My Dear, I feel a perfect fool. Sitting at home in the safe silence of my Kentish farmhouse, with the stove spitting smoke and insufficient heat, my letter unanswered, I begin to think I imagined the sudden warmth and delight I saw in your eyes. I wait in vain for a sign that I am not mad. A letter from Muriel mentions you, linking you with some young man called Daniel France – another painter. I remember the electrifying realisation that Muriel’s glorious painting was you, and my feeling of idiocy that I recognised your yellow dress first. How does Daniel France paint you? I dread to think. I would like to buy Muriel’s painting, but what would she say? She would surely guess why. Did I tell you she laughed when I foolishly admitted to finally recognising you? She thought I was apologising for slighting her skill at capturing you.
It’s not a portrait, she said. Muriel would call it a figure study I expect; explaining the way the light falls across your shoulder casting your features into the shade from the hat. I don’t see that, of course, not any more. I see the stretch of your arm along the back of the seat, the swell of your breast beneath that ridiculous dandelion dress; the curve of your lower lip just visible in the penumbra of that cast shadow. So relaxed, even indolent, you look, as though you sit there after a satisfying luncheon, slightly hazy with Beaujolais and cream – waiting with absolute confidence for someone to come and sit beside you. Oh for that confidence! Why have you not written?
Portrait of the Artist’s Model as a Young Woman
I still dream that gasp from sister Ana, the way the happy excited murmuring, like bees round the hive, dropped into silence from her gasp. And then the whispering, harsh and breathy, and the sideways glances and the space opening around me, cold as the north wind. I still dream the sound of the great door closing behind them, and the darkness of the hall, with the doom glowering at me in the light of the remaining candles, and his face as he realised what he had done, with his little joking portrait.
The Owl’s Handmaiden
I tune my ears to the sea and will not listen. The words are meaningless syllables of grief. Agamemnon pulls my head up by my hair and looks hard into my eyes, shaking me sharply to make me understand.
Achilles is dead.
His mouth shapes words, sound comes from his throat, but now that I have heard, I can hear nothing else.
Achilles is dead.
Achilles, my captor, master, saviour, betrayer, protector… without Achilles what am I?
It is insanely dangerous, to dance alone. We line the barriers watching for the slightest slip, but Keru doesn’t slip. I watch the way Susuru’s muscles bunch and ripple, and I measure his stride and imagine my hands springing off his great white shoulders, my hair swinging to graze his back as I fly across him. My eyes ache with watching, my feet tremble with wanting to run out into the arena. I lay my head against my forearm, resting on the barrier, getting my eyes lower, watching Susuru as he plants his hooves and skips sideways away from Keru. He is surprisingly light on his feet for such an enormous creature, and quick too and accurate. There is more than just speed behind his movements. I see Susuru watching, understanding; waiting for a moment when he can strike and gore and trample, but I also see that he is prepared to wait. Just as Keru is not like my father, a simple farmer, understanding his cattle; Susuru is not like Temi, a simple field animal frustrated and lonely and often angry. In each of them, there is more.
Earthshaker has been published in Holdfast Magazine
The King’s Champion
Alban’s heart had been light and his mind carefree as he went in search of the armour that Wilhem’s medieval fantasies dictated. And perhaps, had Wilhem died in summer, and if, perhaps, he had been content to be buried in the cathedral – but it is winter and the Landgraaf’s final resting place is the mausoleum in the grounds of the faux ruined fortress he had built up on the lowest pass of the mountain that shelters his city, built to house his favourite mistress, a common dancer called Lotte, mother to a brood of Wilhem’s by-blows.
Even while Alban and his man Jurgen had puzzled out the armour and how it was worn, they had laughed together – like schoolboys, he now thinks, in a moment of coherence – but as each piece of metal was strapped on, his mood had darkened. The Landgraaf was dead after all. He had been a loyal servant to the old man, had been something of a favourite – Launcelot to his Arthur, as some court wit had put it, not fully understanding the look that passed over Wilhem’s face as the words left his mouth, nor ever understanding the subtle snubbing he received from Alban ever after.
A shorter version of The King’s Champion under the title Kassell has been read at Liars’ League.