Tag Archives: peril and tension

Romance? Er … (gulp) … OK

This week on the Gumbee blog, we have the quite brilliant (which often means genially insane in my experience) Marcus Pailing. Marcus writes much harder fantasy than I do, and isn’t averse to a bit of gore. So, let’s see what he thinks of the softer side of fantasy…..

(Oh, and incidentally, I was indulging my romantic side when I added the tags for peril, conflict, fight scenes and pursuit… Will)

“Romance, eh?” I thought as the suggestion was put forward. My esteemed Gumbee colleague, Will MacMillan Jones, had recently returned from the Festival of Romance, and was all afire with passion … or such was the impression he gave. It was his suggestion, with a fast-beating heart and hot cheeks, that we turn our attention to the theme, to see whether the rest of us could also demonstrate our forays into the realms of romance.

I don’t consider myself much practised in the writing of romance. Generally I’m more of a swords and spears fantasy writer (and I don’t mean that euphemistically). When I was growing up, fantasy novels either steered clear of ‘lurve’ (and often eschewed females entirely, or kept them as very minor characters); or else treated women as lusty, heaving-bosomed bit-players, planted in the stories to demonstrate the equally lusty masculinity of the over-muscled protagonist.

Now, I appreciate a heaving bosom as much as the next man, but I never wanted to have female characters who were mere eye-candy. At the same time, I never set out to write ‘romance’. I did introduce it to my novels, however; but in small measures only – my main characters do meet women, marry them, and have children with them, after all.

This changed somewhat when I wrote The Withered Rose, because the entire novel is basically a romantic tragedy. So when the idea for this theme came up, I turned to that novel to see what I had written.

In order to explain the following extract, here’s some context. There are two friends, both called Atela. One of them is locked in a marriage that is starting to fall apart, having had a very positive start; the other has recently married herself, and is blissfully happy. Kieldrou, the son of the count of Trall, is younger than both the women, but has dazzled them with his tales of adventure – he has recently returned from a journey in the exotic lands of Azzawa. He has made it clear already that he finds them both attractive, and while he hasn’t exactly attempted to seduce either of them, he has managed in the past to trick them into giving him kisses.


“My ladies, I said that I had gifts for you both.”

The two Atelas sat in a window seat, having moved away from their husbands after a while of conversation. Now Kieldrou stood before them again. He had left his audience, where Derian was now entertaining the folk with more tales of their time in the east. Kieldrou looked a little flushed, but it was not from drink; more likely it was the excitement of having had an audience hanging on his every word.

“I think you should consider becoming a player,” teased Short Atela. “Entertaining the masses with your tall tales.”

“I swear, on my honour, that I exaggerate nothing,” he said, sounding only a little hurt. “I told nothing but the truth. Although perhaps it is better that you did not stay to hear me tell of the thieves of Ukhara, or you really would not believe me.”

“You noticed we had gone?” Atela asked. “I thought you too engrossed in your glory.”

“I noticed,” he said softly. “But it does not matter. I do not seek to gain favour with mere stories.”

Atela raised an eyebrow. “And how would you gain favour?”

“With gifts.”

At that, Kieldrou held out two small wooden boxes, handing one to Atela, and the other to the younger woman. “I found them in Ukhara, and thought of you both.”

“After three years?” laughed Short Atela. “Or did you buy them, and then think of us when you got here?”

Kieldrou frowned, and stepped back slightly, giving them a little space as they opened the boxes.

Atela gasped. Lying inside her box was a small white rose, exquisitely carved from the purest ivory – a rare and expensive luxury in Western Gilderaen – and turned into a brooch. It was a perfect reproduction of the flower, even in miniature. Short Atela was similarly overcome: hers was a tulip, also most delicately carved.

“I recalled the silver rose I gave you at your wedding,” Kieldrou said, his voice faltering a little. There was none of his usual humour in his voice. “I remembered how much you liked it, which is why I thought of you when I saw it. For you, my lady,” he continued, turning to Short Atela, “I wanted something of similar beauty, to match yours.” For the first time in Atela’s memory, he appeared to blush a little.

“It is beautiful,” Atela murmured. “Truly a marvel, and I do thank you. What favour do you wish for in return, then? Are you hungry for another kiss?”

She said it quickly, laughing, and without thinking. She certainly did not expect the reaction she got. Kieldrou’s brows creased in a frown, and he muttered a denial, before turning on his heel and striding away.

The two Atelas looked at each other, puzzled. “Did I offend him?” Atela asked, and the other shrugged. “Oh, Hogra, I fear I have. We forget he is a young man, now, no longer a high-spirited boy.”

“We must apologise,” Short Atela said. “Where has he gone?”

They scanned the hall, but he was nowhere to be seen. They figured he must have left, and they stood up to follow him. Yet they had to be discreet: it would not be seemly for them to go chasing after him. As they walked through the hall they were accosted again by Elnir and Sturgar, and were forced to stay in conversation for some time. When they escaped, they were then trapped by the earl and countess of Mendivar. It was a good half hour before they managed to get out of the hall.

“Let us try the garden,” Short Atela suggested. Atela nodded, and they hurried along the empty corridors towards the door that led out to the cloister.

It was late, and the garden was lit by a pale moon, throwing dark shadows yet illuminating the rows of flowers in the middle of the garden. He was there, walking alone between the bushes. He turned when they called his name, stiffening when he saw who it was that disturbed him.

“Kieldrou, I am truly sorry,” Atela said. “I was teasing, forgetting you are no longer a boy. It was wrong of me, and you did not deserve it.”

“I, also,” Short Atela admitted. “They are truly beautiful gifts, and you must have thought hard about them. We do not deserve your kindness, nor your thoughts of us while so far from home.”

Kieldrou gave a wan smile. “No, my ladies, you deserved no less. I can easily forgive your teasing. It is my fault: of course I expected nothing in return, and there was no call for me to take umbrage. Besides, you are both married women. Perhaps I should not have made you those gifts at all.”

“But they are most gratefully received,” Atela said. “I, for one, will treasure mine.” Beside her, Short Atela nodded in agreement.

“I am glad,” he said. “I have no expectations, but beauty and friendship should be rewarded.”

Atela felt a tightness in her chest, and she never knew what made her do as she then did. “Indeed they should,” she replied, and she stood on her toes to plant a light kiss on his lips. She felt his arm reach round her shoulder and she stepped back quickly. She remembered the strength of those arms three years before, and dreaded what she would do if she felt them around her again. “I’m sorry,” she breathed. “That is all I can give.”

He smiled sadly. “I understand, my lady.” He bowed to them both, and turned to go.


He turned back, and looked at Short Atela, who stepped forward, biting her lip. “I’m sorry,” she said, “that I cannot offer you even a kiss. I … it would not …”

“Thank you, my lady,” he said, cutting her off to save her the embarrassment of stumbling through a needless explanation. “You are happily married, I know. As I said, I have no expectations. The gifts were gifts, and deserve no payment. Although I shall treasure your return gift,” he added to Atela, briefly touching his lips.

Then he was gone.

“Oh, Hogra!” Atela groaned. “What did I do?”

“Nothing wrong,” Short Atela said, firmly. “It was a friendly gesture, that is all. Although it was wise to step back when you did.” She laughed, but it was a brittle laugh.

“I almost lost myself. What was I thinking? I am eleven years older than he, and married.”

“Locked in a withering marriage,” Short Atela shot back. “Let us be honest about it. Yet you must not do any more. I would advise you – both of us – not to seek out that young man again. You’ve had ‘the talk’ from my mother.”

Atela started. “How did you know?”

Short Atela laughed. “I know my mother. You were clearly unhappy at the time of my betrothal, and you sought a private meeting with her. She never told me what you discussed, but I am not stupid. I know her, and I have seen enough other women seek her advice. It takes no great imagination to guess what advice my poor, dear, beautiful and unsociable mother could give.

“Come on,” she went on, taking Atela’s hand in hers. “Let us get back to the hall and put the Trallian from our minds.”


This is the point in the novel where Atela – the one who this time kissed Kieldrou – begins to harbour romantic thoughts about the young man. Later in the novel these are to cause a lot of pain to a large number of people … but to say more here would rather spoil the story.

Still, the novel only costs £1 on Amazon …




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Gumbee Fantasy Writers ‘do’ Peril and tension: Number 7, Sandra Giles

I’ve never been the organised type, so I’m afraid this is going to be a rushed piece from me. Not the writing itself, but the choice of which scene to use. The below portion was taken from A Lost Fantasy, and was the first that came to mind when I thought of peril and tension. Now I’m not one to drag things out, so any tension built is usually short-lived. This is probably the only piece where that’s not true. It’s a bit of a rollercoaster ride, to be honest. This portion of the novel switches between three issues. One is the decapitation and rehabilitation of Aled’s love-interest, Leah. Another is the terrible timing of Ella going into labour, which is shown in-part below. The third point is the appearance of two vampires who have been out to hurt Aled from the very beginning. Oh, Aled is my main character in this book. I usually provide pieces from Jared’s novels, but thought it was time to introduce my lovely doctor into the mix. He’s generally much more likeable, so when I shove him into horrible situations there tends to be a lot more sympathy for the guy. He handles this situation pretty well. He keeps a cool head and is able to guide his pack (yes, he’s a werewolf) through it all, though I won’t say whether he is successful. This piece shows him trapped with the majority of his pack whilst another member betrays him by helping the vampires. The aim of the vampires is to torment the pack by bringing Ella’s baby into the world and then destroying it in front of them all, whilst possibly killing the mother. It’s not really made clear, but they are all terrified. That fits nicely with the theme of peril and tension, right? I sure hope so!

Through the door came Summer, looking petrified at what was happening, yet determinedly avoiding all of our eyes. With her was Ella, bound and bleeding from the knife hilt protruding from her waist. Beside me Mark let out a whimper through his gag.

“That was quick,” Acacia said, looking over the bleeding form as she was lowered to the ground. Unluckily for Ella, she was still conscious. Her eyes sought us and tears fell rapidly down her face. I could see the hope diminishing from her eyes and could do nothing to rekindle it.

“She was here already,” Summer said. “I had to strike her quickly because she took me by surprise. I don’t think the baby’s dead.”

“Perfect,” Ambrose said happily. “Now they can watch it die.”

“I’m not getting it out! Won’t it be enough to stab her again?”


“Don’t worry,” Acacia said, “she’s close to delivering. Can’t you smell it?” Summer shook her head. “Maybe wolves aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.”

“So what do I do?” Summer asked anxiously.

“Just wait for nature to take its course. What was she doing here anyway? Was it an ambush?”

“I don’t think so. She just wanted to help.”

“Is that so?” Acacia approached Ella and retrieved the gag from her mouth. “Did you come to help us?”

“No,” Ella spat. “I would never help you. Summer, why are you doing this? You chose to leave, didn’t you?” For a moment Ella’s eyes flickered to me, obviously under the impression I had lied.

“Yes,” Summer said quietly. “And I’m glad I did. You’re all sadistic.”

“You’re in no position to call us that,” Ella said angrily. She opened her mouth to continue, but instead her head pivoted backwards and she clenched her hands into fists. Mark moved uneasily, but I tried to hold him back. It was useless considering the circumstances, but still I tried. The best I could do was move my body in front of his. When Ella was sitting normally once more, the tension in Mark’s body was released.

“What happened?” Summer asked.

“Contraction,” Ella panted. “They come and go.” She seemed to realise who had asked and suddenly became angry. “Why? Are you that eager to get this baby out of me? Well, you’re going to have to wait because they’re not that regular yet, so piss off and leave me be.”

The room went quiet as everyone watched Ella. The vampires were looking eager at the prospect of the baby arriving, whereas Summer looked slightly sick. I didn’t blame her. I was feeling green myself.

I used the distraction of Ella’s next contraction to move into the centre of the group within the cage. The others moved aside to let me past, all trying to shift subtly. Despite everything, I couldn’t help but feel strong affection for the pack. They could have stood stubbornly in my path, ensuring that I was up front and liable to get hurt if the vampires decided to attack, but they trusted that I wasn’t leaving them to take pain for me. They had enough faith in me to put themselves in the line of fire, and trusted that I could help them. It was in their eyes, and it was that more than anything that made me more determined to get everybody out of this. Including Summer.

The gag in my mouth was hard to dislodge, but it wasn’t impossible. It was just a matter of manoeuvring my head against the bound hands of Joshua, who was closest. He tried to work with me to pull the gag out, but it was difficult for him to do much more than move his hands slightly to one side or the other. After some time of this, he stopped, realising that it wasn’t helping.

I had never played hook-a-duck as a child, but figured this was much like that game in some ways. There were only a couple of places on my gag that would allow something as large as Joshua’s smallest finger into the space, and it was very difficult to achieve what was needed. After much meandering and deliberation I was able to hook part of the fabric and pull backwards. Joshua stumbled slightly, and the vampires looked over to see what had caused it.

There was no way to hide the fact I had removed the gag, so the best I could do was work quickly at freeing Joshua’s hands. I couldn’t do my own, and his were nearest.

“Keep at it and I’ll cut the throat of this pretty thing,” Acacia said. I straightened up to see Olivia being held vast in Acacia’s hands, the edge of a small blade digging into her flesh. Naturally, I stopped gnawing at Joshua’s bonds.

“Good boy,” she said, smiling. “Do it again and there’ll be no warning. I like my blood pure, but will make an exception here.”

A series of growls issued from my surrounding pack. The knife dug in a little deeper.

“Stop it,” I said. “Don’t give her an excuse to hurt us.”

The growling stopped and Acacia let go of Olivia. Oliver’s eyes narrowed as his sister gasped behind her gag, but he made no attempt to resume the pointless growling.

“It must be nice to be in complete control of your pups,” Ambrose said. “Can you make them do parlour tricks?”

“As long as he keeps his mouth shut, I don’t care what he can do,” Acacia said. “One word from you and I’ll answer the age-old question; are werewolves immortal?”

Ella moaned as another contraction swept through her. Ambrose looked on in delight, but Acacia was too busy watching us to enjoy the moment. We were running out of time.

“Summer?” I said, taking a step forward so that the pack could move closer to safety.

“I’m warning you,” Acacia said, her voice far from angry. She was loving every moment of this.

“Get the knife,” I said, not taking my eyes away from the vampire before me.

“I already have it,” Acacia said. “Are you that eager for me to use it?”

She let out a roar of frustration as Summer tumbled into her. I had hoped for a more subtle approach, but it was the best we were going to get. Summer came away from Acacia with the knife in hand and blood spilling from a cut on her cheek.

“Now keep hold of it,” I instructed. “Be as mad as you want at us, but do not use it on any member of your pack. That knife is purely for the vampires, understand?”

Summer nodded, but the hatred in her eyes was directed at me and not the vampires.

Ambrose stood in the centre of the room looking utterly stunned, whilst Acacia was regaining her swagger ready for the next attack.

“You little bitch, you double crossed us,” Acacia said.

“No I didn’t, I swear!” Summer said. “He’s controlling me.”

“You left the pack. He can’t control you.”

“Actually, she never officially left,” I said. “And even if she had, I never would have sought to hurt her. None of us would. Well, maybe Hannah, but it wouldn’t be anything too extreme.” Summer actually smiled, albeit weakly. “Now, drive the knife into Acacia’s throat and don’t stop until she’s unconscious.”

Summer looked petrified at the very thought, but did as was told nonetheless. Acacia barely defended herself against the oncoming attack, too taken aback. The two women fell to the ground and Ambrose stood and gawped at the fight. The knife was jolting out of Acacia’s neck, but the vampire was still fighting fit. Summer was driving the knife further and further into the wound whilst Acacia tried desperately to dislodge both the knife and Summer. She tried to say something, probably a demand aimed at Ambrose, but her mouth filled with blood. Ambrose looked on with something close to lust on his face.

“Summer, move!” I shouted. She managed to get out of the way a moment before Ambrose struck. I had been wrong to think he was aiming to hurt Summer, as the only thing on his mind seemed to be food. He pulled the knife out of Acacia’s neck and began to drink from the wound. Even as the female vampire took in her final breaths, the feeding didn’t slow. The blood must have been truly irresistible if he was able to make room for it that hadn’t been there for Oliver’s.

“Stamp on his head,” I said, more as a suggestion than a demand. Summer did so, knocking him off Acacia and onto the ground. She continued to pulverise his head into the ground until I instructed her to stop. His skull had collapsed into itself slightly and blood poured from somewhere between his head and the ground.

Before either Summer or I could be congratulated for our ‘team effort’, a moan from Ella brought everyone’s attention pivoting back to her. Not even a gasp could be finished before she slumped to the ground, unconscious. More blood encircled her than any of the vampires.

I’ll leave it there seeing as it’s a nice cliff-hanger and the end of the chapter. The following pages follow the progress of Aled’s attempts to bring new life into the world whilst ensuring that Ella’s isn’t lost in the process. I won’t say how that pans out for the pack, but let’s just say it’s not exactly smooth-sailing ahead.

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Gumbee Fantasy Writers ‘do’ Peril and tension: Number 5, Jim Webster

Tension and Peril can be used in many ways. I like to use it to change the pace, a bucolic scene where the rustic tranquillity is suddenly disturbed by a dying horseman on a foam flecked horse, or perhaps the meal in a quiet bar, when suddenly a shadow falls across the table. In these examples the reader is surprised by the action which follows which gives it a starker feel.

But also you can build tension slowly. Here we have Benor describing an incident to his companions. This passage is both descriptive, but also quietly tightens the screw in preparation for what is coming next. When the action does happen it is almost cathartic and the tension is released.

“As we made our way slowly west we saw no one, but there were signs that others have dwelt there in the past. For example there was the ledge cut into the rock we had just negotiated, in another place there is a short tunnel, less than a horse length, but still carved by man. Admittedly they could have been ageless, but then we found an old fetish of bones and a skull blocking the path.”

Benor shifted uneasily and Amiche could see that there were things being remembered that the older man had been trying to forget.

“We travelled another two days and things got even more fey. There was an almost mummified body impaled on a stake at the side of the road. Then we came to a door set into a cliff face, covered with strange glyphs and sigils. One of our scouts touched it with the cold iron of a sword blade and the door burst into flame and was still burning when our rearguard passed an hour later.”

Benor stared into the fire, remembering. “You have to remember that those with me might well be Urlan but they were young. I was oldest by nearly thirty years. I decided we would be cautious, and we made our camps as silent and secret as possible, with no open fire. But there were strange cries in the wind and then we came across a small pool where a stream had been dammed. When I looked into it I could see the reflection of a strange mountain town, turreted houses, lattice windows, and joined to the trail by flying bridges. Yet no such thing was visible when you looked around. It was unnerving.” Benor glanced at Kirisch,

“The Urlan slept very lightly, so lightly that it was wise to say their name when you wanted to waken them for their turn at guard duty; merely tapping their shoulder could have been fatal.”

He stared back into the fire. “There were other things, a rusting gibbet creaking when there was no breeze and tracks of some creature that left footprints that none of us had ever seen before. Then we occasionally heard small falls of stones above us, as if someone was watching and inadvertently
knocked a couple of small stones off a ledge, but we saw neither watcher nor falling stones. Then at last in the distance we saw in reality the dwellings I saw reflected in the pool.”

Benor sighed, and once more poked the fire into life with a stick. This time the flames shot up, illuminating his face and casting dancing shadows on the rock behind him. “We hid ourselves well and watched the buildings overnight.

Lights were seen at the windows and we even heard distant music, but as we approached next morning the place was run down. I left most of my people on the level ground at the foot of the trail up to the village. I took about a score of the older Urlan with me, Alissa stayed with the others. We rode in column of twos up the flying bridge to the gate, but all was still. When we got to the gates everything was in silence, the gates hung open and you could see that it was really one intricately planned building, not a village. I shouted, and one of the Urlan blew a horn, but no one came. So we split into two parties, one to guard the horses in the gateway, the other party to make our way through the buildings.

Mystery piled upon mystery as we could see signs that things had been moved or used, but the grates were stone cold and the ovens had not been fired for some time. Finally we came to what seemed to be some sort of mage’s workroom and there we saw a sight which chilled the blood of even the Urlan. Some poor wretch was hanging on a frame across a grille in the floor. The wretch was dead, but had died the previous night; his life blood had flowed through the grille to whatever lay below. He had been tortured to death. On his arm was a tattoo, ‘Mummer’s Dance’ plus a picture of a boat which might have been in full sail had enough skin remained.”

Amiche broke in, “I remember the ‘Mummer’s Dance’. Her crew were convicted of piracy, but there was a general feeling it was more fraud and theft, they’d never actually attacked anyone. So they were sentenced to follow the Central Trail, to see if it was still open to the Oasis towns.”

Benor remained staring into the fire. “It is. But none of the crew of the Mummer’s Dance were seen in the east”

Obviously I’ve stopped this passage even as the tension is slowly building, if you want to know what was going on, then the passage comes from ‘Dead Man Riding East.’


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Gumbee Fantasy Writers ‘do’ Peril and tension: Number 6, David Staniforth: Peril

This is the first excerpt I’ve posted on the Gumbee blog from my novel “Alloria”. I’ve found peril a difficult topic to address as every piece I selected appeared to be a massive spoiler. The passage below is quite close to the beginning of the book so hopefully avoids that issue. Even then, I have had to end it halfway through a paragraph. For me peril has to have a strong element of tension, and therefore has to be experienced from the point of view of the character that is in peril. There has to be, for the reader and the character, a genuine belief of immediate and certain danger. I believe I achieved that here, but that’s for you to decide.

Too afraid to turn around and take a second look at the man-beast heading towards them, Alloria locked wide eyes with Nathan. She heard the huge sword smashing into the ground behind her. Despite the momentary glance, his face was fixed in her mind: the ripped cheek, the look of contorted anger in the good eye, the weeping puss around the bad eye, a heavy slab jaw with jutting canines. Nathan’s colour drained and she watched with dread as his eyes rolled and he fainted.

The man-beast was huge, not quite a giant from one of Papa’s tales, but massive all the same. As he flew past, her heart pounded. He brought the sword down on Nathan but missed. He then stepped to the right, swinging his weapon in all directions, spinning around, going back and forth, his sword whistling through the air and striking the ground with an eruption of soil as he skirted the edge of the clearing. Maybe he’s blind, Alloria dared to hope, until he stopped dead and fixed the open eye directly upon her. The ground thumped as he raced in her direction, his mighty sword held aloft.

Alloria curled into a ball, squeezed her eyes shut and waited for the killing blow. When the ground behind her shuddered she opened her eyes and turned. He’d leapt over her and was furiously whacking the ground, his sword a blur of flashing steel, the muscles in his arms flexing as he swung the blade back and forth.

Crazy, she thought, edging close to Nathan, intent on rousing him and sneaking away. Silence forced her to glance over her shoulder. The man-beast was standing still, looking directly at her, the tip of his sword pointing to the ground, his massive chest heaving as he breathed heavily. She sat motionless, only her eyes disobeying her body’s refusal to move.

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Gumbee Fantasy Writers ‘do’ Peril and Tension: Number 4, M T McGuire

Peril and tension, This scene is the moment when the main female character in the K’Barthan trilogy first sets eyes on the super-villain of the piece, Lord Vernon. She doesn’t know who he is at this point, only that he’s following her. He’s not the first person she’s noticed following her but it’s the first hint she gets as to why she’s being followed. Anyway, here you go, I hope you enjoy reading.

She walked on a little way, until she could hear the footsteps start up again before stopping a second time. Once again, they stopped when she did.

More than a coincidence then? Maybe and that was grim.

OK. One last try. She walked on, the footsteps walked on.

Hmm, an echo? Possibly. She tried tap dancing a yard or two but the accompanying footsteps continued their measured, one, two.

Or maybe not.

As she reached the end of the road and turned the corner she ran fast along the next street. It was a long row of three-storey terraced houses with small, walled gardens in front, many of which were bounded by privet hedges.

Hoorah! Somewhere to hide, thought the irresponsible, frivolous part of Ruth which treated existence as a glorified spy movie.

Running as fast as she could but at the same time trying to make no sound so her shadowy pursuer, if there was one, wouldn’t realise what she was doing, she decided to try to reach one of the hedged-in gardens and hide there, before the person making the footsteps got as far as turning the corner.

Not the first one. That’s exactly where he’ll look, she thought as she made to duck through the nearest entrance. She ran on to the third enclosed garden and nipped in through the open gate. It was a completely mad thing to do, she knew. Behind the hedge were a pair of bins.

That was a stroke of luck.

She ran over and found that, a little way behind them, there was a hole in the foliage that allowed her to creep right inside the hedge. Even better.

She crept in, pulled one of the bins towards her to help hide the gap at the bottom of the privet and waited.

A few moments and there it was.

Footsteps. Running.

They stopped. She could hear somebody in the road, the other side of the hedge, walking backwards and forwards as if looking for something. Please no. He, it had to be a he, didn’t appear to be out of breath even though he’d just sprinted up the street – he was obviously marathon-runner fit – only bigger, a lot bigger than a long-distance runner. As she watched the dark shape moving to and fro she shuddered and the hedge rustled a little. He stopped, stood absolutely still and… yes… sniffed the air.

Lord no! That was too creepy. He was after her and he was also, clearly, a member of the serial killers’ guild. Normal people don’t use scent to track others, come to think of it, normal people don’t tend to track others, anyway. Good plan to hide behind the bins, then. He moved out of sight but she could feel he was still there and then, yes, she knew it. He’d come into the garden. He stole silently over to the dustbins and lifted the lids, he even peered between them, but in the dark didn’t notice the gap in the hedge. Luckily the glaring, tell-tale patch of damp concrete that would show the second bin to be recently moved was obscured by shadows. He paused, as if in thought, before taking something from his pocket and rubbing it on the front of his coat. He was wearing a long, dark trench coat, probably black or blue, open, with brass buttons which glinted as they caught the light. Underneath he wore a jacket made from a similar material but it had a stand-up collar, like a military uniform and was fastened with a single button in the middle – she could see a contrasting white v shape it made against the stock or cravat – too many ruffles for a shirt – which he was wearing with it. His belt had a holster hanging on it, complete with gun, she assumed, and it was one of those military-style belts with a strap that goes diagonally across the chest with… yes. He was wearing a sword. His trousers had a stripe of different-coloured material down the outsides and with them he wore knee-high boots in a matte black material; suede? A dress uniform? A disguise for a sci-fi convention? He didn’t have a hat, but was wearing a pair of dark glasses – please dark glasses and not night vision glasses – and in a cruel and unpleasant way, he was extremely good looking. He was also wearing gloves, with rings on the outside. Except for that bit, his getup was as if she’d dreamed up Mr Darcy’s dark alter ego or Evil Adam Ant and he’d come alive.

Nice touch, My Brain, throwing the handsome thing in there. Had somebody spiked her drink? Silently, he crouched down.

No. These events were real.

He pointed the object at the hedge and, ah yes. It was a torch. Ruth did the hardest thing she had ever done in her life. Hoping he wouldn’t train the beam down and see the gap she had squeezed through or the soggy black circle showing where she’d moved one of the bins, she took her glasses off and closed her eyes. Slowly, as quietly as she could, she moved the hand clutching her spectacles behind her back. He must be looking for a reflection. If she kept the specs out of sight and her eyes closed he wouldn’t find it.

Every part of her screamed “RUUUUUUN.” But her only chance, she knew, was to wait where she was.

“Come to me. I know you are there,” he whispered as he shone the torch back and forth across the hedge. His voice had a hypnotic quality and without thinking she almost did as she was told. But she managed to keep still and sat, frozen, trying to subdue her breathing, not to mention her trembling. The darkness behind her eyelids changed colour as the beam of his torch played over her face. It was taking all her self control not to look.

Please let the hedge be thick enough to hide her.

The beam of the torch stopped moving and he laughed quietly. A laugh conspicuously lacking in mirth or human warmth. A laugh so utterly evil Ruth felt a shiver run down her spine.

“Now I have you,” he said and the little hairs on the back of her neck stood up. His voice this time was soft, malevolent and very, very scary. She suppressed another involuntary shudder.

A sudden flurry, and with a loud scream a cat leapt from the bushes beside her and ran past him into the street. He breathed out with a hiss, straightened up to his full and considerable height and turned the torch off. While she willed him to go, he stood there and tapped it thoughtfully against the palm of his hand.

“You will not evade me forever, Chosen One. I will find you,” he told the darkness quietly.

She watched from her hiding place as he turned on his heel and strode out into the street. She stayed where she was long after his footsteps receded into the night and waited another half an hour before daring to creep out of the hedge.

“No further chances to be taken, tonight, Ms Ruth Cochrane,” she said to herself and headed straight back to the Edgware Road and the night bus, which was arriving as she reached the stop. Wow! Had that taken a whole hour? She consulted her watch. Yes.

So. Had somebody spiked her drink?

No, but oh how she wished they had.


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Gumbee Fantasy Writers ‘do’ Peril and Tension: Number 3, Will Macmillan Jones

So, peril.  Preferably mortal peril, of course.  A hint, a spice taste of danger to both characters and by extension the reader.  The task for the writer is to communicate that coldness, the sharp frisson, those shivers down the spine that the characters feel: to extend to the reader that sense of imminent threat and dread.

Normally, that’s a problem for me.  I write what is supposed to be comic fantasy.  So even when the characters are in danger, I want the readers to be laughing at them.  But recently, I’ve also started to dabble with the closely related genre of horror.  The dark side, and their cookies.  Here is a piece from my first release, called The Showing.  Maybe there’s a hint of fear to be had after all.

The scene: a girl has vanished inside a house, and her boyfriend (Ian Evans) has sought the aid of the last scion of the family who built the house. They have gone to a spiritualist to seek help in finding her.  The story is being told in the first person by Mr Jones, the last remaining descendant of the family.

“So, you have a problem. Do you wish to contact the dead?” the medium asked in a voice that combined boredom, sadness and commercial instinct in one tone.

“I hope not,” Ian told her.  “You’ve heard about this young girl that’s gone missing?”

“Yes, of course.  Are you a relative, young man?”

“No.  I was out with her the night she vanished, and Mr Jones here knows something of the place where she went missing.”

“Do you have anything of hers?”

“I’m sorry, no,” Ian admitted.  The medium nodded and put her hand in her pocket.  She brought Ian’s cash back out.

“Mister Evans, I’m sorry, but I don’t think there’s anything that I can do for you.  Without some link to her, I cannot find her spirit amongst those that teem around us.”

Evans looked around as if seeking inspiration.  His glance fell on the romance the medium had been reading.  “I fell for her, the girl who vanished last night.  I fell for her completely.”

The medium gave him a more sympathetic look.

“I can’t explain it, but it matters to me more than I can explain that I find her.  I think she could be the one I’ve been looking for, and I don’t want to have to look again.”

The medium half-smiled.

“Are you trying to take the mickey out of me, young man?”

“No.” It was indeed apparent Ian was deadly serious, and the medium’s mood shifted.  She became more businesslike. A professional veneer slid across her face and she sat more upright.

“Where did she vanish, then?”

“The place is not far from here.  About ten minutes in the car.”

“I’m going to put some stuff in a bag.  Meet me back outside the front door in five minutes, and bring another fifty pounds.  We’ll do a site visit.”

For the first time, I spoke.  “I’m not sure that’s a wise idea.”

“Nor am I,” she replied.  “But if this young man has lost his girl, we owe it to her to go and look, don’t we?  And see what we may find.”

“That,” I told her, “is what I’m worried about.”

“And why I’m packing a bag with some essentials,” the medium answered, showing us to the door.  “Five minutes, right?”

Ian jumped into his car and as soon as I got in we headed off to a cash point.

“Are you sure about this?  It is costing you quite a lot of money,” I asked him.

Evans nodded.  “I can’t do it.  I can’t just let Robin go, not without trying everything,” he said fiercely.  He left the engine running outside the bank whilst he withdrew more money from the ATM, did a fast turn in the road and headed back to the medium’s house.  When we got there, she was stood outside with a wicker basket in her hand, a cover over the top.  She smiled, a little grimly.

“You really are serious,” she said, heaving herself into the back seat.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Then let’s go see this supposedly haunted house.  You wouldn’t believe how many haunted houses I’ve been to which turned out only to be haunted by mice, or rats.  And some of the rats were human.”  She laughed, and for the first time, I actually liked her a little.

“This time I don’t think you’ll be disappointed,” I said quietly, and she fell silent for the rest of the journey.

Ian turned into Craddock Road, rolled the car to a halt near the gate to the house and cut the engine.

“This the one?” asked the medium.  Ian and I nodded.

The medium delved into her bag and pulled out a divining rod and a large bottle of talcum powder.  She passed the talc to Ian.  “Take the top off the bottle, but be careful not to spill it.  If I tell you, throw a handful as directed.”

Ian and I looked at each other, an expressionless glance that yet somehow conveyed a lot of information.  The medium set off down the drive and we trailed after her.  Twenty paces and she stopped abruptly as the house came into view beyond the trees.  She took a deep breath and waited for us to catch up.

“Well, Mister Evans,” she said softly, “you have delivered with this one.  This is the real deal.  We walk softly now, tread the earth lightly.”  With that, she skipped, rather more easily than I would have given her credit for, onto the grass lawn.  As she landed, she drew another deep, rattling breath.  We followed as best we could to join her.

“Softly, now.  This house bears an aura I like not.”

I began to wonder if the vaguely comic lady was in fact the real deal herself, rather than the charlatan I had supposed when first we met. Gently, we walked across the expanse of ill-mown lawn towards the front door.  The medium stopped us short of the door and handed me her wicker bag, retaining the divining rod alone. She stepped as gently as she could onto the gravel and approached the front door much as the old news reels show adventurers approaching a sleeping lion.  She gingerly stretched the divining rod out until it touched the door, and both Ian and I jumped at the sight of the pulse of energy that coursed through her body.  With a cry, she staggered backwards and grabbed us each by an arm.

“In the bag! There is an umbrella.  Quickly now, unfurl it and hold it over our heads.”  With one powerful movement, she swung us all around and headed up the drive at a steady resolute pace.  “I charge you both, if you each value your life and ours, do NOT look behind us.”

Ian, I am sure, had no desire to do so.  I was used of old to the rule, to look nowhere but ahead in this one specific situation.  The hairs on my neck rose sharply, and the so well-remembered feeling of dread and malice seeped out like an autumn mist from the front door, coalescing on the drive and drifting with evil intent towards us.

Above our heads, the strangely painted paper and rowan wood umbrella crackled with sudden energy.  I gripped the handle tightly and felt the wooden handle become first warm then very hot.  But I held on grimly.  A white mist coiled around our ankles, and on the cusp of hearing whispered a voice, words indistinctly formed, yet dreadful to hear.  The sense of ancient malignancy grew so intense it was almost unbearable, and I heard Ian whimper in terror.  A fanciful person might have imagined a half face, hooded and cloaked, forming and dispersing continually in the mist – and at this time I could easily have had such a fancy.

“Keep walking,” instructed the medium, holding our arms in a deathly tight grip.  We obeyed.  Beside me, the mist drifted a little higher. Was that an almost hand  forming in the chill moist air?  It drifted against my arm but then recoiled alarmingly, as if in shock.  The mist around our ankles coiled as if in a frenzy then slipped back into the ground; and the tremendous pressure from the malice unfurled against us by that evil will at last relented, and so, so slowly diminished.  I was tempted to quicken my steps, but the medium held us to a steady pace until we were beyond the gate, which she closed firmly, albeit with a shaking hand.

None of us spoke until we were in the car again, and without prompting, Ian operated the central locking to shut us in.

The medium blew out her cheeks with a sudden noise that made us jump.

“Wow!” she cried.  “That was exciting!”

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Gumbee Fantasy Writers ‘do’ Peril and Tension: Number 2, Jaq D Hawkins

Sometimes in Fantasy, there are places your protagonists just don’t go, but of course circumstances will make it necessary for them to go there anyway. In Dance of the Goblins, I established early on that although Count Anton had limited access to a friendly goblin cavern, there was one grotto that he had been vehemently warned off.

He wondered a moment if perhaps she had recognised the way to Lirrewot which was nearby. Creeping stealthily through the shadows by habit, he came to where the opening had always been and immediately noticed that the sign was gone. The opening itself seemed unchanged, but if he had not known exactly where it was, he could easily have walked right by it without noticing.

He dare not venture far inside. The goblins here would know of him, but they didn’t know him as Haghuf and his lot did. Haghuf had warned him long ago not to enter these particular tunnels. Apparently there was strong anti-human sentiment here at the best of times.

Just in case the reader hasn’t imprinted that piece of information, another character (Talla) gives Count Anton a similar warning’

‘The signs are gone now,’ he continued, ‘I think your people have taken them because I told Haghuf how the magicians recognise the ways. This one is very familiar to me, as it is so near my own castle. This is the way to Lirrewot.’

Suddenly she gripped his arm and spoke very seriously.

‘You must not come through this passage, Count Anton. There has always been anti-human sentiment among the goblins there. Now may be a bad time.’

Oh dear. We’ll learn eventually why humans simply don’t enter Lirrewot, but for now Count Anton has only the explanation of “anti-human sentiment.” We must keep in mind that we’re talking about goblins here. They can be extremely dangerous. You wouldn’t walk into a biker bar in a meter maid’s outfit and announce that all the motorcycles outside were illegally parked and about to be towed away, would you? Sometimes self-preservation requires a little common sense.

Having established that Lirrewot is a no go place, the rules of character abuse decree that Anton has to be given little choice about the matter later on. Skip ahead to page 184 and Anton finds himself in trouble with a group of revolting peasants who think he’s been protecting demons, because of his friendship with a goblin.

The shouts roused the other groups of men that had been patrolling the area. The Count had not realised how many there were, but from the vantage point of the small hill he could see men running towards him from all directions brandishing sharp weapons and shouting for his blood. He wondered for a moment where his guards were and whether the shouts would alert his own people within the castle. But there was no time. The southerners were closing on him. They were too much of an angry mob to expect other than to be torn limb from limb.

With no other choices before him, he leaped down to the entrance and ran into the moonlit shadows of Lirrewot cavern. His only thought was concealment. If he didn’t go too far in, perhaps he would not be noticed. It was possible that some of the men would search until they found the entrance as well, but would they be foolish enough to enter?

     He knew the tricks of goblins well enough to find an alcove where men would be unlikely to look for him. Such hiding places were common near the entrances in particular, so that if an enemy entered the caverns they would find goblins both in front and behind them if they came in very far. Anton was grateful that he didn’t find a goblin already hiding in this one.

He closed his eyes, acknowledging to himself that he was afraid. It wasn’t death that frightened him, but the pain of a violent death at the hands of humans or goblins did not appeal. Given a choice between being ripped apart or eaten alive, he wondered if his magical disciplines would hold in such a situation enough to leave his body and travel into the astral realms before the worst of the violence. Neither promised to be an easy death.

     He heard a few men run past his hiding place. Fools indeed. They ran without thought, too caught up in the chase either to notice the concealed prey or to consider the danger they ran towards. He heard the screams as they ran down the first stair, which came to an abrupt halt all too quickly. The goblins were indeed patrolling near the surface. Hopefully the blood-curdling shrieks would be enough to dissuade the others from following. The acoustics of the cavern were like a giant echo chamber which would reverberate the horrifying sounds out through the entrance, chilling the blood of any who stood outside.

Anton waited patiently, but there was no other sound. An eternity seemed to pass, yet there was nothing. At last he was reasonably sure that the men must have given up the chase, perhaps assuming him dead like their comrades. He consciously relaxed his shoulders, releasing the tension that the fear had raised in him. Slowly, he opened his eyes. He hoped to see nothing more than the empty cavern, still lit by the soft moonlight that spilt through the doorway just a few steps away.

     Despite his optimism that he had managed to escape, he wasn’t entirely surprised to see the shadows before him broken by the reflection of moonlight from two pairs of large yellow eyes, looking directly at him. He almost chuckled as he thought to himself that they were far too big to belong to cats.

The cat reference is one for the humour topic as it refers to an earlier amusing incident. Oh there’s more. The topic at hand is ‘mortal peril’ is it not? With that in mind, we can’t let Count Anton simply talk his way out of a tight situation. Certainly not in Lirrewot, where no human must go.

Anton’s mind raced through his limited options. All of them demanded that he come out of his hiding place willingly. To wait for them to come in after him would mean certain death.

‘I am Count Anton,’ he said clearly in the goblin language. He hoped that identifying himself would at least make them hesitate to attack, although the two large goblins were certainly of the kind called Those Who Protect. They were very unlikely to extend the status of guest to him, even in these circumstances. Still, if he could stall their movements by talking to them, he might be able to get into a position where turning into Wolf would allow him to run for the door swiftly enough to escape. He dared not attack them, even in defence. That would be the one move that would make him goblin enemy forever, and even Haghuf himself might hunt him down for such a transgression.

     ‘I apologise for invading your realm uninvited,’ he continued, holding their gaze as he moved slowly to a more advantageous position, ‘but the humans were hunting me, intending to kill me for my friendship with your people…’

Suddenly his breath was knocked out of him by a powerful arm that scooped him unceremoniously into a clinch that defied the act of breathing at all.

‘No humans in the caverns!’ asserted the very large and muscular goblin who had come up from behind Anton.

Jiggling about like a rag doll in the grip of the goblin as the flapping feet ran down a passage, Anton was so surprised and disoriented that he could not react at first. The journey must have been very short or the goblin’s running was very fast. In the few seconds it took him to regain perspective so that he was able to determine which way was up, the goblin had reached his goal. Anton was twisted around once again as the goblin’s powerful arms lifted him above his head with no apparent strain, and casually threw him into a fissure.

     He was immediately engulfed in complete darkness. In his mind’s eye, he remembered the pits that Haghuf had warned him to avoid. He had got the impression before that they were very deep, which was reinforced now as he continued to fall for what seemed an eternity. He supposed that he should count himself lucky that it was a particularly large opening, as all the flailing about that his unruly limbs could manage only met with open air, rather than with potentially very damaging abrasions from the sides of the pit. He tried not to think of the inevitable force of the landing, or what he might be landing on, when at last he reached the bottom. He must have fallen a great distance already, far more than he could expect to survive through the impact when at last he hit solid ground.

     He was even more surprised when the fall ended in a sudden rush of changed air in a dimly lit open space and a splash, which held an impact of its own as he plunged deep within the unexpected body of water. Until that moment, he had managed to maintain his equilibrium. Now as he rolled helplessly through the torrents of water caused by his own momentum through its depths, he wondered if the darker conditions within the water would allow just a glimpse of which way the bubbles from his breath floated so that he could determine which direction led to the surface. Whether there was any chance of reaching it before he drowned was another matter.

His will to live had carried him a long way through the series of events that brought him to this juncture, but it was beginning to fade as his attempts to blow bubbles in the dark water only resulted in less air in his lungs and no clue as to which way he should swim. He began to float helplessly, having run out of options… and of air. He had begun to accept that at least drowning was reported to be a peaceful death.

Then he felt something sharp on his ankle and thought he heard a high-pitched sound pierce the water. This was followed by something snaking around his waist yet again. It felt to be about the diameter of an arm, but certainly longer. Anton had a vision of some form of horrifying tentacled beast. There’s something in the water.

We’ve heard that phrase before in the book. There’s something in the water. Whatever it is has feeding frenzies and even the more friendly goblins won’t talk about it. But we’re only 2/3 through the book so despite having been thrown down a pitch black pit into an underground lake full of some unnamed horror that eats flesh, surely Anton will have to survive, won’t he? I wonder…

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