Friday, 28 March 2008

Carnival: Part One, Page Three


I was asked to put up some pictures of my artistic process. Man, that sounded pretentious. It's just a record of how I get from A to B and possibly linger in one of the obscure letters inbetween that don't exist.

Anywawy, at the moment I'm doing a project for editorial illustration on Bjork. Here are two of the doodles I did as initial ideas:

The first one is about Bjork singing from her inner child and the scond one is a Swan wearing a Bjork dress. P.S. Sorry for the font and that, the writing tools don't seem to want to work on the Macs in Uni.

Friday, 21 March 2008

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Cymru - Chapter 11


The beach was beautiful; deserted except for the Wing, with the sea lapping so calmly at the edge of the sand it could have been a lake. The sun gleamed off it like molten gold, warming Awen gently from head to ankle. The combination of sea and stone beneath her bare feet kept them cold despite the sun. She liked the contrast.

To her left, the rest of the Wing were doing their best to Relax, the merod getting a rare chance to run around themselves. Caradog had found a ball from somewhere: as Awen watched Llyr got hold of it and promptly disappeared under Caradog’s mass as he was tackled violently to the ground. Adara was cantering bareback up the beach towards them, Gwenhwyfar flying easily alongside her. Most of the merod were playing amongst themselves except for Brân, predictably. He had trotted out into the water as far as he could go, and now seemed to be playing the fun game of ‘Look How High I Can Throw The Water With My Wings.’ It made Awen smile.

Taliesin skidded to a halt next to Caradog, who ducked neatly to avoid a carelessly-stretched wing, and Adara hopped neatly off. Gwenhwyfar, unusually, flew in and settled on Awen’s shoulder. That probably meant that Adara was worried about her, Awen supposed. That was fair. Tanwen kept giving her looks as well.

Adara climbed up onto the rock beside Awen and they both watched as Taliesin cantered into the sea to join Brân, who half-bounded half-flew to meet him. Adara laughed.

“I think your meraden is half dog,” she informed Awen. “I think you should check his bloodlines before you breed from him.”

“I just don’t think I should breed from him,” Awen smiled. “We’ll have a whole generation of merod to ride who are utterly idiotic and can barely walk through a stable without breaking both wings and trampling visiting dignitaries.”

“How’s the shoulder?” Adara asked delicately. Awen rolled it slightly.

“Fine,” she said. “I saw a druid this morning. I can take the stitches out tomorrow.” She held up her hand for inspection, showing the much-healed scar across her palm. Adara gave it a critical look and nodded, apparently satisfied with this Foreign Druid’s work.

“It looks better,” she said. “The boy with the bow has woken up at last. The Beta Wing Leader here has done the first bit of questioning but he apparently won’t talk. They can’t torture him yet without Lord Gwilym’s permission, though.”

“Really?” Awen turned to look at Adara, astonished. Gwenhwyfar nearly fell off her shoulder, and squealed in protest. “Why on earth not?”

“It’s some legislation or other that he passed on becoming Sovereign, apparently,” Adara shrugged. “No one’s sure why. I think it’s because he’s a crazy. Did you know, last year alone Casnewydd tortured almost eight hundred people who weren’t actually from the city? Only about twenty were actually guilty, too.”

Awen winced. “Maybe Gwilym has a point.” She considered that. “I want to be there when they question him again.”

Adara looked at the stone they were standing on, suddenly fascinated by the veins in it.

“Awen,” she said quietly. “We can’t stay here. There’s not long left before the Archwiliad, and we have a lot of cities to get through.”

“I know,” Awen nodded. She’d been thinking about this all night, and how best to proceed. She’d finally come to the conclusion, just as the merchants began to move about the city and the sun crept up, that events had gotten just too big for her to ignore and not chase up. Whatever was going on, it had infiltrated the Union, and wires on the Rider Beads she wore were anti-clockwise for a reason. Her responsibilities ran deeper than the others’.

She levelled a measuring look at Adara, making the other girl shift slightly.

“How would you feel about becoming Acting Deputy?” Awen asked, keeping her voice low so it wouldn’t carry. Adara stared at her.

“Me?” she said, clearly surprised. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea. You know how I get irritated. And I’m not the best at talking to Sovereigns, you’re bossier than me.”

“I trust you more than the others,” Awen said, shaking her head. “And I need that right now. Just Acting Deputy, until we can get back to the Union and choose another properly.”

“Why do we need one?” Adara asked suspiciously. “What are you planning?”

“I’m staying here,” Awen said, “to sort this out. And going after Owain, wherever he may be.” Subconsciously she ran her thumb across the scar on her palm, and then stopped herself, realising. Glancing up, she realised that Adara was watching her with the sort of attention Gwenhwyfar usually reserved for small furry mammals.

“I think you need me here,” Adara said seriously. “You can’t do this alone. I’ll hold him down for you, if you like; I suspect he’s a wriggler.”

Awen bit back the frustrated sigh that threatened to undermine the point. She really didn’t want to have to order Adara away.

“Then who do I send?” she asked bluntly. “Caradog’s great, but he has less skill talking to politicians than anyone I’ve ever met, likewise Tanwen. And the only other person I trust right now, awful though that sounds, is Llyr, and he –”

She broke off, considering that. Llyr was a hopeless tactician, but he could certainly handle diplomats if given the chance, and that was all that would really be required of him. Caradog could take over if fighting became necessary.

Awen turned to face the group, ignoring Adara’s slightly smug smile.

“All in,” she called. Instantly, they stopped what they were doing, Caradog dropping Tanwen from where he’d been holding her, still clutching the ball, over his head. She landed like a cat and rolled to her feet in one smooth motion. All eyes fell attentively onto Awen.

“We’re having a slight change of plan,” Awen said, fingering the scar at her neck deliberately this time. “Much though I’d love to declare hunting season on Owain, the Archwiliad isn’t so many days away. Llyr, you’re Acting Deputy until we can get back to the Union.” With Owain’s head, she added silently. Llyr’s jaw fell open; Caradog clapped him merrily on the back, nearly knocking him over. “If you get in any fights, mind, you give over to Caradog. Try not to get in any fights,” Awen added.

“And where are you going?” Llyr asked. He looked worried. Awen glanced briefly at Adara.

“We’re going after Owain,” Awen said levelly. “And, hopefully, to find out what he’s up to.”

There was a pause as eight pairs of eyes clearly expressed what a bad plan they thought that was. Gwenhwyfar shifted on Awen’s shoulder, chirping slightly. A meraden snorted. Awen held Llyr’s gaze until he looked away.

“Leader,” he Saluted. The others followed suit, and Awen managed not to wince. She’d basically just pulled rank on him to stop him protesting; this close after Owain, it wasn’t her brightest move.

“Thank you,” she said softly instead of Saluting back. Llyr gave her a small smile and nodded.

“We’ll saddle up,” he said decisively, moving off toward his meraden. We should reach Milford Haven within the hour; there’s a good wind.”

Awen resumed watching Brân and Taliesin as the flurry of activity swelled around her; merod neighing, harnesses creaking, the merry banter tossed about. Caradog and Tanwen raced each other back to the Sovereign’s Residence to fetch the few possessions the Wing had brought from Casnewydd. Idwel cursed as a strap on his harness broke. Llyr and Adara withdrew to have a muted conversation about Awen’s wellbeing, culminating in Adara promising to keep an eye on her. Awen said nothing, feeling strangely detached from it all. Normally, she’d have been helping out with every task. Today she could only think of Owain. She wondered how you could tell when you became obsessive.

It barely took ten minutes for the Wing to be ready and leaving. Gwenhwyfar flew up with them a little way, just until they disappeared from sight over the cliffs. Awen watched them go until Adara nudged her, pointing to the merod still in the water.

“I think Taliesin just drowned Brân,” she said mildly as Brân’s entire body vanished under the waves, leaving only a wing sticking up to mark where he was. Awen grinned, tearing her eyes off of her receding family. Letting Adara stay had been the right choice.

“Oh well,” Awen shrugged. “Bygones and that. Oh no – he’s back, look.”

Brân leaped out of the water almost under Taliesin’s muzzle, knocking him back and under himself.

“That’s almost a shame,” Awen said. “I could have gotten a shiny new meraden, one that listens to me and displays conscious thought.”

“Whereas now I’ll need to,” Adara said solemnly. “Since your meraden just drowned my meraden.”

“Yes, I can’t apologise enough,” Awen agreed. “He’s such an embarrassment – is that a Rider?”

They both squinted up into the sky at the rapidly enlarging dot circling in from the north. Whoever it was, they were riding hard, judging by the approach. Awen glanced at Brân, wondering if she could get him harnessed up in time to fly up and join in, but decided against it. Extracting him from the water would take too much time.

“Messenger?” Adara asked. “They’re fast, whoever they are.”

“Possibly,” Awen agreed, her mind racing. It wouldn’t be Owain, but barely a week from the Archwiliad would be an unwelcome time for big news under the most normal of circumstances, and with her Wing disintegrating and the political conspiracies flying around Awen couldn’t leave it to chance that the message wasn’t relevant. She had to stay abreast of every piece of news right now. “Come on,” she said, hopping off the rock and grabbing her harness. “We probably need to know what they know. We’ll catch them at the Landing Tower.”

“Like a bug,” Adara agreed, and Awen paused. Adara drew strange comparisons sometimes.

Monday, 17 March 2008

My Adventures, Part 4

Casey Wodehouse peered into the chink of light visible through the shutter, then shifted to face the room, keeping her body over the gap.
The squad, what was left of it, turned to her.
“Six soldiers,” she said. “They’re in pairs, and they’re sticking to the perimeter. Not expecting us.”
A rasp came from the far side of the desk. “They’re not, maybe. What about the ones in the middle?”
Nolan. Her best friend, and a man who knew his place on a battlefield better than anyone. Everyone listened to him, and she wasn’t about to pull the wool over his eyes.
“It’s a problem,” she conceded. “I won’t kid you. They’re better fed, better armed, and some of them are mean tacticians too. All we’ve got going for us is our wits.” This was a private joke. Back in the days before they were friends, she and Nolan had shared one small joke that the English thought you could kill with a rapier wit. Quite feeble, but in those days you’d taken what you could get. And in these days, too. She hoped he would pick up the signal. Mentioning something like that was her way of privately appealing to his friendship, of telling him that she needed this.
“And the element of surprise.”
Casey smiled. If Nolan was talking like that, he was on side. Message understood.
“OK,” she said, spreading the papers out quickly to keep up the momentum. “Six of us, six of them, at least for now,” this last was said with a glance at Nolan, “so it’s even stephens.”
“Right.” Nolan spoke, and everyone settled down. Wodehouse had learned not to mind. They’d follow her, and they’d listen, but they trusted Nolan. So did she. “I think we send in Davies and Rees first, they’re nimblest, and then Richards and McMahon the other way. This is a tough order, and we need to play the numbers. We work together, but we let each other fly.
“No.” Wodehouse surprised herself. “This isn’t an escape mission. Not yet. We get Carter.”
“Wodehouse, this is crazy. You won’t get to him, and even if you do he’ll shoot you on sight. Find another place to fight him, not here, not now.”
Wodehouse felt her mouth open. Something like this, from Nolan, felt like betrayal. He understood the stakes. Everyone else thought they were just fighting a war.
“Don’t you see?” she said, quietly, “I can’t stop now. If I decide it’s not the right time, if I waver, then I’m lost. We got to find out who Carter works for.”
“What about us?” This was from O’don, a bullish man with no more co-ordination than courage. “We help you, it’s suicide.”
“You don’t help me, and you’re letting him go. Look, I can’t make you fight, I can’t force you in on this one, but I’m asking you. I’ll go anyway, and if he shoots me that’s how the story goes, but if I win, if I can take him down…I reckon it’s worth it.”
“So what’s your plan, Wodehouse?” Nolan again. The others were used to letting the two of them thrash out the plan between them. “You taking him down, or wheedling out where his pay check’s coming from?”
Wodehouse thought about how to answer him. She needed Nolan, but she couldn’t mislead him. She decided on straight truth.
He paused for a long moment, fingering the place where his hip flask used to be. “Come on,” she thought. “Give me this one and when we get out I’ll buy you the best Bourbon I can find.” She almost smiled at the number of times she’d silently offered him that deal. She owed him a cellar-full by now.
“OK, talk me though it.”
She really did smile then, though she doubted the others would have seen it. He rolled his eyes to the roof, and put his hands flat on the table.
“We need to get him somewhere we can reach him – not at his base, with the traps and whistles, somewhere he never bothered to defend properly.”
“Somewhere like here, you mean?”
“We’d never get him in here, not alone. And not unarmed.”
Just then, McMahon leapt up from his seat by the door, and bundled the papers under the floor. He looked up at us and grinned. “You’re not gonna believe this.”
By the time they could hear their captors’ footsteps, they were back to looking bored and innocent.
Carter chugged into the room, making a barely visible movement sideways to get through the door. He surveyed the room. A bunch of waifs – 3 months’ poverty and work will change any man’s face. Or any woman’s. He shifted his gaze with a grunt to Casey Wodehouse. Head shaved, muscular, but still undeniably feminine. He swaggered further into the room, heading straight for her, and watched her predictable goons close in behind him on the edge of his peripheral vision. It was obvious who the leader was. Nolan. Tall, ginger, would probably be an alcoholic by now if circumstances allowed. Nolan was moving in to lead the assault. 5 of them. Six including Wodehouse, but not much she could do from there. OK. Carter held his left hand flat, letting the steel embedded along the side of his glove control the shape of his hand. With his other hand, he shifted gently into the wrist to clasp a concealed blade. Wait for it.
Nolan moved forwards, softly. He didn’t dare glance at the others, but he knew Rees would be where he needed him, to the fat man’s left. They were as close as they could get now, stealing into position. If they’d any sense, the others would have stuck by the door. Nolan tensed himself, feeling all the muscles he hadn’t had six months ago form their new, perfect shape. He became his body, completely aware of every sinew, all poised and prepared to do what he needed them to.
And then he felt something he had not expected. A pain beyond sharp, beyond deep, a violating force inside him that kept him silent in its grip. He heard Rees cry out, to his left. “Crying on my behalf,” he thought, deliriously, and then he went down.
For a split second, Wodehouse was completely paralysed. Nolan was down. But then she moved. With no fuel in her body she was powered by rage and adrenaline as she leapt across the table, feet first, and kicked Carter hard in the mouth. The other three took up the assault, punching, kicking, tearing, until Wodehouse called them off.
“Keep him down,” she said, and moved to Nolan. She could see he was bleeding badly – the wound was deep. She just looked at him, willing her eye contact to hold him there in the hut with her. He looked back at her, hard, but he was using all his strength in the gaze. She let him go.
“Best friend always dies,” he muttered. “You’ve got five minutes before the guards come. Get your answers.”
He closed his eyes. Wodehouse didn’t know if he was dead, but she knew he wanted her to go, so she gently detached herself and rounded on the prostrate Carter.
“I’ve got one question,” she said. “Who do you work for? That’s it. Just a name, and we won’t kill you.”
Carter managed a smirk. “Ask for the sky next time.” Too late, Wodehouse saw the trinket in his hand. She watched him squeeze it, and then he was gone.
Wodehouse looked at her shocked comrades. She had to follow him, she knew. No time to say goodbye.
“Outside,” she said. “I’ll check.” And she followed him.

My Adventures, Part 3

Her pen, to the table. Fast, sudden, pinching at paper. Her thought, broken, hurled from track by piercing blackbird offensive out window.

Clock now. 2.30pm. But it always says that. An empty discourse in a dead room. Herself, moving around shifting pages, quiet, stifled, headlong into the ream. It’s like wading through treacle. She is hungry. She was promised ice cream. And he has brought her treacle and locked the door. How the pen aches! Herself, the paper. Herself, the nib. And how the pen ashes! Everyone else gets a computer. Not her.

She seeks in a new way. He is not in her books, so she seeks in a new way. She finds a fresh knowledge and she bites it. She writes him. Then goes to the window.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Shift, Chapter 9


For the glory of our great nation, our most wise and magnificent King has forged anew the alliance with our sister nation Arrozale. United once again with our Kingdom, this will bring wealth, power and the true glorification of all Peoples! We enter this fellowship afresh, lead by the banners of our King, stepping bravely forth into an Age of our own making!”

Ketch, Lai. “Triumph,” Silveteran National Press. 1


The wind howled through the city, lashing at the walls of the castle and setting the candles flickering wildly in their holders. A crowd had gathered in the round room, delicately avoiding looking directly at the tableau set out on the massive central stone table. With a resounding clang the metal door sealed firmly behind them, causing the group to fall silent.

“Good evening. Please take your seats.”

Penry strode through the middle of the gathered people, stopping at the largest chair, set directly opposite the entranceway.

“Sit. It wasn’t a request,” he repeated, in a more acerbic tone. The people hurriedly scrambled to their places, whilst their King stared morosely at the scene depicted on the table.

“The way I see it, we have three choices,” he began, tapping one finger on the map set before him. “Callania, Daiiroda or Gentrare.”

There was a soft generalised murmuring from around the room.


The King sat down, steepling his fingers, but not taking his eyes from the moulded map spread across the table.

“Callania is the easiest approach. It is weak to the South,” Klint growled from the King’s right, running a finger across that gently undulating section of the map.

“But Daiiroda is less technologically advanced,” a woman interjected from across the table. “They’re also our grain basket. Silvetera wouldn’t survive two winters together without it.”

“True enough Lady Helma,” Penry replied evenly, “But that was before we acquired the plentiful options offered to us by Arrozale.”

“Fish!” Helma spat, wrinkling her nose, “I suppose sacrifices are part of the nature of what we are undertaking.”

“Sacrifice?” the King replied, with slight amusement colouring his tone. “There will be no need of that. We need not offer Daiiroda any reason to stop its profitable trade with us. Indeed, we may offer them some very good reasons why it would be wise to not upset us.” He smiled at this thought and the room briefly hummed with low-key appreciation.

“Gentrare ought not to be attempted,” a man interjected from the left of the King. “It has a mountainous approach to our north, plus some very tight defence systems.”

“Geirus, we wouldn’t need to take the southern entrance if we can open a more northern route,” Helma replied hurriedly, standing up and leaning across the table to tap the easternmost edge of Daiiroda.

“You suggest a dual assault of Daiiroda and Gentrare?” Geirus replied cynically, crossing his arms defensively.

“With control of both those nations, Callania and even Aetyorthiri would not dare defy us!” she replied, retaking her seat with a slightly triumphant air.

“Have you ever entered Daiiroda from the south?” a quiet voice interjected into the silence that had followed Helma’s statement.

“As you well know, Kunil, I have never seen the need to leave my own city,” she replied savagely, glaring at the small man. “This has always been my home and the home of my ancestors before me.”

“Bloodties aside, I believe you were going to make a point?” Penry cut across Helma, looking directly at the slightly flustered Kunil.

“Well yes, sire,” Kunil continued, swallowing nervously. “It’s all swamp to the south. There’s not even a trading route that way. Well, not a trading route as such. Although some traders…”

“So what you’re saying,” the King interrupted quickly, sensing this was the extent of the man’s point, “it’s not the geographically sensible choice. Which leaves us back with General Klint’s original suggestion; Callania.”

There was a pause as the room considered their response.

“Then it is settled,” the King said in a finalistic tone, tapping the border between Arrozale and Callania. A small smile flickered across his features.

“To war.”



No sightings. Moon waning. Cloud cover.


No sightings. Moon waning. Clear skies.


No sightings. Moon waning. Cloud and rain.


Movement sighted south east. Unexplained. Messenger dispatched. Top alert. Moon New. Cloud.

Volan Fort Watch Tower Log for 4376, no. 53-56.


“They’re coming for us!” Urlof bellowed above the uproar in the town square as the crowd screamed their questions at him. “Don’t ask me how or why! You can stay and fight. Or you can run and make sure you run fast! They’re coming! And they’re coming much faster than most of you can run!”

The crowd heaved as one chaotic mass and then began to spread as various shapes began breaking away and running in human and shifted forms.

“Run then!” Urlof called above the pandemonium, “But I fight!” A roar greeted this statement as a fierce-looking section of the masses congregated around the man, bellowing their support.

“What do we do?” Srynia shouted to Riarna, struggling to stay together amid the moving chaos.

“Find our parents!” Riarna called back. “I don’t know what else we can do,” she added with slight despair.

Grabbing hold of her sister’s arm, Riarna pushed and squeezed her way through the throng, desperately searching for those familiar faces.

“Maybe they’ve gone back to the farm,” Srynia shouted, pulling her sister to a stop. “We said we’d meet back there after the meeting. We’ll never find them in all this!”

“We’ll check. If they aren’t at home, we’ll come back here again,” Riarna replied, looking around them anxiously.

Still holding on to each other, the sisters broke free from the crush of people, dashing down the street and leaping the fence into the commons.

“Shift,” Srynia stated, whilst the two paused momentarily to draw breath. Riarna nodded and quickly merged form into a cheetah.

“Not fair!” Srynia laughed, to her own surprise. “Something I can keep up with please!” she added more seriously.

With a slight shake Riarna shifted larger until she took on the form of a horse. Srynia quickly joined her in shifting and the two set off at a fast canter.

“Sorry!” Riarna snorted to her sister in horse, “Got carried away.”

“We’re not all multi-totemed shifters,” Srynia nickered back in remonstrance.
Riarna shook her mane and broke into gallop, racing her sister across the closely-cropped commons.


For the Attention of Her Royal Highness, Queen Aleyn of Silvetera.

Dear Aleyn,

I am sending this message with an urgent appeal for you to reconsider the hostile actions you are taking against my country and my people. I can not believe that you would sanction this violation of our borders without the manipulation of your husband. However, unless you intercede on our behalf you will forever hold equal blame in my eyes and in the eyes of the world. You alone have the political sanctions, however unwilling you may be to use them. You alone have the power to call an end to this violence.

If not for the sake our Kingdoms, then I must also appeal to our friendship, which I had believed would endure to the end. The years that have kept us apart, I did not believe would erase the bonds of kinship that we have held dear since children.

I will keep this message brief to speed its journey to you.

My love and sincerest hope, as always,


Queen Elect of Callania.


With a clatter of hooves, Riarna and Srynia came to a halt in the courtyard and quickly shifted back into human form.

“What’s happened here?” Srynia asked in a dull tone, taking in the devastated scene before them.

“Lets just find our parents,” Riarna replied firmly, striding towards the house. She paused when she reached the kitchen door, partially ripped from its hinges and hanging at a tilt across the entrance. The broken glass of the windows crunched under her feet as she carefully propped the door open and stepped into the desolation within. Srynia suddenly pushed past her sister, clambering over the broken furniture to a far corner of the room.

“Mum?” she cried, pulling back some of the wreckage to reveal Deleha crumpled on the floor.

“Sry?” she croaked in reply, gasping and struggling with every breath.

“What is it? Where are you hurt?” Riarna asked, rushing over to join Srynia at her mother’s side.
“Chest,” Deleha gargled, clutching at her front. “Crushed. Too much… damage. Can‘t… shift.”

“No! We’ll get you a medic. You’ll be fine!” Srynia replied urgently, clasping Deleha’s shoulder.

“Where’s Dad?” Riarna asked suddenly, looking about the room.

“Not here,” Deleha replied painfully. “He went after… them.” She coughed and then moaned quietly, deep in her throat.

“Where did they go?” Riarna asked, looking out across the fields, their usual herds panicked and scattered. “Mum?”

“Mum?” Srynia repeated, shaking her very lightly.

Deleha lay rigid, her mouth wide, drawing in deeper and deeper breaths, unable to exhale out again. With a sickening pop sound, her body flinched suddenly and then went still, her eyes looking distant and unfocused.

“Mum?” Srynia repeated, more desperately, shaking her increasingly harder.

“We have to find Dad,” Riarna said calmly, with only the slightest tremor in her voice. “He might need our help.”

“But we have to help Mum! We have to get her to the medic! I think she’s stopped breathing…”

“There’s nothing more we can do. She’s already gone!” Riarna replied almost angrily, turning away from having to look at the scene.

“Gone? She can’t be gone! She’s not gone!” Srynia insisted stubbornly, clinging to her mother’s body.

“Dad’s out there! Alone! Fighting who knows how many of whatever they are. We have to find him!” Riarna replied, grabbing Srynia’s shoulder.

“But we can’t leave her!” Srynia wailed, her voice becoming thick as tears began cascading down her face.

“Come on! We have to go!” Riarna stated firmly, dragging at her arm.



“Not without her necklace!” Srynia wrenched her arm away from her sister and leapt to her feet,
backing away as she did so. “I will not leave it to be taken by thieves!”

Riarna gazed steadily at her sister for a long moment and then nodded. Srynia ran out the room and returned some minutes later, clutching a gold necklace with an unusual pendant attached to it. Riarna was crouching by Deleha, whose eyes were now closed and her body laid neat and flat.

“Do you want to wear it?” Srynia asked her sister, holding the pendant out to her. “She always said it was an heirloom for the eldest daughter.”

“Living a few more minutes on this world hardly makes me the eldest,” Riarna replied with a wry smile. “You wear it.”

Srynia fastened the chain around her neck, the pendant dull against her skin, indicating its extreme age and wear.

“We’re going to have to track,” Riarna said with a glint of resolution in her eye. “Wolves I think.”

“I’ll try,” Srynia replied doubtfully, “I’ve never inherited as much of that from Dad as you have. I was always more…”

“If you get tired, shift totemic, I’ll keep up the tracking,” Riarna replied quickly, cutting off her sister’s line of thought, seeing her eyes drifting towards the body laid out to their side.

“I’ll do what I can.” Srynia walked quickly to the door, her voice heavy, her eyes streaming with tears again.

With a final glance at their mother, Riarna followed her sister from the room, shifting quickly upon reaching the outside. Her wolf senses were instantly overloaded with the strength of the smells assaulting her nose, but the trail was soon made easy and clear to her. With a snarl, she set off in the ground-covering lope of the wolf, her sister bounding to keep up to her side.

Friday, 14 March 2008

Cymru - Chapter 10


The State Carriage took a grand total of two minutes to get to Caerleuad, which always made Gwilym feel bizarrely guilty, as though he should have just walked and saved everyone the bother. It certainly seemed unworthy of the ever-present fanfare, which he thought he’d actually managed to escape until the carriage began to lift and suddenly everyone was marginally deafer from the strident trumpeting despite being no nearer to knowing where the damned sound was coming from. Gwilym made a mental note to wring the information out of Watkins at his earliest convenience.

As they landed, Caerleuad’s exotic fanfare of melodic metal drums soothed his aching eardrums. There was a lot to be said for Marged’s eccentricity.

Footmen leapt to the doors of the carriage, and Gwilym assumed his best Regal Manner as he climbed out, head held appropriately high to display the torque at his throat. Watkins was always so particular on it that Gwilym found his spine doing so even when the man wasn’t around to cough his whistling cough as a subtle reminder; which was strange, since he was in Caerleuad. Lady Marged didn’t give two hoots about traditions.

She came towards him now out of the semi-circle of dignitaries waiting to welcome him, all fly-away hair and colourful patchwork dress and outstretched arms. She was wearing a pair of orange fingerless gloves that stood out garishly, the palms covered in various ink stains. Closer inspection of her torque, just before Gwilym found himself enveloped in her rather expansive bosom, showed that she had wrapped a tendril of flowering ivy around it. He grinned.

“Lord Gwilym!” Marged trilled, hugging him tightly for several seconds before letting go. “Oh, I’m so glad you came! It’s been months, it has. Come on! You simply must come and try on a pair of these gloves, they’re to die for if you’re working in the winter.”

“Thank you, my lady,” Gwilym said cheerfully. He knew her response before it came, but appearances were important.

“Oh Gwilym, when will you learn?” Marged giggled, both chins wobbling. Most of her hair had been tied back, he realised. With a knitting needle. “It’s Marged to you, my lovely. Now come along in! It’s windy, you’ll catch your death out here…”

Unfortunate phrasing, since Awen had rather literally caught his death the day before. Gwilym was still feeling twitchy.

They went in, passing along the Top Level corridor-streets of Caerleuad. Its basic architecture was largely same as all other Archipelagan cities, but Marged had been in power for almost fifty years, which was plenty of time to redecorate. Her mother before her hadn’t been wildly austere either. The results were walls covered in shell mosaics of shells, living flower arches to pass through and one particularly sappy mural of a group of people, one representing each societal class, standing together and smiling inanely while bird flew over their heads. Every now and again, they passed a wall that had been dedicated to the children of Caerleuad: pictures of Riders and flowers adorned them, and poems about peace and kittens and lovely things. Marged was probably crazy, Gwilym reflected; but at least it was a happy insanity. Her people loved her.

They reached the Sovereign’s Residence, far smaller than most because Marged had given most of it up to become affordable housing years before. The assembled courtiers and dignitaries wandered away as formally as Marged would allow, and after closing the massive doors behind them, the servants did the same. Marged waved Gwilym to a chair, and he obediently took one of the massive and overstuffed armchairs by the merrily burning fire.

“So!” Marged said brightly as she starting digging through her enormous basket of knitting. As one of the top balls of wool fell it was caught in mid-air by the most psychotic-looking alley cat Gwilym had ever seen, who proceeded to tear the wool into tiny fibres. “Your first Archwiliad coming up! How exciting! Are you enjoying it all so far?”

“It’s been an experience,” Gwilym admitted. “Some of the Wings are a bit intimidating. Er, should he be doing that?”

Marged glanced down. As she saw the scarred and mental animal on the rug her face lit up, and before Gwilym could protest she bent down and scooped it up. The cat froze, apparently in shock.

“Oh, isn’t oo a sweetie?” Marged cooed. “He’s so beautiful! Who’s beautiful? You are!”

The cat turned evil yellow eyes on Gwilym. It felt distinctly like a never-mention-this-again threat. Gwilym stared at the ex-ball of wool and swallowed.

“Yes, he’s fine,” said Marged affectionately as she placed the cat back on the floor and turned back to her knitting basket. It fled under the nearest sofa and vanished. “Anyway, dear, you were saying about the Wings. I find they vary, too: the one Tregwylan sends is usually dreadful.”

“I’ve not met them yet,” Gwilym admitted. He mentally marked them as “No Fun.”

“Hardly an experience to look forward to,” Marged sniffed disdainfully. “They’re all so… stiff, you know? They don’t smile, they don’t sit down, they don’t wear their scarves. Llangefni are usually a riot, though!”

“Yes,” Gwilym said, with feeling. “I think three of our taverns had to be redecorated the next day. They sang lots of songs about mead.”

“Those are the ones!” Marged chuckled. She pulled a single green glove out of the mass of wool and regarded it sadly before searching for its mate. “I do like Llangefni. They taught me a fascinating new way to drink mead, actually, in these tiny little glasses. At the end of the evening, though, it turned out they’d been giving me brandy! What scamps, eh?”

What scamps. It truly disturbed Gwilym that they were Llangefni’s premiere defence in the instance of war; they seemed like the reject Wing, where all the Riders who’d failed at the intelligence tests had been sent on the grounds that no one cared about Llangefni.

“What do you think of Casnewydd?” he asked cautiously. Marged straightened for a moment, looking thoughtful. The cat’s yellow eyes reappeared under the sofa like some kind of goblin.

“Casnewydd,” Marged repeated. “They’re a bit of a mixed bunch, actually. Or is that fair? Most of them are jolly nice. I like the girl with the bird; she showed me how to fly it and all sorts! It sat on my shoulder! I didn’t sleep for a week, Gwilym, magical it was.”

The cat leaped forwards and reclaimed the remains of the wool, dragging it back under the sofa before Marged saw.

“Their Wing Leader is lovely, too,” Marged went on. She was now carefully pulling apart several other pairs of gloves. “A bard, as I recall, and quite happy to tell jokes with me. Odd expression, mind you, but lovely hair. It’s a shame Riders aren’t allowed to wear more colours. Oh! Here we are!”

She spun around, holding up two green fingerless gloves triumphantly. Gwilym grinned, and took them from her.

“Thank you,” he said pulling one on. “You didn’t have to.”

“Oh, don’t be silly,” Marged beamed, waving a hand dismissively. “You’ll be needing them this winter.”

She sank into the armchair across from Gwilym’s and leaned forward, her manner theatrically conspiratorial suddenly.

“Tell you what, though,” she said, her voice attempting to be low, “I never thought much of one or two of them. That funny boy with the fringe… We had a big dinner while they were here, and they were all dressed up formally and looking lovely except him. I mean, he’d made the effort, but he’d managed to get hold of that terrible hair jelly the fishermen use, and his fringe looked like two slugs. Disgusted, I was.”

Gwilym laughed out loud. He could just imagine Marged’s reaction. The cat, startled, fled from under the sofa towards the door, pausing half-way and looking angrily at them.

“I told him he might not want to bother next time,” Marged continued. “Got all sullen, he did, face like he’d been slapped. He spent the rest of the meal telling the others what to do. I think he’s their Deputy. I didn’t like him.”

“I’ve got them at the moment,” Gwilym said. He wondered how to broach the subject of Marged’s dissenters when she’d just given him such lovely gloves, and his nerve failed him. “Someone tried to kill me yesterday.”

Marged gave a little shriek that sent the cat rebounding off the closed door. Gwilym wondered if that was why it was scarred.

“Someone tried to kill you? Oh, Gwilym, that’s terrible! What happened?”

He reached into the long pocket sewn into the lining of his revoltingly ornamental yet sadly traditional cloak and pulled out the arrow. Somehow he couldn’t bring himself to get rid of it yet. He showed it to Marged, who swept a tiny pair of eye-glasses off the table beside her and perched them on her nose before examining it, wide-eyed.

“A fake bard got in and tried to shoot me,” Gwilym said glumly. “We’re interrogating today to find out how and why.”

“But… It didn’t hit,” Marged said, apparently shocked to the core. She was staring at the stained arrow-shaft.

“No,” Gwilym said. “The Casnewydd Wing Leader was sitting next to me. She caught it about an inch out.”

Marged stared at him. “Good gods,” she said quietly, and then seemed to consider that. “I always said she had nice hair.”

He wasn’t entirely sure what the connection was there, but he had to admit Marged was right. Gwilym loved Awen’s hair. Mentally, he shook himself, and steeled himself for the conversation coming.

“Marged,” he said hesitantly, “do you mind if I ask you something?”

Marged looked up at him from the arrow, the glasses making her eyes huge.

“Of course! Ask away.”

“I’ve been hearing rumours about you,” Gwilym began, kicking the cowardly part of his brain that really liked the gloves firmly in the brain-teeth. “Which, basically, accuse you of trying to murder the good nation of Cymru as it sleeps while you get rich off of its warring carcass.” He looked at the children’s pictures of Maypole dancing and Marged covering one wall as he said it. It was all so ludicrous.

“Oh,” Marged said. She sounded utterly crest-fallen. “Really? That wasn’t the point at all.”

Gwilym manfully resisted the urge to slap his own forehead. Of course. Of course she’d done something, assuming everyone would accept and automatically understand her motives and of course it was eccentrically innocent. He sighed.

“They say you’ve been sending dissenters?” Gwilym asked gently. “Talking about de-powering the Sovereigns?” Marged waved a hand, apparently struggling for words.

“This will be difficult to explain I’m afraid, Gwilym,” she said at last. She looked at him sadly. “Your father was always so much better at explaining things than me.”

Gwilym stared at her. She didn’t notice, her gaze somewhere three feet over his shoulder.

“It was his idea,” Marged said finally. She pulled a ball of wool out of the basket beside her, and the knitting needles out of her hair. Knitting helped Marged think. “He first explained it to me years ago, but it was more of a pipe dream then. Don’t get me wrong, now: he was appropriately indebted to the Senedd for pulling us out of all that silliness with the wars and such, but he thought the system could be better.”

Gwilym blinked. Only Marged could dismiss centuries of warring despotism as ‘silliness’. The woman was deranged.

Out loud, he said, “Better?”

“Oh, yes. Fairer. And think about it, Gwilym,” Marged said, waggling a finger in a manner that was suddenly, painfully, reminiscent of Gwilym’s father. “The people who really make up this country, the ordinary people; they have peace with the Sovereigns and the Senedd. But what were they fighting for before? They made the armies, but they were almost never conscripted. So why did they do it?”

She left the question hanging for Gwilym to answer, and sat back to knit. Gwilym thought about it.

“Because they wanted each leader they put on the throne,” he said slowly. Marged beamed.

“Exactly! Each one promised them something better, that they’d lower taxes or increase border patrols or raise the exchange rate with Erinn. Messy, but still politics, see.”

“Well, yes,” Gwilym said uncomfortably. “But as soon as another leader made a better offer they’d start the next war. Hence the Senedd and the Archwiliadau.”

“Which is better,” Marged agreed, “and I’m not denying it. Nor did your father for that matter. But the Archwiliadau are a chance to alter country-wide politics to keep everyone happy, not the way individual Sovereigns run their individual city states. So if you have a Sovereign who’s doing a terrible job in their own city, nothing can be done about it, you see? The poor people who live there simply have to wait for their Sovereign to die or abdicate.”

And what if their heir was no good? Gwilym wondered painfully. That was a good point.

“And particularly when you consider that many Sovereigns now undergo the Gwales Ritual,” Marged continued, apparently oblivious of Gwilym’s silent guilt. “They live longer than most of the people they govern. Do you see.”

He did see. “I still think it’s better to have them, though,” Gwilym said morosely, but Marged waved a hand and he fell silent on pain of being skewered on a knitting needle.

“But that’s just it, Gwilym!” she said enthusiastically. “What your father worked out was a system of government that kept the Sovereigns but gave the people back their right to choose! The Sovereigns still exist and perform all the same duties, but they’re only in power for twenty-year stretches at a time. At the end of those, they hold… oh, what did your father call it?... an Etholiad in the city. About five potential new Sovereigns tell people what they would do if they got into power, and the people choose the one they want for the next twenty years. You see? So if it all goes badly, at the end of twenty years the people can simply choose someone else!”

Marged’s eyes were shining. Gwilym could only gape at her.

“But…” he said at last, his head swimming. “But what if the new Sovereign passes a law saying that only they can be Sovereign from this point on? No more Etholiadau? Surely it would start a war!”

“Ah, no!” Marged waved her knitting again happily. Gwilym sat back. “Because, you see, the Archwiliadau would still exist. The Union would still exist. Like now, they’d enforce the ground rules.” She flipped her knitting over merrily. “It would really be the same system as now, just with choice over Sovereigns. It would be lovely.”

It was staggering. All the more so because his father was apparently its architect.

“So,” Gwilym said, his head swimming, “how long ago exactly did my father tell you this?”

“Thirty years, or thereabouts,” Marged mused. Gwilym choked.

Thirty years?”

“Well, give or take,” Marged shrugged. “The problem was that although I could see the merits of it, we both knew that others wouldn’t. It was too close to the wars still, you see. Look at you! You never saw the wars, and yet you’re struggling to accept it. We knew we’d have to sit on it for a while.”

They sat in silence for a while, shock reverberating through Gwilym as Marged contentedly knitted a pair of fluffy socks in yellow. Thirty years his father had been planning this. Since before he was born. Why had he never mentioned it? It made sense that he wouldn’t have while Gwilym had been a child, perhaps, but for all twenty-six years of his life? Had he told Gwilym’s mother? His brother? His sister?

Probably not his sister. She’d been an Angry Person.

“Who else knew about this?” Gwilym asked finally. “Did my brother know?”

“Of course!” Marged said. “He was next in line to be Sovereign, after all. I think he may have told others in your family too, but not until he was ready to move on it.”

“So when did you start putting this into practice, then?” Gwilym asked. “While he was still alive?”

“Oh, heavens, yes!” Marged said cheerfully. “It was always your father’s baby, not mine, although I loved it. I told him that I’d wait until he wanted to move, and then I’d back him up all the way. It was about a year ago, two months before-” An uncharacteristic shadow crossed Marged’s face. “Before your family were killed.”

“Then thank you,” Gwilym said quietly. “For carrying on for him.”

Marged waved her knitting, slightly flushed. “Oh, hush,” she said, obviously pleased. “I did think it was a good idea anyway. But it was what he wanted, and the time was right. Cymru is in a very strong position at the moment; relations with Erinn have never been better, and Saxonia is divided; too much so to invade us. It’s the best time to suggest a change of structure, while no one can take advantage. And, of course, sufficiently far from the wars as to keep our heads on our necks.”

“Why did no one tell me any of this?” Gwilym sighed. It seemed remarkably unfair, just because he’d been the reckless one of the family who sneaked out at night to run underground clinics and potentially he’d just answered his own question, hadn’t he?

Marged leaned forward and patted his knee.

“Because you came to your throne knowing nothing about politics, dear. I didn’t know what you were going to be like; all I knew of you was that you were a bit of a liability to your father. Politically speaking. I must say, though, I’ve been jolly impressed!”

Well, that was something, anyway. Impressing Marged gave one a lovely glow inside, although that said the Llangefni Wing had managed it, and they had the combined intelligence of seaweed.

Marged looked slightly guiltily at him for a moment, and then looked down.

“I also knew you’d been left alive because you were deemed ‘safe’,” she said, apparently fascinated by her perfect stocking stitch. “So I wasn’t sure at first if I could trust you.”

The silence oozed thickly between them, uncomfortably loud. The cat mewled pathetically, and slunk under a dresser in the corner of the room.

“Left alive,” Gwilym repeated steadily. Marged sighed.

“I have no proof, Gwilym,” she said gently. “This is only supposition on my part. But I’m certain your family were assassinated. The few Sovereigns we began speaking to weren’t happy.”

“Who?” Gwilym asked. He sounded amazingly calm, he thought. He was rather impressed with himself.

“As I say, I’ve no proof,” Marged said. “But my money would go on Flyn or Gwenda.”

“Flyn,” Gwilym repeated. Casnewydd. The people who claimed Marged needed stopping at all costs, or at least all costs that involved Flyn’s new world order with him at the top.

He turned the arrow over in his hands.

Let Me Think - One-Shot

Power Rangers #5

Kim examined herself in the mirror. She'd looped her belt through her Power Morpher, and although she looked faintly ridiculous – she was still wearing her smart work suit – she was actually quite thrilled by the strange item. It helped that merely having it attached to her belt had a physical effect on her body, improving her fitness, strength and stamina to levels she'd never experienced before.

This wasn't a prank. This was real.


Trini knocked on her Uncle Howard's door.

"Come in," came his deep voice from inside. As she walked in, she was greeted by the familiar sight of her uncle tinkering with all manner of gadgets.

"Something new?" she asked.

He looked up, an almost manic grin on his face.

"New processor!" he said. "I'm hoping I can beat the big companies to the next upgrade this time." He turned the world's tiniest screwdriver with remarkable speed. "Love this thing."

This happened every so often. Howard worked for a local company that developed all sorts of processing units. When he brought his work home with him, it was a good sign that he was onto something.

Trini smiled, gave her uncle a hug, and walked back out. She'd hoped to have a word with him, but didn't want to disturb his exciting project.


Trini nearly collapsed as two arms clamped around her. It was her cousin Sylvia. She rarely spoke without exclamation marks, and had the natural carefree joy of a fifteen-year-old who's always been surrounded by friends and family who love her; who'd never been treated badly.

"Hia," said Trini.

"You're safe!"

For a second, Trini couldn't work out what she meant. Then she remembered – her department of the college had collapsed in an earthquake a few hours ago.

"Oh, yes, sorry," said Trini. "I should've been in touch sooner."

Sylvia let go, and grinned.

"Dad didn't even notice the quake," she said. "Worked right through. I didn't bother telling him – he'd have worried."

Trini laughed. Howard wasn't easily distracted from his work, but if he thought there was even the slightest thing bothering his family, he became distressed and unable to function.

"I'm just going to head out again, Sylv," she said. "Still a bit shakey."

"Of course," said Sylvia. She squeezed her cousin's hand reassuringly, and dashed upstairs.

Trini's smile now faded. She had a lot to talk about. She needed to talk to someone on her wavelength. The others today hadn't understood her at all.

She picked up the phone and dialled Aisha's number.


Angela wiped a tear from her eye. Her sides ached from laughing.

"And then, right, the Red Ranger really winds him up," said Zack. "He calls him a bully, basically, and Killer Cat Giant From Space names him his nemesis. Says he's going to kill his family, friends, casual acquaintances, postman, that kind of thing."

"Oh my God," said Angela, leaning forward.

"And then, right, a few seconds later, he's knocked uncoscious. A single blow. And GUESS who did it!"

"Don't tell me!" grinned Angela. "It was you!"

"As if."

"The Blue Ranger?"

"No," said Zack. "Think the most unlikely person."

"It wasn't the girl who wouldn't fight!"

"It was the girl who wouldn't fight!"

They both started to laugh again, mildly hysterically.

"Anyway, we got back, and that's where we talked about secret identities. Like I said earlier. The Red Ranger was an idiot about it, the girl who wouldn't fight – she's the Yellow Ranger, by the way – she was still worried about fighting and stuff. And I was just, like, wanting to get back and see if you were alright."

"Okay," grinned Angela. She calmed down, breathing deeply. "Right, I've listened to all of this. It all sounds pretty far-fetched ..."

"Killer Cat Giants From Space?"

"Stop it, you'll see me off again." Angela grinned at him. "Right. So. I'll be honest – I believe you. I don't think you're making this up. But just tell me anyway, categorically. Is every single bit of this true?"

Zack's smile faded. He didn't answer. He lifted his left hand for Angela to see.

"Oh," she said. "Oh, God."

"I know."

"Zack. Your finger's grown back."


William sat in the silence. He looked around at the park, embracing the quiet. In front of him, on the grass, was his Power Morpher. He reached out, and touched it.

An explosion of sound. The laughing of children. The barking of dogs. A baby crying. Joggers breathing heavily. Bicycle tyres against the concrete paths. Traffic in the distance.

He took his finger off the morpher again. Not a sound. Silence.

And it didn't even need batteries.


"It's stuck in my head," said Aisha. "And I don't know who sings it. Damned annoying."

"Can't help you out, sorry," said Trini. "Don't recognise it."

Aisha shrugged, and took another sip of her banana smoothie. They'd come to Ernie's Juice Bar for a chat.

"So," she said. "What was so urgent that you had to drag me away from a Mr Eko flashback episode?"

"Morality troubles," said Trini.

"Ah, alright," said Aisha. "What are your symptoms?"

Trini struggled to find the words. "Alright, you're a member of a lot of groups, aren't you?"


"Do you ever worry about them ... being inconsistent?"

"I don't follow."

"Let's say you're a member of an anti-war group," said Trini. "And then you wonder if you should join a group that fights for peace."

"I don't see the inconsistency," said Aisha.

"In the former, you're against fighting," Trini explained. "But in the latter, you fight – I mean, literally fight – to keep the peace. You're against soliders in one, and you ARE a soldier in the other."

"Still don't see it," said Aisha. "You're against war. That doesn't mean you think there shouldn't be armies. And it doesn't stop you being in one."

Trini frowned. She'd always seen Aisha as her most intelligent friend. How could she be this illogical?

"Okay," she said. "You're a vegetarian. Someone comes up to you, and tells you to eat a chicken. If you don't, they'll kill two more chickens."

"That's not a moral dilemma," said Aisha. "That's crap. I'd eat the damned chicken."

"But you're a vegetarian!"

"And WHY am I a vegetarian?" Aisha took another sip of her smoothie. "To maximise the survival and comfort of animals. If I eat this chicken, that's already dead, I save two living chickens."

"So you'd sell out your morals?"

"My morals are that I believe in the survival and comfort of animals. This is generally incompatible with eating them. The scenario you describe is a rare example that changes the rules – as well as something that never happens in real life."

Trini smiled. She checked to see if she had any of her strawberry smoothie left; she didn't.

"I've always struggled with those questions. Would I rather let a hundred bad men go free than imprison one innocent man?"

"I hate those dilemmas," said Aisha. "Because they're dumb. Yes, I would let an innocent man rot in prison before letting a hundred guilty men walk free. Yes, I'd eat a chicken to save two more. Yes, I'd kill ten murderers to save the life of a baby. I'd kill a baby to save a hundred men. Blah blah blah."

Trini looked shocked.

"These questions give us a bad name, Trini," said Aisha. "They're the reason Americans think hippies are filthy, weak-minded idiots. And I'm afraid the world doesn't work like that. It's easy to shout 'save the whale', but how easy is it to actually do something about it? It isn't. It's difficult. The things we campaign against are things that plenty of other people like and enjoy. We see ourselves as the good guys, because it's nice to think so. Being liberal is easy. 'No, I don't believe in the death penalty'. Well, good for you. But some people deserve it."

"The death penalty?" said Trini. "Seriously?"

"I don't mention my opinion on it often," said Aisha. "But we live in a world that contains thousands of people evil enough to deserve it. Humans aren't inherently good, and I'm not going to lose any sleep over the rapists on Death Row."

She finished her smoothie, and grinned.

"But, y'know, I'm not going to become an executioner. I'm still all about the fluffy kittens."

"So," said Trini. "Hypothetically. Do you fight hoards of monsters trying to kill and-or enslave everyone on earth, even though you don't believe in fighting?"

"I love you, Trini," said Aisha. "But you really are very foolish."


"I've never even seen it before," said Angela, who was still running her fingers along Zack's new middle finger. "Except in baby photos."

"Novelty hasn't worn off for me either," said Zack. "But don't get too attached to it."

He removed the Power Morpher from his pocket. He placed it on the coffee table in front of him, and slowly, the finger melted back into his hand.

"If I'm not in contact with him, I get no added benefits – digital or otherwise."

Angela stared at the Morpher, still absent-mindedly stroking her boyfriend's hand.

"And I probably have to give it back," said Zack. "Since I told you. It's a breach of warranty."

"Do you have to tell them I know?" asked Angela. "We could keep it between us."

"I'm not going back and telling the Red Ranger my girlfriend doesn't know," said Zack stubbornly. "They take me on these terms, or they don't take me at all."

Angela smiled. She leant across the table and kissed him.

"You gave up your finger for me."

"Oh, shush," said Zack. "It's a lame finger anyway."


Trini examined the Power Morpher. She'd have to swallow her pride to be part of the team. She didn't like that so much. She didn't like being wrong.

Was she wrong, then? Was it wrong not to want to fight? She'd always hated soldiers. If there were no soldiers, there'd be no wars. But then, those putty monsters were soldiers, weren't they? They needed to be cancelled out.

She never felt sorry for soldiers who died in war. Their families, sure, but not the soldiers themselves. They knew what the job entailed. And yet they still chose to do it.

So. This is how it would work. She was going to become the Yellow Power Ranger. And if she died, she'd have no-one to blame but herself. She was choosing herself to become the Evil Soldier Who Deserves To Die, to block the path between the monsters and the Innocent People Who Deserve To Live.

Someone has to do this job. And this way, she could keep an eye on the others.


Angela gripped the mattress tightly, and bit the pillow to stop herself from screaming.

Minutes later, Zack had found a couple of peach yoghurts.

"Alright," said Angela, licking the lid, still out of breath. "You can give it back now, if you want."

Zack looked at the Morpher in mock grief.

"We've had some good times," he said. "But some things aren't meant to be."

He ate a loaded spoonful of yoghurt.

"Wonder how many aliens there are," said Angela. "And whether we're the least scary."

"Least scary?" asked Zack. "Humans are sinister. We wear camouflage and use guns. Give me a Cat Giant From Space with a Big Sword Of Death any day of the week." He paused. "Except Tuesdays. I have rehearsals."

Angela looked at the Morpher.

"Mind if I try it out?" she asked. "Just touch it, I mean."

Zack handed it to her. Angela felt every muscle in her body tense and stiffen, and looking down at her naked body, could even see her bones shifting slightly, the connecting tissue changing appropriately.


"Sexy," said Zack. He ran a hand along her newly-developed abs. "Oh, did I mention the robot? There was a robot!"


And the conversation continued.


"Alright, guys," said Jason. "Keep up the good work. Nice work there, Tom."

He let his class rehearse the moves he'd just showed them, grabbed a towel, and entered the reception area.

"Sorry," he said, noticing that someone was waiting. "We're a bit understaffed today. Couple of our guys were injured in the quake."

He suddenly realised who it was.


"Hi," said William. "I want to learn to fight."

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Cymru - Chapter 9

Warning: most boring chapter ever, including the prologue where nothing exciting happens. I hate Madog. I think I might kill him off. Sadly, he's boring but necessary for this, like a queue.


The Audience Room was quiet, filled only with the near-silent ticking of a wall clock and Madog’s own breathing. The chair he sat on, an antique contraption of rosewood and badly-stuffed velvet, creaked every so often as he shifted his weight. Madog sat as still as he could. He liked silence.

After a while, a door at the back of the room swung open and Lord Iestyn stepped smartly through, looking nothing at all like a man who’d been woken at the ungodly hour of eight in the morning to speak with an underling. He was a tall, thin man, all cheekbones and nose and disdainful expression. His robes were dazzlingly ornamental. Madog bowed low, down on one knee; the official Rider-to-Liege mark of respect.

“Rise, Rider,” Lord Iestyn said curtly. Everything was done by the book with Iestyn. Madog stood and Lord Iestyn sat in the almost throne-like chair behind the large rosewood desk. “Be seated.”

“Thank you my Lord,” Madog said courteously. He sat. The chair creaked.

“So, Madog,” Lord Iestyn said, leaning forward to rest his elbows on the desk, fingers steepled. “To what do I owe this honour?”

“Saxonia,” Madog said bluntly. Lord Iestyn valued people who got to the point. “We’ve had increased raiding activity all along the border for the last two months, my lord. Unusually so. So far we’ve lost three villages and hundreds of lives, not to mention livestock and property.”

Lord Iestyn closed his eyes. Madog continued, grimly.

“In almost every instance the border warnings have come too late, my lord. At first I thought the Saxons were simply moving quicker, that they’d found some way to travel faster that we didn’t know about, but this is not the case.”

“Madog,” Lord Iestyn interrupted. “I know all of this. I’ve read the reports.”

“Yes, my lord,” said Madog. “So have I. Which is why I’m wondering what I should know.”

Iestyn’s gaze was piercing. Madog didn’t even blink.

“The reports show a pattern, my lord,” Madog said. “Every Saxon raid with a late warning happened at a time when either Trallwng or Casnewydd border guards were on patrol. Naturally, you’ll know this, too.”

“You’re out of line, Madog,” Lord Iestyn said sharply. Madog met his gaze.

“No, Sovereign,” he said, subtly emphasising the title. “I’m not.”

The change of title was simple, but tremendously effective. Lord Iestyn inhaled deeply, slowly straightening up in his seat and dropping his hands to his lap. It had completely undercut him; essentially, Madog had just pulled rank on him.

“Very well,” he said softly. “I’d hoped to avoid this before the Archwiliad; but I see that it is not to be.”

He stood, and walked to the large window overlooking the gardens below, hands behind his back. Madog stayed where he was, and stayed quiet.

“Around six months ago we had that group of dissenters in the city, if you remember,” Lord Iestyn began. “Preaching anarchy. We locked them up and thought nothing more of it. Two months later, however, I went on the official state visit to Casnewydd.”

Iestyn paused. The clock ticked. Madog waited.

“Flyn,” Iestyn spat the name with distaste, “approached me not long before I left. He’d had these dissenters too, except they’d employed certain interrogative techniques to find out more information.”

Iestyn turned, and looked at Madog.

“They were from Caerleuad. From Marged. They’d been sent to persuade the people to rise up against the Sovereigns.”

Madog stared at him. “Marged?”

“Yes,” Lord Iestyn said, slightly wry. “Those you least suspect, as they say. Flyn, however, had devised a counter-plan against it all. An overhaul of the system, to ensure that the Sovereigns could not be removed. He wants us to go to the Archwiliad and push for a motion to turn the Sovereigns into Regents under one Monarch.”

“Himself, I presume,” Madog stated, though the answer was obvious. Lord Iestyn nodded.

“Naturally,” he said. “Which sounds to me like an old-fashioned power play, and frankly I know Flyn too well. He’s more than capable and far more than willing to attempt it. He’s Old Family, you know, and he still believes in it.”

Madog winced. The Old Families were a part of the nation’s history that was generally avoided: breeding programs for people, sometimes unwillingly, that supposedly produced the best stock for leadership. It used to happen all along the border and in western parts of Saxonia, and most Old Family bloodlines had contained a mix of both Cymric and Saxon blood. Most border nobility were descended from them.

“What does he need?” Madog asked quietly.

“Five Sovereigns to agree to give him an audience,” Lord Iestyn said, “and as many as possible to vote afterwards. I told him I’d think about the proposition.”

“And then we started getting Saxon raiders,” Madog stated. “With impeccable timing, and in such numbers that having a stronger presence such as a King would be superbly beneficial.”

“Largely,” Lord Iestyn nodded. “Although I doubt that Flyn’s been sending us the Saxons in all fairness. As I understand it, they have their own power struggles to contend with at the moment, hence the increased activity.”

But nonetheless, it would help Flyn’s cause to point out that Cymru should also be uniting against a common threat; it would help sway anyone undecided.

“My lord,” Madog said, dreading the answer. “Will you vote for him?”

“I don’t know, Rider,” Lord Iestyn said wearily. “I was hoping the raids would die down, but… I don’t trust Flyn, but I certainly don’t trust Marged, either.”

Madog nodded, and stood as the clock chimed out the hour.

“I’ll have to go,” he said. “We’re expected at Tregwylan by noon.” He bowed again, down on one knee.

“Rise, Rider,” Lord Iestyn sighed, and Madog stood.

“My lord,” he murmured. He left the Audience Room quickly, and wondered uncomfortably about how this Archwiliad was going to unfold.

Monday, 10 March 2008

Shift, Chapter 8

It's been nearly a year since I last wrote some of this- it'll probably have some inconsistencies. Enjoy!



The Kingdom of Silvetera has initiated a state of mourning today in the wake of the tragic death of Princess Elile, 20. As yet there has been no official statement as to the cause of death, although security around the Palace has been tightened, leading to fears that an outside party might have been involved…
… in an unusual move, all trade has been suspended and movement in or out of the country forcibly forbidden until further notice…


“I don’t like it,” Riarna muttered, her voice barely audible over the low-key hum of the busy tavern. Her eyes flickered anxiously around the room before returning to contemplate the crackling fire.
“It’s not right. Things aren’t right. They haven’t felt right for weeks,” her sister replied, swirling the dregs of her drink in agitated little circles.
The buzz in the room dropped suddenly quieter and the two girls looked up, following the focus of the room to the doorway. An enormous figure stood framing the opening, his dark bulk outlined by curls of insinuating mist, creeping in from the frosty night outside. With a slight shiver, the bear-like creature completed his shift and stepped forward into the room, his heavy footsteps reverberating slightly in the increasingly silent tavern.
“It is good to see so many of you here on such a bleak night,” the man began in his deep, carrying growl. “I have learnt little more than what we knew at our last meeting.” He broke off and began to pace the room, rubbing his bearded face pensively.
“It doesn’t look good,” Srynia whispered, leaning close to her sister’s ear. Riarna nodded her assent, watching the perturbed reactions of those townspeople who’d been able to gather that night.
“Arrozale continues to insist that it harbours no hostile intentions towards its neighbours. The latest news is that King Falos and his Queen will be entering the city of Silvetera within the next couple of days. If I hear of any changes before then, I will post news of another meeting on the town’s message board.”
“And what of Silvetera? Will she trade?” an aggrieved voice called from a crowded but shadowy recess of the pub.
“No more news on that front, Perephus,” the man answered resignedly, but placing a rather pointed emphasis on the name.
“But my good Lord Urlof,” the same aggrieved voice replied, as Perephus himself stepped forwards from the crowd, “how can we sustain ourselves? Why bother with anything if our products will find no market?”
The background noise of the tavern rose slightly, with more raised voices throwing out opinions. Lord Urlof held up his arms in a gesture for quiet and the people quickly subsided.
“There are other markets, although less lucrative than Silvetera, that will sustain free-moving trade.” The noise level began rising again and Urlof quickly cut across it. “But give it time! A few more days and we will have news about the success of the diplomatic visit of King Falos to Silvetera and then we will know if any of this worrying was necessary in the first place!” He paused to draw breath, looking sternly around the room, waiting for the next challenge. None would dare to reply and even Perephus looked slightly cowed.
“Until the next meeting then!” Urlof raised his arm in farewell and strode across to the room, wrenching back the door and leaping through in bear-form once again. There was a moments stunned silence before the pub resumed the low-key hum that it had had before his arrival.


Captain’s Journal; entry 325.
12th Auldary 4376

Storm predicted 14th Auldary. Likelihood severe gales. Journey needs delay but passengers insist urgency. Plan test emergency drill procedure tomorrow. Hope this enough. I have doubts.

From: Famous Last Words: a Compendium.


“Abandon Ship!” the Captain called again and again, his voice hoarse from shouting, his body rent by the rips and burns his ship had put him through in the past few hours he’d tried to save her. He clung on to one of the few remaining pieces of upright timber on the creaking wreck of the hull. He could not see beyond the driving rain, but he knew that his crew should be fine; he only employed aquatic shifters for a reason. It was the passengers that worried him.
Suddenly, he caught sight of a figure stumbling across the remainder of the deck. “Who goes there?” he called to it, squinting in the gloom. A flash of lightning dazzled him briefly, but lit up the person well enough for him to realise who it was.
“Your Highness! We must abandon ship! She’ll not withstand much more of this storm,” the Captain called across, praying that the wind was not snatching away his words.
“I have never been a strong swimmer, Captain,” the Queen replied, her shout barely audible.
“You must shift!” he yelled back, just as a particularly violent wave ripped up through the leaking hull, causing the timbers to shriek with strain. The Queen stumbled and the water pushed her from her feet, slamming her against the raised border between the ship and the churning ocean.
“Shift!” the Captain called again, but her body remained propped limply against the boards. He mustered up what remained of his strength and threw himself across the deck, scrambling over to her side.
“Your Highness!” he shook her shoulder, but got no response. “Vinthia!” he tried her informal name in a desperate bid to wake her.
“Can’t…” she muttered, her voice sounding painfully cracked.
“You must! There is no other way now. The ship is lost,” he swallowed that painful thought and tried again to shake her.
“No!” she replied, looking up at him with savagery in her eyes. “We have been betrayed! I can’t shift. We have been poisoned!” With a desperate gargling, the Queen’s face contorted violently, as if in a silent scream. A dark shadow moved across her prone body, just in time for the Captain to turn and witness the curve of the enormous wave engulf the ship. Instinctively the Captain shifted into a sea lion, gliding effortlessly through the crashing water.
He knew he must find shore, he must tell someone, if only he knew who he could tell. His ship sunk; his Queen gone; no sign of the King. He was lost in his thoughts, so lost that he did not notice his sea lion instincts niggling at the corner of his mind.
With a crude thump he collided with a solid mass in the water and paused to regard it with slightly dazed senses.
“Dayvi?” he chirped in sea-lion.
“Cap’n,” the creature replied in whale, rolling over slightly in the water, revealing where massive chunks of flesh had been torn from it.
“What’s happened?” the Captain barked, the nauseating taste of blood in the water grating on his senses.
“One of Them is here,” Dayvi gurgled in response, his voice low and weak. “In the water. I saw it take the others, but I could not swim fast enough. It left me for last…” he broke off, his pitiful groaning echoing through the ocean.
“Them? Here?” he barked back, his mind in turmoil, quickly scanning the water around him.
“Too late… too late,” Dayvi moaned and choked, struggling in the turbulent storm waters. “Go now and there might still be a chance for you.”
The Captain paused, torn by indecision, a cold tingling creeping up his spine. Turning too late, the flash of jaws screaming across his vision, before nothingness and the dark crushing oblivion of the waves enveloping him. Its face fixed in a permanent grimace, the shark turned back to the whale, fixing his blank black discs of eyes on his victim.


“… but out of the darkness of this tragedy might come the light of change…”

Excerpt from “King Penry’s Seminal Speeches.”


“I don’t want it and I never have done,” Dyl spat at his uncle, pacing the room in agitation.
“Well, you do realise, spoilt princeling or not, that you are the only direct heir to the throne?” Penry replied with amused condescension. “What would you have me do? Run your Kingdom for you?” He smiled darkly at this, looking away from his nephew briefly.
“I’d rather that!” Dyl replied vehemently, swiping irritably at the air around him.
“Do be serious, boy,” Penry replied, taking a firmer tone, “Your Kingdom is not just a pretty palace with lots of treasures and fine clothes for you to wear. It is a powerful nation, not to be idly toyed with. Its military strength alone is only matched by one other Kingdom in this world!”
Dyl looked shrewdly across at his uncle.
“A strength I‘m sure you‘d put to much better use than I would,” he replied pointedly.
“It is true that with the combined strength of our two Kingdoms, there would be no power in this world that could equal us!” Penry stood up, grasping his nephew’s shoulder and fixing his eye in his.
Dyl edged out from under his uncle’s hand.
“Silvetera would never bow under Arrozalan rule again,” he replied in agitation.
“No and why should it?” Penry replied fervently, “It has long been the most powerful Kingdom; its influences reach to every corner of this world! Our wealth could buy the Arrozalan army twice over and why shouldn’t it?”
Dyl backed away, getting increasingly alarmed.
“But how? How could you even begin…”
“Do not worry about the hows! All I need from you is one thing,” Penry replied, striding across the room and pulling a scroll of parchment from his desk.
“What’s this?” Dyl asked, whilst desperately trying to scan the densely packed legal jargon.
“It is a peace treaty between our Kingdoms. All I need is for you to sign,” Penry held up a pen and Dyl took it without thinking.
“But we’re not at war! We haven’t been at war for decades!” Dyl looked from the pen in his hand to his uncle’s contorted face.
“A minor war at best, of no real concern. That is, as long as you’re willing to sign the peace treaty,” Penry’s voice dropped and his eyes narrowed, fixing his nephew in a long, calculating look.
Dyl looked again at the parchment and at the pen and at his uncle.
“I’ll need some ink.”

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Cymru - Chapter 8


Gwilym walked quietly between the stables in the landing tower, breathing in the scents of the merod dozing in the stalls. He could smell hay, sweet and summery; the alkaline odours of saddle soap and leather polish, the sharp tang of pine-pitch burning on the torches. He’d never appreciated his olfactory senses quite so much before, which seemed most remiss of him. The world of scent was beautiful, and yet so… ignored.

But then, every detail suddenly felt clearer to him. Someone had tried to kill him.

Gwilym ran one finger carefully along the arrow shaft he held. Wicked barbs stuck out along it, most of them showing a dull reddish-brown in the torchlight. Awen hadn’t just caught that arrow, she’d also held on while it sliced her hand open. He couldn’t imagine how that had been possible. He wondered if she’d noticed it cutting her at the time. You heard stories about Riders, and how they could go into these strange mental states where everything was all focused and intense. Gwilym wondered if Awen could teach him it; it would probably help speed up paperwork no end.

He looked around at the merod. Normally, these ten were the stables of Aberystwyth’s Alpha Wing, but as they were off threatening Northlanders into going to the Archwiliad the stalls had been given over to whichever Wing was visiting. Nine animals stood there now, and Gwilym wondered if Awen would be flying in to meet him. He’d only seen her briefly after she’d returned the would-be assassin, but she’d looked rather disturbed. Probably not the best mood for riding in.

One of the merod, a massive animal with muscles that were probably sentient, jerked awake and looked about suddenly, his ears pricked forward. Gwilym wandered over to his stall and held out a hand. The meraden stepped willingly forward and nuzzled his palm, the short whiskers of his muzzle tickling slightly. Gwilym grinned.

“He likes it if you scratch his chin,” Awen’s voice said softly behind him. Gwilym glanced over his shoulder at her.

She was leaning against the doorframe with her left arm hanging strangely and both shoulders slumped. She looked exhausted. Her eyes watched him with a peculiar intensity that he wondered at; they hadn’t done so this morning.

Obediently, Gwilym scratched the meraden’s chin. It made a sort of groaning noise in its throat and stretched its head forward, rustling its wings contentedly. Awen came over to stand beside him, looking at the meraden with a tired affection.

“His name’s Brân,” she said. Brân gave a low whicker. “And he’s actually a pest, don’t let him fool you. He just acts cute to impress people.”

“He knew you were here,” Gwilym said thoughtfully. “He woke up before you arrived apropos of nothing and looked all expectant.”

“Instinct,” Awen said. “Riders imprint themselves on their merod when they’re born.”

“A duck imprinted itself onto me, once,” Gwilym said. He paused. “I’m sorry, I thought there was more story there than there actually was. This anecdote has no interesting end.”

Awen smiled. It was a small smile, and not a shadow of the one she’d had barely twelve hours earlier, but it was genuine.

“It’s a good anecdote, though,” she reassured him. “I rather liked it. Do you still have the duck?”

“No,” Gwilym admitted. “My brother and I managed to wean it off me. It flew south and I never saw it again.” He considered that. “Or maybe I have, but, you know. It’s a duck. It looks like the others.”

Brân snorted, and stepped up to his door to push at Awen with his nose. She raised her right hand to touch him, and Gwilym saw the bandage wrapped around it, slightly loose and heavily bloodstained. He looked properly at her. Up close he could see a similar bandage in a similar state mostly hidden under the collar of her uniform. As she moved he could see the stiffness in her left side, particularly through her shoulder. She looked pale.

Which meant Awen had been in one hell of a fight with what had seemed to Gwilym to be an adolescent boy who was still unconscious in his cell.

He held up the arrow, coloured by her blood still, and took her injured hand. She didn’t resist as he slid the bandage off the wound, jagged edged and long. Gwilym sighed.

“I feel incredibly guilty about this,” he confessed. More so now he could see it: it looked unbelievably painful.

“Don’t, honestly,” Awen smiled gently. “It’ll heal, and you’re still alive.”

“You know, this happened at dinner,” Gwilym chided before he could stop himself. “Why haven’t you had it stitched yet?”

Awen looked away, shifting her left shoulder slightly. Brân tossed his head anxiously.

“Our medic is…” She bit her lip. “Our medic is gone,” she finished at last, looking up at Gwilym with a haunted expression. “You met him. Owain. I’d have gone to him otherwise.”

“Where’s he gone?” Gwilym asked quietly. He didn’t need to be told it was serious. Wings were raised together. They were families. They never left each other.

“I don’t know,” Awen said hopelessly. “He wouldn’t say. But he’s not working for the Union anymore, I don’t think. He’s gone rogue.”

That was where she got the other injuries, then. Including that throat wound. With a surge of outrage, it suddenly hit home to Gwilym what it meant: he’d tried to kill her. All of Gwilym’s family were dead, now – well, except Uncle Sion, who’d left for Erinn to become Aunty Sioned and now worked on a potato farm in exchange for free lodgings and a sack of coal a week – but he had memories of them. He tried to imagine how it would have felt if his sister had tried to kill him.

Or maybe not his sister. She’d been an Angry Person.

“Is that why you haven’t had this looked at?” Gwilym asked as delicately as she could.

Awen smiled a humourless smile.

“Owain was our medic,” she stated. “I’ve not been to anyone else since I was about ten and he first specialised. I mean, I have in the field, but in the field it’s either me or one of the others, not… Not a trained medic.” Awen looked at him dully. “Does that make sense?”

“Yes,” Gwilym said gently. “Yes, it does.” But that cut still needed stitching, and the one on her neck definitely did. He glanced around the stable block and saw the medkit in the corner of the manager’s station. Inclining his head, he led Awen over there, realising as he sat her on the tall stool that he’d had hold of her hand for the entire time, and hadn’t noticed. It seemed she hadn’t, either.

“You know,” he told her conversationally, “my father never spoke to me much about how to rule a city. My sister was older, and then my brother, so… you know… It didn’t seem necessary, I suppose. But he did used to take me on tours of the city sometimes anyway.” Gwilym had loved it. His father had, by necessity, not been around much. When he could, they’d do the tours and it was like a family day out, a treat for them all. “I loved them because they meant I got to see the whole city. He never kept to only the good areas. He’d go to the poor, run-down areas too. We were going through one on one occasion, and I remember seeing a load of fishing families there. Most of the workers were missing limbs.”

“Missing limbs?” Awen cocked her head at him. It was an incredibly endearing sign of attention that was favourably reminiscent of his duck. “Entire limbs?”

“Some of them,” he nodded. “Some just bits. A foot here and there, a few fingers. Either way: it turned out that there had been a storm a few months before, a really bad one. Most people on the boats had hell’s own job of getting them into dock, and they’d picked up injuries, some bad, some not so bad. The point was, they were too poor to afford a doctor at the time, so in almost every case the wounds had become gangrenous.”

Awen winced. “That’s awful.”

“Yes,” said Gwilym sadly. He’d cried himself to sleep that night.

“I will be getting this looked at before that stage, though,” Awen smiled. It was still a shadow of her smile earlier that day. He grinned anyway.

“Not where I was going, actually,” he said. “I trained as a medic for the next three years and sneaked out of the palace at night to run a clinic for the poor. Free of charge.”

Awen stared at him incredulously. “You did what?”

“Oh, yes.” Gwilym smiled reminiscently. “My training was very basic, of course, so there were an awful lot of people I couldn’t help, but I did my bit. And, most relevant to this situation, the first thing I ever learned was how to stitch up an open wound.” He looked at her. She didn’t look away. “I’m not a medic, Rider. I just know how to help, if you want me to.”

Awen snorted and looked at Brân, her smile wry.

“Thank you,” she said. “Well negotiated. I see now why you’re Sovereign.”

He did her throat wound first, deeming it more important than her hand. She was an impressive patient; she didn’t even flinch at the seaweed solution, and sat motionless as Gwilym sewed her skin back together. Fortunately it was a shallow wound: clearly she’d stopped Owain before he’d had chance to do more.

Finally he finished it, and turned his attention to her palm. It was less life-threatening, but a nastier injury.

“Thank you,” he said quietly as he used the seaweed solution again. Awen shook her head.

“Any Rider would have done it, Sovereign,” she said. “I’m just glad I was there.”

“No one’s ever tried to kill me before, you know,” Gwilym sighed. Carefully, he began the stitches along the jagged edges. “It’s quite upsetting.”

Awen chuckled. “As I understand it, Sovereign, it’s par for the course in your line of work. Chalk it up to experience.”

“Does this mean I need one of those nubile slaves to be a food taster now?” Gwilym asked. “Hordes of dancing girls trained as ninjas? A flock of trained mutant birds to attack anyone who looks a bit shady?”

“Definitely,” Awen grinned. “Although how are you defining ‘shady’, because you may need to put up signs warning innocent people to leave their wide-brimmed hats at home on pain of mutated bird.”

“No,” Gwilym said. “I’m in a position of power. My definitions will vary by the day and only I will be aware of their nuances.”

“Oh,” Awen said thoughtfully. “Well in that case you should also replace all your advisors with the nubile food tasters and dancing girls and have a marvellous time while the city crumbles around you.”

“Damned good plan.” Gwilym negotiated the middle of the cut carefully, trying not to lose any more of Awen’s skin. It was tricky: it ran right across the crease in her palm. “We still don’t know who the boy is, by the way,” he told her. “He’s not woken up yet. You did a good job on him.”

“I didn’t,” Awen sighed. “Adara did. I was busy with Owain at the time.”

“He did this, then,” Gwilym said. He didn’t let it be a question. His anger toward the man surprised him, but he didn’t try to push it aside. Awen nodded, watching the needle.

“He wanted me to let the boy go,” she said quietly. Gwilym paused and stared at her. She carried on. “I think he was in on it. He wouldn’t say why, he just asked me to trust him.”

“I’m sorry,” Gwilym said, and he truly was.

“So am I,” Awen said expressionlessly. “Mostly because I didn’t see it coming. I keep looking back over things he’s said or done, and in retrospect I don’t know how I didn’t see it. Something was wrong.”

She was fingering the beads in her hair with her left hand, running her fingers along the wires. Gwilym pulled another stitch closed carefully.

“You didn’t see it because he was your brother,” he said gently. “Or as good as. No one expects their family to do something like this.”

“I’m trained to see things like this,” Awen said. She swirled the beads faster. “I just… I think the problem was that I never really got on with him that well. He was always a good tactician, and he was very practical. If something needed doing he’d get it done. It’s why he was Deputy.”

“But?” Gwilym asked.

“But… It’s not that his ruthlessness was a problem, because you need that in a warrior to some degree. And it was good to have someone in the Wing who could be ruthless like Owain was.” Brân stamped his hoof in his stall. Gwilym wondered how much of Awen’s emotions the meraden picked up. “But Owain applied that ruthlessness to everyone. He was manipulative, but in the worst way, because I don’t think he ever saw anyone as a fellow person.” Awen shook her head. Her hair glimmered gold. “People were things to Owain, for him to use as he needed. I mean, I can see this now…”

Awen trailed off, and Gwilym wished he was doing something even fractionally more comforting to her right now than stabbing her repeatedly in the hand. Somehow it just didn’t seem to give off the right vibes. He settled for rubbing the back of her hand with his fingers as he prepared the final stitch; she gave him a small smile.

“What will you do now?” he asked her. Awen’s eyes hardened.

“Find him,” she said. “And I will. And when I do, I think I might just finish chopping his bloody fingers off.”

Well, that was scary. Riders were scary. Gwilym was scared.

“I want to know who he’s working for and why,” Awen said quietly. “And why he – they – want you dead. And then I’m going to haul whatever’s left of him in front of the Union, and they can deal with it.”

Well, Gwilym supposed, it would be nice if she could stop the people who were trying to kill him. Nubile food tasters were just so pretentious. He tied off the last stitch and carefully re-bandaged her hand. Awen inspected his handiwork and smiled.

“Good job,” she said. “Thank you.”

“You’re quite welcome,” Gwilym said mildly, packing the equipment away again. “Now, what’s wrong with your shoulder? You haven’t moved your left arm since you came in.”

“It had an argument with a stone floor,” Awen said, using her freshly fixed hand to touch it gingerly. “Now it’s bruised to hell and back. It’ll be fine, though; I’ll see a druid before we go about all of it.”

Gwilym was glad to hear her say that, but gladder still he’d stitched her up himself. Druids could do a good job of speeding up the healing process to a few days but in the case of large wounds like that stitches were still required for a full heal, and druids weren’t good at it.

“In the meantime, let me poke at it,” he said. “It’ll free up the muscles at least.”

Awen cautiously tried to raise her arm and winced.

“Alright,” she agreed. “Just don’t poke the bruised bit. That still hurts.”

“That was the bit I wanted to poke,” Gwilym told her. “I’m intrigued to see if you ever show pain like normal people.”

Awen chuckled dryly, and Gwilym walked around her stool to get to her shoulder better. Her muscles were densely packed; it was like kneading a stone.

“So,” Gwilym said as he worked. “What exactly did you want to talk to me about up here before our lives got turned upside down earlier?”

“Oh,” Awen sighed, “conspiracies and that. How well do you know Lady Marged?”

“She makes me socks,” Gwilym said. He was wearing some now, they were lovely. “And she sells me green dyes cheaply. I can’t say I’ve had all that many meetings with her that were in any way official, though.”

“Well, we think she’s trying to set up a big power vacuum of anarchy with herself set to benefit,” Awen said. Her shoulder twitched involuntarily under Gwilym’s hand, and relaxed slightly. “Or so Flyn thinks, anyway. We know she’s doing something, she’s sending dissenters into other cities to tell the people that they should have power and not the Sovereigns.”

“That doesn’t sound like Marged,” Gwilym smiled. “Unless she’s doing something else and for entirely altruistic reasons, and that’s just what it looks like.”

“Well, quite,” Awen agreed. “Now Flyn… I’ll be honest with you. Flyn thinks that what she’s doing, motivations aside, is destabilising the Sovereigns, and for obvious reasons is therefore tipping the country into war again, since having fixed Sovereigns rather than lots of power plays is what dragged us out of war last time.”

“Partly,” Gwilym agreed. Awen waved her right hand dismissively.

“Yes, I know, but this is Flyn’s thought process,” she said. “The point is that’s what Flyn thinks. His counter plan, therefore, is to cement the power of the Sovereigns by having one rule all the others, so none can step out of line like Lady Marged. A king and regents. If a regent misbehaves, the king can simply get all the others together and remove that regent, and replace them with someone of his choosing.”

Gwilym stopped kneading for a moment to stare at Awen. “He wants ultimate power?”

“I think so,” Awen said glumly. She shifted her shoulder in a mute appeal for him to continue; Gwilym took the hint. “Which would be better than, you know, anarchic wars again, but only if that’s actually Marged’s plan.”

“Ah.” Gwilym nodded in dawning comprehension. “You want me to go and talk to Marged and find out what the crap she’s up to.”

“If you could,” Awen agreed. “That would be lovely.”

Politics. Gwilym hated them so.