Sunday, 27 March 2016

Explaining the blog title

The man of the title, Kyril Emanuel Georg Bonfiglioli, friend, novelist, wit and knife-thrower, was the subject of the first nine posts of this blog, from 31st March till 20th May 2013. Read those to share my memories of his exploits: spirited, scandalous, comic or dangerous.
     The rest is self-indulgent "stuff", which you may find entertaining.

Here, for example, is the first episode of a tale inspired by DBJ's story posted on the Open University ""Fiction Writing" course I've just completed. It's my second attempt at fantasy.

Parting the Veils

The palace of the Desert King was the only stone-built dwelling for more than a hundred miles in any direction.
     In the centre of its Great Hall, a girl was kneeling, her wrists and elbows bound tight behind her. Through her matted, sweat-soaked hair, she fixed her eyes on the swollen figure sprawled on the onyx throne.
     ‘Who are you,’ he roared, ‘ to threaten the King of the Ten Tribes, Ruler of the Desert Lands?
     She spat the dust from her throat. ‘I am Aestrid Liefsdottir, Princess of the Northern Lands, daughter of the Sea-Wolf, who is Ruler of the Waves!’
     ‘What is the wildcat saying?’ The Desert King turned to his Chief Counsellor.’
     ‘I do not know the tongue well, Lord King, but it seems her father is a wolf of the sea and the Ruler of the Waves.’
     ‘Ha, she mocks me, does she? Then she will learn that there are no waves here except the shifting waves of sand, of which the sea-rovers know nothing. They call themselves wolves but they are bound captive to the seas they sail upon. They trade in the ports of our lands but they cannot trouble us in the heat and solitude of the desert.’
     Merdec'ah the Magnificent, King of the Ten Tribes, heaved himself to his feet and looked down at his latest prize, still struggling in the grip of two palace guards. She glared back at him.
     ‘Take her to the rooms of my women and give her to my first wives. They will know what to do.’ As they turned to go he added,’and see that there is no mark on her body. I will have her perfect when I take her.’ His voice dropped to a menacing growl. ‘If they find a purple bruise from your grip or one scratch from your fingernails on her skin, you will lose that hand!’
     The guards left the Hall at a run, giving the raging girl no chance to struggle and mark her own body. She knew enough of their language to grasp the king’s intent; they knew enough of the King’s temper to dread the reality of his threat.
     At the gate of the women’s quarters the guards gratefully released their burden. They handed her over to the king’s three senior wives, no longer wanted for his bed but now charged with the discipline of the whole seraglio. They would look forward to the preparation of this new and younger girl to sate the king’s waning lust.
     Without a word, they marched Aestrid into a room where a bath was already being prepared. They paid no attention to her curses as they stripped off her tunic and sandals and plunged her into the hot water, pushing her head under again and again till her cries of vengeance tailed off in spluttering exhaustion. It was as if in their eyes, she was no more than an object to be cleaned.
     She had still heard no word from any one of the three. She was dried, clothed in a simple white robe and locked into a small room, furnished with only a bed and a chair. A small grille high on the rear wall allowed air and a little light into the room. From the other side of the wall she could hear footsteps and recognised the sound of a guard’s iron-tipped boots as he patrolled the outside walls of the harem.
     Only when all was quiet did she let herself fall full-length on the bed, sobbing. Why had she not heeded her father’s words in the market-place? ‘Stay close to Torsten and no harm will come to you,’ he’d said as she hurried off to see the fine silks and brocades displayed on the crowded stalls.    
     She had no need of bodyguards, this girl with the glowing skin and flaxen hair. She could wrestle any boy of her age in their village, spear more fish and even outrun most of the warriors.
     Now she was held in a desert fortress, miles from the coast, beyond rescue, beyond even the reach of her father, Leif Gustafsson the Sea-Wolf, the most feared raider on the seas.
     In this tiny room, in the half-dark, the whisper seemed loud. She looked up at the air-grille.
     In her own language, a man’s soft voice said, ‘Aestrid, listen. Do not be afraid. I can help you.’
     She heard the guard’s approaching footsteps as he broke into a run, coming nearer. An angry shout, a challenge, in the barbarians’ tongue. The hiss of a sword-slash and the sound of metal on stone. Two more whistling cuts that met nothing but air. The guard shouted again. This time there was fear in his voice.
     Aestrid heard him run off, running as if for his life.

(This is a three-part story, to be continued next Sunday)

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