Saturday, 27 April 2013

Salute 2013: Mars

Victorian SF was on show at Salute including a scrumptious Mars display game. Thanks to the gentleman who held up the backdrop. A Japanese colonial city is under attack by High Martians, or maybe it's the other way around.

Japanese and Martian Flyers clash over a Martian canal.

Japanese gunboat on the canal. Note the walker.

Martian flyers attack a Japanese ariel round ship. Underneath comes the Royal Navy - Hurrah!

Martian barbarians prepare to defend their cliff homes.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Sedition Wars: Giant Mutie

I painted up one of the Sedition War Strain models from Studio McVey to test the colour mix. This was a pig of a model to put together, more about that in a later review, but it paints up well.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Dark Eldar Skimmers

Two of the Dark Eldar skimmers, the Raider and the Ravager (it's all Rrrrrs with the Dark eldar).

I painted them in Tamiya metallic blue outlined with Cote d'armes metallic purple to give what I fondly believe to be a flickerfield shimmer effect. It also makes them look a bit eerie. The only other colours used are shades of red for the plumes and copper for gun barrels, eye visors etc.

And you need to be in a fast skimmer when the three-legged Wabbit Daemon is after you.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Salute '13: Traders

Here are a few photos of trade stands that caught my eye and that I could get a picture of through the crowds. First up is Gripping Beast who had a Great Hall on display for 200 modern pounds stirling, not sure what that is in groats.

The Perry twins had a stand for their historical models, one of the talented sculptors themselves in centre shot.

Mantic Games took the risk of having a pretty girl on their stand: there is always the possibility of frightening away wargaming customers. I have been picking up their Kings of war stuff recently and will be putting up a review.

Mike McVey was selling his new game for Sedition Wars, the Battle of Alabaster. I succumbed so expect a review in due course.

Micro Art Studio were demonstrated a new steampunk game

They also had a great display of their scenic bases. I have used these and they are fabulous.

Renedra are an interesting company. They are basically a British plasticsmanufacturer who have been sucked into wargaming. British wargame manufacturers have found it better to pay a little more and use a British supplier rather than a far east one because (i) the quality is better, and (ii) you have far more control of your supply chain. Your products aren't stuck on a container ship off Somalia when you need them.

Scheltrum Miniatures do a very natty line in Victorian SF. You may recall I posted a mole-machine pic earlier of a model I bought from them at SELWYG.

And finally, a great trade stand from Urban Construct showing their great 28 ml buildings.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Hammers Slammers Relaunch at Salute '13

Here they are, the new model David Drake's Hammers Slammers Blower Tanks by Ainsty Castings. I took this photo of the tanks rolling hot at a demo game display at Salute 2013.

The display was fabulous and on an incredible scale. This is a long shot down the table.

Two of the unsung heroes of the Slammer game. On the left is Andrew of Pireme who publishes the rules. On the right, Roger was lagely instrumental in creating the display.

Hammers Slammers on a Thunder Run.

The Hammers Slammers game designers, John Treadaway (on the left) and John Lambshead. The charming lady in the centre adding a bit of tone to the photo is John T's wife. Note the blower tanks on her T-shirt.... greater love hath no woman.

The salt marsh.

Ainsty had a stand at Salute. They had been working 15 hours a day casting the new blower tanks and combat cars. The former can be had for £30 for a box of four and the latter £25. Click on the link above.

Heavy armour moves through the capital city to intercept the Slammers.

In go the airborne.

A heavy transport shuttle at the spaceport.

Light armour waits for the order to engage.

Two young fans enjoy the show.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Salute 2013: Overview

The London Weather produced a fabulous spring day to spend in an, er, windowless aicraft hanger at Salute 2013, the UK's premiere wargame show. As usual it was held at ExCel on the north bank of the Thames in East London.

I confidently drove into the East End via Essex and parked in time for 'doors open' to be greeted by the longest queue I have seen for years. Took 45 minutes to reach the front.

Of course, the queue is sacred to English hearts and you do meet such interesting people, like this group out on licence from Gravesend.

The centre piece, some Medieval artillery.

The place was heaving but I still managed to acquire some valuable loot.

I took a lot of photos so I will be putting them up, batch by batch. Stay tuned to this bat-channel

Monday, 15 April 2013

Kent Waiting for Summer: Photo

Just a photo I took a couple of weeks ago

British Patrol Afghanistan

This astonishing photo was taken by a professional British Army photographer, Rupert Frere.

You can follow him on twitter at




Astonishing Generosity

A little while ago I got an email from my friend Devos IV to the effect that he noticed I was building a Dark Elder Army and that he had a few spare models he would send me.

I expected a couple of infantry units so I was astonished when two huge boxes came through the post enclosing half a dozen vehicles, a dozen jetbikes and innumerable infantry and infantry sprues.

There are hundreds of pounds of models here.

It is a salutory lesson in these days of corporate greed and corruption, and slimey lying politicians, that not everyone is on the make. There are still decent people out there.

Thank you, Stewart, and I hope I have not embarrassed you to much.


Saturday, 13 April 2013

So Long

Miniwargaming is too close.

Games Workshop scores another hit.

Reasons for closure given here.

And who's next, I wnder?

Friday, 12 April 2013

Blake's 7 is here!

Crooked Dice have Blakes's Seven releases for Salute.

Of course, they don't call them that. Look up Future Freedom Fighters, wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Spring has sprung

Spring is very late this years as the jetstream has moved way to the south. But it has finally come.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Wolf In Shadow Snippet 6: Chapter 4

“Tower Hamlets Cemetery,” said Frankie, expansively, spreading her
arms wide like a Lord of the Manor embracing his estate. “One of the
Magnificent Seven.”
All Rhian could see was a very high brick wall.
“Even the wall is a listed monument,” said Frankie, meaning that
it was on the list of buildings protected by preservation orders.
She waved her arm to encompass the wall, as if she was personally
responsible for its all-round awesomeness and preservation.
“The Magnificent Seven?” asked Rhian.
“London’s population exploded in the nineteenth century. The
little village parish churchyards absorbed by the spreading city couldn’t
cope with the massive increase in demand. They ended up recycling
the graves every couple of years.”
“How do you recycle a grave?” asked Rhian, unsure whether to be
intrigued or horrified.
“You dig down and smash the coffin underneath. You hammer it
and any human remains flat, then you bury the new coffin on top. As
well as disrespect to the dead, it was a golden recipe for spreading
disease through drinking water contamination.”
“That’s disgusting,” said Rhian.
“Yah, well, a special act of Parliament was passed to build seven
giant municipal graveyards on what was the edge of London. One of
Wolf in Shadows TPB 1st Pass_Layout 1 3/12/13 4:59 PM Page 29
them was Highgate, where all the famous people like Karl Marx are
buried. Tower Hamlets was another. It was the wonder of East London;
the Lord Mayor himself was on the Board of Directors. It all went
wrong quite early on, of course. The East End has always been poor,
and most of the burials were mass graves of up to thirty people a time,
paid for using public funds. The middle classes soon shunned the
cemetery because it was unfashionable. It fell into disrepair and disuse
after only a few decades.”
They walked through a gate into what looked like lightly wooded
“I thought it was a cemetery,” said Rhian, confused.
The sun chose that moment to break through the intermittent
cloud cover, warming Rhian’s face and adding to the illusion that
she was in the countryside. This was the traditional southern
English weather, officially described as scattered cloud with sunny
“There were still a few burials up to 1966 but the Anglican and
free-church chapels were wrecked in the war. The Luftwaffe kept
bombing the place. I don’t think they ever found out what Adolf Hitler
had against the graveyard.”
“Hitler?” said Rhian vaguely. She was a little unsure where Adolf
Hitler fitted in. She had a vague idea that he had been President of
Europe or maybe the Milk Marketing Board.
“The Greater London Council bought the cemetery in the sixties
and started to clear the ruins and gravestones to turn it into a park.
Fortunately, they ran out of money, and the nascent Wicca community
managed to bring pressure to bear. This place is magical, you see, and
has been so for a long time. The location of the Magnificent Seven was
not an accident, but a topographical pattern of geomancy.”
“Geomancy?” asked Rhian, wondering if Geomancy was one of
the new European Union States in the Balkans or Baltic or somewhere.
Maybe Adolf Hitler was Prime Minister of Geomancy.
“Magic associated with spatial layouts,” said Frankie, slipping into
lecture mode. “All strong magic is geomantic to some degree, hence
pentagrams and the like. Arabs used geomancy for divination by
throwing soil thrown onto stone but in the European tradition it is
associated with landscape magic.”
“Like ley lines?” asked Rhian, vaguely remembering an old TV
30 John Lambshead
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program about Stonehenge and glad to seize on an anchor point in
what was an increasingly bizarre conversation.
“That’s right,” said Frankie. “Shakespeare made fun of geomancy in
his plays, but that was the religious politics of the time. They
sometimes burnt witches in those days. But everyone relied on them
for medical treatment once King Henry put the monasteries out of
Frankie gazed around reflectively.
“The interment of a quarter of a million East Enders only added to
the aura that soaks the cemetery. This place is best left to slumber in
“Right,” said Rhian, “but who’s Adolf Hitler?”
“I see that you’ve enjoyed all the benefits of a modern British
comprehensive state education,” said Frankie, dryly. “He was dictator
of Germany in World War Two.”
“Oh, right,” said Rhian, “World War Two. We had to write an essay
at school on how it felt to be bombed. Our history teacher said that
the bombing of Germany by the American and British air forces was
a great crime.”
“He did, did he?” said Frankie. “How politically correct of him.
What did he have to say about the German bombing of London?”
“I don’t think that he mentioned that,” said Rhian.
“No,” said Frankie. “I don’t suppose he did.”
Their walk brought them to the edge of the park area and into the
wilderness. They followed a path delineated by salvaged gravestones,
which wound into thicker clumps of sycamore trees. The way was soon
hemmed in by bushes lining the path like green walls. The sun was
splintered into moving shafts of light by tree branches swaying in the
breeze, and the scent of flowers filled the air. The soft buzz of insects
flying from bloom to bloom was soporific. Occasionally a bird sang,
and, if she looked carefully, Rhian could see grey squirrels in the
branches. She stopped to trace a name with a forefinger on one of
the stones that was in better condition than its fellows: Isaiah Fowler,
“See the dove, ascending,” said Frankie, kneeling beside her. “That
symbolizes the deceased’s spirit reaching for heaven. Victorian
gravestones are filled with hidden meaning, if you know how to
decode them.”
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“The next one has a dove swooping down,” said Rhian, teasingly.
“Does that mean that the dead person was doomed to go to hell?”
“No, silly, that’s the Holy Spirit coming down from heaven to greet
his soul. Come with me.”
Frankie searched and found an old stone, set a little way back from
the path under a sycamore. She brushed away some dirt.
“I haven’t looked at this stone for ages. See the name here?” asked
Rhian traced her finger across the letters. “E T H E L,-Ethel, but I
can’t see a surname.”
“I don’t think they put one on the stone. What do you think this
is?” Frankie pointed to a symbol above the name.
“It’s a tree,” said Rhian.
“A yew tree, to be precise. The Church claims that yew was the
symbol of everlasting life, partly because yew trees regenerate and so
seem to live forever, and partly because they are evergreen. That is why
you always find them in churchyards. Yews certainly do live a long
time; one in Scotland is thought to be two thousand years old. The
yews were often there first before the Christian churches were built.
Christians often built on pagan religious centers, and yews were sacred
to druids.”
Rhian noticed that they were back to pagans and witchcraft again.
Frankie seemed obsessed by the subject.
“Ethel was religious,” said Rhian.
“In a way,” said Frankie, smiling. “Do you notice anything else odd
about the grave?”
Rhian considered. It was just another old grave in a tangled
wilderness. An anomaly caught her eye. “All the graves are lined up
the same way except this one.”
“Give the girl a house point.” Frankie mock-clapped her. “All the
other graves are aligned east-west while Ethel’s is north-south.
Christian graves point west because the ancient Egyptians believed
that the spirit world was in the west beyond the setting sun. The grave
alignment helped the dead person’s spirit on their way.”
“I never noticed that before,” said Rhian. “Why on earth should
Christianity care about Ancient Egyptian beliefs?”
“Christianity has stolen bits from everyone. Don’t get me started on
what they stole off the pagans—Christmas, for a start!”
32 John Lambshead
Wolf in Shadows TPB 1st Pass_Layout 1 3/12/13 4:59 PM Page 32
Rhian started to speak, but Frankie talked over her.
“The grave is aligned north-south so that Ethel’s soul is trapped
inside, preventing it from getting out and harming the living. Don’t
you get it, Rhian? The yew is also a symbol of Hecate, the Queen of
Magic. Ethel was almost certainly a witch, something that was still
illegal in the nineteenth century. The vicar who buried her must have
feared her spirit haunting him so he buried her north-south on
consecrated ground.”
Rhian ran her hand across an old, weathered gouge in the stone.
“Shrapnel damage,” said Frankie. “I told you that the Germans kept
bombing the cemetery. Perhaps Hitler feared witches as well.” Frankie
She pushed her glasses back on her nose, in what Rhian was
coming to recognise as a characteristic gesture, and strode off, long
skirt swishing around her legs. Rhian had to half run to keep up. The
sycamores crowded ever closer on the path, shading it from the sun
and dampening out the sounds of London.
Frankie finally stopped in a low-lying glade in the trees, a bowl
filled with rich, wet soil. It was full of patches of mint plants, eight
inches high with crinkly green leaves arranged in opposite pairs. Some
of the plants had vertical spikes consisting of clusters of small purple
“I keep trying to grow mint but without success,” said Frankie. “It
must be too dry or something in my garden.”
She picked a handful of stalks and placed them in her bag. Frankie
carried a large earth-mother linen bag depicting flowers and fairies in
pastel colors. It was just too chintzy to be true.
In the meantime, Rhian found another grave almost buried in the
undergrowth. She cleared the vegetation to expose a horizontal
gravestone decorated by a sculpture of a horse positioned on its
stomach. Its head was bowed, like a much-loved animal waiting for a
master that would never return. A century and a half of subsidence
had caused the grave to tilt over. Rhian preferred not to speculate on
what was responsible for the subsidence. The stone was decorated by
a carved outline of a climbing plant covered in what could have been
bunches of grapes.
“It’s another evergreen sign, this time symbolizing that the
deceased will be remembered,” said Frankie, joining Rhian.
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34 John Lambshead
“There’s no name that I can see,” said Rhian. “I suppose that the
people who vowed to remember are also dead and forgotten.”
A large drop of water fell on the stone in front of Rhian. More
began to filter through the trees, pattering gently on the leaves.
“How irritating,” said Frankie, grimacing. “I packed some
sandwiches and pies so that we could have a picnic.”
“That’s what you get for performing rain magic,” Rhian said.
“What rain magic?” Frankie asked, looking confused and a little
“Planning a picnic, of course. It always works as a rain spell. My
pub, that is, the pub where I work, is just around the corner,” said
Rhian. “They don’t sell food, so I’m sure that Gary wouldn’t mind us
eating our lunch there, provided we buy some drinks.”
“I’d love to see the Dirty Duck, honey,” said Frankie, with a broad
“I believe Gary prefers to call it the Black Swan,” Rhian said.
“Really, he can’t be from round these parts, then,” Frankie said,
dropping into a fauxWild West accent.
Thier labyrinthine route out terminated at a small gate in the
cemetery wall on the side close by the Black Swan. Rhian had begun
to have doubts about the wisdom of getting her home life mixed up
with work. Still, it’s only a lunch, she thought, what can go wrong?
She sat Frankie down at a table near the window. Gary materialized
beside her.
“Frankie, this is Gary, my boss; Gary, this is Frankie, my landlady,”
said Rhian, introducing them.
“Can I get you drinks?” said Gary, eying Frankie speculatively.
“A glass of red wine, please,” said Frankie, giving Gary a wide
Rhian settled for a Coke.
Gary walked back to the bar to get their drinks, swinging his legs
over without bothering to open the hatch. Rhian narrowed her eyes.
Gary had not normally been given to athletic gestures. She noticed
that Frankie watched him all the way.
“Here you go, ladies,” said Gary, returning with the drinks.
Frankie handed some money over.
“You don’t mind if we eat our lunch here, do you, Gary?” Rhian
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“Of course not, Rhian. I don’t suppose that Old Fred or Willie the
Dog mind either,” said Gary, gesturing to the only other customers.
Two old boys sat in the corner, sharing a packet of ten Woodbines
while picking winners from the greyhound racing column at the back
of a paper.
“Mind if I join you?” said Gary, when he brought back the change.
He sat down without waiting for an answer.
“Please do,” said Frankie.
Rhian noticed to her horror that Frankie was flashing her eyes
from side to side and patting her hair.
After lunch, the women tracked down the location of Frankie’s
commission using Rhian’s A to Z. The office suite was in a low,
rectangular, concrete-and-glass block built in the sixties. It reminded
Rhian of her comprehensive school in Wales. The shower of rain had
left dark grey streaks on the concrete, making the building look even
more depressing than it would normally. Rust marks around cracks in
the walls suggested that concrete rot would soon bring the block’s
miserable existence to a close.
“They put people in corporate prisons and then wonder why the
sickness rate is so high,” said Frankie, more to herself than Rhian.
Frankie rang a bell at the entrance, but nothing happened. After a
while, she leaned on the button impatiently.
“All right, keep your hair on. I’ve only got one pair of hands.”
A blue-black peaked cap unlocked the glass door. Under the peak,
a large grey moustache, stained yellow by cigarette smoke, jutted
aggressively on the face of a gaunt, elderly man. He looked at them
suspiciously through ancient National Health spectacles with round
wire-framed lenses.
“We’re here to carry out some maintenance work on one of the
office suites,” said Frankie. “It’s all arranged, look.”
She thrust a letter on headed notepaper at the caretaker, who
peered at it myopically.
“No one told me,” he said. “You don’t look like plumbers.”
He gazed at the two women, suspiciously.
“Why don’t we look like plumbers? Women can do plumbing.
Women can do anything men can do,” Frankie said, pugnaciously
sticking out her chin.
Wolf in Shadows TPB 1st Pass_Layout 1 3/12/13 4:59 PM Page 35
“If you’re plumbers, then where’s your tools?” Peaked Cap said
suspiciously, with the air of a man who had discovered the killer
argument against Special Relativity.
Frankie opened her mouth, a dangerous glint in her eye.
“We don’t have tools because we are not plumbers,” Rhian said
quickly, in an attempt to forestall further political debate.
“So why did you say you were plumbers?” he asked.
“I didn’t, you did,” said Frankie, her voice rising to a near shriek.
“We are more in the office furnishings line. The letter instructs you to
give us access to Unit Five, Ravion PLC.”
“Oh, curtains and things,” said Peaked Cap. “I suppose that is
proper work for women.”
Frankie looked as if she was about to explode.
“You’d better come in,” he said, grudgingly. “It’s normally plumbers
in this building. Sometimes, the leaks are so bad that the water runs
down the stairs.”
The thought seemed to cheer him up.
The women followed him past the empty receptionist’s area. A
bottle of scarlet nail varnish strategically placed in the middle of the
empty desk conjured up an image to Rhian of a streaky-blonde with
breasts that were too large and a workload too small, who was secretly
lusted after by all the middle management.
“The lifts are switched off, so you’ll have to walk,” said Peaked Cap
with grim satisfaction.
Ravion’s offices were on the top floor, but the climb was hardly
onerous. There were only a couple of flights. Nevertheless, Peaked Cap
made a three-course banquet of it. The company occupied the whole
top floor behind a glass door. The caretaker finally unlocked it after
trying several wrong keys first.
“Thank you,” said Frankie, firmly. “We can manage now.”
“I ought to stay and watch,” said the caretaker. “I’m in charge of
“You have our letter of authorization,” Frankie said, firmly. “We
must be left on our own while working—health and safety, you know.”
The caretaker allowed himself to be propelled out of the door.
Frankie shut it decisively behind him. Health and safety, Rhian
reflected, was the new religious mantra that allowed one to justify
almost anything.
36 John Lambshead
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“I think that we will start by just walking around and sensing the
vibes,” said Frankie.
The top floor was entirely glass-walled, so Rhian could see from
one end to the other. Desks with computers and headsets were laid out
in rows. Frankie walked through a reception area into an open-plan
office occupying most of the floor. She paraded backwards and
forwards, waving her arms theatrically and touching her forehead with
the tips of her fingers. Rhian managed not to laugh.
“What do they do here?” asked Rhian.
“It’s a call center. I believe they give telephone advice on broadband
installation or some such,” said Frankie, vaguely. “I’m surprised they
haven’t bangalored it.”
Management and interview offices lined one of the walls, like glass
cells for giant honeybees. A substantial double office at the end
indicated the location of the chief executive and his secretary. Rhian
touched one of the computer screens. Her finger sparked before
contact with the plastic. She kicked the floor, reflexively.
“I’ve worked in stores with cheap, hard-wearing nylon carpets like
this. Sometimes the static builds up so badly that your skirt sticks to
your legs,” Rhian said.
The room was lit with fluorescent lights that flickered annoyingly
at a rate just detectable to the human eye. One emitted an intermittent
background buzz. Some of the office workers had attempted to
personalize their working areas with photos or office toys but that
merely emphasized the sheer inhumanity of the environment. The
management had scattered potted plants around to improve the
ambience, but they were doing badly. The one nearest Rhian showed
every sign of being dead. The plastic in the new computers leaked
organic vapours.
Rhian had only been in the office for ten minutes or so, but already
her head ached. She rubbed her eyes and tried to open a window, but
they were double glazed and sealed. The only fresh air came via an air
conditioning system that smelled stale and metallic.
“Not feeling too well, honey? You seem very sensitive to auras,”
Frankie looked at her.
“What exactly have you been hired to do here?” asked Rhian,
deflecting the woman.
“The chief executive apparently read an article about feng shui in
Wolf in Shadows TPB 1st Pass_Layout 1 3/12/13 4:59 PM Page 37
an airline magazine, so he thought he would give it a try to cure his sick
building syndrome. Eastern mysticism is currently fashionable
amongst the managerial classes.”
“I see. and you are an expert on feng shui, are you?” asked Rhian.
“I am—not,” Frankie replied, with a bright grin. “I know next to
nothing about it. Hardly anyone in the West does, although there are
plenty of people wafting around claiming otherwise.”
“Then what are we doing here?” Rhian asked, trying to keep the
disapproval from her voice.
“Don’t look so priggish, madam,” said Frankie, laughing and
wagging a finger at Rhian. “We are going to cure their sick building.
You didn’t think that I’d take their money and cheat them, did
Rhian colored up because that was precisely what she suspected.
“Of course not,” she said.
Feng shui has to be applied at the architectural stage of a building.
The choice of location is critical, as is the exact shape of the building.
Just rearranging the furniture wouldn’t achieve much.”
“So what are you going to do?” asked Rhian, intrigued.
Feng shui translates to wind and water, and by a strange
coincidence, we are going to apply the principles of wind and water.
Now where did I put the herbs?”
Frankie reached into her linen bag and rummaged around,
eventually hauling out a wooden container. She handed the box to
Rhian, who opened it to find dried herbs mixed in with newly
chopped-up leaves that smelt of mint. Frankie took out a tiny electric
oven, and, after some thought, placed it on a desk by the airconditioning
“This is where air is piped in from the sky,” Frankie said, licking her
finger and holding it up to detect air movements.
The little oven had an open bowl of the sort used by jewelers.
Frankie plugged it in and let it stand until red hot. She took the
wooden box off Rhian and sprinkled the plant material into the bowl.
The chopped leaves curled up, turned brown and smoldered. White
smoke drifted up towards the ceiling. It scattered as it hit the turbulent
flow from the air-conditioning outlet.
Rhian used her hand to waft some of the vapor towards her and
cautiously sniffed at it.
38 John Lambshead
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“It smells quite pleasant,” Rhian said. “I suppose it works like an air
freshener, but surely it won’t last long.”
Frankie gave Rhian what her grandmother would have called ‘an
old fashioned expression.’ The woman took her glasses off and fiddled
with them, wiping the lenses with a piece of felt. Rhian had once had
a boss who had the same habit. He used it to pause the conversation
while he considered how to phrase a statement he found difficult.
Rhian waited patiently.
“It’s a little more than an air freshener. You see, I’m a pagan,” said
Frankie, diffidently.
Rhian wondered what in the world the woman meant. Arsenal
football team were “The Gunners,” Southampton “The Seagulls,”
England “The Lions,” but who were “The Pagans”? She had a vague
idea that there was a motorcycle gang of that name, but the thought of
the intellectual Frankie in a black leather jacket, perched on the back
of a bike, with her arms wrapped around a hairy-arsed gang-lord
stretched credulity.
Frankie rushed on, almost garbling her words in an effort to get
them out.
“A pagan, Rhian. You know, a Wicca.”
A stray memory popped into Rhian’s head of comedienne Jo Brand
on a quiz show being asked to define Wicca. “Wicca—isn’t that Old
English for a mental basket case?”
Rhian’s face had a tendency to reflect her thoughts, something that
had got her into trouble before. She did her best to blank her
expression, but, as usual, she was not entirely successful.
“You’re thinking of Jo Brand, aren’t you,” said Frankie, accusingly.
“There’s a woman who needs a good slapping. Still, what can one
expect from a woman who chose to be educated at a jumped-up poly
like Brunel University of Technology? It doesn’t even have a History
Rhian deduced from this that Frankie had read history at one of
England’s more traditional establishments. As Rhian had never got
beyond the sixth form of a Welsh comprehensive school, she tended to
view graduate academic squabbles with a degree of detachment. She
pointedly failed to ask Frankie the name of her old college.
Frankie mumbled something.
“What?” Rhian asked.
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“I’m a witch,” Frankie said. “I perform magic spells for people. I’m
a consultant in white magic. I don’t touch anything nasty. My previous
tenants all left as soon as they found out. I thought that if you could see
what I actually did, then you wouldn’t be scared of me. I haven’t
spooked you, have I?”
Rhian stared at Frankie. This nice, silly, bespectacled, middle-class,
new-age earth mother actually thought that Rhian might be frightened
of her. Frightened because she made a living burning herbs and
chanting spells for deluded businessmen! Rhian, frightened of a
Her lip twitched. She tried to keep a straight face but she just
couldn’t. Her shoulders shook and an explosive guffaw burst from her
“What?” asked Frankie, affronted. “I don’t see what’s so funny. One
of my ex-tenants organized a candle-lit vigil of Evangelical Christians
outside my door.”
Rhian laughed all the harder until tears ran down her cheeks.
“There’s nothing funny about a dozen loonies screaming ‘burn the
witch’ and ‘you’ll rot in Hell’ all night outside your flat window. You try
it some time. The neighbors didn’t speak to me for weeks.”
Rhian clung to a desk for support.
Frankie lost the outraged expression and laughed along with the
girl. “Enough,” Frankie said. “So I may assume that you do not intend
to flee in maidenly terror any time soon?”
Rhian shook her head. It was a few moments before she could trust
herself to speak. “Sorry, Frankie, it’s just that I had trouble seeing you
as an emissary of Beelzebub. The, um, plant mix smells rather nice.”
“I have a mix of air herbs in here—witch’s broom, holy vanilla,
sweetgrass, lavender, and, of course, mint. I need to activate the spell
now, if you can contain yourself? ” Frankie asked.
“Carry on,” said Rhian. “I’ll be good; I promise.”
“Well, please keep quiet and don’t do anything to break my
The woman closed her eyes, and, stretching up her arms into the
air like a Mexican priest hailing the Sun, she began to sing.
“Great Jupiter, cleanse the air,
Holy Indrus, give power of thought,
Swift Mercury, send agility of intellect,
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“Sylphs of the air, grant concentration.”
Frankie repeated the song over and over, adding more of the herbal
mix to the heater whenever the vapor flow diminished.
Scent drifted through the office. Rhian felt light-headed, and her
fingers and toes tingled. She felt tired, so she sat on one of the swivel
office chairs, rocking it gently. Frankie droned on, her voice retreating
into the distance. Rhian closed her eyes and her head drooped. She
drifted away and began to daydream.
Frankie’s voice was a distant murmur and was overlaid by the
sound of leaves rustling in a breeze. The wind increased in force, gusts
buffeting Rhian’s ears and whipping her clothes against her legs. She
opened her eyes. She stood one leg each side of a great ridge that was
surrounded by ice-capped mountain peaks. Splintered rock fell away
precipitously each side of her for hundreds of meters, gradually
disappearing into clouds.
Rhian could see as well as hear the wind. It caressed her with subzero
icy tendrils, but she felt no pain. Faces in the gusts called to her,
and she felt a compulsion to step off the ridge into empty air, to lose
herself, to walk in the wind. She took a tentative step, adjusting her
“Rhian.” Frankie’s voice sounded from a long way away. “RHIAN!”
Hands shook her shoulders and she opened her eyes.
“Snap out of it, Rhian. Air magic is very powerful in high
buildings. Don’t go to sleep on me, honey,” Frankie said, smiling at her,
“You had me worried for a moment there.”
The little oven was unplugged and looked quite cold. Rhian
glanced at her watch and was astonished to see that she had lost half
an hour. She rubbed her eyes.
“I must have dozed off. I haven’t been sleeping well lately,” Rhian
said, by way of explanation.
“I know, honey. I heard you,” said Frankie, in a noncommittal tone
of voice.
This was not a conversation that Rhian wished to pursue, so she
changed the subject.
“Are we finished?”
“The air spell is finished but I still have to work water magic. Are
you okay to continue?” asked Frankie.
“Sure, you go ahead,” Rhian replied.
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Frankie moved her apparatus to the other side of the open-plan
office, near to the washrooms.
“This is where the water is piped in from the ground,” Frankie said.
She smiled at Rhian. “I will use water plants, coltsfoot, bulrushes, water
lily, and mint for this spell,” Frankie said, getting another box out of her
“Mint, again?” asked Rhian.
“Mint is a connecting plant that links water to the sky,” said
Frankie. “It magnifies the effect of the two spells synergistically. That
is why it was so important for us to get some this morning.”
She placed the oven on a metal tray on the carpet and knelt in front
of it. Dropping the new herbal mix into the red-hot bowl, she sang
again. This time, the vapor was heavier than air, flowing across the
floor like mist.
“Great Poseidon, cleanse the waters,
“Coventina, give placid flow,
“Nammu, send depth of thought,
“Undines of the water, grant concentration.”
This time Rhian kept a firm grip on reality when she felt the
tingling in her fingers and toes. She forced off fatigue and kept her
eyes wide open, but, even so, she seemed to see two realities
simultaneously. Around her was a normal office, empty except for
Frankie and herself. Overlaying it, a wild grey-green sea phased in and
out. Huge white-topped waves swept over her head and then dropped
away beneath her. Frothy faces formed in the in the surf. Watery
fingers beckoned to her, but she resolutely ignored them,
concentrating on reality. She dug her fingernails into her hands until
they hurt. Pain was good. Pain was a friend. Pain was absolution.
Rhian checked her watch every few moments, and the illusion of
time speeding by happened again. She was beginning to suspect that
Frankie added some pretty powerful dank to her herbal mix.
Frankie’s voice faded into silence, and the seascape dimmed until
it disappeared. Frankie hung her head as if she were exhausted. It was
some time before she spoke.
“Will you rearrange the furniture, Rhian, while I rest for a bit? We
must give the punters their money’s worth by showing them what they
expect to see.”
Her voice was thick, like she had the first symptoms of a head cold.
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“Sure, Frankie.”
Rhian pushed and pulled various objects around into artistic
curves and patterns while Frankie watched.
“You’re a lot stronger than you look, aren’t you?” said Frankie. “You
know, that went really rather well. I thought that this might be a
difficult one, but it all worked first time. Do you notice any change in
the office?”
Rhian considered. “Yes, it feels airy and light, and my headache’s
“There is nothing better than air and water magic for sick building
syndrome,” said Frankie complacently.
It was Rhian’s night off, as Gary had another barmaid on the shift.
Frankie prepared a potato salad, then she and Rhian shared a bottle of
Californian rosé in the garden, watching the play of light as the day
changed imperceptibly into twilight.
“Thank you for being so welcoming, but you don’t have to look
after me,” Rhian said. “I am used to living on my own.”
“To be honest, it’s rather nice to have someone around,” Frankie
said. “What with my work and Pete, my partner, I never really made
civilian friends.”
“Civilians?” Rhian asked. “Were you in the army?”
“Good Lord, no,” Frankie said. “I worked for a close-knit
organization, and civilians are what we called outsiders, silly really.
How about you? What brought you to our fair neighborhood?”
“I just needed a fresh start.” Rhian shrugged.
“Boy trouble,” said Frankie, raising an eyebrow.
“There was someone, but it didn’t work out, so I left.” Her tone was
designed to discourage further questions.
It was a moment Rhian relived over and over in her dreams. The
heavy iron bar smashed James’ head, with the sound like you get from
crushing a beer can. His skull pulped. Blood and dark brain matter
spurted from the wound. The bar swung back for a second hit, trailing
a fan of red droplets that glittered in the streetlights.
Frankie took the hint. She got up and, wandering to the curtains,
peered around them. “The Moon’s up. Would you like to see my moon
“Moon garden?” Rhian asked.
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Frankie was just full of strange surprises, as mad as a March hatter.
Hang on, that wasn’t right. Frankie started talking again, interrupting
Rhian’s thought process.
“Night flowers, Rhian. I have a witch’s herb garden, and one corner
is devoted to night flowers. Come on. Switch the lights off because you
just have to see it in the moonlight.”
Rhian was intrigued, it sounded wonderfully exotic. Outside,
Frankie steered Rhian to the right area, knelt down, and pointed to
some round white flowers that were about three inches across.
“This patch is the Arctic globe thistle, Echinops.”
Rhian knelt beside her. “They’re beautiful, Frankie.” She touched
the petals and then smelled her fingers.
“Mind the leaves, honey, they are very prickly.”
“The flowers seem to glow in the moonlight, like when you wear
a white top in a club with ultraviolet lights.”
“You see that, do you, Rhian? That’s very interesting.”
Rhian looked up sharply. How could she not see something so
obvious? Something about the tone of Frankie’s voice bothered her,
but the woman’s face was in dark shadow, making her expression
Frankie moved to a trellis where a climbing plant grew. She teased
out a bud so that she could display it in the silver moonlight.
“This is the moonflower, what botanists call Ipomoea. One
afternoon, these buds will open and the large white flowers will bloom
all night under the Moon. A heavy scent will flow out of them, a scent
that only a few can smell, filling my garden and attracting moths. With
the moths will come bats, Hecate’s bats, and in the morning the flowers
will die.”
“That’s a sad fate,” said Rhian. “To grow all year and have just one
night to bloom.”
“We all have only a short time to bloom; it’s only the scale that
differs. Not even the gods are immortal.”
“I still think it’s sad,” said Rhian.
“I’ll harvest the flowers with the Sun, saying the right ritual so that
the dried petals, when burnt, will make incense suitable for
“Divination?” asked Rhian, doubtfully.
“Fortune telling, honey, I will inhale the vapor before sleeping, and
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in my dreams I will see the future. At least that’s the theory. Sometimes
all I get is heartburn,” Frankie said. “You know, the spells today were
almost too powerful, as if something else was pushing my magic
“Such as what?” asked Rhian.
“It could be any one of a number of things,” Frankie replied. “For
example, an artifact or haunting in the office that acted as a magical
amplifier, but I think that unlikely, don’t you?”
“I don’t know,” Rhian replied, politely. Frankie was very weird.
Harmlessly weird in an eccentric English sort of way, to be sure, but
definitely not quite in phase with reality.
Frankie continued as if she had not spoken. “Or it could be another
witch pushing my spell along, someone who could see the moon-glow
of Arctic thistles, perhaps?” Frankie looked at Rhian and raised an
“You think that I’m a witch?” Rhian laughed. She knew that was
impolite, but she couldn’t help it.
“Not consciously, honey, but you may have untrained powers. Do
strange things happen to you?” Frankie asked.
“Like what?” Rhian replied, answering a question with a question,
as this was tricky ground.
“Oh, it could be something quite trivial. Do you ever know who’s
on a ringing phone before you pick it up? Can you predict the results
of random events more often than not? Does your toast always land
butter side up?”
Rhian shook her head, laughing. “No, nothing like that ever
happens to me. I am just an ordinary girl from the valleys.”
“Do you mind if I tried a little experiment?” asked Frankie, clearly
“An experiment, that sounds fun,” replied Rhian, tolerantly.
Frankie cupped her hands together, as if she was holding
something in them. She sang softly, too quiet for Rhian to hear the
words. Then she blew on her hands and opened them.
A beautiful white sphere of light hung there, making Rhian gasp.
This was magic—real magic. Maybe Frankie was a witch. Six months
ago Rhian did not believe in magic, but that was before the wolf.
“You can see it, can’t you, Rhian?”
Rhian nodded, not trusting herself to speak.
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“Put your hand into it so I can see the color of your aura. Let’s find
out what sort of witch you are.”
Rhian tentatively reached out her finger to the ball of light and
poked it. For a brief instant the ball resisted her touch, deforming and
moving away. Then it exploded soundlessly into shards of white light.
They writhed like streamers before fading away in hissing sparkles of
“What!” said Rhian, startled. “Is it supposed to do that?”
“No,” Frankie replied. “It’s just a simple marker spell. If you have no
talent, then it stays white. If you’ve talent it changes color, the shade
and intensity indicating your power and skills. It’s not supposed to run
away. One might almost think that it was frightened of