Ikigai: A Reason for Being by Samantha Payne – Free Extract

A maverick samurai endeavours to protect a woman who has fallen on hard times in Samantha Payne’s “Ikigai: A Reason for Being”, published in Alt Hist Issue 9.

Ikigai: A Reason for Being

by Samantha Payne

Spring had arrived in Edo. The scent of cherry blossoms suspended on the wind and he stood where he always did, staring into the open paper window of my father’s store.

Even from a distance I knew it was him, his towering frame was unmistakable. His hand rested on the hilt of his katana, one of two swords hanging from the obi at the waist of his gray kimono. He was always ready to strike, and it surprised me that he had not noticed my approach, or perhaps, he had but he sensed no danger from me.

“Mamoru?” He twitched a little in surprise and turned to look at me. His tawny eyes a contrast to his dark hair. He was handsome, in a plain way.

“Excuse me, Ms. Nakamura, am I in your way?”

“No, not at all, and please, for the last time, just call me Shouka. It makes me feel rude that I should refer to you by your first name, but you still insist on being so formal with me.” I adjusted the basket of vegetables in my arms to a more comfortable position. “You had a rather pleased expression, have you found a blade you might like?”

He turned back to the window. “This blade is a Kanemitsu Osafune of Bizen.”

I stepped closer to look at the sword he spoke of, but only glanced at it for a moment before observing him as he continued.

“They say if you want a sword, buy one made in Bizen. It is believed that most of the swords in action today, are in fact, Bizen blades.” He paused, and his gaze was almost hungry. It was like watching a child who had just discovered a toy he must have. “Even among the best swordsmiths, this one in particular, must have been forged by a truly gifted man.” Mamoru’s eyes lit up. “Speaking of talented swordsmiths, ones that have been said to rival those of Bizen include the Awataguchi and Rai Schools.”

There was a boyishness to Mamoru I had never seen before and I could not suppress my laughter.

“What is it?” He looked from the window to me, startled and obviously confused by my outburst, but his face would never show it. The boyishness was gone and he was once again a man of few words and little, readable, emotion. “I did not say anything with the intent to make you giggle. By any chance did I make an error in my statement?”

“No, no, not at all. Truth be told, I would not know otherwise.” I waved a hand in dismissal.

“Then what provoked you to laugh?” His voice was flat, to the point.

“I was just thinking how charming you can be when talking about something such as a weapon. It is a little ironic.” I looked from him to the swords in front of us, the sun reflected off the steel. Mamoru was a quiet, taciturn, man, which many people construed as coldness, but when swords were the subject of conversation he came to life.

“I am fascinated by the meaning forged into the blade. That is all.” His mind seemed to have wandered far from me, but he continued to humor me with conversation.

“What meaning is that?” The basket in my arms was growing cumbersome, and the afternoon sun warm but I endured.

“A sword has a simple and straightforward existence, to take your enemy’s life.”

I shifted the weight of the basket into one arm so I could reach out and rest my hand on Mamoru’s shoulder. “I think that’s one way of looking at it, but I think it’s more complicated than that, similarly to someone else I know.” I gave him a smile, and pulled my hand back to lift the banner hanging in the shop’s doorway. “Please, Mamoru, come inside.”

He followed after me. “I’m curious about your opinion on this matter.”

I set the basket down on an empty table near the entry way. “Swords are used to protect things we hold dear: people, ideals, and yes, that might mean hurting another who wishes to destroy such things, but if you only look at it from your side you’re neglecting the warrior’s purpose.”

He didn’t respond, but directed his gaze back to the swords on his right.

“Think about it, Mamoru, the first time we met, you used your sword to protect me from a group of thugs who used their blades to intimidate others. A sword’s purpose is ultimately defined by the warrior.”

He remained silent, seemingly deep in thought, as he faced away from me.

“Mamoru, are you looking to purchase one of those swords, because they seem to be speaking to you more than I am.”

“Is your father in, Ms. Nakamura?”

“I’m sure he is, wait here.” I grabbed the basket of vegetables and headed to the back of the shop that connected to our home.

My father sat on his zabuton while looking over a parchment, going over our finances no doubt. “Father?”

“Oh, Shouka, you’re home.” He smiled and set aside his brush and ink. “Is it busy out in the market today?”

“Business seems steady, speaking of, Mamoru is here. He wishes to speak with you.”

“Of course.” He stood from the cushion on the floor and followed me out to the front of the store where Mamoru was inspecting a different set of swords along the wall. “Mr. Yamaguchi, good afternoon.”

Mamoru turned to greet my father with a bow. “Good afternoon, Mr. Nakamura.”

“Shouka says you wanted to speak with me, what can I do for you?”

“Your Bizen blades, the katana and the shorter blade, the wakizashi, how much for the pair?”

“Oh, well, they are quite expensive, I am afraid.” I glanced at my father, taken back by his dismissive tone toward Mamoru, an interested customer.

“I would expect no less and I am more than willing to pay whatever price you deem is fair.”

My father sighed and rubbed his hand over his shaved head. “Mr. Yamaguchi, you are a good man and I will forever be grateful for your protection of my daughter all those months ago, but I cannot sell to you.”

“What?” I was shocked. “Father, what do you mean you can’t sell to him?” As if he was unable to hear me, he continued to speak with Mamoru.

“I am sure you understand why.” My father gestured to Mamoru’s hand resting still on the hilt of his sword. “If word got out that I was willing to sell to a man who carries his blades on his right, well, I would have no business.”

“We barely have business as it is, who cares if his swords are on his right.” I knew it was out of line for me to protest, but Mamoru was a friend and I recognized my father’s business was suffering with the presence of Western guns on the rise.

“Shouka, that is enough. I have said all there is to say on the matter.” My father brought his attention back to Mamoru. “I am sorry, Mr. Yamaguchi.”

“I understand, thank you for your time.” Mamoru bowed his head once more and stepped out.

“Mamoru, wait!” I followed quickly after his long strides, not waiting for my father to explain himself to me.

He stopped at the sound of his name but said nothing.

“I am sorry, about my father.” I took a breath and continued, “He should have sold you the swords, what does it matter if you wear yours on the right.

“Look around you,” his voice was cold like steel.

I did as he said, observing the road, and those who passed by us. The market was bustling with people no different than him and me.

“A warrior carries his sword on the left. A samurai carrying his sword will always walk on the left side regardless of how narrow a path is. They do this to keep anyone from touching their sword. A warrior’s soul is in his sword.” Mamoru pushed the hilt of his sword up by the hand guard with his thumb. “When a sword smith crafts a blade he inscribes a protective ki on the right side of the tang. In order to be protected the ki needs to point towards the wielder. By wearing my blade on the right, I am unprotected from evil.”

It’s then I see it, every man that passed by, carrying a sword at his side, wore it on his left. Everyone but Mamoru.

“I was born left-handed. No dojo would accept me. Budo forbids drawing your sword with your left hand, so the moment I picked up a fencing stick they tried to change the way I held my sword … Every time.”

“Why not let them change your stance?”

“Because there was nothing to fix.” He looked from me to the sky. “If I strike from the right I hit considerably harder. Drawing from the left limits my capabilities.”

There was a brief silence between us as we both stood, side by side, looking up through the branches of a cherry blossom tree, to the eternal blue of the sky.

“How many times have we watched these flowers bloom, I wonder.” The tone in his voice was gentle now, and a smile pulled at his eyes. “Time’s passing comes with change, but even so, there are some things which do not change. I place my faith in what remains unmoved.”

Mamoru would not change. That was his belief, and as I stood there beside him, I too wanted to believe in those things that did not change. I wanted to stand at his side, just like this, and watch the cherry blossoms bloom again next season, but Japan was changing and foreign influence would tear the country, and us, apart.

Men began to forgo swords in favor of shooting their enemies with western guns. As they set aside their swords, a new era of warriors set aside their souls. Soon the path of the samurai would be lost, along with my father’s shop.

 

END OF FREE EXTRACT

You can read the rest of this story by purchasing a copy Alt Hist Issue 9.

About the Author

Samantha lives and writes in the cold north of Flagstaff, Arizona. She is currently pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing at Northern Arizona University where she teaches English Composition. In-between teaching and writing Samantha draws manga and practices coloring inside the lines.

Lackendarra by Séamus Sweeney – Free Extract

Séamus Sweeney’s “Lackendarra” from Alt Hist Issue 9 explores the effect of war on the individual in this fictional telling of the story of a real-life survivor of the First World War.

Lackendarra

by Séamus Sweeney

They make new things to kill each other, and then when some of them are dead, the rest of them cry.

No green to be seen.

Rain that drove into the skin, a heavier rain than anything Jim had ever felt in Ireland. Rain that enveloped them, and mud that crept up to embrace every inch of their skin. Mud fifteen inches deep, mud that stuck to their lead-heavy feet and glued them, mud as slippery as ice. Not hours off the boat when they were thrown into the fighting. The Turkish trenches were invisible in the glassy, brown plain. They had come here to Mesopotamia, thinking they would be baked alive in the heat, and found themselves slaughtered in the mud. No green to be seen. Only all-embracing, all-conquering mud, on everything and in everything.

Years later, when sitting in his cave, he would find himself there again, amidst the wet brown hell of those first battles, and the suffocating heat that followed. He would smell again the sweet diarrhoeal cholera. Hear again the pat-pat-pat of gunfire from invisible Turks. See again comrades fall before him. Feel again wet fabric trapping his feet, making him a muddy statue.

Again the Raven was there, about twenty yards ahead of the spot he stood rooted and leaden. There lay lifeless the bodies of Jack Phelan and Pat Lonergan. Seconds—or was it minutes, or was it hours? – earlier they were as alive as he. And now a raven stood on Jack’s dead head, picking at its eyes. The raven looked up, and fixed Jim with its eyes. In that instant, Jim was back in Lackendarra, with the Comeragh mountains looming to the north east, their smooth-lined greenness suddenly topped by sharp, raven-circled crags. Jim knew that this raven—from that moment on, The Raven—had been there too, had followed him from Ireland to this land of mud and dust between the Tigris and the Euphrates. It was here, at what was supposed to be the relief of the Siege of Kut.

 

He saw no more death after that, but there would be much more soldiering. There was “reconnaissance in force”, there were marches without water; there was cholera, diarrhoea, thirst, and dust. It was afterwards called the Great War, later still the First World War once there was a Second to match it. Jim never thought of it that way; nor did he think of it, sardonically or otherwise, as the War To End War. For him, it came down to that moment in the first attempted Relief of Kut, when the Raven stared into his eyes, and his two friends lay dead in the mud. That was war for him, and that was the world. In a way, the war ended at that moment, and Jim Fitzgerald’s interest in the world ended as well. The rest of his time in Mesopotamia was an endless haze of dust punctuated by rain.

 

Back home, people never asked. The country had risen up, and the men who went to war did not fit into the new Irish story. And if they didn’t wish to hear about Flanders, they cared even less about Mesopotamia. Jim didn’t mind, and didn’t care. Jim laboured first on a farm near Ballymacabry; after two days he walked out, leaving his pay behind. The same happened twice over. The War of Independence, the Civil War, the establishment of the Free State; all went by, he stayed silent. That was war; that was The Raven, pecking at Jack Phelan’s face. Across the mountains IRA columns and brigades moved like silent predators; Jim would see men running in improvised uniforms, and watch them with indifference. He was finished with war, but was the war finished with him? For The Raven had followed him; it had been on the farms he had walked away from, and it followed him on his way. Always somewhere in his view; sometimes right in front of him, black and massive. Sometimes outside his direct vision but in his periphery.

 

He walked the roads, generally keeping on the other side of Knocknaffrin ridge, away from his homeplace. His parents had died when he was young, and the grandparents who had brought him up had died while he was in Mesopotamia. He slept in outbuildings, or under the stars. Finally, one day he went up to live by one of the corrie lakes under Knocknaffrin peak itself. This still pool of water stood like a giant teardrop shed by the mountain above. He found bits of blankets and mattresses, and in a cave that centuries earlier housed a bear’s den, made a place of some softness to live in. People called him Jim Fitzgerald from Lackendarra who had been touched after being away at the war, then Lackendarra Jim, then just Lackendarra. Local children first ran from him, then watched him with a protective respect, bringing him milk and bread from their parents. Many of these children emigrated; some stayed, married, and their children in turn kept a close eye on Lackendarra. An invisible network of care surrounded him as years drifted past.

 

END OF FREE EXTRACT

You can read the rest of this story by purchasing a copy Alt Hist Issue 9.

About the Author

First Kill by Megan Jones – Free Extract

Even for a Viking a first kill can be a traumatic experience. Find out more in Megan Jones’s “First Kill”, recently published in Alt Hist Issue 9.

First Kill

by Megan Jones

Iceland, c. 920 A.D.

My brother is going to die.

This thought drummed itself into Asmund’s head as he knelt at his younger brother’s sickbed. Vali had always been pale and lean beside Asmund’s brawn, but now his skin was chalky and glistening with sweat. A healer had already visited and given Vali a potion for his fever, but he seemed to have grown more delirious by the hour.

Now that the harvest was over, Father had sailed away a fortnight ago with many of the grown men in their village, to raid the coast of Britannia, leaving his firstborn to look after the farm—and his thirteen-year-old brother. Asmund had resented being left behind, yearned for the chance to prove his mettle.

If you want to prove yourself a man, look after things back home, his Father had charged him when he had complained. And now he was failing even at that.

Asmund brushed Vali’s ginger hair off his forehead, the only thing he had inherited from Father. His angular chin and narrow, elfin nose he had gotten from Mother.

“Brother? Can you hear me?” he croaked.

Vali’s eyelids fluttered restlessly, as if struggling to understand the words. The elder brother took the water jug from the bedside table and, supporting Vali’s shoulders, tried to coax him to swallow a few sips—but the boy seemed too spent even for that.

“Brother, please, you must drink,” Asmund whispered. “You must get well.”

At that moment, Vali finally opened his eyes a fraction. His gaze was resigned, almost pitying, and spoke clearly: It’s no use.

In some ways, illness for Vali was nothing new. Asmund had vague memories of his brother as a sickly infant. Some of their neighbors had asked why they hadn’t just exposed the child—it was kinder, they said, than to prolong a frail infant’s suffering—but Mother had refused to do it. He is not unsalvageable, she had insisted. Just give him a little time.

And she had been right, mostly. After that, it seemed as if Vali had survived through sheer willpower, just to spite the world. It made Asmund wonder, why couldn’t his little brother summon some of that stubbornness now? Where was this acquiescence coming from?

 

In the evening, when the chores were finished, Asmund checked on his brother again. He thought Vali had drifted back into his restless dreams, so he was startled by a hoarse voice.

“Asmund … Tell me about Mother,” Vali croaked.

Their mother had died giving birth to the sister they never met.

“I have already told you all I remember,” Asmund said in mock sternness. “At least one hundred times.”

“Just once more, please?” Vali teased faintly.

“If you promise me you will try to drink some of that potion the healer left you,” he said, forcing a hopeful tone. Asmund did not know what to do, besides go on acting as if his brother was going to be well in no time. After his little brother nodded once and closed his eyes again, listening, Asmund began.

“She was beautiful,” he said. He was not sure why he held this conviction. All of his hazy memories of Mother seemed to recall her as a plain sort of woman, face and hands rough from work and sun and wind. But something about her smile—like the sun breaking through a dismal winter day—made him picture her with some awe.

“You were only just starting to walk when Mother died, but I was old enough to remember her,” Asmund began. He smiled, though it hurt to do so. “She loved you so much, Vali. She used to sing you to sleep, about the warriors of the past, about faraway lands, about the great adventures we would embark on someday …”

In his mind, he tried not to add, adventures that now will never be. Asmund swallowed back the lump in his throat, trying not to picture himself in the future, sailing the icy seas without his brother at his side, where he ought to have been.

“Do you remember when she died?” Vali asked quietly.

“Aye. Father buried her with a spear and a shield. He told me she could defend our home as well as any man.”

In truth, he mostly remembered sobbing desperately to his grandmother. I will never see her again, he had wailed over and over again. Mother died in childbirth, and I will die in battle! Even at that age, he had imagined a glorious death for himself—but he could not rid his mind of the image of his mother’s shade drifting through the lonely, dark plains of Helheim. But his grandmother had chuckled, Childbirth is a battle all its own, dear heart. You may yet see her in Valhalla’s golden halls.

That had consoled him, at least.

 

Since they were old enough to hold their wooden toy swords, their father had been teaching them combat skills. As children, between feeding the animals or scavenging driftwood from the shore, they were allowed to roam where they pleased. Then Asmund and Vali became fellow warriors, exploring barbaric territories (which were actually the meadows around the farmstead) and lopping heads off fearsome giants (which were actually sheep, slightly disgruntled at being interrupted in their placid grazing). Father encouraged the boys’ make-believe because he wanted to teach them independence, and feed their desire for glory.

Once a week, however, he made time to teach them more tangible skills. Someday, their enemies would not be imaginary monsters, but flesh-and-blood Pict warriors.

Asmund had absorbed this training eagerly. Broad-shouldered and energetic as his father, he had mastered the sword, spear, and shield with ease. He had such ferocity for his age that Father affectionately called him a berserker, which made the young Asmund swell with pride.

Not so with Vali. He had neither the heart nor the hand for swordplay. Whenever his turn came, Asmund always felt a mixture of pity, worry, and secondhand embarrassment. Vali’s bony hands would clutch his weapon awkwardly and too tightly.

“I don’t want to hurt either of you,” he would mumble, brow furrowed in distress.

Father would scoff and roll his eyes. “It’s a practice sword, son. The edges are dull. Besides, you don’t have the strength of arm to make a dent in us.”

Indeed, Vali hardly had the strength to hold the sword steady, and Asmund always managed to disarm him in one or two moves, even with all the care he took not to deliver too damaging a blow. One day, Father took Asmund aside and rebuked him for holding back.

“I know, he’s your brother, and you want to protect him,” Father said in a low voice, gripping him tightly by the shoulder. “It’s only natural. I’ve always taught you to look out for kin above all else. But you aren’t helping him, Asmund. You have to let him get hurt if he is ever going to grow stronger.”

Asmund understood. But he was not certain his gentle, insecure brother did. When they resumed the lesson, Father drove Vali twice as hard as before, criticized his every move and would not let the boy have supper until he lasted at least five minutes through a sparring session without being disarmed. Asmund could not watch: not only was it painful to see his brother gasping pitifully for breath and wiping his brow with hands shaking from fatigue, but his expression—hopelessness. Vali thought their father saw him as a failure. Perhaps he did, Asmund thought with a pang. But he was also convinced their father’s desperation was born mostly from worry. After all, how could such a slender-framed, sensitive child survive long in this world?

 

END OF FREE EXTRACT

You can read the rest of this story by purchasing a copy Alt Hist Issue 9.

About the Author

Megan Jones studied creative writing at Grand Valley State University. She lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she tends bar as her day job. She has been writing historical fiction and fantasy since elementary school, but this is her first time being published. More samples of her work can be found at https://meganjonesgr.wordpress.com.

The Bonny Claire by Rick Novy – Free Extract

Next up from Alt Hist Issue 9 – another free extract. On board a sailing ship bound for Bermuda – what could go wrong? Find out in Rick Novy’s “The Bonny Claire“!

The Bonny Claire

by Rick Novy

September 3, 1706, in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean

Carl Owens stood at the bow of the fishing schooner Bonny Claire, spyglass to his eye. He spent long minutes staring at the moons of Jupiter, with occasional breaks to scribble into a notebook. Owens had developed a technique first proposed by Galileo for determining longitude at sea. The secret he kept to himself. With his reputation for accuracy, Owens’s talents were much in demand.

The waves lapped gently against the wooden hull of the Bonny Claire, and the stars glittered bright in the sky. He finished writing his final notes, then lifted the spyglass to his eye one last time to check his figures. As he stared at Europa, he jumped in response to a hand on his shoulder.

“Beautiful evening, ain’t it?” Owens relaxed at the sound of Captain MacCord’s voice, lilted with a trace of Scottish accent.

Owens collapsed the spyglass and turned to face the captain. “Yes, sir. I was enjoying the cool night air.”

“You work too hard, boy. Come below and have some port with me. Help celebrate another successful catch.” The captain draped his arm over Owens’s shoulders. “You spend all your off hours readin’ that book o’ yers.”

Owens smiled to himself. The old mariners never understood him, or his methods. “I am the most accurate navigator in the business because I read.”

The captain snorted. “Maybe so, but we’ll be busy soon. No time for readin’ when the storm hits.”

Storm? Owens had been to sea many times, and weathered a few storms himself. There was no indication in the sky or the sea of an impending storm. “That must be why Sully asked me to plot a course to Bermuda,” Owens said. “Are you sure a storm is coming, Captain?”

“Aye.”

“If you don’t mind me asking,” Owens said, “how do you know?”

“Ah!” The captain turned toward the gunwale and looked into the darkened ocean. “The sea, lad. The sea speaks to me.”

Whatever did the captain mean by that? The sea speaks to him? It must be a metaphor, or an old mariner’s sense. Owens had to know more. “What does the sea tell you right now?”

The captain turned around to face Owens, and leaned against the gunwale. The old sailor smiled, and his face softened. “Tonight, she says to take the young navigator below and share a bottle of port.”

The captain took all of this much too casually. A storm at sea was nothing to take lightly. “What about the storm?”

“Not until noon tomorrow at the earliest, lad.” The captain pushed off the gunwale and walked toward the hatch leading into the ship.

Owens followed him down, sticking the spyglass into his pocket so he wouldn’t misplace it. The smell of fish lingered in the air. It overpowered him when he first boarded the Bonny Claire, but was merely a nuisance odor now.  The captain went directly to his cabin, and Owens followed at his heels. The cabin was dressed in red, and the furniture of finely crafted wood. By appearances, Captain MacCord had some profitable fishing trips before this one.

A dog rested on the captain’s bunk. This was Heather, the friendliest dog ever to sail to sea. Despite the commotion, the dog simply lifted an eyelid, then went back to her nap.

“Pull up a chair, lad,” the captain said. He walked to a cupboard and retrieved a bottle from a stash of nearly a dozen that Owens could see, including several bottles of port, and two of vodka. The captain returned to the table with a bottle in one hand and a pair of goblets in the other. He sat on a chair opposite Owens, pulled the protruding cork from the bottle with his teeth, and spit the cork on the deck. He poured the ruby liquid into the two goblets and set the empty bottle on the table.

The captain lifted his goblet and said, “To our fine navigator, who led the Bonny Claire to the richest school of halibut this side of Bermuda.”

Owens raised his goblet, clinking it against the captain’s before he sipped the port. He wasn’t convinced the sea really spoke to the captain, but he wanted to know more. “How does the sea speak to you?”

“It just does,” the captain said. “Enough about me. Tell me about the book you’re reading.”

“Shouldn’t we prepare for the storm?” Owens worried. He didn’t know if a storm really was on the way, but the casual way the captain treated the subject made him uncomfortable.

“I told ya, lad, we have until tomorrow at least. We’re sailing for Bermuda full bore. There’s nothing else to do right now.” The captain took another sip of port. “About your book?”

Owens took a deep breath and exhaled before he began about the book. “The book is about optics. It was written by Isaac Newton.”

“Never heard of him,” the captain said.

“Newton is a prominent mathematician.” He could already feel the captain losing interest, but mathematics was something Owens couldn’t stop talking about when asked. “I bought the book mainly for the appendix. In it, Newton discusses a new mathematical technique called the derivative.”

The captain took another sip of port, then said, “What practical use is that?”

“I’ll show you,” Owens said. “Do you have anything I can write on?”

The captain stood and searched his cabin for a moment, then grabbed an oar that was hanging on the wall. He brought the oar to Owens. The captain next opened a drawer and retrieved a scratch awl. “Use these,” he said.

Owens used the awl to scratch a diagram into the paddle of the oar, then scratched some equations next to the diagram. “See, the derivative allows you to find the instantaneous rate of change of any function.”

The captain’s eyes wandered as Owens spoke. “You can keep it, lad. It’s interestin’ to scholars, but has no use to a fisherman.” He picked up his goblet and downed the rest of his port. “You’d best get to bed, lad. We’ve a lot to do come morning.”

Owens pushed out his chair and stood. As he turned to leave, the captain stopped him.

“Take the oar with your scribbles and put it into the launch.” He stood to hand the oar to Owens. “I’ll find another to hang on the wall after the storm.”

END OF FREE EXTRACT

You can read the rest of this story by purchasing a copy Alt Hist Issue 9.

About the Author

Rick Novy has flown satellites, manufactured surgical implants, tested integrated circuits, and simulated binaural sound. He has nearly fifty published short stories in publications such as Intergalactic Medicine Show and Flash Fiction Online. His books are available in both dead tree and dead electron formats., and his novel Fishpunk will be released on audio format later this year. Learn more:  www.ricknovy.com.

Battalion 202: The Lords of Pontefract by Jonathan Doering – Free Extract

The first story in Alt Hist Issue 9 is “The Lords of Pontefract”. In the penultimate story from Jonathan’s Doering’s “Battalion 202” series the focus turns to one of the people tasked with providing government and leadership to the town. In “The Lords of Pontefract”, Jonathan Doering imagines the activities of “the other side”, a shadowy network of officials who would have acted as saboteurs and spies within the occupation administration.

Battalion 202: The Lords of Pontefract

by Jonathan Doering

Author’s note: previously, Battalion 202 has recounted the experiences of various residents of the West Yorkshire town of Pontefract, following a successful German invasion of Britain. “The Lords of Pontefract” now focuses on one of the people tasked with providing government and leadership to the town, and imagines the activities of “the other side”, a shadowy network of officials who would have acted as saboteurs and spies within the occupation administration.

Pontefract, 7th December, 1941

Mindvoice: Ebeneezer Lewis

Not a long walk from the Town Hall. Trying to snow. People all the way down the market place, watching. Two soldiers with me. Hanging platform, sickly yellow against the snow, down by the Butter Cross, where the Market Place turns right towards the Cenotaph.

Pontefract, 1st November, 1941

“You’re going, then?”

Ebeneezer Lewis looked at his wife standing in the doorway of his bedroom. Raising the ties he was comparing, he replied, “Which do you think, Queenie love, light or dark?”

When she didn’t reply, he affected to study first the navy-blue and then his grammar school tie with stripes of light blue, black and gold. Queenie shifted forwards, taking both ties in her hands.

“You don’t have to go in today, Eb.”

Lewis smiled. “Dreaming again, Queenie?”

She did not smile back. Her hands twisted the ties, turning them into silk nooses. “Yes I did. Stay home today. For me. Please, Ebeneezer.”

He sighed. “What would people think, love?”

The nooses tightened. “Let them think what they like. I’m afraid.”

He watched her. She was persistent in her anxieties to the point that he was becoming afraid as well. When he spoke he was as honest as possible: “But everyone’s afraid, Queenie.”

Her face contorted and she threw the strips of material against him.

“Yes, well, I’m not responsible for ‘everyone’, am I? I’m just responsible for you and me.”

She went on, the words bubbling out of her, like milk out of a hot pan.

“Haven’t I always been there for you? Haven’t I always wanted the best for you?”

“Yes, Queenie. I know that you have. Lord Mayor of Wakefield’s daughter, eh?” He smiled. “How could we not have succeeded?”

She didn’t smile back. Fixing her gaze on the carpet, she murmured, “I did have another dream. You were in it.”

He went to her then, taking her in his arms; whether this was to comfort or silence her, he wasn’t sure. “There, there, dear.” He felt her hands come up to his back, her fingers dig through his shirt like talons.

“Stay home today, Ebeneezer. Blame me. Say I’m not well.”

He replied through another sigh. “Very well. I’ll send a message. You shouldn’t really be left today, I suppose.”

The question as to what would happen tomorrow, and the next day, and after that, hung over their bowed heads. Her fingers relaxed slightly. “Thank you, Ebeneezer.”

He took another breath, resigning himself. Certainly things could run acceptably for one day. He felt a surge of warmth push the cold hand off his chest, and realised that he still felt affection for this woman.

“I’ve been spoiled,” she whispered into his chest. “You’ve hardly been away from me, ever.”

She looked up at him through bleary eyes, searching his. “You didn’t even leave me in the Great War.”

He shrugged. “I was already getting old …”

“You might have gone if it hadn’t been for me.”

“I might not be standing here then, if it hadn’t been for you.”

In that silence, there was a rap at the front door. They both started, Lewis glancing at his watch. “Who could that possibly be? It’s half past seven in the morning.”

Through the opaque glass in the front door, he could make out field grey. A clean-shaven NCO clicked his heels as the door opened.

Guten Morgen, Herr Lewis. I have been ordered to escort you to the Rathaus.”

“‘Rathaus’?”

“Town Hall. Captain Kürten would very much like to discuss important matters.”

Lewis gestured feebly. “My wife isn’t well. There isn’t anyone else to stay with her.”

Despite his ability in English, the NCO appeared not to hear him, but continued staring expectantly. Then a floorboard creaked behind him. Queenie was standing in the hallway, navy-blue tie hanging from outstretched hand.

“It’s alright, Ebeneezer. You’re needed.”

 

 

Captain Kürten, newly-promoted, was standing in Lewis’s office, surveying the street with scientific interest. As Lewis stepped in, he turned, feigning surprise.

“Herr Lewis, good morning! I am delighted that you were able to come in so early.”

“Good morning, Captain Kürten. Would you like tea perhaps?”

“A weak black tea would be most welcome, with a little sugar … I suppose that you do not have lemon?”

Lewis merely looked at the officer who raised a hand to dismiss his own query. “Of course, I will try to arrange for some special foodstuffs to be sent from the garrison. Our friends at the Town Hall deserve what we can spare.”

“Most kind, Captain.”

Turning back towards the door, he saw his secretary’s eager face. He understood that the Captain had already told her what he desired to drink, but also that he would wait for the Mayor’s arrival.

“Did you hear all of that, Audrey? Good. Please fetch what the Captain requested, and I’d like my usual tea, thank you.”

“Yes, Mr Lewis.” She was staring at the charismatic man behind him with hot intensity.

“As quickly as you can.”

“Yes, Mr Lewis.” She stifled a giggle. Kürten searched his gaze out as he turned back, smiling apologetically.

“How young women adore a uniform, no?”

“Yes, quite.”

Kürten’s eyes focused more closely. “Of course, I suppose this is difficult for you to imagine? You did not serve in uniform?”

The raised intonation almost led Lewis into explaining about having been too old, even in 1914, his responsibilities as an alderman. He caught himself just in time.

“No, Captain, unfortunately. May I ask to what I owe the pleasure of your visit?”

Kürten inclined his upper torso in a slight bow. “I come to ask for a favour, Herr Lewis. We have need of accommodation for special purposes and–”

There was a tap at the door, and there was Audrey, her face electric bright, mouth slightly open, wet, looking full whilst only holding its own tongue, tea things on a tray.

Kürten spoke first, assuming authority.

“Perfect, thank you my dear. Herr Lewis, shall I pour and explain my situation? I very much hope you can assist us.”

 

 

It had been completely simple, completely breath-taking. Owing to expanding administrative responsibilities, Captain Kürten was obliged to request a central building for German use. Lewis had, in his heart, been expecting such a demand. In that sense it came as no shock whatsoever. Still, he was troubled at how the invaders so calmly and inexorably tightened their grip on power.

He nodded slowly, pouring another cup of tea, dropping a sugar cube in, feeling Kürten’s eyes following his hand from bowl to cup. As he stirred the tea he asked, “Have you located a suitable site, Captain?”

Kürten shrugged. “I would not presume, Mayor Lewis.”

Of course he had. Again, a torrent of anger flared in Lewis’ chest, followed almost instantly by a sense of his own age, leaving him cold and empty. He sighed and sipped the tea, savouring the warmth on his lips. Let him take what he wanted. He would have it, whether Lewis co-operated or not. They had already helped themselves to Nostell Priory, the local estate just beyond Featherstone.

“Perhaps you could give me some indication of what the building will be used for? If I have more detail about your requirements, I might be able to judge which property would be most suitable.”

Kürten’s eyes flickered and Lewis wondered what he was hiding. The German made a sweeping gesture with one hand and his mouth smiled. “Administration, Mayor Lewis. We need a point of contact between ourselves and the local population. There are also some … policing responsibilities. We have witnessed unfortunate civil disturbances since our arrival. We obviously need to organise as harmonious an Occupation as possible, so require further offices in order to do this.”

Lewis drained his cup and fought back the desire to pour a third. Clasping his hands before him, he was about to reply, when there was a tapping on the door. “Audrey, the Captain and myself–”

Turning, however, he saw that it was not Audrey standing there. In fact, he was hard put to know who it was. A teenage boy, scrawny, with a pale moon face and unkempt hair, was twisting a cloth cap in his hands.

“Yes, lad, what is it?”

The boy knew that he now had to speak, but that did not lend him enough courage to do so. He twisted the cap more violently, turning it so tightly that Lewis wondered if it might tear. Kürten shifted in his chair on the other side of his desk, and that movement brought Lewis back to himself. Now the cold sensation sitting inside of his body froze, burning. Perhaps this boy was a neighbour’s son? That was it. He was some sort of a simple boy. His parents kept him out of sight most of the time, but he ran occasional errands.

“Fletcher, isn’t it?”

“Yes, Martin Fletcher, sir.”

“Well, boy? Spit it out, I’m in a meeting here.” He didn’t dare look back, but he could feel Kürten’s cobra stare, shooting over his shoulder. Fletcher gave his cap a final twist, turned his waist one way, shoulders the other, then finally spoke.

“I’m sorry, sir, but Mrs Lewis gave me a penny to come to ask if you were alright.”

There was a stifled snigger from behind him, and the heat rushed back within him. He wasn’t a dead volcano quite yet. Standing, he walked towards the boy who had returned to twisting his cap, unsure as to whether he would shout, speak, or knock him backwards into the corridor. Delving into his pocket, he fished out a tuppenny piece.

“My wife gave you a penny, did she?”

“Yes sir.”

“Here’s tuppence.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Now go home and don’t you come here again if you don’t want your head knocking against a wall.”

The boy’s eyes clouded. “But what should I say to Mrs Lewis?”

“You’ve come here, haven’t you? Have you seen me?”

“Yes sir.”

“Do I look ill?”

“No sir.”

“So you know what to tell my wife, don’t you? Don’t you dare come again, boy. Do you understand?”

“Yes sir.”

He closed the door with a thump. What the hell was she thinking? How would that make him look in front of this brute? What did she think she was playing at, putting a boy like that in the way of a German? Turning back, he was gratified to note that the German was looking at him with something approaching approval. As he sat, Kürten spoke again.

“What a … conscientious young man. Does he visit often?”

“A neighbour’s child. I’ve never spoken more than three words to him. Now, Captain—your office accommodation.”

“Quite so, Herr Lewis. I was wondering if we might request the use of your fine Library?”

 

 

When he had finished arranging for the books to be removed from the Library to alternative accommodation provided by church halls and school libraries, Lewis had met with his Cabinet to discuss the day’s business. New identity cards. The roads around the town weren’t too badly damaged during the Invasion, but still needed maintenance, with so many military vehicles using them. Bread was running low and ingredients were hard to come by; supplies were sluggish following the previous hard fighting. Lewis kept his news until the end of the meeting.

There was a silence and then someone asked, “You mean everything?”

“No, not everything. They’ve said that the archives and records can be left there. But all the books need to be moved.”

“What the bloody hell do they want with our archives?” Gerald Hopkirk, who held the Education portfolio, asked the question but his voice died away. They all understood why local records might be of use, and Lewis didn’t bother to answer.

“Isn’t it about time that someone said something, Ebeneezer?” Brian Lofthouse, who handled Health, turned in his seat to stare at Lewis, holding his pen like a gavel. “If we don’t say anything—”

“If we don’t say anything they’ll suit themselves, and if we do say something they’ll suit themselves just the same,” cut in Hopkirk.

“Still, that’s one of the mayor’s roles, isn’t it?” Lofthouse persisted. “To speak up about things? That’s where the title comes from, doesn’t it? ‘Maior’ in Latin. ‘Bigger’. We need you to be bigger, Eb.”

Lewis stared at the table. He didn’t hear anyone else speak, either to challenge or support Lofthouse. He replied, “I’m doing my best, Brian.”

Lofthouse chuckled gently. “Well, we need you to do the best, Eb.” This time there were some murmurs of assent. Lewis’s next words fell hot and sharp.

“In that case, perhaps you’d like to take over and show us what ‘the best’ looks like, Brian?” Lofthouse froze, then began flicking his pen up and down once more. “You’re the mayor, Eb, not me.”

“Quite. So until you’re willing to take over from me, you’ll have to accept my best efforts.”

Lofthouse said no more, but Lewis could see his eyes slide about, seeking contact with other cabinet members around the table. The irony of the situation was that Lewis would have gladly handed the mayor’s chains over to him, if he thought that Lofthouse would accept them.

Shortly after that the meeting was adjourned and each official returned to his office. Lewis could hear Lofthouse commenting in an undertone (“Only got it because he’s a safe pair of hands … Not even from round here …”) but could see no way to answer, so returned to his office and began reviewing coal production figures. Requests were coming from “Down South” for increasing amounts to be sent on trains. Exactly where to was not stated but still understood. Much of the extra requisitioned coal would be transported to docks on the south coast, shipped across to the continent, and thence to Germany itself. The stripping of the outlying territories was beginning, and Lewis felt like a helpless observer.

But perhaps not. He rose and walked to his window, and looked down at the traffic in the street below. Aside from the odd grey uniform and the propaganda posters, illegible at this distance, little seemed to have truly changed. His mind melted back to a meeting just a few months ago, shortly after his election.

Superintendent Frederickson had come to speak with him, and then arranged an appointment between Lewis and another man. A man dressed in a tweed suit with mutton chop whiskers had sat in Lewis’s office, filling his pipe and talking in drawling tones about something called “the other side”.

“As you will no doubt know, or will have guessed, we are making provisions should the Nazis successfully invade Britain.” He had offered a name, but Lewis had suspected it to be false and had not bothered to remember it. “The insurgency will take multifarious forms.” He tamped down the tobacco and clamped the pipe between his teeth whilst he sought a match. “Military and political. Officials will form the political resistance.” He gestured with the stem of his pipe at Lewis. “That’s where you come in, Mr Lewis. You’ll be in a key position to glean intelligence for our men in the combat units, and to frustrate Nazi plans. You must take any and every opportunity to foil their strategies.”

Lewis had scoffed. The man had looked at him.

“But I’m no soldier. Never have been.”

“I’ve read your report, I understand. Actually, that could be an advantage, if I’m honest. Gerry might not expect you to be capable of active resistance.” He winced involuntarily on ‘capable’, and Lewis understood that he doubted his capacity to resist every bit as much as the hypothetical invaders did. As Lewis himself did.

They had discussed dead letter boxes, rice paper, the kinds of information that should be noted down before dropping messages. Lewis was presented with sheets of paper with insignia and names relating to ranks and regiments. He had done his best to memorise them but knew he hadn’t managed it perfectly. Still the man in the tweed suit smiled encouragingly.

“Not bad at all. Good start. And anyway, you’ll be in a position of responsibility; you’ll be able to ask for information more openly than most.”

“Might they suspect something?”

The man in the tweed suit looked at him. In that moment, Lewis understood that he was not expected to last very long, should the Germans arrive. Frederickson had admitted as much during their first meeting, and Lewis saw this man’s eyes flicker slightly as he replied.

“Obviously we would expect you to be sensible and discreet, Mr Lewis.”

Perhaps now was the time to begin using that dead letter box. He reflected idly that he had no way of knowing if it was actually functioning. The Nazis had been in the country for a month. What was that statistic about resistance fighters Frederickson had muttered? That they had been expected to survive for a maximum of fourteen days? He looked down again into the street, watching the people wrapped up against the November chill. It looked to be a cold Winter. He had not allowed himself to dwell on the thought of the fighters, out there, preparing. Many of them now would have been wounded, captured, killed.

He glanced down and watched the citizens, in threadbare coats and knitted hats. My place is here, serving the town, doing what I can for them ….  He laughed drily. “Come on, Eb. You’ve been saying that kind of thing since 1914.”

 

 

As he was shrugging himself into his coat that evening, the same NCO again presented himself at his office door. Again Lewis felt an icy hand on his chest. Would this now be the way? A pet mayor rolled out to explain away this requirement and that? Over time he would come to rely on such an escort. Finally he would become a collaborator.

“I can find my own way home, thank you.”

The words were out before he could stop them. The NCO appeared slightly perplexed by Lewis’ words.

“Please?”

“I said that I do not require an escort, thank you. I would like to walk home alone.”

The NCO frowned. “But I have not been sent to escort you home, mein Herr. The Captain would like your company at the Windmill Inn.”

 

END OF FREE EXTRACT

You can read the rest of this story by purchasing a copy Alt Hist Issue 9.

About the Author

After eight years living in West Yorkshire, Jonathan Doering now lives in Oxford with his wife and son, where he teaches English. His work has also appeared in: Cascando, Sheaf, Silver Carrier, Circus, LitSpeak, Contemporary Review, Alt Hist, Brittle Star, Gold Dust (for which he won a Best Prose Award), The Guardian and The Wolfian; his SF serial “Earworms”, which has recently been running in this last magazine, is forthcoming as an e-novella.

Alt Hist Issue 9 Published!

Alt Hist Issue 9 CoverThe latest issue of the bestselling historical fiction magazine

Alt Hist Issue 9 has now been published!

You can purchase eBook and Print copies from:

Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk | Barnes & Noble

And eBook copies from:

Smashwords | Kobo | iBooks

Alt Hist Issue 9 brings you the best new writing in historical fiction and alternate history. This issue features six new short stories and takes the reader from German occupied Yorkshire to Samurai-era Japan, via the Bermuda triangle, medieval Wales, the Vikings and post-war Ireland. You’ll find action-packed stories of fights against sea monsters, the intrigue of resistance against Nazi and Norman oppressors and the upholding of honour within traditional Samurai and Viking societies inside the pages of Alt Hist Issue 9.

In “The Lords of Pontefract”, the penultimate story from Jonathan’s Doering’s “Battalion 202” series, the focus turns to one of the people tasked with providing government and leadership to the town. In “The Lords of Pontefract”, Jonathan Doering imagines the activities of “the other side”, a shadowy network of officials who would have acted as saboteurs and spies within the occupation administration.

Carl Owens, the navigator of “The Bonny Claire” is a rational man of science. He uses books and instruments to do his work. In Rick Novy’s story the Bonny Claire is on its way to Bermuda, when the captain warns of an impending storm—against all the evidence of the Owens’s scientific observations. But the captain is right—and more than a storm confronts the Bonny Claire and its crew.

When you have to have a courageous death in battle to reach the afterlife, a death from illness can present a dilemma for a man’s kin. In “First Kill” by Megan Jones, a Viking’s brother lies dying and the man’s promised consolation of passing onto Valhalla looks like a remote hope. Yet he discovers that there may be a way to give his brother what he needs.

“Ikigai: A Reason for Being” by Samantha Payne helped inspire the wonderful cover art for Alt Hist Issue 9—an encounter between a Japanese lady and samurai warrior. Mamoru, an unconventional samurai, is intent on upholding the honour of Shouka, a woman who has fallen on hard times.

“Lackendarra” by Séamus Sweeney gives us an insight into the life of a man scared by his experiences in the First World War—a man who became famous in Ireland as a hermit. Séamus shows how someone could become so affected by war that they shut themselves away from society. The story portrays Lackendarra’s encounter with a journalist in 1954 who is intrigued about how the world has changed. Séamus’s has also been previously published in Alt Hist: the wonderful “Dublin Can be Heaven” in Alt Hist Issue 3.

I’ve previously much enjoyed Andrew Knighton’s gritty yet humorous medieval tales for Alt Hist. The latest one from him, “The Sound of Stones”, is a conflict between serf and lord in medieval Wales—but also a cultural clash between the Welsh and the Anglo-Norman newcomers. Take a look at some of Alt Hist’s back issues for other fine medieval tales by Andrew.

 

 

Alt Hist Issue 9 Just Around the Corner

Alt Hist Issue 9 CoverSummer is nearly over and the nights are drawing in – if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere that is.

And it’s time for another issue of Alt Hist. Alt Hist Issue 9 should be published shortly. Here’s a sneak preview of the cover and also the table of contents for this issue.

  • “Battalion 202: The Lords of Pontefract” by Jonathan Doering
  • “The Bonny Claire” by Rick Novy
  • “First Kill” by Megan Jones
  • “Ikigai: A Reason for Being” by Samantha Payne
  • “Lackendarra” by Séamus Sweeney
  • “The Sound of Stones” by Andrew Knighton

Brexit or Remain – the Case for Europe from a Seventeenth Century Perspective

 

JohnDonneIf you’re in the UK you’ll currently be in the middle of the debate raging about our participation in Europe. Here’s some thoughts from the Seventeenth Century that I think are particularly pertinent.

“No man is an iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee…”

I think John Donne‘s words eloquently state a case for internationalism.

Is the UK a clod in this metaphor?

Free Story from Alt Hist Issue 8 – A Sword by Andrew Knighton

The second story from Alt Hist Issue 8, is a short but powerful one by Andrew Knighton, set in the Middle Ages. Enjoy!

A Sword

by Andrew Knighton

 

Manon dashed through the woods, slashing at monsters with her sword. She could see them all around – dragons in the treetops, Englishmen in the undergrowth, ogres behind the trees. None would stand before the trusty blade she had broken off an oak on the way out of the village. The world smelled of autumn—leaf mould, the fresh air after rain, and more smoke than usual.

Bold as any knight she darted between the bushes and ran into a man squatting against a tree. His hose were down around his ankles and his expression on seeing her was a mixture of surprise and pain.

“You stink!” Manon said, holding her nose against what he’d been doing.

The man also shouted something, though she couldn’t understand it. The words sounded hard and clumsy, like his tongue was wrapped around itself.

Other men burst from the bushes, huge bows pointed at Manon. She held her sword out in trembling terror, but they laughed and lowered their weapons.

One of them crouched in front of her. He wore a leather jack and a chainmail hood drooped around his shoulders. He had a nice smile.

“That is a fine sword you have, little boy.” The man spoke slowly, and he had a strange accent, like the tinker who came down from Calais mending pots and selling needles.

“I’m a girl,” Manon replied.

“That’s a fine sword you have, my lady. Are you defending your village?”

“Yes.”

“Could you show us where it is?”

Manon hesitated. Something didn’t seem right. These men weren’t local and there bows were longer than any she’d seen used for hunting. But they wore red crosses stitched to their clothes so they must be godly men, and their smiling leader recognized a good sword.

“Yes,” she said firmly.

 

 

They tramped through the fields and orchards, following hedgerows between narrow fields full of grain and vegetables. Soon the harvest would be in and they’d all go into town to pay their tithes to the Lord of Agincourt. Papa said she could come with him this year, to see all the people and the castle. She hoped there would be knights.

There was a commotion as they approached the village, the small cluster of windowless, sloping huts that she called home. Everyone must be as excited as her to see these strangers. They all came rushing out, pitchforks and carving knives in their hands as if straight from their work, some barefoot in the mud.

Her father pushed through the crowd, sparks still smouldering on his leather apron, almost kicking a chicken in his hurry to get past. He stopped twenty paces from them and his face made Manon worry that she was in trouble.

“Please don’t hurt her,” Papa said.

“Why would I hurt her?” the smiling man replied, stroking Manon’s hair. “We are all going to be friends.”

Manon would have stopped him stroking her but she was suddenly afraid. Why was Papa talking about her being hurt?

There was a creak. She looked round to see the other men raising their longbows, arrows pointed at the villagers. Even Hob, the one she’d caught by the tree, looked scary as he squirmed in his filthy hose.

“Bring us your grain and your animals,” the smiling man said.

“We have little grain,” Papa replied, “but you can have it.”

“The animals?” the man asked. “You have pigs and goats.”

“Odo and Henri took them away,” Papa said, “when we heard that the armies were coming.”

Something cold pressed against Manon’s throat.

“Where are they?” The man didn’t sound friendly now.

“Please no! I swear I don’t know! None of us do.”

“Where are the animals little girl?” The man leaned close to her now, the dagger hurting her neck. He stank of sweat and blood and too many cabbages for dinner.

“I don’t know,” she whimpered, tears running down her face. This was the most terrible thing since Mama died. Even Papa looked scared.

How could Papa be scared?

“Tell me.”

The blade pressed harder against her throat. She was suddenly very aware of the mud between her toes, of the woollen tickling of her tunic, of the horrified faces of her neighbours.

“I can’t,” Papa repeated, sinking to his knees. “Please, me instead. Anything.”

The man yanked Manon’s head to one side.

“I’m sorry your friend is sick,” she said, “and I know he needs better food, but please don’t hurt me.”

The man shook and she closed her eyes, prayed to God to accept her into his arms.

Then she realised he was laughing. He said something in their ugly words and shoved her away from him, into Papa’s rough embrace.

“Bring the corn,” the man said. “Try nothing with those knives—we have bows.”

 

 

Once the soldiers were gone everyone rushed to the stream, filling buckets and cauldrons to put out the burning buildings. Everyone except Manon.

She stood in front of the bonfire that had been Henri’s house, where the man had ruffled her hair one last time before throwing a torch through the door.

“Maybe next time you will have a real sword,” he had said with that wicked grin.

Then he was gone.

Manon held up her sword. Though clearly a stick it still reminded her of the ones the men had worn at their belts, with its curving blade and its space for her hand.

She flung it into the flames and went to fetch water.

To read more from Alt Hist Issue 8 why not order a copy?

About the Author

Andrew Knighton is a freelance writer based in Yorkshire, where the grey skies provide a good motive to stay inside at the word processor. When not writing he battles the slugs threatening to overrun his garden and the monsters lurking in the woods. His collection of historical and alternate history stories, From a Foreign Shore, is available as an e-book from Amazon and Smashwords. You can find out more about his writing at andrewknighton.com and follow him on Twitter where he’s @gibbondemon.