Steampunk fiction, reviews and interviews

Posts tagged “tea

#Rainbowsnippets: Jack and Marjory

Happy Saturday! Hope the storms haven’t blown you all away! We’re wrestling with the Beast From The East in a far less dramatic and exciting way than Tolkien envisaged (ie: hiding under the duvet watching endless episodes of Once Upon A Time!)

Still posting  from the novella I’m working on. It’s called Jack and Marjory and it gives space for two of my  bigender characters to tell something of their own side-adventure (which played a massive part in the history of Ire in a behind the scenes sort of way.) If you want some world background, check out the Introduction page above 🙂

To see all the other fabulous rainbow snippets of LGBTQIA+ fiction for this week check out the rainbow snippets facebook page 

The previous snippets from Jack and Marjory were posted here:

Snippet 1

Snippet 2 

Snippet 3

Snippet 4

Snippet 5,

And here’s snippet 6 – Jack and Marjory are down on their luck when Eightups Max, the octopus-wielding leader of the revolution, tells them he needs someone to do a big favour for him…

 

he paused and looked at us earnestly, “…someone who can be discreet…I spoke to Kitty and she suggested you…two…” he grinned and petted his octopus.

“How much?”

He laughed and leaned back in his chair, “You don’t want to know what it is first?”

We shook our head. Max boarded in the old fish factory – that was Montmorency’s gaff and you’d only doss at his place if you was skint and had no other choice. So, whatever this ‘big favour’ is, we doubt our gentleman friend can meet the bill for it.

“Alright then, it’s this,” he pushed a leather satchel across the table.

We took it casually and opened the flap, just enough with two fingers to cop a deek inside,“Blimey!” We swallowed hard and opened the satchel a little wider, it was imprudent, sure, but you have to understand, there must’ve been 8lb of gunpowder tea in there in neat black resin bars.

JACKANDMARJORYCOVER

 

being an entertaining and informative piece of travel writing by a couple of rogues on the run as they attempt to avoid the machinations of wizards, monarchs and a ruthless band of beatnik poets, deflect a civil war and deliver a priceless, historical tea set before the owner finds himself at the gallows.

 

rainbow flower image courtesy of mariah22 at http://www.freeimages.com

book cover image by Renphoto 


Soup Of The Day: With Meredith Debonnaire

Hello! Mrs Albert Baker here, otherwise known as The Last Witch Of Pendle. Obviously there is no Pendle any more, since The Chronic Agronauts utterly destroyed it with treacle and sprats, but I’ve set myself up quite nicely here in Lancaster, running this little soup kitchen for the street urchins. There certainly are a lot of them and I’m always looking for helping hands to cook up and serve something delicious!

Helping me this morning is sci fi author Meredith Debonnaire! Thankyou so much for coming to help me in my soup kitchen today, My Dear! May I take your cloak?

Yes indeed, here it is. Thank you so much for having me 🙂

A pleasure! How was your trip from your own dimension? I hope you did not run into any hostile skywaymen or space pirates on your way?

Very smooth, thank you. Came through the inter-dimensional tunnels, so mainly just Dwarfs. And some of those urchins of yours I think, but they weren’t a lot of trouble.

Ah yes, children will get everywhere won’t they? And  have you brought along some soup to share with us?

Oh I am so sorry! I am honestly a terrible cook, so I thought it better not to subject you to my attempts at food. I have brought tea… Lapsang Souchon?

Oh my absoloute favourite how thoughtful of you! (You know tea is illegal here and so very hard to come by, thankyou imensely for that!) Now then, I will cook up a nice batch of soup for the orphans and why don’t you have a seat by the fire here and tell me a little about your book The Life And Times Of Angel Evans, I know Max and Collin enjoyed reading it immensely

 

Oh, how nice to hear! I enjoyed Max’s Utterly Myself book. Anyway, The Life and Times of Angel Evans is about what you do after saving the world. It was a question that has bothered me for a while. So the story is not about saving the worlds, but about picking up the pieces afterwards when the prophecy is fulfilled and you have to get on with things. Angel Evans did save the multiverse, but now she has to figure out how to have a life and sometimes that feels harder.

 

I really love that premise! I must confess to have dabbled a little in world saving myself but in the end I found running this soup kitchen far more rewarding! Have you brought a copy with you to show the orphans?

The Life and Times of Angel Evans.png

 

Marvellous, thankyou! Ah, now that is the kettle boiling, what is your ‘poison’ dear and how do you take it?

I like a good strong hot chocolate, with chocolate dark as moonless midnight please

Ah, fortunately we have plenty of smuggled cocoa powder in storage ready for the winder months! There you are. Now tell me, My Dear, what do you look for in a good story?

Hmmm, well, characters that I can root for are very important – I find it difficult to be immersed in a plot if I don’t care about the people. I want magic, and I want to be surprised, and I want lots of women and preferably queer representation. Tight plotting is a little less important to me, although I do appreciate it as a skill. As I mainly read fantasy and sci-fi, the worldbuilding is very important and I can be drawn in by an exciting-sounding world. It boils down to wanting something that I will be able to get emotionally invested in, and that will reward that investment rather than stomping on it.

Splendid, … Oh! Do excuse me for a moment, that’s the post…. There we are…Oh lovely it’s the brochure I ordered!  I am looking for my next holiday destination (it is never a good time to be a witch here in Ire but sometimes it is positively dangerous so I like to take the odd pleasure jaunt when that occurs)

How exciting! May I take a look? Holidays are very important things, especially if there is any chance of a mob turning up on one’s doorstep…

Well, yes indeed… mind you, I have heard that you are a chronicler of the history of the curious town of Tantamount – is that a holiday destination you would recommend for a witch?

Absolutely. Tantamount gets seasonal witches most Autumns as they migrate, and to survive in Tantamount you have to be at least a little bit witchy. It’s particularly a good place for picking up odd spell ingredients, though you have to be careful of the history; it bites.

Oh how wonderful it sounds like just my cup of tea! Collin told me they have interesting wildlife, I am very fond of magpies…

Magpies are very important in Tantamount, although why they are important is a subject of great debate and the occasional stabbing. So far as we can tell from the correspondence, there are also very intelligent Wild Boar (who have successfully negotiated for voting rights), spam pigeons, and of course the Carrion. We’re not sure if the Carrion are really wildlife or just some sort of odd phenomena, as no-one who’s got close enough to tell is in any state to pass the information on.

I see, perhaps I might ask Max if I can borrow his aether energy pistol. He also said they have some charming rituals there as well, although as I am post-menopausal myself it sounds like I may not be of much use for some of them?

Ah, I think you are referring to the Bluddening Ritual? That one is specifically for people who menstruate, as it is the most convenient way of bleeding a lot without hurting anyone. There are plenty of other Rituals that you could take part in: The Feast of Fears, which comes around at slightly random times and involves the ancient sport of Carrion Running, is one example. There is also the Awakening of Spring, which involves pouring tea on the Dumpsy Tump while singing classic Tantamount songs such as Truly, It Is Time To Get Out Of Bed, Hades is No Fun Anyway, We Are All Bloody Cold Oh Spring and When Will the Daffodil Beast Roam Free Again? If that doesn’t work, someone has to go and hit the gong. But usually it doesn’t come to that.

I see, well I shall certainly mull that over carefully, it does sound a lot of fun but I want to make sure I return in one piece!  Now then, where can we read more about Tantamount?

All of Tantamount is currently available here: https://meredithdebonnaire.wordpress.com/tales-from-tantamount/

I recommend reading about it from afar; it isn’t a place with a high life expectancy.

And where else can we find you on the aether web?

https://meredithdebonnaire.wordpress.com/

https://twitter.com/DebonnaireMerry

https://www.thebooksmugglers.com/2016/09/life-times-angel-evans-meredith-debonnaire.html

 

Marvellous! Well thank you so much for joining me in the kitchen this morning, that soup smells as if it is ready, would you give me a hand dishing it out to the orphans?

Thankyou all for joining us in the last soup kitchen of 2018, have a very blessed Wizmas or Feast of Fears or Christmas or Creepmas or Yule or Hiding Under The Duvet Until It All Goes Away Fest …. or whatever you celebrate in your dimension at this time of year and I will see you all again once the tinsel and mince pies have died down and the frost fair arives on our frozen river Lune, so until then,

Blessings on your brew my dears!


#Rainbowsnippets: Jack and Marjory

 

rainbow-flower-1394714-640x480

Happy Saturday! Hope you’re all getting into the festive spirit and yet artfully managing to avoid the insane highstreet crushes! Lancashire is mostly soggy just now but in a cheery sort of way we’re ‘hugging the yog’ as they say and keeping the hot soup flowing!

Still posting  from the novella I’m working on. It’s called Jack and Marjory and it gives space for two of my  bigender characters to tell something of their own side-adventure (which played a massive part in the history of Ire in a behind the scenes sort of way.) If you want some world background, check out the Introduction page above 🙂

To see all the other fabulous rainbow snippets of LGBTQIA+ fiction for this week check out the rainbow snippets facebook page 

The previous snippets from Jack and Marjory were posted here:

Snippet 1

Snippet 2 

Snippet 3

Snippet 4

And here’s snippet 5, (just a tiny bit over six lines so I could work in the tease at the end)… Jack and Marjory have been innocently minding their own business (sort of) when they catch the eye of the notorious trouble maker Eightcups Max…

 

It ain’t that Max is a bad sort, quite the opposite really – the most notorious tea fiend in all of The Scattered Isles, a fugitive from Hull and, along with Christina and Michael Biscotti, one of the foremost figureheads of the revolution. No, that ain’t our problem, it’s that a gent like that attracts too much attention of the wrong sort, and hex slingers like us need to avoid attention wherever possible ; magic, like tea and cake, being illegal in The Scattered Isles, unless you’re rich enough to rise above the law – which we ain’t.
Still he comes swanning over with that dumb grin on his face, his octopus clinging to his shoulder and his bowler hat jammed down tight, covering the worst of those gawd awful scars… “Good evening Jack,” he says, “where’s the lovely Marjory tonight? Not out to play?”
“Not just now.” We hug our teacup and keep our eyes on the steam.
His brow furrows under his hat brim and his purple eyes fill suddenly with concern, « You alright ? Look, I was only playing, you know, I didn’t mean… »
« S’alright, we know, we just had a bad night – one fat monkey an a flippin’ big stick, y’know ? »
“Yes. Yes indeed. Right, well, listen, I’ve got something – something quite big actually, something that might just cheer you up and I need someone I can trust…”

 

JACKANDMARJORYCOVER

 

being an entertaining and informative piece of travel writing by a couple of rogues on the run as they attempt to avoid the machinations of wizards, monarchs and a ruthless band of beatnik poets, deflect a civil war and deliver a priceless, historical tea set before the owner finds himself at the gallows.

 

rainbow flower image courtesy of mariah22 at http://www.freeimages.com

book cover image by Renphoto 

 

 


#Rainbowsnippets : Jack and Marjory

rainbow-flower-1394714-640x480

Happy Saturday! I didn’t have an author snippet sent to me for today so I thought I’d share another six lines  from the novella I’m working on right now. It’s called Jack and Marjory and it gives space for two of my  bigender characters to tell something of their own side-adventure (which played a massive part in the history of Ire in a behind the scenes sort of way.) If you want some world background, check out the Introduction page above 🙂  To see all the other fabulous rainbow snippets for this week check out the rainbow snippets facebook page 

The previous snippets from Jack and Marjory were posted here:

Snippet 1

Snippet 2 

Snippet 3 

And here’s snippet 4, Jack and Marjory have just come up from a difficult fight in the hex ring and are absolutely NOT listening in on Kitty and Max’s conversation, nor indulging in a cup of illegal Lapsang…

 

« I tell you, Kitty, the revolution’s gone to the dogs and Christina… » he knocked back his teacup and Kitty refilled it sympathetically, « …Christina is la reine de salope, if you’ll pardon the French. »

« I wouldn’t excuse you for anything, darlin’, I think it’s lovely. »

He shook his head, « No, no it really isn’t and there’s the rub. » He massaged the back of his neck carefully and ,on turning, caught sight of us and waved cheerfully.

We turned our head to the side and tried to pretend we hadn’t noticed.

 

JACKANDMARJORYCOVER

being an entertaining and informative piece of travel writing by a couple of rogues on the run as they attempt to avoid the machinations of wizards, monarchs and a ruthless band of beatnik poets, deflect a civil war and deliver a priceless, historical tea set before the owner finds himself at the gallows.

 

rainbow flower image courtesy of mariah22 at http://www.freeimages.com

book cover image by Renphoto 

 

Hope you’ve all survived the storms last week and are getting in the festive spirit (or not depending on your take on the whole tinsel-fest thing) We’re still in new-house-honey-moon mode I think and have gone decoration nuts which is not like us at all! Hope you all have a warm and cosy weekend, blessings on your brew! 🙂


#Rainbowsnippets : Jack and Marjory

rainbow-flower-1394714-640x480

Happy Saturday! I didn’t have an author snippet sent to me for today so I thought I’d share another six lines  from the novella I’m working on right now. It’s called Jack and Marjory and it gives space for two of my  bigender characters to tell something of their own side-adventure (which played a massive part in the history of Ire in a behind the scenes sort of way.) If you want some world background, check out the Introduction page above 🙂  To see all the other fabulous rainbow snippets for this week check out the rainbow snippets facebook page 

The previous snippets from Jack and Marjory were posted here:

Snippet 1

Snippet 2 

And here’s snippet 3…

“We s’pose it was our own fault that events took the turn they did. But we don’t blame ourselves, not really, what true cad ever does?

We blame Max.

Let us take you back, Pal, if you’ve got the time, to a crisp September evening in 1842. We’d just come up from the Hex ring after a difficult few rounds against some new comers and we were nursing a few grazes here and there, and a bit of pride of course, but nothing a pot of Lapsang couldn’t heal.

There was only two other bodies in the room  – Kitty, for one, and the other was Max… we knew him well enough and tried to steer clear of him most days. We wasn’t earwigging, honest, but sound carries in a large empty room…”

JACKANDMARJORYCOVER

Being an entertaining and informative piece of travel writing by a couple of rogues on the run as they attempt to avoid the machinations of wizards, monarchs and a ruthless band of beatnik poets, deflect a civil war and deliver a priceless, historical tea set before the owner finds himself at the gallows.

 

rainbow flower image courtesy of mariah22 at http://www.freeimages.com

book cover image by Renphoto 

Things have been a little quiet on the blog of late, and for that I apologise hugely. Events both in my life and in the lives of some of the folks I had lined up for November have meant that things haven’t happened the way we all hoped they might but no fear, life does that to us all sometimes right? I’m planning to play December by ear and blog when I can, then try and get right back on top of things in January with the Frost Fair but it may be that next year things work slightly differently with 1 or 2 posts a week instead of 3 or more.

Hugest blessings to you all for the holiday season, as it looms above us all like an imminent cloud of tinsel ready to rain baubles and vomiting toddlers down upon us all

😉 x 😀


#inktober Necromancers and Tea

Greetings! Unfortunately there have been technical hitches abounding this week and last – laptops have died and other devices have proved unhelpful for most things other than facebook. However inktober has still happened as it’s non-tech dependent! So, here are the teabie doodles from the last few days.

The next 50 shades of tea sketch is here…

max1

These will be painted in tea eventually, maybe next week.

And I’ve also been doodling some silly little Necromancers who are characters in the very last (probably) novella of the Ashton’s Kingdom series (which you’ll be pleased to hear I am NOT illustrating myself! lol)  Here they are and below is the opening of that work in progress…

nec4nec1nec2nec3nec7nec5nec6

Thunder, Lightening, rain, hail, ominous fog and all the other things that accompany the beginning of an iconic horror movie or damn fine novel about Tea, Cake and lashings of Untimely Death, were occurring all over the little crag of rock known colloquially (and everywhere else) as The Skull.

Douglas skidded and stumbled over the vindictively slick cobblestones, cursing the length of his disgustingly sodden red robes, the ineffectual protection offered by his floppy wet cowl, the stupid little purse that dangled at his waist and was constantly expelling all his valuables into the muck, the fact that his favourite pocket watch had broken – again – and any and everything else that passed through his mind as he finally staggered, panting and wheezing to the top of the hill.

Sheet lightening flared for a second, silhouetting the crumbling chapel as Douglas clasped the cold iron ring in the studded wooden door and, with a cautious shoulder, silently eased it open.

The eerie luminescence of a hundred flickering candles, vanished in an ebbing wave to be replaced by darkness and smoke and a smattering of accusatory choking noises.

Thunder shook the walls and lightening flashed again, gleaming on several stiletto thin blades, poised in mid air.

“Sorry,” Douglas ventured, shuffling sideways along what he hoped was the back row of folding chairs. There was an almighty crash as something large and metallic clattered to the flagstone floor. “Sorry! So sorry,  Sara, er, Your Grace…”

“Douglas!”

“Sorry!”

“Late again Douglas, we have already begun the casting!”

Douglas gulped as tapers flared on either side of him and the candles were slowly re lit illuminating hundreds of furious faces all glaring at him. He fumbled frantically with the circular tin he had been cradling…

“I…. I brought cake…”

“What?” Archcleric Sara lowered her knitting needles and the rest of the assembled necromancers did the same.

“Sticky toffee double fudge triple chocolate tray bake with crystalised ginger?” he ventured, prising off the lid and offering the tin with a trembling hand.

“oooooo!”

General pandemonium ensued as the Necromancers all abandoned their half completed cast-ons and scrambled for a slice of Douglas’s offering.

 

 

Blessings on your brew and all your #inktober endeavours! 🙂


Morning Cuppa: Small Grey Bear Adventures

Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen! Welcome back to Max and Collin’s indeterrably intrepid and frabjously furry parlour located somewhere within the irritable bowels of the splendidly scenic city of steampunk’d Lancaster.

True some have called it a devilishly delinquent dive, frequented by only the most diabolical demons, but we consider that such people are merely getting a little carried away with the festive spirit.

This morning we are feeling far too warm and fuzzy inside to be entering into the Halloween / Samhain / All Souls / Candy-fest / Thing atmosphere because we have just finished reading two of the most delightful books ever written and we would like to share those with you over a spot of Galli-Grey Regeneration Tea ( because, New Doctor and, of course, Earl Grey…)

 

 

George is a small grey bear of adventurous inclination and these two books detail two of his intrepid adventures. He is also a Ghost Bear – which is something really quite marvelous indeed!

In book one, George and his chums are kidnapped by wicked pirate squirrels and are forced to endure scathing reviews of their performances of Gilbert and Sullivan and in the second book our little furry hero pits his wits against the some sweet-toothed skulduggerists on planet Mars!

These heart warming illustrated adventures are beautifully produced and an absolute joy from start to finish. The urchins we read them to were beaming with glee throughout and there many excited squeals of delight, particularly at ‘the end’ !

We actually shed tears and the urchins literally leap up and down with excitement when we discovered the story-related recipes in the back cover of each book (you know how emotional we get about cake…) We will definitely be baking these soon and when we do we will post pictures in our elevenses slot (but not the recipes! You’ll have to read the books for those because the recipe is given as a little story which is just too, too adorable to miss!

There is enough warm-hearted, gentle but highly witty humour throughout both books to keep both urchins and adults chuckling and engaged from start to finish and they immediately became firm bedtime favorites.

If your own little urchins are of the intelligent and discerning sort who prefer A A Milne, Kenneth Grahame, Edward Leah or Lewis Carroll to the average uninspiring mass produced picture books on offer, then these are a couple of gorgeous gems to add to your storytime treasure chest.

 

As for us, we are still plucking up the courage to have those stern words with Montmorency about the flooding in here – our pig has set sail for the land where the bong tree grows and I believe we may be heading that way soon ourselves if Max doesn’t bail out fast enough. Still tomorrow we will share with you our #inktober tea painting efforts and inky things and a little bit of story to go with them.

In the meantime stay dry and warm and do remain always

Uttery Yourself


#inktober : 50 shades of tea

Or we could have said 50 shades of EARL grey but that sounded a bit prejudiced against all the other lovely teas out there – we are a pro-diversity site remember!

So what is this diabolically titled post all about?  Celebration of course! Celebration of tea and diversity and difference and similarity and community and preferences and peculiarities and did I mention tea? I don’t pretend to be an artist, just a sad old tea-sot who’d like to improve!

So this year my teabies are going to bring you ’50 shades of tea’ starting with a group hug… because that’s the way all things should begin isn’t it? Feel free to snigger, or groan as you see fit 😉

  1. EVERYONE’S A LITTLE DIFFERENT:

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Here’s Max, Collin and Christina (I hate-love-hate drawing Chrissy and Max together but, that’s the history.) Very unhappy with the shakiness of my damn hands but, hey, start at the bottom and climb upwards right? That’s the plan anyway..

And from today here’s a lil sketch of Chrissy on her own wearing the teabag dress with all Joyce Jameson’s wise words written on the teabags (“whoever has the last bag of flour will win the war…the limits of the diaphane…the soul of the commonest object…the poem in the heart of the treacle miner..” etc etc ) which she wore when she went to see Max get hung in Lancaster.

2. CHRISTINA TAKES IT IN THE BACK PASSAGE:

IMG_2045

Tomorrow, Thursday and Friday I’ll try and do Chrissy in tea and Max in ink…  blessings on your brew, and all your inktober endeavors 🙂

 


Morning Cuppa: Selkie Cove

Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome back to Max and Collin’s Utopian underwater apartments located, at present, beneath the deluge of water overflowing from the river Lune and into the drainage systems of the splendidly scenic city of steampunk’d Lancaster.

True some have said that there’s always something fishy going on around here, but what exactly do they expect when one of us is an octopus and the other refuses to kowtow to public demands for personal hygiene … owch! It was a joke Max! My gentleman friend has no sense of humour at all…

Well our pig is still happy, although we have had to set him adrift in a little crate as the parlour is flooded with rainwater coming in through the floor and we are going to have strong (ish) words with our landlord about this, once we pluck up the courage… in the meantime I am going to perch on Max’s head while he ‘bails out’ and… hm? … you think I ought to be just fine in the water because I’m an octopus? My dear friends, there is a world of difference (at least there ought to be) between the waters of The Great Western Ocean and the excrement of the Lancastrian sewer system… a-hem… now where was I? Oh yes, perching on Max’s head about to open a marvelous book …

 

Selkie Cove is the next installment of Kara Jorgensen’s Ingenious Mechanical Devices series which we have become absolutely addicted to over the last few years. It is no secret at all that she has become one of our favorite authors and with very good reason – her writing combines diverse, complex and compelling characters embedded in  gripping narratives which combine action, emotion and suspense in perfect balance.

If you are new to this series, it is possible to start here and still understand what has gone before, but much better to start at the beginning: The Earl Of Brass

If like us however you have been dying to know what happens next, you will not be disappointed…

With the horrors of the past seemingly far behind them, Immanuel and Adam are still feeling the after effects that dark magic has left on their lives. When a new mystery surfaces and magic invites itself into their lives once more, the couple are faced with some difficult choices that will affect the course of their future lives.

It was interesting to see how Adam and Immanuel’s  relationship developed – and how they both grew and changed as individuals – when faced with the new challenges of life as a couple within the rigidity of Victorian society. This interplay gave the story warmth and depth and added to the emotional roller coaster that all the IMD novels offer. Overall this was a top notch adventure and we loved the interplay of myth, magic and science within this steampunk setting.

Now then, I’m afraid we don’t have any tea to offer you today because it is all being painted with – today is the first of Inktober and, just like last year, we are going to endeavor to do a little bit of tea painting each day in the hopes of producing one painting per week (or perhaps more but lets not got carried away!)  we will post our first effort so far tomorrow so, until then

please remain always

Utterly Yourself


Pipe and Slippers: Tales From Steampunk’d Lancaster

 

Good evening and welcome to my awe-inspiring aethenaeum of  praiseworthy pamphlets…or as some ridiculous personages have dubbed it – my lovely library.

I am the ghost known as Perilous Wight and here in the bowels of the city of Lancaster, in the disused tunnels of an underground train system that never was, I have made it my mission to collect every book that our self-proclaimed ‘supreme ruler f the universe’ and his mincing minions have banned from the bookshelves of the new world.

But this is not a public thoroughfare! If you have wandered in here on the ill-advice of that incorrigible octopus and its unnerving  Gentleman Friend, let me advise you not to be so easily lured into a parlour by strange creatures promising  cake. Well, you will find nothing sweet and alluring down here;   here there is only the dark and the damp, the flickering of candlelight and the ceaseless toil of a man who did not re-animate from the dead to be pestered by people wanting bedtime stories!

But wait…what’s that you have tucked away under your arm there? A bottle of vintage port eh? Oh…. well, yes perhaps it is about time I put my feet up for a while, pipe and slippers and a little drop of something, the day has, after all been a long one. And I suppose I could read a very little something,

like this perhaps… I have been tirelessly working over the summer, interviewing, stalking … I mean studying… the Hex Slingers of Lancaster, compiling an anthropological study of the lives of those who use magic illegally in the curated back-alley fight clubs – why and how have they come to their present situation? What are their stories? Well, here at least, is one of them…

TALES OF STEAMPUNK’D LANCASTER

SERIES 1: TALES OF THE HEX SLINGERS 

TALE THE FOURTH:  by ALLISON SHEPHERD

 

“My brooch!” I yelled as Mariah’s twinklepuff slam hit me full force in the chest

and sent me hurtling backwards into the wooden crates at the makeshift

gayelle’s edge. I hadn’t anticipated Mariah’s last pattern and was now

scrambling to catch my breath and get back on my feet. My brooch had ripped

off my bolero as the twinklepuff spell had infused the fibres of the old velvet.

My grandmother had made that brooch for me from the cogs of a broken toy

train and an old yuletide ornament. She’d fashioned the cogs into an owl tying

them together with copper wire, and using tiny emerald crystals pulled off the

bauble for the eyes. Every afternoon after school I’d go to her rag-and-bone

shop tucked away down a narrow cobblestone alley to wait for my parents.

She’d make a pot of Earl Grey with leaves from her “secret supplier” and tell

me stories of when her mother baked double-layered sponge cakes with

strawberry jam filling, and lighter-than-air profiteroles filled with sweet gooey

cream. “Earl Grey.” “Strawberry jam.” “Profiteroles.” I hadn’t heard those

words in almost a decade. My owl brooch had become my talisman, my

connection to my past.

I tried to stand but sat down quickly as my vision blurred. Mariah? This

powerful? I couldn’t understand; she was a third-rate slinger at best, over

estimating both her charms and her spells. Something was different. The

sophistication of the twinklepuff weavings and glitter were not her. Someone

was helping raise the level of her usually amorphous, sloppily put together

concoctions. Who? And why?

It was odd when Mariah had drawn the wildcard for our slingoff but I had

missed a few of the preliminary fights when I had gone out of town. Maybe

she’d improved and been bumped up a couple garnets, I thought. This was my

livelihood, and sometimes it’s better to shut up and sling. Now, as I sat

befuddled trying to clear my head and weave my threads, I saw a glint of silver-

black emanating from Mariah’s perfectly poised hands. Mariah who could

barely make a pattern for a pink-and-gold unicorn spell slinging an

onyxmirrorpearl? With advanced finger positions? I sat spellbound and the

omp smacked me flat. Blood gushed out of my nose, ruby red against my white

pin-tucked shirtwaist. Before I lost consciousness, I saw Emily, the bookie,

collecting from the disgruntled gamblers.

Gill found my brooch, the emerald crystals winking in the twilight-find spell he

cast. The healers had tried to revive me right away but the omp had proved

beautifully formed and knocked me out for hours. I lost my deposit and got

nothing for the night. According to Gill, Emily had been apologetic but could do

nothing as an unexpected large bet against me had her scrambling for gilt. Gill

had taken me home and tucked me up in bed with a hot water bottle, three

pillows and my favourite fluffy wrap. I was still in bed when he came back with

my brooch. I tried to sit up but the wave of nausea had me lying back gingerly

on the pillows. I closed my eyes clutching my owl, my fingers tracing the

notches along the cogs, and started to cry.

My parents were wizards, of course, fighting for Queen and country. They truly

believed that magic should be controlled and out of the hands of ‘ordinary’

people. My parents were strong weavers but by the time they disappeared (of

course) my abilities were rudimentary at best. I’d become a trope: orphan,

living with my grandmother, no magic. But as with my favourite fairy tales, this

was simply the beginning of the story.

My parents had taken an assignment to escort our Queen to Boss Town for a

diplomatic sojourn, or that was what the official correspondence claimed. We

knew better: an excuse for the elite to sample new-fangled sweet marvels and

magiscience tea twists. Mum and dad couldn’t say too much but they were

more tight-lipped than usual as they hugged me goodbye and dropped me off

at Gran’s. We never saw them again. I was fourteen.

Gran moved in with me. I finished school at sixteen and tried out for the

apprentice wizard programme. I didn’t qualify even though my parents had

been senior civil servants. Apparently, according to the report, I didn’t have the

“right attitude, and my spells were nonexistent.” Gran and I eked out a living

from the shop. I met Quelin her “tea supplier,” a jovial smuggler who was able

to find the choicest leaves for us, and sometimes, just sometimes, the tiniest

silver-sprinkled cupcakes. He’d never tell where he got them but always

tapped the side of his nose with his forefinger, “It’s best you don’t know, my

darling,” he’d say, “because if anything happened to me, you might be running

for your life from some nasty bits.” He’d glance across at Gran, who would

pretend to be engrossed with a length of glitterwool handicraft, or checking

her numbers in the accounts book. They thought I never noticed but I always

did.

I had turned seventeen the year of the Youshallnevereatcake Spring, a short-

lived, half-hearted coup d’etat by a handful of boisterous youngsters. It was

quashed by the wizards within hours, the rebels marched through the streets

to the palace courts. I rushed home to tell Gran only to find her in the garden,

sitting in her favourite chair under the willow tree, a cold cup of Earl Grey in

her lap. She looked as though she were taking an afternoon nap, the breeze

ruffling her mop of curls. I clasped her inert hands, and wept.

I started hex slinging in the underground circuit soon after.

Of course my latent abilities eventually showed up, stronger than either of my

parents but without proper training and guidance, it was a mess. My early

slingoffs were either a triumph of a knockout, or me vomiting an endless

stream of bile in a dank corner, a side-effect of using pure, raw magic. Through

practice, and more practice, and much much more vomiting, I learnt to control

and weave almost beautiful hexes. I found a circle of friends who helped me in

the nine years since Gran died: Gill, Emily, Jendra. And I still ran the shop. It

didn’t make much but had become a safe place for us to meet to try out new

patterns and concoctions, catch up on gossip and, yes, of course, find a way to

bring back tea, cakes and magic: we’d been denied our right to a free life for

too long.

***

As I clutched my brooch in my hand, tears streaming down my face confusing

Gill to no end, I realised that Mariah’s win tonight had shifted our timetable. It

hadn’t been subtle, literally a punch to my gut. Someone had wanted our

attention. No longer was our light-hearted, drinking-after-a-slingoff chant of

“Tea, Cake, Magic For All!” a someday cake-in-the-sky dream; someone, or

someones, wanted us ready now. And I was terrified.

 

Allison Shepherd enjoys reading and writing speculative fiction, especially paranormal romance. She teaches at the medical school at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, and has had her work published in bmj Medical Humanities, Tales From the Fluffy Bunny, and is upcoming in Lycan Valley Press Publications “Darkling’s Beasts and Brews”. https://mh.bmj.com/content/43/3/e33 https://www.amazon.com/Tales-Fluffy-Bunny-Various-Authors/dp/1942450699