Sunday, October 7, 2012



Readers of my original series know that, often, there are scenes and/or characters that are cut out of early drafts. Sometimes these are removed because they are not working, sometimes because their sub-plot is slowing down the action and sometimes because I need to get back under my 180,000 word limit!

Now, when you buy a DVD, you get to see extra scenes that were left on the cutting room floor.

Here, you get the DVD extras from Bridge Of Swords. These scenes may give you some extra insight into characters, or you may well judge that it was a good thing I cut them out!


THE city of Cridianton, the capital of Forland, was impressive. It was meant to be. It said to everyone, this is the pre-eminent country, the biggest and most powerful in the world.

To Huw, it was stunning. It looked like something out of the stories his father had told him when he was a boy, stories of elven cities.

Of course the stone used was grey, rather than white, and the towers were squat and powerful, rather than tall and beautiful. The practical part of him knew much of it would be filthy and miserable, crowded streets and misery, hunger and rats. But the romantic within him thrilled at the sight of the colourful flags snapping from the top of the city walls.

Once a year, King Ward allowed performers to try out for his court’s amusement. Ward and his court were insatiable for entertainment and they quickly became bored with seeing the same thing. Those singers, dancers, jugglers, clowns and bards who angered the Forlish King were lucky if they escaped with their skins intact - but those who pleased him left the court after a year with their pockets full of gold. And, better yet, they were assured of work at every town in Forland. Every minor nobleman and rich merchant wanted to see an entertainer who had delighted their king. Huw estimated he could return home within two years with enough money that he could pay for labourers to take over his father’s farm, as well as build himself the finest house in the village.

Many of those heading for Crondon were hopefuls like himself, while others were those looking to prey on them or profit from them. Up ahead was a long, mostly good-natured queue of those looking to get inside the gate. The guards were speaking to all before they could enter, which was taking time but Huw was not worried. The trials were not until tomorrow and he was in no hurry. There was so much to look at! Stalls had been set up at the side of the road and it seemed to be turning into a fair.

Beside the road, a young juggler was performing for a small crowd, sending three small painted wooden tops soaring high into the air before catching them. Huw stopped also, partly through interest, partly because he could see the nervous sweat on the man’s face, see the way he was snatching at the wooden tops as they went past, rather than letting them drop smoothly into his hand. He tried to will the man to stop while he was ahead. The juggler was tall and good-looking, blue eyes beneath a shock of blond hair, a cheeky smile and a square jaw. Huw knew looks should make no difference to talent but the sad fact was, people liked their entertainers to be handsome or beautiful.

Huw reflected enviously that if he looked like that, he would have more than a small crowd around him. But he knew enough to stop while they still wanted more. There were a dozen people watching him, and if the juggler finished with a flourish and a smile, he might get half a dozen coppers, and the same in silver.

`And now for the finale, I shall attempt four!’ the juggler called confidently, and Huw groaned inwardly. He had seen many entertainers performing at Forlish inns these past few weeks - and at least three jugglers who were far better.

`Where is my helper?’ the juggler shouted, oblivious to Huw’s concern.

A small child stepped forwards, a fourth top, this one painted red, in his hand.

`Now throw it to me!’

Huw could see what as going to happen long before it did, but there was nothing he could do to stop it. He just had to watch, wincing, as the last top was thrown clumsily to the juggler. The man reached out for it, lost his rhythm and the tops went in all directions, the last one - predictably - landing squarely on his head.

The juggler staggered a little as the crowd roared with laughter and then turned as one and walked away, looking for more entertainment. The small boy gaped at the wreckage, then was tugged away by his mother.

`Wait! I have more tricks, spectacular shows that will amaze even our great King Ward!‘ the juggler called, but jeers followed his claim and the people moved away even faster.

Huw moved also, but to help the juggler, who had slumped to the ground, rubbing his bruised head.

`Here, let me get these,’ Huw offered as he gathered up the fallen tops.

`My thanks to you,’ the juggler gasped. `Now, if you could but bring the crowd back…’

`You almost had them. It was just the child as a helper. It was a good touch, bringing with it laughter and support from the crowd but it meant the act failed, where an older child might have given you the better conclusion to the show,’ Huw handed over the tops.

`You sound like you are a performer also …’ the juggler’s voice tailed off as he glimpsed the lyre in its protective case slung across Huw’s back.

`I will also be performing for King Ward,’ Huw admitted.

`Well, that is wonderful! We shall win contracts together!’ the juggler said with a smile. `I am Bertwald, from Browns Brook. And you?’

`Huw, of Patcham.’

`Patcham? I have travelled widely but I ever heard of that village. Where is that? Balian or something?’

`No, it‘s in the Vales,’ Huw said proudly, now collecting the rest of Bertwald’s props. Then he noticed the juggler was not helping him, was just staring instead.

`The Vales? But where’s your beard?’ he asked dumbly.

Huw chuckled. `We don’t all wear beards and shag sheep in the Vales! We have a proud history of song, and heroic tales…’ He trailed off, horribly aware that Bertwald was neither laughing or smiling, and seemed to have no interest whatsoever in the history of the Vales in song.

`You’re Velsh? And to think I was actually considering travelling to the capital with you!’

`Well, why not? What’s wrong with travelling with me?’ 

`Are you mad? King Ward will throw a stinking Velshman out of Crondon before he even gets the chance to open his mouth! And anyone who travels with them would get the same fate,’ he declared, hurriedly packing the last of his props. `I want nothing to do with a filthy Velshman. Stay clear of me!’

Huw gaped at him. Bertwald had seemed pleasant enough, if lacking in talent. Where had this come from?

`If you’re smarter than the average Velsh oaf you’ll turn around and go back to whatever shit village you crawled out from,’ Bertwald continued. `But stay away from me!’

`Look, you have it wrong, but we can still travel together. I just won’t tell them I’m Velsh,’ Huw offered with a smile, although the words of his father Earwen were flooding into his head, about always being proud of where you came from.

`Get away from me!’ Bertwald pushed him hard in the chest and Huw staggered backwards, falling down but twisting at the last moment so he did not land on his precious lyre. He sprang to his feet and checked it anyway, then brushed the grass and leaves from his cloak angrily. The juggler was hurrying away and he knew he should go after the man, throw him down to the ground and repay him for his rudeness and that push. In his village, if you were pushed over, you came up swinging fists. At the very least he should tell him a few facts of life, about how unwise it was to be rude towards helpful strangers, and how the Velsh were not strange barbarians who were overly affectionate to sheep but his feet would not move after Bertwald and, worse, the words to say that would not come to him. It was not because he lacked for words, he made his living from them. But a combination of shock and fear stilled his tongue. Not fear for himself, he told himself loudly, but more of causing a scene. How many of the other people here would think the same as this juggler? If he began an argument about the honour of the Vales, would the people listen or would they side with the handsome Forlish juggler?

He watched Bertwald scamper away, still staring darkly at him, and made sure there was no stains on his clothes instead. He swirled his cloak around for a final check and wondered if it might not be better to pretend he was from some isolated Forlish village. After all, if Ward did hate the Velsh, perhaps discretion would be the better part of valour. Impress the Forlish King first, then when he had won a contract to perform there, reveal where he came from - and then none could doubt he was a proud Velshman, he told himself. That would be the smart thing to do.

Reassured by his own logic, he walked across to join the growing queue of hopefuls being interviewed by a pair of men in court clothes, flanked by a squad of bored guards.


`Make way there! Make way!’ the call came up from behind and craned his head, trying to see what was coming up the road - then wished he hadn’t. It was a long line of people - men, women and even children, filthy and dressed in rags. But the real horror was the way they were tied together, rope halters around the necks, even around the necks of the youngest, boys and girls no older than ten summers. Huw watched, his mouth sagging open, as they were driven along the road by a score of armoured riders with whips, who were not afraid to use them.

`No slacking there! We didn’t keep you alive just to let you lie down now!‘ the leader roared, plying the whip on a pair of stragglers.

Huw was outraged to see one of them was a young girl. He glanced around, expecting everyone else to be as disgusted, but heads hardly raised, from the queue of hopefuls to the many stallholders, farmers and merchants going about their usual business. Or, if they did, they merely looked then went on with whatever it was they were doing.

His first instinct was to rush over, to protect the women and children being herded down the road into the capital like animals. No, worse than animals, for the sheep, cattle and goats he had seen go past him that day had been well-fed, cared for. But he found his feet were frozen to the spot. The cruelty, the anger, on the faces of the guards told him they would not listen to reasoned argument about the nature of freedom. Still he knew it was the right thing. He had to do something, say something. His father would never have let such a sight go past.

`You have to stand up for what you believe in, or you will end up living your life on your knees. And that is no way for a man to spend his days,’ Earwen often said.

He could imagine what his father would do. He would pull one of those arrogant riders off their horse, take their sword and free the prisoners. Anyone who tried to stop him would be cut down. But Huw could not move. All the riders looked huge in their armour, and all carried long daggers and curved swords at their belts, as well as the cruel whips. On horseback they seemed huge, forbidding. Huw could not imagine wresting a sword from one of them, nor freeing even the smallest prisoner.

`Who are they?’ he managed to croak.

The man in front, another bard by his costume, turned and looked, as if seeing them for the first time.

`Another pack of Balians for the slave markets. They bring back a string or two of them every week. They make good slaves, once they have had the nonsense whipped out of them. They should realise that Forland is their ruler. They should be happy to be slaves to the greatest country in the worldI’

Huw felt sick. The line of Balians passed close by, and he watched each face in horror, seeing their pain, their exhaustion, the fear and dread etched into every line. The ropes had rubbed red wounds around wrists and necks, while their feet were torn and bloody from the road. One young man, no older than himself, had a dozen vicious weals across his shoulders as well. Even as Huw watched, a rider slashed down with his whip, opening another wound across the man’s upper back.

Huw looked up angrily - and wished he hadn’t. He locked eyes with the slaver, who leered at him.

`Like the look of that one, do you?’ he winked. `I promise not to damage his pretty face. That’s what you’re looking for, after all, isn’t it?’

Disgusted, and afraid, Huw looked away. 

`Come and see the slave markets tomorrow. They’ll be for sale soon. But bring your purses - prime Balian slaves like these are hard to find!’ the rider called, widening his sales pitch to everyone within earshot.

`He’s lying,’ the bard in front said quietly. `The market’s choked with slaves from every part of the continent. The strong ones will fetch a gold piece, the young, good-looking women double that, but the rest can be had for a few silvers. The King should be ordering the army to kill more of them, rather than take slaves. It’s wrecking the whole economy. Even the beggars can afford a slave these days!’

Huw realised the man expected him to be sympathetic but it was all he could do not to vomit. In the Vales, every man was free and the thought of owning slaves was as repugnant as sleeping with the sheep. And the Forlish called them barbarians! He knew what the right thing to do was. He should walk away from here, go back to where the air was clean, the people honest and no man was another’s slave. It was what his father would do and he could almost hear Earwen’s voice telling him to do exactly that.

And yet … he had known the Forlish were corrupt and greedy, had known their army was rarely at home but instead was ever widening the lands King Ward could call his own. He had known and he had still come here, because this was his dream. Only here could he truly become a bard, only here could he earn the money he needed to look after his parents. If he returned now, he could walk away with a clean conscience but he would have to give up the lyre, have to become a farmer. Every sacrifice his father had made would be worthless. Everyone in the village would nod their heads, declare knowledgeably that they knew this would happen all along. This was what came of having impossible dreams. Velshmen did not become bards, they became farmers or miners. He would forever be laughed at, forever have to live with the thought he had failed.

It is only for a year. I shall walk away by then, he told himself. And, perhaps, he could earn enough money to purchase slaves which he could set free. Walking away would not help those poor people, he told himself, warming to the task, but staying and making so much gold that he could release them would save them.

He seized upon that idea like a man dying of thirst reaching for a cup of water. It would be better if he stayed, he could do more good that way, he decided. It took courage to walk away, but even more to stay and do something about the slavery.

Feeling much better about the decision, he straightened his shoulders and rejoined the queue. The last of the tortured Balians were moving through the city gates now and the slavers were disappearing from sight with them. From the reaction of the crowd, the horrific little scene might never have happened. That did shake Huw’s determination to stay, a little. If these people could ignore what was being done to women and even children, what else would he discover behind the city walls? Something deep inside his gut was telling him he should go, that to stay was a betrayal of everything his father had taught him. But his head was in control and, after all he had gone through to get here, he had no intention of going.


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