Friday, January 21, 2005


This is the second story about Saraya - read the first one 'Dulce Et Decorum Pro Patri Mori' by clicking on the link on the right - otherwise you may struggle to understand this story. On second thoughts constant reader most people struggle to understand anything I've written....Enjoy!


As she rode over the rise Saraya could see the fires of the Defenders’ encampment. For nine generations they had met at this spot, at the very edge of the Western Hills in a valley that was hard to find and even more difficult to reach thanks largely to the screen of illusions and deceptive paths laid by the Masters of the Lore. Two moonrises ago a Defender, Arok, had arrived at Saray’s village. Normally Arok was full of chatter with Saraya. On that visit he simply told her where to meet and when. Then he turned his horse. As she thought he would go without another word he looked back over his shoulder.

“Saraya, you are loyal to your father’s deeds and words, now you must decide with us what do about the evil that you may have brought on all the villages.”

Since her father’s death the villagers had all but stopped talking to her. She had dared to fill a Defender’s shoes and dared to protect them from the Overlord. No one with the exception of her childhood companion Red had taken any time for conversation. She thought that her defeats of the Overlord’s knights would have brought some form of gratitude, even a word of acknowledgement, but no; instead they looked at her with continued suspicion, flicking the sign of the Evil Eye at her when they thought she wasn’t looking. As she brought Legend, her father’s horse, to a halt above the valley she wondered at why they had averted what they believed to be evil in her fighting while laying down before the Overlord’s knights.

Saraya had now fought off three attempts from the Overlord’s men. The first, when a knight, barely out of his teens had arrived. Then two weeks after that, the first serious assault. She had woven intricate spells of concealment around the village with the Higher Lore. Three knights rode towards the village, slowly, cautious. The first she had caught in the eye with an arrow and she had shuddered with the horror as the man slumped from his saddle. The remaining two dropped off their horses and approached using the animals’ flanks as protection. These were experienced warriors, not to be easily overcome as the first bravado filled youth had been.

She waited until they had reached the boundaries of the village before circling round. The first man she dispatched from behind, impaling him with a lance pushed through the gap between his helm and back armour. Hardly honourable, but it was her village she was fighting for. The other warrior looked at her warily. She had expected him to attack right away. Instead he took off his helm. Underneath his face was scarred with a livid mark stretching from his right ear down to the base of his chin. As she bent her knees ready for his assault, he had simply walked towards her. Only when within a couple of yards did he draw his sword.

“Your guiles and trickeries don’t work on me,” he spat. “You can’t creep like a witch behind me. I face you. I’ll kill you. And your lovely head will be aloft my pike. Young Gwain, the boy-knight you attacked. We found him dead. He bled to death just a league from the Overlord’s lair. Before he died he told me about the red witch. I promise you I’ll make sure you die as slowly as he did.”

Saraya tried to push the thoughts of the young man bleeding his soul onto his saddle on the long ride. She could see his face, the arrogance. Arrogance! This knight was too confident after watching his two companions die. She dropped, rolling to her left as a lance seethed through the air, nicking her shoulder. She had been the one taken on her blindside.

Turning she threw her dagger. It caught the man’s throat, but he tore it free. The scarred knight was pouncing at her prone form, his huge double-edged blade arcing towards her stomach. She pushed back on her shoulders and kicked out, catching his wrist with both feet. His momentum carried him forward and she swung her father’s black blade quickly at his legs. He fell and she was upon his back, twisting the old grizzled face sideways, hearing the all too loud snap of the man’s neck. His companion tried to reach her across the old man’s falling body, but she pushed the corpse in front of him. As the man wrestled the knight’s body away, Saraya seized an arrow from the quiver on her back and pushed it deep into the wound her dagger had caused in his neck.

Exhausted she fell back, her arms and hands bloody, and her shoulder aching from the lance wound. Sitting, she heard another knight. She couldn’t fight any more. The man, who must have been riding behind the quartet as cover, warily drew his steed away from her and she muttered a few quiet words and Sweetheart, her familiar, her crow, launched at his helm, wings spread, talons beating on the helm and frantic cawing. The man struck out at Sweetheart, but the bird dodged and swirled. She tried to lift her bow, and aim an arrow, but her arms ached. She could barely stand.

As Sweetheart backed off she spoke to the man:

“Go, go back to your Overlord and tell him, tell him this village is not his and never will be.”

He turned his horse and rode off, looking back every few moments. When he was out-of-sight she fell.


“What! What do you mean a woman! A woman. You weak-willed weak armed bastard, I will kill you!”

The Overlord leapt from his throne, the huge black sword raised above his head.

“My son, my son killed by a witch, you’ll die you spawn of a bitch!”

The sword arced and the knight stood still as the blade cut through his neck. His body remained standing long after his head rolled across the tables of the lackeys and administrators. They pushed back from their chairs as blood splattered their dinners and cups. When the body finally fell, the Overlord’s knights howled and beat their sword pommels on the table.

“I will skin this bitch alive. Bear witness to this oath, knights, slaves and common people, all the villages of the Western Hills will be burnt. All village women older than 10 summers will be slaughtered. When I crush this rebellion to the east I will exact such tribute as has never been seen. Scribe, issue this proclamation upon my return. Knights! I will crush the giants of the East now. No more feasts with these ignoble men; no more lackeys, no more sitting around as our swords grow blunt. We will return before the winter snows close the passes to the west. Mount, we ride forth now!”

The warriors rose as one, each donning their helm, and pushed through the lackeys, servants and slaves. One did not move aside quick enough. A mailed fist into the child’s face drove the girl to the floor, where her cries were silenced by the tramping of dozen’s of boot heels.


“Saraya, welcome! You are, as always a vision of strength, wisdom and beauty, please, sit with us.”

Three score men of many ages sat in a circle around a rough wooden table. The lodge they were in was cloying with burning herbs and the smoke of incense.

“Arok, I thank you.”


She turned her head to see an ancient man behind the gathering. His face was lined with agonies and ecstasies. His body withered inside a cloak and rough jerkin, arms naked, their flaccid flesh drooping where once there may have been muscles.

“No girl child, nor no woman has entered this valley, spoken in this hall or entered the circle of Defenders in memory. The scribes record no event in our history. Your father’s bravery and wisdom earns you this honour, but we may have to kill you.”

Saraya looked straight in the man’s face. His eyes were bright, a fierce green glow seeming to sparkle. To show any weakness now would be to forfeit all she fought for and dishonour her father’s memory. She stood on knees she consciously locked to stop the tremor nagging at her legs.

“I…I…I don’t know why I should die for fighting for my village. But you are the Defenders. If…if such…if such a sentence is to be passed I ask for the right to know why you…why you would kill me.”

“Well said child! Come sit! You are truly your father’s daughter. Sit child! Before you fall! There’s many a man here would have fallen before now! I am Mau’un the Eldest. No one outside this valley knows I live, your courage earns you countenance here, but, dear child you may have brought doom upon us all.”

The tension round the table eased a little, but she could see the men still staring at her, as she stumbled to a vacant chair.

“Child, the Overlord has ordered the killing of every woman in the Western Hills more than 10 summers old and the burning of every village. Only the Weather Lore has kept him locked behind the dark passes. This cannot be kept up any longer.

“Today we must decide how to stop this. We may offer your body to him as a sop, but no one in this room will allow the daughter of a Defender to be killed by our hands. It was a test girl child; a test to see what your father taught you beyond how to wield a blade.”

“But can you not fight the Overlord and his men,” she said, before realising the stupidity of the comment.

“Child, you see here all the remaining Defenders of the generation. There are but 24 of us still able to lift a sword, four left that are Masters of the Lore, and four Apprentices of the Lore. The Overlord has 100 knights, or he had before you saw off some of that number, and a slave army of 1,000 that fights for him for fear of death by their master. We could try to halt them, slow them with Lore and try to whittle away their number as one strips bark off a tree. But the branch will still live, only slightly weakened, until the tree snaps us aside. We cannot fight him.

“But tonight, we eat in your honour, come, we have much to hear!”


She tried to tell the tale of her father’s death and her battles as they ate, she tried to explain how she felt responsible for the men and women of the village, how she could not bear to see any enslaved, maimed or killed. Her words, she knew, were poor beside the eloquence of this assembly, but they were all she had.

Later, as the men drifted off to unseen billets, and after Mau’un offered her space to sleep in adjoining hut, she stood looking at the stars. She was trying to recall the names of the constellations her father had taught her as her mother’s funeral pyre burned; his eyes streaming with tears of lost potential, lost love and loneliness, but still trying to keep her smiling, still trying to show his love at the time of his loss.

Deep in her thoughts she failed to hear the young man approach, until he was almost beside her. Instinct took over, drawing the Black Blade she turned ready to strike.

“Mistress, Saraya, please, I want to talk and cannot fight, lay aside your sword.”

“Sire, I am truly sorry. Too much as happened lately, I am still quite…well.”

“No apology necessary. My name is Ma’irel. I am a ‘prentice of the Lore, and I simply wished to talk of the Lore you used in your fights. It is unusual to find anyone who uses it at the same time as fighting.”

“My father taught me. I do not know anything different. Please can we sit? I am still tired from the ride.”

As she eased down to soft ground she looked at this man. He was perhaps half-a-head shorter than her, his hair a tousled brown mass that spilled around a face framed by proud cheekbones. His eyes were pure blue, no whites showed. His frame was muscular, but as he eased to the ground she saw his left arm. Where the wrist should have ended in a hand there was a wrinkle of flesh that covered unsightly stumps of fingers. No thumb and fold of flesh. Was it a defect of birth? If so why had he been allowed to live by his village? She looked away hoping he had noticed her gaze.

“Don’t be embarrassed. It’s been like that since I was born. I know the ways of the Western Hills, but I am from the North. My master knew of no way to heal it, so sent me to Mau’un hoping for a cure, and for me to learn the ways of the Defenders and their Lore. Mau-un found me in the passes, looked at my arm, told me I’d never wield a sword, offered to make me an apprentice and sent tribute to my master and father, along with enough Lore to protect them. I have been here for four summers.”

He smiled at the end of this self-conscious speech. It had the rhythm of a long-rehearsed and long-tried explanation. When she smiled back at him, Ma’irel’s face lit with an inner brightness. At the moment there was no barrier between them. Saraya looked long at him. If she survived, this man would be her mate. She didn’t know why, she didn’t know why she felt this, suddenly, like a weak girl in one of the village maid’s stories, but she knew it.


Two days later Mau’un called the Defenders together for the final meeting of this cabal. Saraya was invited to the meeting for the first time since that welcoming night.

“Saraya, you cannot be a Defender according to tradition. But you are a Defender. We all agree. You have watched you and debated patiently. We know you deserve the title. You are welcome to this cabal. You are one of us now. We fight for each other, we are a brotherhood. Well, we will have to call ourselves something else now. Next moonrise we defy the Overlord, you have shown us the way.”

“I…I thank you. You honour me.”

“No more words child, you have much to learn, much Lore to master and many exercises in our ways of the sword. And you have to explain to the council why you have a carrion crow as a familiar, and why call it Sweetheart?”


Thursday, January 06, 2005

About the stories posted so far

So far I've managed to post three of my stories on the site. They are:
Aequitus Sequitur Funera
Traffic and Travel

I hope you find them enjoyable. Aequitus is the oldest. The writing, I suppose, is a little on the raw side, but I hope you find the stories entertaining in a weird way...

More stories to be posted soon.


Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Traffic and Travel

Author: Jonathan Traynor

Traffic and Travel


“Another arse killing half an hour hanging around on the West Link,” he muttered to himself, fingers tapping on the steering wheel, eyes scanning the stationary metal snake that made up the A12. Someday they’ll finally get the underpass started, he thought looking around the cars bracketed around him.

To his left, sitting in a Ford Focus, a gaunt man eagerly picked his nose, almost screwing his finger up the knuckle in his left nostril, before slowly drawing it out and absent-mindedly wiping it on the rolled up sleeve of his striped shirt. To his right, trying to nose a car into a three feet space in front of his Audi – when the traffic finally moved another inch or so – where a twentysomething couple in a VW Beetle. The traffic jam had not deterred their ardour. The man rested his tattooed left arm on the window while stretching the rest of his body to neck his partner. She giggled and playfully pushed away a hand that had been hidden from his voyeuristic glances. Behind him he could see in his mirror a black-haired woman talking quickly into her mobile phone. Her swift moving lips and creased forehead suggested she was less than happy to be stuck on this road to nowhere. Her black BMW inched closer to his bumper before she stopped, perhaps realising that there was nowhere to go. Or perhaps her foot had slipped a little off the Beamer’s brake while she issued instructions into her phone. Or perhaps she was just telling her lover that tonight’s passion was going to be put on hold for a wee while.

“Who knew a traffic jam could be a spectator sport?” he said to the empty interior of his Audi.

As his gaze flicked around the cars beside him he turned off the CD to tune into the news. The vapid headlines of non-stories (populated by political pygmies, he thought) gave way to the traffic and travel.

“Severe delays are expected this evening,” said the decorous voice. “An accident between at the Greencastle junction of the M2 and a broken-down lorry at the junction of the West Link and the Grosvenor Road are causing tailbacks. A major accident at Templepatrick is also causing tailbacks. The M1 at the Saintfield Road is closed to country bound…”

“Ah frig,” he thought. “If I’d listened to this earlier I could have gone down the Lisburn Road.”

The Royal Victoria Hospital’s mish mash of buildings were a strange counterpoint to this tiring journey, while advertising hoardings on his right urged another consumer splurge of things he neither wanted nor thought he could ever need.

The jam relented for a couple of feet and he waved the Beetle forward. The tattooed arm reached out of the window in a casual acknowledgement. Or maybe it was just to flick the ash of a cigarette. The black-haired woman in the Beamer was not impressed by his gesture as she lifted her hand off the steering wheel and frowned, without missing a beat in her telephone patter.

The cars all moved forward another few inches.


“Listen Rab, it’s a done deal; we’ve got it in the bag!”

Samantha was bouncing as they walked out of the Hillsborough hotel’s conference room towards the bar.

“They loved it! They loved you! That bit about ‘we hope that whether you decide to go with us or another provider, your project is a success’ that was pure genius waffle.”

She clapped him on the back as they settled down to a seat in the bar.

He flushed slightly. Sam was two years his junior, but the first boss that had given him free reign. If he hadn’t have been married with three sprogs he might have…but then she was in a heavy relationship too.

“Have a pint on me Rab!”

“Thanks Sam, just hope they bite.”

“They will big lad, they will, now settle down and enjoy the moment!”

She sauntered off to the bar, her step bouncing, despite the two-inch heels and the businesswoman’s standard issue severe trousers and jacket while he ceremonially lowered his tie to the official post-presentation half mast position.

The sales presentation had went better than he could have hoped. The pitch had been worked out for a month now, but the details on laying the pipe had only come together three days ago.

“Drink up! We should celebrate!”

“Sam, It’s not in the bag yet, fer frig sake I know they liked it,” he said. “But they haven’t bought it yet!”

They analysed the presentation over and over again, noting their potential customer’s reactions, noting when they’d took a drink, when Sam had called a break at three and returned with a waiter to take an order for pints and wine.

“Wanna another one?”

“Aww Sam, I’ve already had a couple.”

“Go on Rab, you’ll’ve soaked that up with that feed you swallowed at lunch.”

“Okay, but I really gotta go after this one, we’re on the first flight out of here for sun, sangria and doing sod all for a fortnight!”

“With your lot, not a chance.”


The West Link traffic jam eased a little. Well truth be told it was a very little but Rab was desperate for a piss and desperate for a sign that the growing pressure on his bladder would soon be eased before he doubled up behind the wheel.

The black haired woman in the black BMW eased ever closer, almost as if her German made metal had crept into his Audi’s boot, while he’d inadvertently edged so close to the Beetle that it’s diminutive boot had been swallowed up by the front of his car.

The visual distortions caused him to rub his eyes.

“Shit, I haven’t had that much to drink,” he thought. “A pint before lunch, a good meal, a pint at three and two before we left. If I’m over the limit, it’s just by a wee bit; I can handle a wee drop.”

But then again he’d been working on this presentation for too long and the last three nights had been fairly late, as he’d honed the PowerPoint down to what Sam had commended last night as being “tight as a shark’s arse big lad”. Last night! He was knackered. It had been three in the morning before he and Sam had finished the rehearsals and when he finally crawled into his bed Katherine’s voice had just slurred out of sleepiness that she’d packed his bag, the kid’s suitcases and organised the doggie hotel for their Labrador.

He felt tired behind the wheel, but removed from the cars surrounding him.


“The broken down lorry at Grosvenor Road has now been removed, and traffic on the A12 West Link heading out of Belfast is easing slightly,” the announcer said. “But severe delays remain on the M2 at Greencastle and Templepatrick…”

He’d less than an hour to get to the airport before Katherine. He wanted the car parked and to be settled at the bar before Katherine and the girls arrived.


“A major accident has closed part of the road at Templepatrick tonight. Motorists heading for the international airport are advised to exit at the Sandyknowes roundabout…”


“Sam, I really gotta go,” he said. “I need to get there before Katherine and the girls. I’ve got the passports and the tickets in the car.”

“Okay, but are you sure you don’t want a wee short before you go?”


“C’mon, you’ve been working flat out for the past month. You deserve to chill before you head for the beach, and we can go over the shit you’ve no doubt left for me while you had to sunny Spain.”

“Okay boss, you’re da boss, but I really got to go soon.”

He accepted the Jack Daniels and sipped it slowly, thinking that he wouldn’t finish it or the pint before hitting the road for the airport.


He accelerated past a lorry, shifting back up the gears as he cruised towards Sandyknowes roundabout. His relief that the Templepatrick junction was now open meant he’d cut a few minutes off his time. He’d less than 20 minutes to get to the airport, and he knew that everybody else was also trying to make up time.

The Audi slipped smoothly between the lanes as he eased the car up to 80. The pressure on his bladder was still there, but he at least felt an end was in sight as he again edged the accelerator.

A bus had pulled out to overtake a Mini and he’d to settle behind its sedate progress of about 60 before it pulled in, and he could power forward. The car reacted well, pushing forward.

He dialled Katherine’s number on the hands free kit.

“Hi love.”

“You better have your ‘hi love’ ready Rab,” she said. “We’re not too far away and you better be there waiting with those tickets.”

“No problemo, almost there. If you get there first, set them up!”

“Aye, right! See ya soon.”

One touch and the call was disconnected, and he saw the exit ahead. He was still in the outside lane. He urged the German engine a little further on, cutting ahead of a Nissan to make the exit. He eased back a little, seeing the speedometer reluctantly cutting back from 70 to 60 to 50. He came off the exit ramp at 45, and as soon as he saw the dual carriageway Rab dropped from third to second gears, determined to make the bar early. The Audi’s front leapt at the sudden gear shift, pulling his attention with it. He tried to shift up, but a flash caught his eye. He was on the carriageway already.

The blue Citroen – his wife’s blue Citroen - tried to stop.

It didn’t.

The Audi took the impact just at his offside rear wheel. The car spun. The airbag smashed into Rab’s face. The side of the car crumpled into a hedge. The sudden stop snapped his neck. His breathing stopped too.


Katherine saw Rab’s Audi. The Citroen was less than 20 yards away.

She couldn’t stop in that space.

His car span in front of her before she realised there had been an impact. The steering wheel pulled out of her grip. She stood on the brake, watching Rab’s car spin. The Ford behind her couldn’t stop. The impact killed Katherine and the girls before the Citroen turned over on its side.


“Another arse killing half an hour hanging around on the West Link,” he muttered to himself, fingers tapping on the steering wheel, eyes scanning the cars jammed into the stationary metal snake that made up the A12. Someday they’ll finally get the underpass started, he thought scanning the cars bracketed around him.


But then again since he killed Katherine and the girls he’d been wondering about this fucking road every time his spirit replayed that day.