• Fiona McIntosh: Voyager Author of the Month

    Fiona McIntosh was born and raised in Sussex in the UK, but also spent early childhood years in West Africa. She left a PR career in London to travel and settled in Australia in 1980. She has since roamed the world working for her own travel publishing company, which she runs with her husband. She lives in Adelaide with her husband and twin sons. Her website is at www.fionamcintosh.com.

    Her latest book, The Scrivener's Tale, is a stand-alone and takes us back to the world of Morgravia from her very first series, The Quickening:


    About The Scrivener's Tale:

    In the bookshops and cafes of present-day Paris, ex-psychologist Gabe Figaret is trying to put his shattered life back together. When another doctor, Reynard, asks him to help with a delusional female patient, Gabe is reluctant... until he meets her. At first Gabe thinks the woman, Angelina, is merely terrified of Reynard, but he quickly discovers she is not quite what she seems.

    As his relationship with Angelina deepens, Gabe's life in Paris becomes increasingly unstable. He senses a presence watching and following every move he makes, and yet he finds Angelina increasingly irresistible.

    When Angelina tells Gabe he must kill her and flee to a place she calls Morgravia, he is horrified. But then Angelina shows him that the cathedral he has dreamt about since childhood is real and exists in Morgravia.

    A special 10th Anniversary edition of her first fantasy book, Myrren's Gift, will be released in December!

     

     

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Bran the Betrayer Part 14 ( a short story by K.J. Taylor )

Here’s part 14 of the new short story by K.J. Taylor, set in the world of her Fallen Moon Trilogy. Happy Friday reading everyone!

Bran the Betrayer Pt. 14

‘Curiousities?’ Bran repeated to himself. He wondered what that meant.

When they walked through that building, he soon found out. It was an open structure, which a passage straight through the middle of it, and the five of them took a shortcut through it, forcing the crowd to move away. Bran looked around, and quickly realised what they had come to see. On either side of the passage, cages of different sizes had been set into the walls. Creatures sat inside them – the kinds of bizarre things that could usually be seen at a fair. Bran saw a two-headed calf, and a griffin youngster with four wings, all of which were stunted and useless. People gawped at the wretched creatures, most of which lay pathetically in their own filth, dead-eyed and scrawny. He guessed that a lot of them were already close to death, unable to live with their deformities.

Bran tried not to look at them, but he couldn’t help himself. Like the crowd he stared in fascinated horror at each new grotesque beast – and then he saw something that made him stop so suddenly that his guards stumbled to a halt as well. Normally they would have urged him on, but once they saw what he was looking at they too hesitated. One of them swore softly.

The creature sat in a smaller cage, set higher up in the wall. It was also small – about the same size as Laela, in fact. And it was the most bizarre and horrible thing Bran had ever seen.

What made it worse was that, while the other creatures there were deformed, it was at least possible to tell what animal they were. But this thing didn’t look like any animal that could possibly exist. It crouched awkwardly, unable to stand on its twisted back legs, which merged into its clawed hind paws. Its front legs were scaled, but the front paws… they had tiny talons on them, but they were pink and soft, and shaped more like human hands. The head was flattened, and the face had only the barest stump of a nose, and a few wisps of hair on the head.

The creature’s skin was mottled pink and grey, with patches of fur and feather sprouting seemingly at random. A stumpy tail hung over its backside. And, twitching on its back, there were…

‘Wings,’ Bran muttered. ‘It’s got wings.’

They were wings; they had to be. They were long and spindly, and covered in fluffy feathers, like the wings of a baby bird. The creature was like a baby, he thought, in some ways. But if it was a baby then it was the most hideous one he had ever seen.

Apparently realising it was being watched, the creature looked up, and fear shot through the disgust in Bran’s mind.

The creature’s eyes were large and yellow, slanted in its ugly face. They weren’t human coloured, or human shaped, but… but somehow Bran could see an expression in them. They were full of a terrible sadness.

Help me, those eyes said.

The creature made a feeble bleating, squarking sound, and Isleen stepped in. ‘Come along, all of you,’ she said impatiently. ‘We aren’t here to gawp at the freaks.’

Bran found his voice. ‘What in Gryphus’ name is that thing?’

Isleen looked past him at the bizarre creature. ‘Nobody knows,’ she said. ‘They found it abandoned in an inn somewhere outside the city. Now, hurry up. Noon is coming, and we can’t be late.’

The creature bleated again.

Bran forced himself to look away from it, and followed Isleen away. He felt sickened by what he had seen. But soon enough his own troubles returned to occupy his mind. Once this was over he’d have time to worry about other things. For now, he had to see Kraeya.

The building that housed the griffins lay just beyond the one where the freaks lived. Out of necessity it was much bigger, but it too was filled with cages – huge ones, but still not big enough to give their occupants much room. Most of them were occupied by what had to be wild griffins. They were scarred, and hampered by chains attached to collars around their necks, and they snarled threats at the small group of humans as they passed.

Kraeya was at the far end in a cage of her own, but she wore no chains. She lay on her belly, looking bored, but stood up at once when she saw Bran.

She came over to the bars. ‘Bran, my human. Why have you come? Is the trial over? Have you come to free me so that we may leave this place?’

Bran’s guards let him go up to the bars by himself. ‘No, Kraeya,’ he said. ‘I’m sorry. They got me nailed.’

‘What is it?’ Kraeya demanded. ‘What has happened?’

Bran gave her a brief description of the trial.

She hissed. ‘No! This is an outrage!’

‘Yeah,’ said Bran. ‘I got no way of showin’ I’m innocent, so I’ve asked for trial by combat. I gotta fight a wild griffin in one of the fightin’ pits. Today. If I win, we go free.’

‘No,’ Kraeya rasped. ‘I will not allow you to do that. You will die.’

‘I got no other choice,’ said Bran. ‘If I don’t fight I’m dead anyway.’

‘Then I must help you,’ said Kraeya. ‘Let me out of this cage and I shall fight beside you.’

‘That is not allowed,’ Isleen’s partner Arak interrupted. ‘You had no involvement in your human’s crime. You cannot fight this battle for him.’

‘He is my human and it is my right to defend him,’ said Kraeya. ‘If you force him to fight this wild griffin alone, he will die.’

‘Kraeya, it’s all right,’ said Bran. ‘I can do this. I’ll be all right. I promise.’

‘Come,’ said Arak. ‘You have spoken now and it is time to go to the fighting pit.’

Kraeya slammed her beak against the bars. ‘No! You cannot do this!’

Bran felt himself being pulled away. ‘It’s all right, Kraeya. It’s all right. Everything’s gonna be fine.’

Kraeya did not listen. She continued to bite and snarl at her prison, trying to break free and go to her human’s side. A pair of guards came running from elsewhere in the building and did their best to subdue her, prodding her with long spears to make her move back from the bars.

Bran tried to stay and calm her down, but his own guards wouldn’t allow it. They turned him around and forced him to walk back out between them, with Arak and Isleen bringing up the rear this time.

‘What’ll happen to her if I die?’ he asked once they were out of earshot.

‘She will be set free,’ said Isleen. ‘She would be free now, but we can’t risk her trying to interfere.’

‘Right,’ Bran muttered. Kraeya might be set free, but without him she would be lost. A griffin who lost her human was disgraced; little better than one of the wild griffins, who had no rights at all. It could well be that Isleen was lying, and that Kraeya would instead be kept here and used in the fighting pits like the other captive griffins.

Bran gritted his teeth. He wouldn’t let that happen. He’d fight for her as well as Laela.

Now his guards took him back to the fighting pits, through a large locked trapdoor and into an underground passage which led to a room lined with racks full of weapons. In the far side of it, a barred metal gate led into the largest of the fighting pits.

Here, at last, the guards removed Bran’s shackles. Isleen stepped forward, and gave him back his sword.

‘Here,’ she said. ‘As promised. As you were told earlier, you may choose any other weapons you want from this room. These two men will stay with you and wait in here until after the fight. Arak and I will watch from above. If you survive, we will be ready to set your partner free immediately and I will give you this.’ She held up a roll of paper. ‘A pardon, signed by Eyrie Master Ruel and the Master of Law. It will lift all crimes from you.’

‘Got it,’ said Bran. ‘Thanks.’

Isleen gave him the briefest of smiles. ‘Goodbye and good luck, Branton Redguard.’

*

We’ll post up Part 15 next Friday 1st June!

K.J Taylor is the author of the Fallen Moon Trilogy:

The Dark Griffin, The Griffin’s Flight & The Griffin’s War

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Bran the Betrayer Part 13 ( a short story by K.J. Taylor )

Our apologies for not getting this up on Friday everyone- Here’s part 13 of the new short story by K.J. Taylor, set in the world of her Fallen Moon Trilogy. We hope it brightens up your Monday!

Bran the Betrayer Pt. 13
When Bran returned to his cell he found Laela crying – almost as if she knew what was going to happen. She had made a mess in her clothes, so Bran changed them and cleaned her up as well as he could before giving her a reassurring cuddle. But she kept on crying, refused to eat, and stayed unsettled through most of the night.

Bran probably wouldn’t have slept well anyway. He spent that night alternately dozing and trying to calm Laela down, and finally woke up properly at what he guessed might be dawn. There was no natural light down here.

Bran got up. Laela was finally asleep, and during what could be his last quiet moment for a while, he decided to pray.

Normally, a Southern sun-worshipper like himself would pray in a Temple, or failing that would sit somewhere sunlit. Down here he could do neither, but there was a flame burning, at least – a torch inside a protective bracket up on his cell wall. He fixed his eyes on the fire, and murmured his prayer, keeping his voice low so he wouldn’t disturb Laela. And anyway, these words were for him and Gryphus, and no-one else.

‘Gryphus,’ he said. ‘I never did much right by yeh. Consortin’ with a Northerner – I know that ain’t what you’d want. Arren belonged to the Night God, not you. But I did my best t’stand by people an’ do right by my family an’ by Kraeya as well. I did the best I could, always have, even if I ain’t strong enough. An’ I ain’t. I can’t save Laela an’ myself without help now. So I’m askin’ yeh, Gryphus – protect me. Help me get out of this. Now Finna’s married out of the family I’m the last Redguard. Me an’ Laela. Don’t let us end like this. Let me win back my honour an’ my freedom. Please.’

If Gryphus heard, he didn’t feel the need to reply. But Bran felt better once he had prayed. And if he survived today, then surely that would mean Gryphus had forgiven him.

After he had prayed a while longer, he went back to his bed and slept. This time it was proper sleep, and just as well – he would need it.

*

Some time later, a voice calling from outside his cell door woke him up. He sat up hastily, and blinked away the last of his sleep as he saw someone standing outside. It was Della’s other assistant – a short, pudgy young man with a squint.

‘Yeah, what is it?’ asked Bran, standing up and stifling a yawn.

The man looked timid. ‘Er,’ he said. ‘Er, I’ve been asked to inform you that your fight with the griffin will happen today, at noon, in the fighting pits. You’ll be given back your sword, and you will be allowed to choose any other weapon you want before you go into the pit.’

‘Right,’ said Bran. ‘Then tell them guards I want some fresh water an’ somethin’ to eat for me an’ the baby.’

‘Baby?’ The man peered past him at the sleeping Laela.

‘Yeah,’ said Bran. ‘My daughter. Hop to it.’

‘All right.’ The nervous young griffiner hesitated. ‘You’re… you’re very brave, you know,’ he said quickly. ‘I wish I was brave like you.’

‘Well, feel free to come sit in this cell instead of me,’ Bran grunted. ‘It’s a real treat.’

The man flushed. ‘That’s not what I- sorry. Yes. I should go now. My name’s Alaric, by the way. And, er, good luck.’

He stumbled off, and Bran watched him go with bemusement. Someone that weak-willed wouldn’t last long as an apprentice to a Master as powerful as the Master of Law. He must have very wealthy parents to have been given the job in the first place.

A short while later food and water arrived. Laela was still asleep, so Bran ate and washed himself before strapping on his old guard armour which he had been allowed to keep with him.

When Laela woke up he washed and fed her too, and then settled down to wait. Eventually Isleen arrived with a pair of guards in tow.

‘Are you ready?’ she asked brusquely.

‘Yeah,’ Bran nodded.

‘Good. Come with us.’

Bran stood up, took Laela in his arms and gave her a last hug and a kiss on the forehead. ‘You wait here for me, girl,’ he said. ‘I’ll be back. Don’t you worry. I won’t let yeh down. Promise. You just sit tight an’ wait for me.’

He put her down on the bed and gave her the little stuffed griffin she loved so much, before he turned to the guard outside and said sternly; ‘You keep an eye on her, understand?’

The guard nodded reluctantly. ‘She won’t go anywhere, milord. Don’t worry.’

‘Good.’ Bran gave Laela a worried look, and left the cell. ‘All right,’ he said to Isleen and her escort. ‘Let’s get this over with.’

He let her two guards shackle his wrists behind his back again, and walked between them as before – up the corridor and out of the Eyrie, and into the city. As they left the Eyrie, Isleen’s grey partner Arak joined them and walked beside his human, leading Bran and his guards onward.

Bran watched the two of them, and found himself thinking of Kraeya. She must still be locked up in the fighting pits, where he himself was going. He wondered if she knew what was going on.

‘I want to see Kraeya,’ he said as they walked through the streets.

Isleen glanced back at him. ‘Your partner?’

‘Yeah,’ said Bran. ‘She’s still at the pits, right?’

‘She is,’ said Isleen.

‘I want t’visit her before the fight,’ said Bran. ‘So she knows what’s goin’ on.’

‘Very well,’ said Isleen. ‘There should be time. But she won’t be allowed to help you in the fight. If she were accused of helping you commit your crimes she would be, but she’s above suspicion.’

Bran sighed to himself. Kraeya’s help would make all the difference in this fight, but Isleen was right, and besides, it wouldn’t be fair to his partner to drag her into this.

Above, the sky was clear and bright. Withypool’s streets were busy. Plenty of people stopped to watch curiously as the prisoner and his escort went past – the fact that he was being guarded by a griffiner as well as two ordinary guards meant that he must be a griffiner himself, or be accused of a particularly heinous crime. Or both.

Bran ignored them.

Fortunately the fighting pits weren’t far from the Eyrie. In Eagleholm there had been the Arena – one huge round building, where wild griffins had fought criminals for the amusement of the crowd. That was where Arren had gone, and where he had nearly died at the talons of the black griffin. In Withypool, though, there were several different fighting pits sunk into the ground – miniature Arenas, more or less. Bran had seen them from the sky on his way into the city. All of them had nets of steel chains over them, to stop anyone inside from escaping, and the spectators stood above and looked down on the carnage below. A second, much larger chain net covered the entire area, so that when Bran first entered he felt as if he were being caught in layers of spider web.

Around the edge of the open area that housed the fighting pits, other more ordinary buildings stood. Many of them had signs on them, which Bran couldn’t read beyond a few words here and there – he’d never learned much of reading and writing, even after becoming a griffiner.

‘What’s in there?’ he asked, pointing at one of them.

‘Griffins are caged in that one,’ Isleen said briefly. ‘The building next to it is where the curiosities are kept for people to see. We will pass through it on our way and you can see for yourself.’

*

We’ll post up Part 14 next Friday 25th May!

K.J Taylor is the author of the Fallen Moon Trilogy:

The Dark Griffin, The Griffin’s Flight & The Griffin’s War

Food for Thought (in Fantasy Fiction)

I have this theory about food in fantasy fiction.  Possibly brought on by listening to too many Discworld audio books in quick succession.  But my brain is the kind that likes to make lists, and catalogue things, and organise them in my head.  So here is my theory:

There are three kinds of food in fantasy fiction: stew, lark’s tongues, and sausages in buns.

Sydney restaurant Gastro Park’s recent sell out Game of Thrones menu

Don’t believe me?

When I say ‘Stew’ I mean camping food generally, though of course Stew itself is the star of any fantasy hero’s menu – a nourishing substance which travellers eat every single night while questing.  I was first made aware of this tradition when reading The Belgariad by David and Leigh Eddings, in which Polgara the sorceress took great pride in feeding brown sludge to everyone for dinner (and its breakfast counterpart, gruel).  As an adult, I wonder whether Polgara had a magical crockpot bubbling away in her saddlebags throughout the day?

The late, great Diana Wynne Jones, who left a marvellous legacy to fantasy readers and writers everywhere with The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, had this to say about stew:

You may be shortly longing passionately for omelette, steak, or baked beans, but none of these will be forthcoming, indoors or out.  Stew will be what you are served to eat every single time.  Given the disturbed nature of life in this land, where in camp you are likely to be attacked without warning, and in an inn prone to be the centre of a tavern brawl, Stew seems to be an odd choice as a staple food since, on a rough calculation, it takes forty times as long to prepare as steak… Do not expect a salad on the side.”

Other staples of travel food involve some variation between Tolkien’s elf-made lembas, the magical crackers which give you the ability to move forward with your plot without stopping for a sandwich, and Pratchett’s dwarf-bread, which is made with gravel and kitty litter and exists solely to make you feel very creative about the art of roadside foraging.

Next there’s the lark’s tongues – which is to say that most aristocrats and/or villains of fantasy fiction tend to eat like characters in the Roman Satires.  Never mind the hearty meat-on-meat dishes that kings like Henry VIII actually feasted upon – while medieval is the order of the day in a great deal of fantasyworld building, the posh menus are more likely to borrow from The Feast of Trimalchio: decadent, outrageously expensive and often tiny portions of food, eaten delicately and with great ritual.  You can’t help wondering if sometimes they’d like a plain old bowl of stew instead of poached peacock slivers in aspic!

It also has the side effect that you begin to question whether anyone eating quail’s eggs is in fact a villain. I got served them unexpectedly in a caesar salad the other day, and I could feel myself turning into a grand vizier as I ate…

Mostly when I think about food in fantasy it’s those first two categories that spring to mind, but as I said at the beginning, I’ve been revisiting a lot of Discworld lately, and musing upon the repeated use of the sausage as plot hub and convenience food.  One of the most consistent supporting characters (never a protagonist) in the long run of Discworld novels is CMOT Dibbler, or “Throat” for short, named after his catchphrase “and that’s cutting my own throat” when he offers discount prices.  While he’s a seller of many things through the series, his core product is sausageinnabun, and it’s this foodstuff that he returns to whenever his other moneymaking scams have run dry.
As with all true junk food, Dibbler’s sausages are both appealing and appalling, sometimes in the same mouthful.  The appeal is often their cheapness and the fact that they are there, but those who do eat them often regret it.

“And then you bit into them, and learned once again that Cut-me-own-Throat Dibbler could find a use for bits of an animal that the animal didn’t know it had got. Dibbler had worked out that with enough fried onions and mustard people would eat anything.
— Terry Pratchett, Moving Pictures

While Dibbler’s sausages are probably the most epic example, there must be more convenience food in fantasy, right?  I’d love to hear some examples from readers – as well as their favourite instances of Stew or Lark’s Tongue Cuisine in fantasy fiction.

This post was written by Tansy Rayner Roberts for her Flappers with Swords Blog Tour.

Tansy’s award-winning Creature Court trilogy: Power and Majesty, The Shattered City and Reign of Beasts, featuring flappers with swords, shape changers, half-naked men and bloodthirsty court politics, have been released worldwide on the Kindle, and on Kobo &  iTunes in Australia & New Zealand.  If you prefer your books solid and papery, they can also be found in all good Australian and New Zealand bookshops.

You can also check out Tansy’s work through the Hugo-nominated & Aurealis-winning crunchy feminist science fiction podcast Galactic Suburbia.  You can find her on the internet at her blog, or on Twitter as @tansyrr.

The Aurealis Awards 2012

Last Saturday The Independent Theatre in North Sydney played host to the 17th Annual Aurealis Awards*. Harper Voyager Australia again sponsored the awards along with Galaxy Bookshop. It was a chilly windy night in Sydney so scarves & shawls were the fashion accessory of the evening!  We’re super-proud to announce that The Courier’s New Bicycle by Kim Westwood (HarperAU) won best Sci-Fi Novel and Ghosts by Gaslight (HarperUS) edied by Jack Dann & Nick Gevers won best Anthology! Creature Court author Tansy Rayner Roberts’ podcast Galactic Suburbia also won the Peter McNamara award- go Tansy!The Courier's New Bicycle

As always, it was a great evening and a chance to catch up with all our authors, blogger friends, Tweeples and fans of spec fiction everywhere. Discussions ranged from the future of spec-fic publishing  and cover designs to Star Wars and hypothetical murder mystery plots.  We were also very happy to see Stephanie Smith, who presented the Best Fantasy Novel Award, before her imminent move to Tasmania. She took time to introduce our new Voyager publisher, Deonie Fiford, to the audience too!

Congratulations to our shortlisted authors as well –  The Undivided by Jennifer Fallon, The Shattered City by Tansy Rayner Roberts & Stormlord’s Exile by Glenda Larke for the Best Fantasy Novel of 2011, and Children of Scarabaeus by Sara Creasy for Best Sci-Fi Novel of 2011.

Stephanie Smith with 2 of our winning authors: Kim Westwood and Tansy Rayner Roberts

Susan Wardle, co-convenor of the awards, said that with approximately 700 entries across the thirteen categories, the judges had a challenging task. “The winners represent the best of Australian fantasy, horror and science fiction writing in 2011 as judged by a pannel of their peers.  This year’s winners join the likes of Sara Douglass, Garth Nix, Isonelle Carmody, Trudi Canavan, Shaun Tan and Sean Williams, all of whom are multiple Aurealis Award Winners.”

Congratulations again to our winners!

*The Aurealis Awards were established in 1995 by Chimaera Publications, the publishers of Aurealis magazine, to recognise the achievements of Australian science fiction, fantasy and horror writers.

Deonie Fiford and Stephanie Smith
photo by Cat Sparx ( http://www.flickr.com/people/42956650@N00/)

Bran the Betrayer Part 12 ( a short story by K.J. Taylor )

Here’s part 12 of the new short story by K.J. Taylor, set in the world of her Fallen Moon Trilogy.  If you’re a fan of the world and KJ’s books, you’ll be happy know she’ll be attending the inaugural Oz Comic-Con in Melbourne from 30th June-1st July!

Bran the Betrayer Pt. 12

‘Anyon…’ Bran repeated.

‘Yeah,’ said Dan. ‘You saw him. He got burned half to death in the fire, an’ lost his griffin as well. An’ he lost his master Rannagon too. He could’ve been Master of Law one day, with a place on the Council, but when the Eyrie burned he lost everything. I dunno if he really thinks it’s yer fault, or if he knows it’s a lie. But I think he’s just plain lookin’ for someone to punish. Can’t get to Arren any more, so who else is there but Arren’s best friend?’

‘Can’t yeh tell them?’ Bran asked. ‘Go tell the Master of Law about Anyon tryin’ to bribe yeh. If we can prove he’s behind it, they’ll have to tell me go.’

Dan shook his head. ‘I tried. But nobody wants to listen. Everyone here’s the same as him, see. There’s a lot of Eagleholm survivors here. That’s who was up there in the gallery today, mostly. You heard ’em shouting. Nobody’s gonna listen to me. They’ll say I’m the one lyin’, since yer my friend.’

‘But you gotta try!’ said Bran.

‘I did. I said I did. Nobody listened. Anyon looks so frail now no-one believes he’d be up to somethin’ like this. He spends most of his time in bed nowadays.’

‘Then what’m I gonna do?’ said Bran. ‘I gotta get out of here. It can’t end like this, mate, it just can’t, dammit!’ His voice rose, betraying his desperation. Over on the bed, Laela whimpered.

Dan finally noticed her. ‘What the-?’ he said. ‘Why’s there a baby in there?’

Bran picked her up. ‘My daughter,’ he said. ‘Laela Redguard.’

‘Oh,’ said Dan. ‘Yer wife Flell was pregnant when you got married, wasn’t she?’

‘Yeah,’ said Bran.

‘What happened to her, anyhow?’ asked Dan.

‘She died,’ said Bran. ‘In the war. I’m all Laela’s got now.’

Dan eyed the child for a long moment. ‘She’s not yer child,’ he said softly. ‘Is she?’

‘She is,’ Bran lied, as he’d lied every day since his marriage to Flell.

Dan’s brow furrowed as he frowned. ‘Them eyebrows look real dark,’ he said.

‘Maybe, but she’s my daughter,’ Bran insisted.

‘No she ain’t,’ Dan said matter-of-factly. ‘She’s his. Isn’t she? That’s Arren’s child.’

Bran said nothing.

‘You’re a good man, Bran,’ said Dan. ‘Better than me. Better’n anyone in this whole gods-forsaken city. You don’t deserve t’be in that cell. I do.’

‘No yeh don’t,’ said Bran. ‘Stop it.’

‘I do,’ said Dan. He looked miserable. ‘An’ it’s time you stopped blamin’ yerself for what happened in Eagleholm. You did yer duty. I didn’t. It was me who turned his back on the city an’ did what he shouldn’t. It was me who committed a crime. If there was any justice in the world, I’d be the one facin’ the death penalty.’

‘Dan, what’re yeh talkin’ about?’ said Bran.

‘I’m a murderer,’ said Dan. ‘You were right, Bran. I murdered Arren Cardockson. I should’ve arrested him, not killed him. If I’d done my duty, then the Dark Lord wouldn’t have come. But nobody ever cared about what I did, because he was just a Northerner.’ He shook his head. ‘Murder’s murder. Bran, listen. If I could trade places with yer, I would. That’d make us even. But I can’t. So I’ll do the only thing I can do.’

‘What’s that?’ asked Bran.

‘You can’t prove yer innocent,’ said Dan. ‘We both know that. Only Gryphus can help yer now. Ask for trial by combat. It’s yer only chance.’

Bran frowned. ‘Fight for my freedom,’ he said aloud. ‘Hadn’t thought of that.’

‘Do it!’ said Dan. ‘You got the strength for it. Here in Withypool, they’d have yer fight a wild griffin.’

‘Could Kraeya help me?’ asked Bran.

‘No. I asked around before I came here, see – found out the rules. Griffins are Gryphus’ creatures, so if you go up against one an’ live, that means Gryphus wants you t’go free.’

Bran hesitated. ‘Me, fight a griffin?’

‘You can do it,’ said Dan. ‘You got the fightin’ skills. Besides, Gryphus knows yer innocent, right? He wants you to win.’

‘I’ll think about it, then,’ said Bran. ‘Thanks, Dan. For bein’ here.’ He reached out through the bars.

Dan clasped his friend’s big rough hand. ‘It’ll be all right, mate. You’ll see.’

‘I’m just glad I still got one friend left in the world,’ said Bran.

‘You deserve more,’ said Dan. ‘Well… I gotta go. Good luck, mate. I’ll be there tomorrow. An’ if anything happens to you, I… I’ll do what I can for Laela.’

Laela.

In the end, she was what made Bran’s mind up. After Dan had left he sat for a long while, doing his best to keep her amused while he thought about what to do. But Dan was right: with the whole city out for his blood, and nobody else taking his side, there was nothing he could do. If he didn’t come up with some proof in his favour tomorrow, they might well sentence him to death on the spot. Demanding to fight for his freedom would be his only alternative.

He looked at Laela and she looked back with her big, innocent blue eyes – eyes that reminded him so much of Flell, but just a little of poor, doomed Arren as well. That was when he knew for certain. For her he would do anything – even fight a wild griffin, if it came to that.

He hugged her. ‘Don’t worry, girl. I got it under control. I’ll do whatever it takes. I’ll rip that griffin’s guts out if I have to. I can’t make Dan care for yeh; it’s too much to ask. It’ll be all right. I’ll fight even harder knowin’ I’m fightin’ for you.’

Laela smiled at him. ‘Dada,’ she said.

*

Bran’s trial resumed the next day. Once again, he was taken to the dock while the crowd hurled its insults from above. Della and her partner stood patiently on the Master’s platform. This time, though, when Bran looked up, he could see Dan and Kakree up with the spectators. Dan waved encouragingly at him.

Bran nodded back, and waited patiently while Della declared the proceedings open again.

‘Now,’ she said, turning to him. ‘Today you have the opportunity to offer any evidence you might have to prove that you are innocent.’

Bran hesitated.

Della gave him an expectant look. ‘Well?’

Finally, Bran spoke – loudly and strongly, so everyone there could hear him. His voice was deep and stern – a Captain’s voice.

‘I didn’t do it,’ he said. ‘I didn’t help Arren get out of prison, an’ I didn’t help him break into the Eyrie. I chose duty over friendship. I shouldn’t have. I should’ve put my friend first an’ given him the help he needed before any of it happened. If I had, I would’ve saved him, an Eagleholm, an’ myself. But I didn’t, an’ that’s why I’m here. Because I did what I was told an’ not what my heart told me. Now all of yeh here can see how I’m rewarded for that.’

‘But can you prove you’re innocent?’ Della pressed.

‘No,’ said Bran. ‘I can’t. But Gryphus knows I’m innocent. Let me fight to prove it.’

‘You want trial by combat?’ said Della.

‘Yeah,’ said Bran. ‘I do. I’ll fight the wild griffin. Gryphus will show yeh I ain’t guilty.’

‘Is that your final word?’ asked Della.

‘Yeah,’ said Bran.

‘Very well, then. You can go back to your cell while the arrangements are made. Your guilt or innocence is out of my hands now. The wild griffin will decide.’

Above, the audience jeered.

‘Feed him to the wild griffins!’ one man shouted. ‘Let Gryphus punish him!’

‘Kill the traitor!’ others yelled.

‘Burn the lot of yeh!’ Bran roared back suddenly. ‘You’re a load of cowards. How brave of yeh, throwin’ insults at a man who can’t fight back. I tell yeh, if Arren was here you’d be runnin’ like sheep the moment yeh laid eyes on him. It was the likes of you what turned him into a monster. Hate a man long enough an’ he’ll start hatin’ back. Well you ain’t gonna do the same thing to me.’ He spat.

Outraged shouts rose from the crowd. A few people even started to throw things, and the guards up there had to step in and start hustling them out.

Bran had said his piece. He walked out with his own guards, muttering and grim-faced. As he left he saw Dan again, and his old friend nodded sternly. Agreeing with him, maybe, or wishing him luck. Bran nodded back, unsmiling, and began the walk back to his cell.

*

We’ll post up Part 13 next Friday 18th May!

K.J Taylor is the author of the Fallen Moon Trilogy:

The Dark Griffin, The Griffin’s Flight & The Griffin’s War

Game of Thrones net roundup

With the explosive success of the HBO adaptation of George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire the net has seen a wide variety of interesting articles and creations inspired by both the show and the books, from the sublimely thought-provoking to the groan-inducingly silly.

Here’s a few choice picks we’ve came across so far:

i09 has a great array of sci-fi/fantasy/spec-fic/general geeky articles and these are just a few of the neat Game of Thrones themed articles they’ve had up. They’ve posted up concept art from the TV show, including some unused designs for The Eyrie and the Sept of Baelor. They’ve also posited some real-life scientific explanations for the unpredictable seasons of Westeros- perhaps their myth of the origin of Dragons has some truth to it! And here’s one for the old-skool D&D fans ( or perhaps those with a philosophical bent )!

If, like us, you’ve planned trips to New Zealand around locations used to shoot The Lord of the Rings, this article about the locations used in Game of Thrones is pretty useful for planning your next holiday! While we’ve posted it on the blog before, this speculative map of Westeros and beyond by SerMountainGoat is so spectacular its worth sharing again.

Several academics and professional political analysts have enjoyed speculating on the apparent political viewpoints portrayed both diagetically and non-diagetically by the series & the show. This rebuttal article is an interesting read, particularly as much of the speculation is based purely on the events of the first season ( and largely, the first book ) of the series.

While it’s far from specific to Game of Thrones, this BBC article provides some interesting theories as to the origins of the ubiquitous British accents in fantasy films & TV. Apparently it’s all Kevin Costner’s fault!

Best author photo ever.

And now for the silly stuff: Prepare to never take Bronn seriously again: here he is singing Unchained Melody on Top of the Pops in 1995 ( he’s the one on the right! ).
Have you ever wondered what Daenerys Targaryen would look like playing air guitar? Wonder no more!
In case you missed it, i09 has a link up to the Simpsons Game of Thrones intro sequence that’s pretty awesome.
A couple of keen Lego fans have put together some Game of Thrones scenes in plastic brick form, and one dedicated fan even re-created the opening sequence in stop motion!
Continuing the brick-theme, those crazy Minecraft kids have built some astounding recreations of the locations in Westeros, inspired more from the books & their own imagination than the TV show.
Lastly, GRRM’s US publisher put up this great April Fool’s news item. It also gave us possibly the best author photo of GRRM ever.

And we’ll leave you with this little gem of badly photoshopped wisdom.

If you’ve seen any other cool Game of Thrones articles or amusing tidbits, let us know!

Bran the Betrayer Part 11 ( a short story by K.J. Taylor )

Here’s part 11 of the new short story by K.J. Taylor, set in the world of her Fallen Moon Trilogy for some weekend reading!

Bran the Betrayer Pt. 11
Bran returned to his cell and found Laela hiding under the bed. She looked frightened, and came out eagerly when she saw him. She clutched at his leg until he picked her up.

‘She’s a quiet one,’ a guard outside remarked. ‘Just as well. Why’s she in here with yer?’

‘She’s my daughter,’ Bran said stoically. ‘I’m the only family she’s got. No-one’s takin’ her off me.’

‘Well I hope you got someone else she can go to when yer dead, mate,’ said the guard, not without sympathy.

Bran silently shook his head, and sat down on with Laela in his lap. A short while later food arrived for them both. Bran fed Laela before he ate, as he generally did.

‘Gods, Laela, I dunno how I’m gonna get us out of this,’ he muttered to her. ‘But I gotta do somethin’.’ Yet again, he remembered what would happen if he didn’t manage to clear his name. If he died, she would die as well. Or, if she lived, she would have no-one to protect her. In the end the outcome would probably be the same.

Either way, it meant that it was more than his own life in danger here: Laela’s was as well. But without proof, how could he save them?

He thought it over while he ate his own meal, desperately seeking for something, anything, that could clear his name. But what? How could he prove those witnesses were lying? And why were they even lying in the first place? There must be someone behind it, he thought – someone who’d persuaded or bribed them into lying. Someone who wanted Bran dead. But he couldn’t tell who that person might be, or why they would hate him so much. He had no enemies that he knew of – the only person who had ever seemed to really dislike him was Erian, but he was long dead and he’d had no powerful allies, or none who were still alive.

Bran finished eating and put his plate aside, still deep in thought. Maybe he should just give up on trying to defend himself and find some opportunity to escape? But that didn’t look very likely to work, and he didn’t like it much either. He already knew all too well what happened to escaping prisoners.

He found himself thinking of the only other time he’d been locked up like this. He remembered the cell under Warwick, in the North. He’d left Malvern with Kraeya, and gone in search of his old friend. Once called Arren Cardockson, but now known as the Dark Lord Arenadd Taranisäii. Bran had hoped to warn him about what his enemies were doing, and maybe get through somehow to the man who had once been his oldest friend.

He had come too late. By the time Kraeya landed at Warwick it had already been overrun by Arenadd’s rebels. Bran had been captured by them, and locked up. Arren… Arenadd had questioned him personally, and had threatened to torture what he knew out of him. Seeing the cold-eyed, vicious thing his old friend had become, Bran had thought he was doomed.

But everything had not been what it seemed. That night, while Bran waited for death, Arenadd had come to him and secretly helped him to escape from the city.

You saved my life once, he’d said. Now I’m saving yours. For the memory of Arren Cardockson.  

Arren no longer believed he was Arren. He had lost his memory of the man he’d been before Dan’s arrow sent him off the edge of Eagleholm. But some little piece of Bran’s old friend had still survived, and it had saved his life.

Now, though, he wouldn’t be so lucky. There was no-one here who could save him, as far as he knew.

‘Oi!’ a voice interrupted his thoughts.

Bran looked up gloomily. ‘Yeah, what?’

‘You got a visitor,’ said the guard.

Bran sat up and looked out through the bars. He had already guessed who the visitor must be.

Sure enough, it was Dan. He was alone, without his partner, but nowadays he dressed more finely than he had back at Eagleholm, and when he waved the guard away he went without complaint.

Bran stood up and went to the other side of the bars, smiling broadly. ‘Dan! It’s good to see yeh, mate.’

Dan reached through the bars and thumped him good-naturedly on the shoulder. ‘Hey, Bran. How’s life on the inside?’

Bran shrugged. ‘Could be worse. Us griffiners get better cells.’

‘Yeah, I can see that,’ said Dan. He lost his smile. ‘Bran, I’m so sorry about all this. If I could get you outta here, I would, but there ain’t much I can do, even if I’m a griffiner now. I ain’t so high up here, see. Only a junior griffiner, bein’ new an’ not that great at griffish, an’ with Kakree being just a youngster. There’s too many griffiners about nowadays, what with Eagleholm an’ all.’

‘It’s all right,’ said Bran. ‘It ain’t yer fault I’m in here.’

‘I know, but if there was just somethin’ I could do…’ Dan shook his head. ‘I’m sorry about Finna. I could hear what she said. She’s been sayin’ that sort of thing ever since yer dad died.’

‘How’d he die?’ Bran asked quietly.

‘It was a fever what got him,’ said Dan. ‘I was there with Finna; we looked after him. He died ravin’ with the sickness. We did what we could for him, but…’

Bran felt himself shiver internally. ‘He didn’t… he didn’t really…?’

‘No,’ said Dan. ‘He never died cursin’ yer name. I don’t reckon he believed yer did any of it. He was always proud…’

But Bran had already spotted his hesitation. ‘Don’t lie, Dan. Not about this.’

Dan bit his lip. ‘He… he did say you never shoulda been friends with… with Arren. He said it was beneath a Redguard to go about with the likes of him, an’ you never shoulda closed yer eyes to the stuff he got up to.’

Bran shook his head. ‘He wouldn’t talk to me after the fire. I thought it was ’cause he didn’t think it was right for a Redguard t’be a griffiner. But he didn’t really…?’

‘It was the fever,’ Dan insisted. ‘The fever made him say it, but Finna wanted t’think he meant it, so…’

Bran felt sick, and cold. ‘He did say it, then. He said I wasn’t a Redguard no more.’

‘Yeah,’ Dan said, with obvious reluctance. ‘He said you was a disgrace to his name an’ you weren’t his son no more. He said it right at the end before he died, he said you should’ve been there for yer family instead of chasin’ after that bloody blackrobe. But he was feverish,’ Dan added hastily. ‘He said all sorts of things he didn’t mean.’

Bran said nothing. He felt glad, at least, that Dan was there and that he cared enough to try and soften the blow.

‘What about Finna?’ he asked instead.

‘She ain’t been the same since yer father died,’ Dan said sadly. ‘She blames you for it; reckons he died of grief. But it ain’t true. Try an’ forgive her, Bran; she’s been through a lot. I’m just glad I got Kakree. Now I’m a griffiner I can do a bit more to take care of Finna. I’m hopin’ we can start a family here. Children might help her get better. Don’t forget, she lost a father too.’

‘I know,’ said Bran. ‘Look, Dan, what’m I gonna do? I gotta clear my name somehow, but I dunno what to do. What’s goin’ on? Why did all those people lie? You know they were lyin’ right?’

‘I do,’ Dan nodded. ‘I know you never would’ve done any of that stuff. An’ anyway, I know for certain they’re lyin’.’

‘How?’ asked Bran.

‘Someone paid ’em off,’ said Dan. ‘Or threatened ’em. I know because he tried it on with me too. But I said no. I already reckoned you was innocent, an’ then when he came an’ offered me money to lie for him I knew yer were.’

‘Who?’ Bran demanded. ‘Who’s behind this? Who wants me dead? Dammit, Dan, tell me!’

Dan leant closer and lowered his voice. ‘It was Anyon.’

….

We’ll post up Part 12 next Friday 11th May!

K.J Taylor is the author of the Fallen Moon Trilogy:

The Dark Griffin, The Griffin’s Flight & The Griffin’s War