the substance of rods and reels and worm bait. Macool knew where he was going and so with a little more caution he had made across Maggot’s farm to the fields beyond, where lay the Bendure Gorge with its scattering of distant pines. There he knew his brother would be persuaded to let him accompany the expedition or be forced to take him back. The latter proposition would never even occur to Granville.

But then, as Macool cleared the path and came to the first of the low hillocks where the burn deepened and widened, he saw a line of silhouettes on Hafver’s old stone bridge. From their regimentation, it seemed they were soldiers, so he proceeded with more caution, not thinking in his child’s way that they could be enemies but only that he might be sent home. He weaved his way over the first of the low hillocks and waited concealed in the gorse until the soldiers passed by. Then with his heart full of the news he would impart to Granville he chased up to Hafvers Bridge.

With some amazement he saw his brother’s form, framed as in a picture by the arches of the bridge miles way on the edge of the tidal mudflats, slinking across the salt marsh towards the sand dunes. The patch of open grassland between him and his brother was covered by scrub and small copses brushed away from the coast by the sea winds. Through these Granville had apparently chosen to go. Why had he avoided the direct route? He could simply have waited until the soldiers had gone. Macool was unaware that his brother knew the emotion of fear.

Unwitting he followed in the wake of his brother’s passage, a passage marked by the stirring of disturbed birds. Little Grebe, Shellduck and Eider, Ringed Plover, Lapwing, Snipe and Redshank wheeled above and about the running Granville. While around Macool on the drier land Grey Partridge, and Meadow Pipit, Garden Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Blackcap and Spotted Flycatcher piped and crooned from hidden nests and concealment in the rushes as though chiding him for haste. But he heeded them not. All his concentration was for the leaping and the jumping from hummock to hummock. The swampy land here was not very dangerous but he could break an ankle or twist a foot should he slip on a hummock.

For a long time after Macool remembered the singing of the skylark. The bird piped its haunting melody unseen somewhere in the vast sky, and with the instinct of the country boy Macool knew that it had lost something, probably its young to a predator. He remembered the plaintive call more clearly than he did the first dead mariner lying face down.

He had broken out through the dunes from a jungle of spider grass onto a small gully. Here the sea met a small flat rivulet and the beach was narrow. And here by the wreckage of a boat, dashed into halves by the night’s tempest, the mariner lay sprawled, face down.

It was a moment where a world already wonderful became unknowable. The strange scimitar-shaped vessel, the outlandish checked pants of the mariner flaring out like a beached jelly fish, his broad brown back impossibly still in the sun, the long black hair spread like a ladies fan.

For a moment, but only a moment Macool hesitated. It was his first dead man – and then the shouting.

His eyes looked up at first dazzled. Another body, a mariner, a knight and there, scattered along the beach like so much salvage the black clad bodies of several armoured men. They were like a set of soldiers whose uniforms had been taken apart as though to display their function as each soldier had decided how much he could risk in the battle with the sea and the inevitable battle of the shore that was to come. They had all died; some clutching at seaweed, some still holding their swords as though they might cut escape-holes in water.

But not all. At last, through the bizarre mosaic of this new experience Macool saw the familiar: his brother Granville wielding a strange sword, his rod and reel scattered on the sand – Before him four soldiers, two standing one lying and one crawling to his knees. Around them disturbed terns and sanderlings cawed and wheeled as though mimicking rival supporters at gladiatorial games.

Macool had no time to think and he seemed to be guided.

By some magic of the mind, he heard always through the harsh caws of the seabirds the faint piping of the skylark. He was running but the sand was heavy on his feet. His brother had killed in battle but he had never claimed it was anything more than luck and the element of surprise. He was only after all a young boy. The livery of these soldiers was that of some elite guard, the armour finely cast, the black capes and brushes of their helms of fine cloth and horsehair. The physiques of the soldiers could be seen, even in death, as men of good years and goodly strength. As he jumped over the body of the mariner he could see that the man was a head taller than most Leathites and in life he must have been a formidable opponent.

Granville saw Macool. ‘Run you fool,’ his brother shouted, and in the same moment he thrust the unwieldy sword through the throat and up into the brain of his opponent. Macool half stopped by his brothers admonition, tried to pull a sword from a fallen soldier but the hand that clutched in death was not about to release it. It was too heavy in any case and he saw then the knives in the soldier’s belt.

Macool looked up to see that the sword had been wrenched from Granville’s grasp but his new opponent was also unarmed. The tall man had discarded his armour and all his weapons. He stood swaying in exhaustion and disbelief, looking at once to the kneeling figure, then to the soldier with the sword in his throat, dying on the sand and then with a sudden expression of horror he saw as though for the first time the smaller knight crawling to his knees on the tide mark.

‘Up Canin, my son,’ he shouted. ‘For the Queen and Mastakara.’ The strange dialect seemed at one with the seabirds. Granville had picked up his rod and with but-end threw it like a lance at the standing man. It struck him in the face. He clutched his eye and made an instinctive grasp for his knife. But the belt was empty. Through all this Macool ran forward, knives in hand.

The kneeling figure retched and spewed onto the sand. The crawling young man fell, turning on to his back. His hands reached for a discarded sword. Macool whooped and threw the knife to Granville. He caught it, in one scything motion, jumped forward, and cut the throat of the kneeling man. Then came a new sound amidst the moaning and the gurgling and the cawing and the sighing of the waves: a distant muffled drumbeat.

The big knight lurched forward and chopped his hand at Granville’s knife arm. The blow missed its intended target and struck Granville on the shoulder as he weaved away. The smaller knight grasped the sword and tried to rise. At that moment Granville struck in again with the knife trying to embed it in the eye of the big knight. But now, as though galvanized with a new urgency in the face of defeat, the knight caught Granville and beat him to the ground in a series of quick blows. Macool grasping his only opportunity thrust his own knife into the back of the knight’s neck. It was an untidy blow but by luck he hit an arterial vein. The blood gouted onto the sand, the Knight stood as a struck tree and then breathing heavily, sank slowly to the floor, blood bubbling from his mouth.

The drumbeats came nearer. Granville was rising from the floor, his eyes and cheeks bloodied. He watched Macool stagger towards the small knight. Macool came up to the knight, breath panting, heart racing.

He was no more than a boy, a child perhaps of ages with Macool, some untried captain’s son on his first trip. He was utterly exhausted. Macool raised his knife and bent down to hold the waif neck.

Staring into the willow eyes of the boy Macool experienced a strange lassitude. In the face of death the boy displayed no fear, only an acceptance neither active nor passive that he was about to die. Macool heard the resurgence of the waves on the sand, a sound as inevitable as the beat of his own heart; the breeze kicked up and with it the smell of the salt sea and the taste of salt on his breath and the sweet salt sweat of the exhausted boy. But there was no reek of fear and the waves seemed to dance slowly as through a glass in the retinas of the willow eyes ,and as though there might be some inconfutable relationship between the eyes and the sea. He heard in the distance the shouts of his own brother and further distant the beat of horses’ hooves muffled by the sand. Beyond these, in some ethereal world he heard the thin piping of the wading birds, the terns, the snipes and the plovers, as they picked at the shell fish on the strand. He thought in an abstarct distant realm of his own unknown father and how this boy’s father had encouraged him to the last.

And then he felt his left hand loosen his grip on the boy’s neck. His other hand reached out and stuck the knife in the sand, and he looked up to see the bodies scattered over the beach like dead black flies, Granville staring wildly in exultation and relief, holding in his hand his bright impossibly red knife stained with the blood of the dying knights. All around him like a sea tempest, the caparisoned horses of the knights of Lord Dugan cut up the sand in great flurries and the knights themselves held at rein looking on with a mix of emotions at the bodies and the two Leath boys.

Behind them came Lord Dugan himself cantering forward with profound interest, fully armoured and with his scabbard ungirdled. He cast a keen cormorant eye on the two brothers and immediately noted the exhausted prisoner. He dismissed any threat to his nephews.

As Dugan’s company dismounted and began to examine the enemy knights and despoil the corpses, the cries of the waders seemed to echo through Macool’s head like the sharp knives strewn over the sand. But piercing through these hollow sounds he still heard the solitary skylark somewhere in the unseeable distance.

The Queen of Mastakara Chapter 3

Posted in Unpublished Works in Progress on April 15, 2008 by craigherbertson

In which Barrister recalls the departure of his father

Granville had been observed departing from the White Castle. Barrister had heard his brother rise from the next room and he was always curious about his brother’s movements. Sometimes it would be some kind of prank and Granville was usually the butt of the humour. Barrister had grown so accustomed to water being spilled on his head or toads for bedfellows that he could now almost sense where his brother was without seeing or hearing him. On this occasion he had heard Granville stumble around in the dark looking for his clothes. Barrister had woken instantly from a half sleep from dreams in which he was alone on a high hill overlooking a bleak sea while a single ship with torn sails was thrown from trough to crest as though by the hands of a giant juggler. He had crept from his bed and hidden behind the wooden door of his chamber.

Waiting in the period when the sun is just below the horizon but its light has only begun to taint the sky above the horizon, Barrister thought about his dream. It had doubtless been fired by the night’s storm that had woken him several times with the violence of the thunder and lightening, but the dream in contradiction to the reality had been calm and enervated and coloured by eerie silence. He had enjoyed the solitude, the bleakness of the scenery, the height from which he had gazed like some gaunt carved god.

Barrister often had vivid dreams and they were better than the life of torture he endured with his older brother. He waited now, hidden in the shade, feeling as though he was still in the dream and imagining the whistling of the wind and the sharp salty taste of the sea air, imagining a world where Granville did not exist. Then he heard retreating steps and he knew that Granville was going out.

It would be fishing. He had talked of nothing else for the last weeks, an obsession with an old trout that lurked in the Gorge Bendure waters.

Barrister sent up a prayer to his private Giriadier. The prayer was confused: Images of Granville’s successful escape, catching of the trout and subsequent good humour, warred with those of Granville falling concussed into the gorge and disappearing forever from the world. Barrister fought to conquer the negative image. He had no real wish to see his brother dead; if only to avert future bad luck or spiritual repercussions.

Barrister waited as the light crept through the slits in the shutter to suffuse his room. As often happens when one is half asleep, the familiar surroundings took on an unfamiliar aspect. His eyes saw the curtained four-poster bed, the stone floors and the lush Keefer rug, the candleholders and the single large wooden cupboard that contained his clothes. However, his mind transformed these mundane objects into features of a wonderland. He seemed at once big and small and the objects at first the trappings and gear of a giant and then those of a colony of dwarves or elves. The colours would change hue even as he watched, moving from blurred drab hues to vivid preternatural hues as though some alchemist was mixing up liquids in a series of beakers of variegated glass.

On the back stone wall his long sword and shield hung, catching the fragmented light of the new dawn. As a baron’s son Barrister was expected to be able to wield these weapons by the time he was fifteen. His older brother was proficient at the age of fourteen.

Within his half dream state it seemed at one moment the weapons were the impossible treasure of some long forgotten warrior, enchanted with spells so intricate that they would be beyond touching and then again he himself seemed like the warrior and the weapons the familiar extensions of his own powerful arms.

All the ambiguities of his own position in the Leath overcame him, the absurdity of his own intelligent roving mind and the duller confident Granville, his own strength of build and the slimmer but quicker Granville, his own reticence and Granville’s bravery; all this seemed to come up like a tidal wave and overwhelm him. In it all he saw the face of his father as he last remembered him.

The baron had returned alone having remembered some last detail in the preparations for the Canope expedition and doubtless being too impatient to trust his men with the task. The castle drawbridge was still open after the great exodus, the Leath company out in the fields organizing the peasantry and the hunters, all his warriors abroad in a din and noise; and in that moment when the remaining castle soldiery, only a skeleton garrison, were all busy with some kind of preparations, there had only been his father, gaunt and austere, clad in black amour bearing the crest and emblem of his house: Only his father, seemingly attached to his black horse as a sword to a sheath, who stared downwards at Barrister with his deep blue eyes in a long, strange moment of bewildering complexity – and a silence seemed to enwrap Barrister as though all the noises of the preparations, the horses hooves, the clanking of arms were all outside a glass case and he was an imprisoned fish suspended in water with his father staring down. His father had looked once, ridden on through the eaves of the portcullis and then, having got what he needed, he took the horse out at a walk before cantering through the open bridge out into the black.

All the while Barrister had remained, a small and lonely boy, standing in the great archway of the portcullis. Seven years old and alone and his father had said nothing.

Even now when he thought about it he asked the question whether his father, in the confusion and dust and stour, had known it was his son. If he had known why not speak one last word of tenderness. If he had not, how could a father not know his son?

Barrister had remained on the bridge for over two hours looking out as the scattering of torches and campfires had gradually died to a solitary fire some two miles off. Even now and so for the rest of his life, Barrister would always ask the question of his Giriadier and the answer would remain as inscrutable and undiscoverable as that tiny distant campfire on the wide rolling plains of Leath.

A spear of light flicked from the long sword on the wall momentarily distracting him from his reverie. For a second he stared at the sword and then he ran on tiptoes to the window throwing open the shutters to look where the sea like the grass plains of Leath made its eternal dance. The sun would be rising like a God from the water to clip his restless waves and the whole of the Western wall of castle Leath, the long flat wall, would blazon with reflected glory and the white walls and turrets like the clean jawbone of a giant horse, would be seen the from the Cuff and beyond.

Inside the castle inhabitants would stir, shutters would be flung wide for the sea air and the women would soon be warring with the gulls and sea hawks for the privilege of placing webbed feet or washed hose and linen on the lines. By full morning those fortunate few on the higher balconies would be eating fresh sea trout, winkles, clams and crabs dressed with herbs and fine salads drawn from the plains of Leath but before this there would be a short lull when private prayers and offerings were made to the household Giriadier. In this lull Barrister was determined to find out what Granville was doing.

Barrister dressed quickly making hasty ill-considered prayers. It was always wise to know what Granville’s plans were because then Barrister could plan how to circumnavigate them. At best he could avoid Granville all day. At worst he could be prepared for the bent of his foul humour.

From his keen sensitivity to his brother’s movements he knew that Granville had headed in the direction of the keep. As an accomplished spy that could mean two possibilities: The pigeon loft which Granville loved or the secret passage that led to the ‘scape. Within moments he knew that his brother had determined not to spend an hour or so tending the doves but was instead leaving the castle for the Gorge Bendure waters.

The secret entrance to the ‘scape was placed in a recess to the left of the back stairwell. Here access was possible from the sleeping chambers of the House of Leath, his mothers chambers upstairs on the second level and the brothers on this the third level. From long habit and secrecy he always placed a hair at the bottom of the hanging tapestry (a gift from the lighthouse girls) which disguised the hidden alcove, which in turn led to the long stairwell, and tunnels of the ‘scape.

The hair had been moved. Granville was after his trout.

Barrister smiled inwardly, although the smile could not find its way to his face. Carefully he replaced the hair. It was unlikely that Granville would return this way. He felt a great weight roll off his shoulders.

Back in his room he stoked and set the fire, watching until the flames were high and then dashing the fire down before he set the cauldron on the grill. His movements were practiced, even confident, when his older brother was gone, but his face remained an immobile expressionless mask.

Even as he washed in the stone bath, rubbing his back with the pumice stone in the lukewarm water thinking back on his strange dream his face betrayed no emotions. In the clear water he could see again the high hill, the bleak sea and the single ship with torn sails. At least he had this facility, he mused, to remember his dreams very clearly. For a long time he had thought this was down to his hatred of his brother: Dreams, the one room that his brother could not unlock. But there had to be more to the contents of this special room. Was a dream just a dream? Why see a ship? Why torn sails? Was the ship a dream ship or had he seen it before somewhere in reality, perhaps from the low cliffs of the Cuff on a visit many years before.’ One day,’ he said aloud, ‘I will enter the world of my dreams and I will never return.’

Almost shy after he had pronounced this solemnity he finished his ablutions. As he looked at the mists curling about the frame of his window Barrister thought again of his father riding out into the black. He dismissed the thought.

‘Better the world of dreams,’ he whispered and the mists enveloped his words.

The Queen of Mastakara Chapter 2

Posted in Unpublished Works in Progress with tags , on April 14, 2008 by craigherbertson

In which Granville Adventures from the White Castle with Rod and Line

Granville looked above his head to where the ramparts of castle Leath soared to the sky. His view was obscured by the roots and branches of an oak laden with spring leaves. The old oak offered a protection from the elements and more importantly from the castle guard. He had already been crouching for at least half an hour, which for a boy of fifteen might as well have been a lifetime. But old Manders simply would not move.

It had already taken twenty minutes to negotiate the dank steps of the castle ‘scape a journey impeded by the lack of a torch. That the ‘scape should only be used in times of dire emergency, siege and fire and suchlike, was of secondary importance to Granville. Of greater importance was the sap that rose in his blood, the chilled air, the brisk morning and the glimmering of a rising sun. The previous night’s storm had not disturbed him in the least, even though it had doubtless disturbed most of the castle’s inhabitants. He was wide-awake, fresh and vigorous and he intended to be ‘way across the plain of Leath and north beyond the White Cliffs to the dunes and low forest where the Gorge Bendure waters spilled like a shivering necklace through green pines. There were fish to be caught and Granville was the one to be doing the catching. His friend Arnot waited by the old mill a league from the old oak – or at least he might wait a little longer.

Granville crouched, his knees aching, the stiff wooden rod, disguised as a branch thrust out before him. Two years had passed since a lucky blow had ended warring for the Lord Compesta. In that time the muscles of Granville’s arms had swollen with constant practice until they sprung from his slim body like embellishments on armour; they were rigid now and decorated only with goose pimples gifted by the predawn chill. He would have cursed under his breath but Manders although old, was not deaf and of all Lady Leath’s veterans the one most likely to hear an unusual noise and the most likely to beat the head of its maker.

Granville had often exchanged blows on the practice field with the old serjeant and he had no desire to annoy him now. What could the old dog find so interesting? This northern side of the White Castle looked only to friendly land. The sea side to the west was the spot for the eyes to search. Perhaps he was watching the distant kiting of the eagles or the hawks on the bank of hills leading to Gorge Bendure.

The prospect for escape was grim and Granville had almost decided to give up, weighing only the evil that he would have to crawl back through the enlarged rabbit warren at the root of the old oak and this might make too much noise; when a shout broke the morning tranquillity. For one awful second Granville assumed that he had been caught and a series of images that ranged from an arrow through the eye to a chastening speech from his mother seared his mind.

However, he was fortunate. The call was from the keep: Mander’s relief or a friend shouting him away from the wall. The old serjeant’s shadow disappeared and in the same instant, throwing all caution aside, Granville entered the water with the speed and litheness of an otter. Rod bitten between his teeth. he was under the water and across the thirty feet of moat in a few moments.

At the far side there was a culvert, which through experience he had learned, stretched a full twenty feet under water before coming into a small chamber. Here he emerged chattering with cold. There were implements for making fire, a torch and kindling but he ignored them knowing his way like bat. A full hundred feet the tunnel stretched beyond the chamber but he had used it so often that he could count the cobwebs on his face as he ran. Here the tunnel ended, blocked by a rock. When this was pushed aside, the morning light splayed through the branches of the thick brambles and he was a safe as a rabbit in a warren. The dank gully where the brambles flourished appeared impassable from the outside and it was difficult to negotiate in the final egress. Here next to the low wall, which led to Hafvers, farm, the nearest to Castle Leath, the ‘scape finally spewed out into the open.

With a sigh of relief Granville pulled his rod out after him. He looked west and east to see if anyone was around, and then began to climb the low hillock. Because of the castle watch, he had decided to follow the small burn that led by a circuitous route to Bendure and the Gorge Bendure waters. The quickest and easiest path was by the sand dunes where he could run over the penumbra of the dunes where the sharp pointed sand sedge grew with its creeping root stock. The grass grew on the leeward side of the dunes holding the dunes together and it was easy to take the little paths there; easier because Granville was unlikely to run into anyone who he did not want to meet and there were a number of people falling into this category.

As he dipped and ducked along the burn avoiding Hafver’s line of vision (Hafver had been warned several times to question Granville and report back to Lady Leath), he thought for a few seconds on his decision to vacate the castle for the morning.

His mother had been threatening some sort of ceremonial meeting. An official or an ambassador or some other stuffed shirt was visiting from abroad. Visitors were rare at the White Castle but they were without exception tedious. Granville would be expected to participate in meaningless rituals, wear clothes that itched or worse, armour that weighed him down. There would be food to eat but food that grew cold as ceremonial observations were made on it and the goodness of the universe in its provision. In short, he would be bored senseless and the only solution for his young blood was to sneak away in search of a particular old adversary – the large brown trout whose haunting of the Great pool of the Gorge Bendure waters was a byword amongst the local fishermen.

Lady Leath would be angry but she had learned long ago that Granville had a mind of his own. The guard would not be set on his trail as it had in the first few of his escapades. Pigeons would be flighted out, one or two, to the keepers and perhaps to the lighthouse but there would be little fuss and only a mild beating on his return, more for forms sake than to inflict hurt.

Granville grinned as he ran; white teeth glinting like the stars in his deep blue eyes. It was only at times like this that he felt truly alive. Early morning, before the world waked and early evening when the sun was going down. If he could have articulated it, he would have said that he was a child of twilight and gloaming, a gray child who had no place in the bustle of the day.

Granville was still grinning when he came to the end of the low hillocks where the burn deepened and widened. Here it was bridged by Hafver’s old stone bridge. It was called after Hafvers because it was on his land but the architect, unlike mad Hafvers, had been dead for over five hundred years and remained unknown. The bridge, a masterpiece, vaulted high above the stream. It was not wide because it was defendable but higher than it need be; the stone quarried from some distant and forgotten mine. On this side, Granville could see through its arch to where the dunes began some leagues away. The river bent back on itself below the bridge and weaved away to the north but here it appeared as though its natural path should lead out towards the dunes rather than the White Castle.

It was an illusion, which Granville had little time to think about. Even as he had reached the end of the hillocks, with the big grin painted on his face, the artist was wiping it away.

A column of some twenty armed men was silhouetted against the sun, spears like silver birch pointing to the sky, the foremost holding aloft a fluttering pennant. In the midst of the company a sedan chair carried by four giant men had stopped at the arch of the bridge.

In an instant Granville had thought that the enemies of Leath had returned. Visions of war and fear and excitement held his body in a paralysis. He could only think of the body of Lord Compesta falling towards him, one eye staring in final resignation the other bloodied and crushed by the force of the blow that he, Granville had dealt. It was the one shocking image of war that he had never been able to relinquish although other sights smells and sounds had been as bad. Perhaps it was always the same with the first great opponent that fell before your weaponry. Whatever the reason, the chilling vision rose whenever he was threatened.

Granville stopped dead in his tracks and then slowly withdrew behind the edge of a thicket of brambles. From here however, it was impossible to observe the colouring of the riders such was the strength of the sunlight.

Granville cursed under his breath, looking for a way to reach the underside of the bridge when a sudden shout held him. As before, he assumed he had been seen but instead, by some lucky chance, he saw the captain of the guard point and gesticulate towards the sea. In a single moment of decision Granville ran forward stealthily and in a few more moments had gained the underside of the bridge. He leaned his rod against the lichened stones of the arch and began to slowly climb.

Halfway up Granville rejected his initial idea of viewing the riders from the wall of the bridge. He had thought he could be quick enough to catch them still looking at the sea but there was shouting and ordering and clamour as the riders got into order. Before it was too late, he dropped under the confusion of noise and hit the ground. He waited a little and then crept up the banks of the river towards the low wall of the bridge. The riders were heading towards the White Castle and so he hoped they would not look back.

The captain was way beyond him and the whole cavalcade had quickly formed into a column, the sedan with its colourful curtains and giant perspiring men seemed to have been left behind, the horses breaking out into a trot. The captain and his second, to Granville’s amazement, broke into a gallop towards the castle. For a second it appeared like some bizarre suicidal mission, and then he saw the colours.

They were friendly soldiers and in that same second Granville realized that the unknown in the sedan must be the formal visitor. Even as he was asking himself the question as to why the riders should be in such a hurry the sedan halted and the curtain was swiftly pushed aside.

A head, old, capped in black and with eyes that seemed to mock the sunlight fixed on his own twin orbs.

Granville felt like he had been glued to the air. He was unable to move. They eyes looked him up and down and then, as slowly as it had been quick, the curtains closed behind the head and the sedan began to move.

More terrified than he had been in his life, Granville rolled down until his shoulders hit the waters of the burn. Forgetting his rod and everything else, he ran shouting towards the dunes, uncaring if the world saw him as long as he could get away from those dark eyes and unaware that other eyes were gazing at his every movement.

Somewhere at the penumbra of the stilling waters of Gorge Bendure, where the cuticle of foam banked on to the sill before the drop, the old trout flicked its ragged tail and waited.

The Queen of Mastakara – Chapter 1

Posted in Unpublished Works in Progress with tags , , , , on April 14, 2008 by craigherbertson

In which are introduced the Land of Leath, the Lady Leath and her three sons

The village of Leath was located on the wide plain of Great Leath. In summer, the plain was a golden meadow. Its unique yellow flowers spread like a vast blanket to the foothills in the north and to the south, where the flowers gave place to coarse sea-grass near the white sands of the Mouth of Leath.

The River Leath, known to the local folk as ‘The Golden River’ because of the peculiar stones of the riverbed, was cool and lazy at these seasons, but in the autumn and the spring, it would often break its banks and inundate the great plain of Leath. For that reason, and incidental defence, the houses of the scattered small villages and the small farm holds were built either on short but broad oak stilts or raised hummocks.

In winter the river was frozen. Folk would come a long way from the Manor then to compete with the staff or play curling on the broad expanse of frozen water that spread out like a sleeping mirror at the mouth of Leath. The farmers and smallholders would complain that the tourists from Manor ‘borrowed’ too much firewood from the Greater Leath forest that shrouded the Eastern bank of the Golden River all the way from the mouth to the foothills. Worse, the younger men were apt to disfigure the best oaks in search of good branches for the following winter’s weapons. Then the tourists from Manor were quick to point out that they brought business, news and gossip, small trading, poached keefer, rabbits and other game from their eastern land.

The rivalry was mainly friendly but of course, the young lads who competed in the hurling and the roustabout contest of the winter sports would occasionally lose their heads in open violence, more often than not over a pretty lass. The older folk of the rival communities were apt to criticize the violence as barbaric and then reflect with humour on the golden days of their youth and their superiority to today’s champions in both violence and vigour. What with the barbecues, the night fires and the glamour of contest the winter was made all the more bearable.

Folk often said that most of the babies born in the following summer were the result of a hurling contest or a staff fight that continued a little later into the night than the young folk expected and in that folk were mostly correct.

They could not however attribute the birth of Lady Leath’s children to a staff fight. The doings of the White Castle were above farmers’ brawls and Lady Leath herself was beyond any vulgar criticism. She had ruled the Leath estate with a hand not of iron but of lace and such fine filigree that it breathed an innocence and humility that could only command respect.

The white walls of Castle Leath were small, built as it was on the sweeping western hill just at the spur where the white cliffs began and the plain ended; but the walls were strong, compact and had never been breached by foe since the building of the White castle in the year of the Raven. In a similar vein, some of the more vulgar Leathites, those who frequented Black’s tavern, were wont to say that Lady Leath had never been breached since the disappearance of her husband, the lamented Baron Leath, who had not returned after the failed Canope expedition of the Pack war.

Lady Leath had remained inviolate, charming but distant, almost queen-like, never unfriendly but clearly touched by a great sadness. It was not a question of honour. The story of his disappearance was never fully broadcast and Baron Leath was simply never mentioned. His portraits were taken down from the cold hallways and his name, doubtful but not disgraced was buried with his spare armour and weapons in the lumber-rooms and attics. Suitors came and went but Lady Leath, a great beauty – who had once caught the eye of the king but had thrown it back unrepentant – remained as unobtainable as a portrait of Baron Leath. Eventually, it became accepted fact that she would never remarry and the local villagers ever independent in their will, became proudly defensive of the great lady. She became a myth in her own lifetime. Folk were content enough.

The baron, prior to the Pak war, was a powerful if not well liked man. It was partly under his auspices that the Canope expedition had been organised. It was no small undertaking and the part might have made him high amongst the great and wise. He might too have been completely forgotten under the indomitable chill of Lady Leath if he had not left his presence, a constant reminder in the three boys, his sons the last of whom was born without seeing his luckless father.

These boys were the great hope of Leath.

The oldest, Granville had been ten when Baron Leath had ridden out to join the young Prince at Manor. Now at the age of twenty-eight he was in the prime of life, a slim but strong young man who had eyes older than his face. He was known as a shrewd man, a man who knew the forms of life but not its content, a gambler and a drinker and a womanizer but not ruled by any of these vices which were common in any case to the Leathites, and something to respect rather than condemn. He was fond of curling and at the age of sixteen had fought a good bout or so with the staff in the winter competition. He would have won his way through to the later rounds if Lady Leath had not discovered his youthful escapade and had him recalled. The incident was remembered with fondness by local folk and he was forever known as the people’s man.

Granville’s boyhood and youth were times of great promise. There was a certain wildness and keenness about him. He was a great wanderer; forever taking trips as a boy to the Mouth of Leath, hitching rides on the fishermen’s boats to the islands, helping with the long rods, collecting birds’ eggs and hunting the fox and the hare with his favourite dog. Folk said you could hear his whistle from the strand to the Cuff, which was the farthermost island in the chain that swept out to the Southern Sea. He was a likeable young boy, lithe, fleet of foot, and full of fun. His favourite trick was to put a pin in the map and take his knife, his dog and his rod to the water nearest the pin. By the age of ten, he knew the lands of Leath as good as any poacher and the lands beyond as much as any of the traders or hunters. He knew the newts and the frogs, the songbirds and the bright fish, the deer and the red fox.

But when the Baron left, a darkness fell on him.

Granville’s youth saw a changed temperament. He was still well liked but he saw folks’ pity and his hatred of it began to dominate his open character. He smiled less, was wont to fight to prove himself. Instead of looking out beyond the Leath, he looked in to the dark places in his heart. His eyes betrayed emptiness. Lady Leath expected him to become the baron of the household and at the age of ten, he began to take on these unexpected responsibilities. It cost him his youth. He gained in power but lost in heart.

Still, some echoes of the man he might have become remained in his nature.

He loved horses, became a competent rider; he was accomplished with the sword if not brilliant and had an aptitude for the mace, a difficult and unsubtle instrument in the hands of a fool but a deadly weapon in his strong hands. In the battle of the Manor when the Pak marines had landed on the western shores of the manor under cover of darkness it was Granville and his companion, Arnot who had seen the invading forces first. They were both only thirteen but Granville had the presence of mind to wake the soldiery of the great Castle of Manor while sending Arnot to Leath. In the ensuing night battle, Granville by some chance killed the Lord Compesta with his mace when that tyrant had been edged off his horse by Arnot. The rout had been complete and the slaughter on the beach was terrible. Lord Manor had personally offered the freedom of his household to the two boys.

They never took up his offer. Arnot was wild and lawless and hated any form of authority. Granville remained in his gradually darkening world. Liked but not liking. For some reason, which only Granville knew and maybe not even he, his hatred extended mostly to his younger brother, Barrister. It was the most unlikely hatred of all.

Barrister was unlike Granville in that he was quiet and academic but like him in his physical form. He was of the same stature, middling height unlike their giant of a father. The same jet-black hair and deep blue eyes, but he was stockier and stronger, broader in the face and more powerful of leg and arm. He could never run as fast as his older brother or follow him to the hills at a perpetual trot but he had stamina and strength for wrestling and the Staff. He was less skilful though and less sure. He spent his time buried in the many volumes in the Baron’s library. Folks said he looked for the Baron there although he was less like the Baron in temperament and looks than his brothers. For himself he was content with philosophy and learned occult texts. It was the inner self he sought and that perhaps was the key to it all. His brother hated the inner self because it was a mirror of his own betrayal and maybe he hated his brother because he had the courage to look.

The youngest brother, Macool, had never seen his father. He was well beloved by the whole family but perhaps because they had seen his father, he was left more alone than anyone in the household. Macool was born a dreamer and he was allowed to dream. His dreams he kept to himself but folk noted that his deep blue eyes were looking not at the fields or the hills, the sea or the sand.

They always watched something else.

Fantasy Writing. A Set of Tips and Admonitions to the Unwise. No2/ Spelling

Posted in Fantasy Writing on April 14, 2008 by craigherbertson

Don’t give a tuppeny toss about spelling. The main thing is to write. Shakepsere couldn’t even spell his name and neither can I unless the prestidigitator hidden in my computer comes out with a suggestion. Some times the suggestion is wrong – the little magic fellow wants to change my ‘tuppeny’ to ‘tuppence’ here, but is it really worth bothering about?

Get the words on the paper as fast as you can. Just write. Spell later, after the tenth edit. Write! Write! Write!

Fantasy Writing. A Set of Tips and Admonitions to the Unwise. No 1/ Time and Place

Posted in Fantasy Writing with tags , , , , on April 14, 2008 by craigherbertson

I don’t assume to be a great writer. I thought though that I might share some of the experiences I’ve had in writing as it might be of help to others. The most help you are likely to get from me is motivation. I am only writing this short piece to motivate myself to write something more edible. What follows is mostly a series of don’ts learned through bitter experience and a couple of ‘wow, that workeds’.

Everyone says set aside time. I’ve read this myself so many times I keep thinking if I stopped reading it I’d have time to write. Ideally, if you are busy, you should plan to get up that extra hour early. Try to write for two hours straight before breakfast. Or set aside an hour in the evening when the kids have gone to bed. Protect it like a favourite child. Don’t plead; boss everyone around. ‘This is my writing time! Didn’t you listen yesterday. We can do that later. Leave me alone’.

Now comes the confession. I never do any of this, I write on the spur of the moment in between making more coffee, staring out of the window, wishing I’d won the lottery. I’m even writing this because I can’t face the next chapter of the novel.

Don’t despair. There is hope. I discovered a cure: Change of setting.

Easiest thing is to take your laptop – or better still your pen and paper and go to a cafe. If the weather is nice sit outside on a bench. You are stuck there. No way out. In the middle of nowhere. No excuse to make coffee, no family bothering you. The air invigorates your lungs. Writing starts.

Make sure you don’t take a novel with you. The essence is utter boredom with no escape. The beauty of this method is that if you are stopped at some point – say an old friend passes and starts to talk. You put the pen down with an indulgent smile. He twigs –

‘What’s that?’ he says, feigning interest.

‘Oh nothing,’ you reply with a cerebral glance at the four inarticulate sentences you have spilled on to the page.

‘Oh, that!’ Look of wry humility. ‘Well…the new novel.’

See, already you are a writer.

Second Black Book of Horror

Posted in Tales of Horror with tags , , , , , , , on April 11, 2008 by craigherbertson

Charles Black unleashes some more late night reading for those who prefer nightmares to dreams. This collection includes my first story in a paperback horror anthology since 1989.

I have a story in this collection but I’m happy to admit that in all honesty mine felt like the runt of the litter.

I haven’t read any horror book in a while that gripped me so much from the start. The stories seem to have an uncanny balance with each other while being very different.

Rog Pile’s ‘The Pit’ was a special favourite, evoking something sinister and deep, with an almost indescribable overtone of pathos. I was profoundly stuck by David Sutton’s ‘Amygdala’, which offers an image that will rest for a long and uneasy time in my head.

Having said this I have a strong feeling that I am going to immediately reread The Second Black Book of Horror and reveal that the preceding stories were not quite up to the ones I left out.

This little gem puts paid to the ‘their first album was great but the second one was duff’ theory.

‘The sheer quality of the writings within stand on their own merit, with nothing but the gloriously nasty Pan-style back cover blurbs to distract one from the true pleasure of the anthology – the stories.’


The Second Black Book of Horror – Charles Black (editor) Mortbury Press 2008

Black Glass – Gary McMahon
Amygdala – David A. Sutton
Now and Forever More – David A. Riley
The Cold Harvest – Steve Goodwin
On the Couch – Craig Herbertson
All Under Hatches Stow\’d – Mike Chinn
The Crimson Picture -Daniel McGachey
Squabble – D. F. Lewis
The Eye in the Mirror – Eddy C. Bertin
The Meal – Julia Lufford
In Sickness And… – John L. Probert
Onion – L. H. Maynard & M. P. N. Sims
The Pit – Rog Pile

The Second Black Book of Horror edited by Charles Black. Mortbury Press paperback, 200 pages. Retail price is £7-00. Available from various online outlets, including Amazon UK

The Black Book of Horror

Posted in Tales of Horror with tags , , , , , on April 4, 2008 by craigherbertson

Horrified there are not more collections like this.

If you remember the old Pan Books of Horror and you liked them you will like this more. The reason: there are echoes of the old masters, (in fact there are some old masters, notabley David A. Riley with his chilling LOCK-IN – told with all the macabre inuendo of P.K. Dick.) – But also horror has moved in time, become more surreal and fuller in metaphor and image. At times these stories move with a Daliesque brush stroke, chilling, overlit and very scary.

Difficult to pick a favourite from this bunch. I might go for “Regina vs. Zoskia” which seems Ballardian in its style but more menacing. Gary Fry’s creepy zombie-love tale “The Older Man” still gives me the shivers or perhaps “Cords” by Roger B. Pile…but it would be churlish to pick a best amongst so much good stuff.

If you like your nights dark, buy it.The Black Book of Horror – Charles Black (editor) Mortbury Press 2007

CROWS – Frank Nicholas
REGINA vs. ZOSKIA – Mark Samuels
POWER – Steve Goodwin
CORDS – Roger B. Pile
SIZE MATTERS – John L. Probert
SPARE RIB: A ROMANCE – John Kenneth Dunham
LOCK-IN – David A. Riley
“SHALT THOU KNOW MY NAME?” – Daniel McGachey

Cover by Paul Mudie

ISBN 978-0-9556061-0-6