Kingdom of the Bronze Spider


In the Kingdom of the Bronze Spider I marched among the king’s retinue and waited my chance.  As a visiting dignitary from a neighbouring land it was a simple matter to get so close as that, but no closer.  The cordon around his majesty bristled with the tips of ornamental spears.  Yet it was imperative I got closer.  I had a message to deliver.

Following the traditional route of the age-old procession, sanctioned by the footsteps of generations, we jostled together along the winding thoroughfares, wilting from the heat and claustrophobia.  Despite the forced proximity, I tried keeping my distance from the local politicians and commanders.  Although protocol made it seemly I should be invited to attend the festival I wasn’t an entirely welcome guest.  The political situation was seldom less than tense between our nations, even while diplomatic niceties were mostly still observed.  So, my invitation was doubtless sent reluctantly and I attended grudgingly.

Occasionally, as if by accident, the black standard with the glowing spider was left to dangle in my face.  And I overheard odd mutterings about “Waspers” and that “poisonous, stripy country where they can’t really talk, only buzz at each other.”  But I wore the insignia of the Colliding Swarms on my chest, with venomous dedication, as always.  The safety and prosperity of the land of my birth depended on the success with which my message was delivered, I was informed.  That consideration alone swayed me.  It motivated all that followed.  And I manoeuvred myself accordingly.

It was rumoured that the ruler of the Bronze Spider lands had become half a cripple now, that his powers waned and he stumbled to mouth the right words when discussing policy at court.  It was argued by his political enemies that this alteration only made him more of a threat, since the weakness that racked his limbs made him over-compensate through random bouts of savagery and hubris.  It was argued by his political allies that any alteration only made him more of a force, since the longevity that shook his limbs made him wise enough to apply surgical remedies and reprisals when needed.

I observed all the nuances of this as they played out around me in the huddled cliques and backbiting of the retinue.  I weighed options.  I guessed at the risks involved.  I bided my time.  The sun blistered down on us as the procession dragged on.  Sweaty condensation dripped from inside the bronze helmets of the guards and sprinkled down their backs.  I gagged on the stink of those people, whose unctuous foods gave off cloying odours that seeped from their pores.

Close by, I occasionally glimpsed that land’s queen, matching our progress amidst her own decorous retinue.  However, the traditional routes laid out for king and queen never crossed, so she remained a mysterious, shimmering mirage across the plain in that oppressive heat.  I forgot about her and resumed my focus on how best to deliver the message I was entrusted with.  I sought the proper platform, that slender opportunity which would offer me what I craved: a few seconds of direct access to the king, uninterrupted and brutally candid.

Finally, having weaved our way to the highest cliff top that overlooked the hallowed canyons, the heat and lack of shelter was too much even for the reeking locals.  So, a royal pavilion had been built there for the king to rest in its shade a while.  With only a few guards and the most notable dignitaries from abroad, I among them, the king retired inside.  Once the pavilion was sealed from prying eyes my fingers made discrete adjustments to the insignia I wore, unsealing the disguised locket.  Instantly, the narrow chamber filled with toxins: airborne agents that caused paralysis within seconds, to which I was immune.  I stepped across the prostrate bodies to where the king slumped on a makeshift throne, limbs twitching at ragdoll-ridiculous angles.  I pressed my face close to his and breathed in the royal fear.

“Listen closely, your majesty.  I have a message and an apology.  I apologise for how unseemly this is, but you must be made aware that certain interests within your court seek to overthrow you.  They seek to ally my government to their cause.  They believe that I am here as an executioner, but I am not; my government’s interests are not served by such upheaval in your kingdom.  So, heed me when I say…”

Abruptly, my speech ended.  The pavilion doors slid open and the queen marched in, unattended and undaunted, gliding by the spasming guards and politicians who littered the floor.  “Your majesty,” I made a brief bow in her direction, “I assure you that this scene is not how it appears, I am…”  Swiftly reaching her husband, she cradled his head in her hands and then sliced open his throat with a blade I hadn’t noticed.  A glut of blood vomited into his lap.  I staggered back, appalled and stupid.

Quicker than my numb mind could work, the queen sprang to close the distance between us; jamming the knife to its hilt between my ribs, she spat in my face, “It was I who hired you, fool.  There was no petty political intrigue.  This was a divorce.  We wives of this realm have a history of devouring our husbands.  Did you not believe the legends?  Ah I suppose you reasoned that all the guards with spears were for the benefit of you outlanders?  No, fool, they were organised in deference to the threat that springs from the marital bed.  Only within the confines of that bed was the ex-king truly safe, by virtue of commandments that sanctify the need to breed.  Otherwise he was forever ringed about by protectors in my presence.  Protectors you disabled.  See how sincerely the new ruler of this realm thanks you, in person, with no vestige of royal protocol setting barriers between us.”  The knife twisted deeper between my ribs as her kiss twisted on my mouth.


This piece of flash fiction was written in response to the Wordle Challenge #27 at Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie, where all stories in the link-up were prompted by the wordle at the top of this post.  The rules are that at least 10 of the given words are to be used.  I missed out “Argyle” and “Upholstery”; I also adjusted “Locker” into “Locket”, which is hopefully ok.

The War Against the Elves

Pandemonium struck and the buckling castle walls shook under the ceaseless hail of missiles and the weight of flailing, dying bodies. Vast wings blotted out the sky. The raging fires that scarred so much of the hillside, and turned the homesteads to ash, choked the air with unbreathable fumes. The sun blinked through the debris like a livid, purple stain; to the naked eye it appeared like a seeping wound that had been made in the atmosphere itself, mimicking the wounds of the staggering armies that clashed together. Those reeking wounds seeped with the brains and guts of elves and ogres and orcs, wizards and dwarves and hobbits; both heroes and cowards alike.

Overhead, legions of dragons spat hell in every direction. Their roaring maws fried the flesh from those poor souls whose fate had seen them fall immediately in the paths of the merciless beasts. Their closest companions fared little better, the dragons’ boiling breath squeezing the oxygen from the baffled soldiers’ lungs for miles around. Even the dragons’ howling wing-beats sent limping stragglers tumbling across the rocks, bones shattering with the impact.

The devastation was inescapable, from horizon to horizon. As far as Gandalf could espy from his isolated perch atop the castle’s highest, still-standing, crag of a tower, no one and nothing remained unscathed. Was all, then, lost? Was the time of ceaseless inhumanity at hand? The old wizard’s heart thudded heavily in his breast. Then his weary eye alighted on the blood-soaked, but still vigorous, splendid form of the Elf King…

At Magdalen College, in the rooms of C. S. Lewis, the atmosphere had grown unbearably tense as the scene of carnage unfolded. Tolkein’s usually droning voice had risen to an extreme pitch of excitement as he recounted to the little group of friends and fellow writers (the Inklings, as they called themselves) the latest terrors faced by Middle Earth, his trembling manuscript held open before him.

Tolkein positively yelped with sorrow as he shared in his wizard’s pain. So much so, that Hugo Dyson, a noisy and no-nonsense member of the Inklings, who taught English at Merton College, was startled from the dozing posture he’d quietly sunk into at the back of the room. “W-what…?” Dyson mumbled, to no one in particular, as he reacquainted himself with his whereabouts and his wits. Fed-up that his nap had been interrupted, Dyson’s bleary eyes fixed on Tolkein, only catching the last, dismal words the author had uttered.

Dyson snorted, “Oh no! Not another fucking elf!” and marched out of the room. The spell was well and truly popped. The made-up battle vanished from view and no made-up lives were lost. A brisk dose of reality can be a powerful magic. It works wonders.


This short story was written in response to the latest TipsyLit writing prompt:  For this week’s prompt, your character has access to a rare and forbidden magic that will answer a current need. Does he/she use it? All of the stories written for the prompt can be read by clicking on the image below.

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Feline Alchemy – publication

Feline Alchemy is published as an e-book today, revolutionising the dark fantasy genre at a stroke…

Cultural commentators haven’t begun to comment on this milestone, as yet, but when they do they’ll no doubt rehash the kind of flattering descriptions I currently have running around inside my head, e.g.

“Written in a chatty style, like a series of blog posts, Feline Alchemy is a quirky paranormal story set in modern-day England. The book is a warped romance and social satire, as well as an urban fantasy that blends the fairy tale elements of Angela Carter with the classic horror of the film ‘Cat People’ and Joe Orton’s sly humour.”

Yep, that’s probably what they’ll say.