swordsman faces foe
sorcerer weaving his spell
By Aeronwy Dafies
The Disgruntled Squire
By William Clunie
Sorry for your dead, m’lord, but life
is for the animate, the temporary
fortunate, and for now we’ll shuffle
on beyond the hill, our trail strewn
with eyeless skulls that one-time laughed
at scurvy jokes, that hold now not
a groat of wit, framed by bones
that might be fit to beat a drum;
a dirge of dreadful merriment….
…Alas, I’ll carry on, still carrying
your sword and lance, your shield
grimed with blood and tufts of gore,
trying to ignore the stark black bird
that haunts our trail, that chants
of nevermore, trying to ignore
your snarling demands, your orders barked;
do you know, m’lord, that even heroes
such as you must seek the desolation
of a deepest sleep? Perhaps I will fall lax
at nighttime guard and the wyvern
that do follow us will slip upon you
as you snore and send you to that vacant
fate whereto they sent so many of your brethren
just before. Those comrades in your arms,
most scurrilous they were, whipping
my poor soul for this and that, shall I pretend
at sorrow that they’re dead? You may cry,
Lord La-dee-da, you verray parfit gentil
knyght, in anguish at the loss of your companions,
but more vile they were than valiant, certes, Lord…
But I’ll go on, a minor figure in a blood-soaked
tale, continuing to play your confidant, your
chronicler, or when your errant knavery leads
to death of lord and churl I’ll become another
skull among the other skulls, a hollow carapace
for worms – but hark, my Lord, I hear
the creatures of the night come at us
for one more sweep, and will stand aside as you
swing your sword in all your doughty dignity
for this that might just be your final war…
Sword and Spell
By DS Davidson
They will call him hero
Though he says he fights for coin
Not honour nor a cause
Regardless, the facts tell a tale
A terrible enchantment broken
A heartless necromancer slain
By guile as much as force of arms
Cutting short his final curse
Sword shattering spell
Saving a city from a cruel doom
By Cardinal Cox
There’re whispers of what happens in the crypt
A skull mounted with silver upon it
Before which initiates soundly whipped
In thanks they sing praises once they’ve been hit
The old warriors brought such secrets home
Vile philosophies found in foreign lands
Such are heresies as declared by Rome
Here though they enact what’s been rightly banned
Baal Fomaat, they declaim the daemon’s name
And so is summoned, much against its will
For sinfulness of the flesh it is famed
Reluctantly grants wishes foul and I’ll
Sorceries conducted in sark of night
By those who wield great swords of righteous might
Swords in the Dark
By DJ Tyrer
Within dark passageways chilling chants echo ominously, as much warning as guide. But, the brave band of warriors does not quail, striding instead deeper into the darkness.
Vile monstrosities warped from human flesh and dead things given vigour of unlife fall to blades of sword and axe as they fight their way through to the profane fane of some chthonic god.
Battle begins in earnest as masked and robed priests resist their incursion, but steel trumps madness.
The hierophant of the coven calls out to their god, but a knife to the back silences him before the portal opens. Victory.
Blood for the Stone
By Harris Coverley
In the low lands of Cimmeria, a desolate expanse scarce of trees and close to the frontiers of the Border Kingdom, Saor made his way from place to forsaken place, hunting for a tip on who to rob next. Saor was a brigand, but, unlike most brigands, he was too unpleasant and scheming an individual to belong to a group of even them. He barely remembered his own mother, and had no warm memories outside of brief stops in bordellos. He lived purely to steal, and, if necessary, to murder.
It was in a tavern by a burnt out patch of oak trees that it was told to him by a merchant heading east of a village named Cloch and, upon a nearby hill, of Kil-Carraig, who lived in a strange cottage of unusual stone while the villagers below him lived in wooden huts. Kil-Carraig had long ago been a pirate on the ships that had pillaged and plundered the islands off Zingara down to the Black Coast and back, amassing a great personal fortune that had guaranteed him a comfortable old age now that his bones were spent. His weird dwelling was a source of rumour for miles around, namely that the former swashbuckler had carved it from some gorgon he had slain. Kil-Carraig himself was regarded as cursed, and most steered clear of him when he made rare trips beyond his home.
None of this disheartened Saor. He had no heart to do such a thing to. He set off at once over the rocky scrub, and within a day he had reached the village of Cloch, wherein the inhabitants reluctantly gave direction to Kil-Carraig’s cottage.
High on a bare hill, Saor, dressed as the pilgrim he often pretended to be for his victims, came across the bizarre site of a structure of carved silver stone, consisting of two blocks, the smaller to the left of where he had stopped to look. There were no windows as such, but several slits to let in light.
Saor went up to the small oak door in the larger block and knocked. It was answered by an ailing man, doubtlessly Kil-Carraig himself. Saor could see upon his browned skin the scars of many battles, and a look in his eyes of weariness. He had the aura of a man no longer fit for any strife—that was, for Saor, an ideal target.
The old man asked Saor who he was and without saying a word, the brigand showed him the ring on his middle finger. It immediately conveyed to Kil-Carraig that he was a worshipper of Ishtar, the Earth goddess of healing, and travelling on a pilgrimage from the far north to the southern lands of Shem, as many Ishtarites did. Without further ado, Kil-Carraig let Saor in, and made clear his intent to feed the pilgrim ready for his continuing journey tomorrow. Saor had been right to gamble that the aging pirate had become more pious as he neared death.
Saor sat at the table in the larger block, also seemingly carved from the same rock as the cottage.
As soon as the old man placed the finely gilded knife and fork before him in preparation for his meal, Saor, at an experienced and ruthless speed, grabbed the former and with a brutal force ripped it across his host’s neck in a single swipe.
The old man stood in shock, grasping at the wheezing incision, the blood streaming down his smock. Saor pushed him back, and he fell flat upon the solid floor, before turning over and twisting into the shape of an unborn child. Within another a moment he quivered one last time and was dead, Saor confirming it with a kick.
Saor pilfered the rings from the corpse’s cooling fingers as a pool of blood formed and became calm, darkening in the stale air. Saor wiped the knife clean on the dead man’s smock and pocketed it with the fork. He then began to search the whole cottage from top to bottom. Within minutes the hidden pockets of his garments were so full of trinkets and coins that he had to use one of the old man’s leather satchels to hold further booty.
However, as he was inspecting underneath Kil-Carraig’s bed, his joyous sacking was interrupted by a strange creaking.
Saor immediately got to his feet, his dagger drawn.
He came back slowly into the main room of the block where the body was, and looked about. The creaking came again, and he shouted, “Where are you?! Show yourselves you creeping pigs!”
A cold chill went through him—what if the old man was still alive?
His eyes shot to the body—no, the old man, already stiff in life, was solid with mortality.
But, Saor noticed a curious thing: the pool of blood had disappeared. He stood above where it had been, and saw a slender crack in the silver stone. Taking a thumb, he rubbed against the old man’s ripped neck, and flicked a spot of fresh crimson to the floor. It landed near the crack and Saor watched it like a ravenous cat watched a field mouse.
The droplet was at first inert, tranquil, but as the seconds passed it began to bend in the light, and sluggishly it made its way across the surface, entering the crack as though it had made a conscious choice to do so. As it disappeared, the house creaked louder than before; in fact, it groaned like a wounded beast.
The blood, thought Saor, recalling the old tales drunken woodsmen told around dying fires. The gorgon… the vitality of the stone…
Saor screamed as the walls suddenly started to contort, and the house as a whole began to shrink into itself with a terrible and unceasing lamentation.
He ran to the door, but in the way it was shrinking with the house the shattered wood crumpled over itself, trapping him in. He tried the slits, but as they themselves shrivelled he could not even fit his head through. Retreating to the middle of the dwindling room, he beat and thrashed Kil-Carraig’s body as though he was the one responsible.
As the stone closed against his shoulders, Saor put his hands to the ceiling and begged the gods themselves for forgiveness, before his screams became louder than the undead gorgon’s howling, and filled the valley below, ending with a sharp, final cut of sound.
It is said these days that if you ascend the hills near Cloch you will find several unusual stone cubes, ranging from a foot to a few feet high, the largest of which having a skeletal hand poking up through a crevice in the apex, the immovable ring of Ishtar on its middle finger.
Yggdrasil of Adasam Sortie at the Salt Sea
By Wendy Webb
Millennia have been spent in Hades,
Where Yggdrasil’s tree is rooted upside-down.
For this is the light zone beyond the sun,
Where magma flows free and belches rarely
Into the dark round earth.
I’m climbing now, the hard way,
Clanking those chains I’m Scrooge to part with,
Except nothing hurries my flight back
To gestating rock and sinews of my world.
I’m birthing after this long haunting trip,
Remembering that last time, when chains
Of armour plate and swords and shields
Rang across the valley to the living sea.
Salt phantoms now, across that ocean floor,
I long to sense those branches spreading down.
The thin sky’s hiding lizards, snakes and deities
Harping on about feather-light breath
Vanquishing our legion. Didn’t they hear
Plots of women, children, grown men crying.
Beyond the roots of sky to understand.
This ancient ruin’s nothing now: hanging
Palaces, richly draped like grapevines;
Wine flowed free.
I’m climbing now, so light as lava spreading,
Black sand of darkest deep leaps high
With fire. Soon these rocks will sink,
Buried with our legion. Salt markers – all –
ADASAM will sink beside its deepest Salt Sea.
The Blind Warrior
Seven foes ready their spears
Seven fall unseen
By DJ Tyrer