Saturday, 7 May 2011

Stylish Blogger Award

Well! As the late, great Frankie Howerd used to say "I'm flabbergasted! My flabber has never been so gasted!"

Jiminho of Syldavia has nominated The Hetzenberg Chronicles for the Stylish Blogger Award. It's quite an honor, and I'm pleased my work has gained recognition. I'm busy with real life stuff for a while, but more episodes of the Chronicles will be written soon.

In the meantime, as part of the Award, I have to relate seven things folks don't know about me. Hmm, what to say..?

1/. My first wargames figures were Airfix, both 1/72nd and 1/32nd.

2/. I got badly sunburned tracking unit positions all over the battlefield of Québec one day in May in 1987. The things we suffer for our hobby...

3/. Both times I was in Paris (France) I got run over by cyclists, the second time in the doorway to a store.

4/. I had a spooky encounter in a passageway near the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles.

5/. I had an extremely spooky encounter in a chateau near Budapest.

6/. I'm descended from 18th century pottery maestro Josiah Wedgewood.

7/. Mary Amadeus exists - in the guise of a computer tutor I once had some years back. Ursula exists - in the guise of a re-enactor. 'Nuf said. ;)

So, to my nominations. First up is Adventures in Lead by that gifted gamer, "Furt." IMHO, his Indostan blog is a masterpiece of all a gaming blog should be. 

Second up - and not gaming-related - Confessions of a Blonde Writer, by my better half. A witty and informative blog on the life, times, trials and tribulations of an author!

Saturday, 2 April 2011

In the siege lines, Randstadt

‘Sister? Sister!’

Mary Amadeus paused in her work and looked around. Nobody in the siege lines had ever called her by her old title. A man stood hesitating at the entrance to the gun park, a smile on his face as he looked at her. He held his hat in both hands and made a presentable figure in well-made traveling clothes.

‘Do I know you?’ she asked, walking over and then stopped in surprise. ‘Bruno!’

The former misérable broke into a grin as she recognized him. ‘I look rather different these days, sister!’

‘I should say you do!’ Mary said, walking over to shake hands. ‘But then, so do I. How are you?’

‘Well settled-in, thanks,’ he replied. ‘The archbishop gave me a place as a general handyman on one of his estates and my wife works in the scullery. It pays a decent wage and we’re treated well.’

‘I’m very glad to hear it.’

Bruno bobbed his head. ‘It’s all thanks to you and Grafin Ursula.’

‘It’s the least we could do. I trust your family is well?’

‘All well.’ Bruno ducked quickly as the main siege battery let fly a deafening salvo. Mary hid a smile. She had long grown accustomed to the noise, albeit a trifle deaf. Bruno looked keenly at the distant shape of Randstadt’s ramparts. Dust from pulverized stone hung in the air as the salvo struck home. ‘I never thought I’d get so close to my old home again,’ he said. ‘Our hut used to be just over there.’

‘Any regrets?’ Mary asked.

He scowled and shook his head. ‘No. It was a horrible life.’ Glaring at the town he went on, ‘you can burn it all to the ground as far as I’m concerned!’

‘I don’t think we’ll go that far,’ she said, taking his arm. ‘Come to my quarters and take a sup of wine.’

She led him to her tent. Her servant had turned back the fly to allow the interior to air in the warm April day, and bedding hung over a line nearby. The woman hurried to fetch a bottle of wine and goblets as Mary invited Bruno to sit with her at the camp table set up outside. ‘Not that I’m displeased to see you, old friend,’ she said as the servant poured the wine, ‘but I’m curious as to why you’re here.’

Bruno waited until the servant went about other business before leaning close. ‘We’ve all been reading about the siege and battles and so on,’ he said. ‘Last week I remembered something which might be useful. My wife and I talked it over and decided you should be told. ‘

‘You came instead of sending a letter?’ Mary asked. ‘It’s a long way from the archbishop’s estates.’
Bruno looked around. The camp bustled with activity but none paid them any attention. ‘We thought it too sensitive,’ he said, leaning close.

‘Now I’m really curious!’ Mary exclaimed. ‘What have you to share?’

Bruno gestured toward the distant gun line. ‘There’s a way into the town from outside. A way few know of.’ He leaned closer. ‘A secret way.’

‘A secret way.’ Mary gazed at him thoughtfully. ‘Do you mean a secret passage?’

‘Not a man-made one, sister.’ Bruno sat back. ‘They’re more in the nature of caves under the town. They run back from the river bluffs.’

‘Interesting,’ she murmured. ‘How do you know of them?’

Bruno sipped his wine. ‘Two years ago I worked on the docks. A pal of mine fell into the river and got swept away. He couldn’t swim. I can only dog paddle a bit but I grabbed a keg and jumped in after him. I soon caught him but we were carried downstream about a quarter mile beyond the walls. Somehow I managed to push against the flow and guide us to the bank. It’s rocky there, with plenty of hand and footholds. I got us ashore and made sure my pal was safe, then looked around.’
     ‘There’s an overhang. I couldn’t see any way up from the river, but I could see a small cave opening screened by bushes a few feet above where we perched. I doubt it can be seen at all from the river unless a boat gets up close to the bank. My pal seemed half-dead and wasn’t able to move with the fright he’d gotten, so I climbed up and took a closer look at the cave.’ He shrugged and looked grim for a moment. ‘There seemed no hurry to send a boat after us from the docks. After all, we were just a couple of laborers.’
     ‘The opening was big enough for me to wriggle through and so I did. After a few yards I found a place big enough to stand in.’ He struck the ground with his boot heel. ‘There’s a whole series of tunnels and caves under this soil.’

Mary felt her pulse quicken as possibilities flowed through her mind. ‘You explored them?’

‘I explored a few later. Not at that time. My pal needed help and I wanted to be with him when the rescue boat arrived and took us back to town. I told no one but my wife of my find. It took a few days but I went back in secret with rope and a lantern. Those caves run for quite a way. One heads toward the town and under the walls.’

‘You know this for sure?’

‘Yes.’ Bruno grinned, his teeth brown and jagged. ‘I found a disused well shaft sunk into a small water-filled cave. It took some doing but I climbed up to the top. It’s covered with planks and rubble, but I saw enough through the gaps to make out a familiar neighborhood.’

Mary thought for a moment then stood. ‘Bruno, you need to come with me. The general should hear this!’

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Some news!

My apologies for the long absence in posting here, but I've been rather busy with an exciting new development.

The Hetzenberg Chronicles has been accepted by Summerhouse Publishing for worldwide release in eformat!

Not only that, as seen above, the cover art for the first volume of the Chronicles, Prelude to War gets a spiffy new makeover! The original version is still available through Amazon subsidiary CreateSpace.

The second volume, The Heat of Battle is now going through pre-production and will appear in print sometime this spring.

Meanwhile, the adventures of Mary Amadeus et al will continue here as I find time.

Watch this space!

Saturday, 22 January 2011

In Seinfeld

Bartolomeo Gundaker threaded his way through the crowds packing the market square. Although a war raged it occurred many miles away and the battle lines were currently stable. The good folk of Seinfeld went about their everyday business in the bright sunshine with little apparent concern for powers and politics. Nor should they, Gundaker thought. What concern is it of theirs what their betters do? Smells, of goods and humanity in their wide variety assaulted his nose and he tried not to show his distaste as he walked. He passed from the square into a narrow side road, feeling relief at escaping the press even though he regretted having to leave the sunlight. This damn country is never warm enough!

A hundred yards along the narrow way divided, the V shaped peninsula formed by the two lanes occupied by a tall half-timbered building in the local style. Bartolomeo used his field craft to ensure he’d not been followed then ducked into the doorway and pulled the bell handle. Almost instantly his ring was answered by a servant, who showed him up a set of wooden stairs to a small chamber overlooking the lane down which he’d come.

A handsome woman of middling years and plain but finely-wrought clothing sat there by the window, peacefully engaged in embroidery. Two large mastiffs lay on the plain floorboards, their black eyes fixed firmly on him. Their noses twitched as they took in his scent. The musty scent of the dogs made Bartolomeo’s nose also twitch in irritation but he had no recourse but to endure the reek. He knew better than to annoy the woman who awaited him. She didn’t speak as he entered, merely raising her head from her sewing to look Bartolomeo in the eye. Her eyebrow rose in interrogation.

“The Professore is dead,” Bartolomeo began without preamble. “I had the opportunity to substitute a forged letter for one written by him in reply to an inquiry by the Grafin Ursula. She sought to discover the validity of any marriage prospects between her friend and the heir to the Hetzenberg throne. It appeared a good means to sow discord in your enemy’s hierarchy. I forged the reply to the negative before killing the professore by cunning poison.”

The woman studied her embroidery. From where he stood by the door it appeared to Bartolomeo to be some kind of sampler. After a moment she nodded, and a fine hand gestured for him to continue. “From all I have learned the Graf Phillip is quite devoted to Fraulein Mary Amadeus. I intend to enter the Hetzenberg siege lines disguised as a visiting military observer and gain the confidence of the Graf. When opportunity presents itself I shall place forged correspondence of a most intimate nature in the quarters of both the Graf and Fraulein Amadeus. An anonymous tip-off to the Grand Duke will uncover this reprehensible communication, resulting in a crisis between father and son.”

The woman laid her embroidery in her lap and gazed out the window for several minutes. Bartolomeo waited in silence, very much aware the huge dogs’ eyes had not left him for an instant.

“It is a good plan, Herr Gundaker,” the woman said eventually. For the first time she met his eyes and he fought the impulse to step back, so cold and calculating were they. She gestured to a satchel which lay upon a stool a few feet to his right. “Your payment is in there. The rest you shall receive one discord has been sown in the enemy’s command. That is all.”

Bartolomeo bowed, and sidestepped to pick up the satchel. The dogs followed his movements. One growled; the sound seemed to rise from the basement. Bartolomeo swallowed and carefully stepped back to the doorway, the satchel making a nice heavy weight in his hand. “Farewell, lady. Until next time.”

The woman nodded, her attention focusing on the embroidery once more. Bartolomeo backed out of the room and found the servant waiting silently to escort him from the premises. He exited by the same door he’d come in by, and walked back to the market place.
The Dowager Margrafin watched him go from her window. Her servant entered the room. “Prepare for my departure to Schwebende Mühe, Walter,” she said. “We shall be leaving within the hour.”

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! The last day of the old year closed with a whoosh. A tornado touched down about a mile west of us a little after noon and tore up a city block's worth of damage. No-one was killed, thankfully; some minor injuries is all, but a number of houses were destroyed and a church roof torn off. We were lucky and had nothing more than a strong wind and heavy rain for a spell. Let's spare a moment of sympathy for those who suffered and had their celebrations spoiled, and hope the New Year is less dramatic!

On a more pleasant note, the manuscript of my novel Rebel Hearts has just been accepted by
eXstasy Books! Updates as they happen can be found over at my website.
So, the New Year is less than a day old here in the United States. What of the future, gaming-wise?

I hope to complete the army of the Margraf of Dunkeldorf-Pfühl, which lacks two cavalry regiments and its artillery. I do have a couple of guns and crew, which I'll paint when I find time. The main problem is most of my collection is still in the UK, and it costs a wheelbarrow full of cash to mail anything of any weight across the Pond. Add to that the fact that no less than three parcels mailed to me from the UK failed to arrive in the last year, and you can see my concern. Hopefully I'll find some way around the problem.

My Africa Station project is advancing slowly. I have found inspiration for a couple of useful buildings, which I'll make one of these days. Writing-wise, I aim to have the next volume of the Chronicles out within a couple months, plus some new adventures of Mary Amadeus, et al. Watch this space...