How to be a Mythical Hero

Celebrate this World Book Night with an extract from my humorous (hopefully) history book ‘Escapades in Bizarrchaeology’.

It’s available in paperback and ebook from amazon.co.uk RIGHT NOW.

Yes, that’s RIGHT NOW.

Ever since Heracles first adorned his head with the mane of the Nemean Lion and realised that he looked both stylish, sophisticated and manly, everyone has wanted to be a Hero. In the modern day that love for the (Super)Hero has gone worldwide, with every other film released based on a comic hero who originated in glorious technicolour on the printed page. Yet the links between Super Hero and Mythical Hero are clear. Despite the intervening two thousand-ish years there recently isn’t that much difference between them.
Iron Man is a hero because he has loads and loads of money and technology to have the best weapons and armour, yet his main weakness is his pride and arrogance in his own abilities and intelligence. Agamemnon was considered a hero of the Trojan war because he had loads and loads of money and technology to ensure that he had the best weapons and armour for his army, yet his weakness and undoing was his hubris (I initially thought hubris was some kind of pate but it’s actually excessive pride)… and the fact that he killed his own daughter to get wind (not gaseous wind, that would be weird, wind to blow his ships to Troy).
Superman is unstoppable apart from his one weakness that EVERYONE knows about, an extreme allergy to Kryptonite. Archilles was unstoppable apart from his one weakness that EVERYONE knew about, his Archilles’ heel (seriously? If you don’t want everyone to know about the one weak point upon your body you should call it something else. Like Geoff’s heel (or Terry’s heel, he’s already got an orange, why not a heel too?), don’t use your own name, that’s just asking to be shot by an arrow).
Spiderman is a hero because he has magical Spider juice in his veins. Heracles was a hero because he had magical Zeus juice in his veins (that sounded weirder that I was expecting).
So, there are a plethora (I love my dictionary) of links between heroes of the modern world and the Ancient world. This means that we could have a hero of the ancient world being heroic in the modern world. Why not? All they need is the right guidance, a series of top tips to ensure that they know how to Hero with the best and the rest of them..
Who would be their teacher? Max Virtus of course. I have the agoge for training, I have the top tips, all I need is the student… and that could be you dear reader! So grab your Xiphos and get ready, as I transform you into a Mythical Hero.

Don’t learn how to Sword Fight

Despite the entertainment industry’s best attempts to convince me, the most effective way to defeat your opponent in a duel to the death is NOT by ensuring you always hit your swords together. The actual intention is to miss the opponent’s sword entirely and hit their body. Therefore as a mythical hero you should cut the following supposedly heroic moves from your repertoire.
Spinning
No Spinning. The Star Wars prequels may well have taught a legion of would be Jedi Knights that the best way to do battle is by furiously twisting like an alcoholic with a bottle of wine and a blunt corkscrew, but repeatedly exposing your back to your opponent and losing sight of what they’re doing is not the best idea for a Mythical Hero to stay alive.
Rolling
Why are you rolling around on the floor? Stop it. That includes backward rolls. It looks cool in film but that’s because they have plenty of attempts to get it right. Chances are that if you try that in a real sword fight that you’ll only impale yourself on your own blade or accidentally slice open a major artery. Either way this will result in awkward embarrassment and premature death.
Back Flips
That’s the equivalent of a spin whilst rolling and is frowned upon in the Sword Fighting community.
Swinging on Ropes
Despite the temptation, avoid swinging on a conveniently positioned rope in a sword fight (this includes chandeliers) it’s rather tricky holding on to your sword whilst doing so and unlike most actors you don’t have a wire work team to keep you suspended in mid air. Also, don’t do a pirate and hold your sword in your teeth, that results in sliced lips and a permanent smile.

Don’t Parry

Were you not listening before? Stop hitting your opponnent’s sword.
That was all pretty negative, if a Mythical Hero can’t do any of that stuff in a sword fight, what can they do? Well, they should take a leaf from a Greek Hoplite’s book and simply use the jab.
That’s all you need to sword fight like a Mythical Hero. The Jab. Simply extend your sword arm at rapid pace and embed it in your enemy’s flesh before they do the same to you. Your Xiphos sword is short (eighteen inches give or take) but it is ideally suited to be positioned behind your shield to be poked out from around the side to surprise your foe. Bring the pointy bit of the blade flashing out over the top, left, right, or bottom of the shield, keep your enemy guessing at to where your next attack is coming from. Incidentally that’s why you don’t need to parry, you have a nice round Hoplon Shield to hide behind (made of hefty wood with a bronze coating, the Hoplon or Aspis is going to keep your delicate and frail human body protected by covering up your shoulder all the way down to your thigh) you can even use the handle positioned at the rim to ram the shield into an unsuspecting warrior.
Your shield also proves handy at slamming down on an enemy’s toes. Regardless of how much armour resides on your opponent’s body their feet fingers will still be poking out of their sandals. What better way to greet them by slamming your shield down upon them? Sure to open up the defences of even the most sturdy of opponents.
In conclusion, to swordfight like a hero just practise the jab, each and every day and victory will be yours.

Have a Dark Origin story

Any superhero worth their salt has an origin forged in despair and suffering. Batman’s parents were murdered in front of him, Superman’s entire home planet was destroyed and Spiderman couldn’t save his Uncle’s life. To be a mythical hero though you have to go eighteen steps further. Your origin story has to be DARK (underlined, bold and in capitals to suggest how dark that origin story is).
Let’s look at the Hero of all Heroes; Heracles (or Hercules if you’re Roman). Disney teach children that Heracles had to prove himself worthy to live on Mount Olympus with his father, Zeus, by completing 12 labours, that’s because the real reason was not family friendly.
Heracles killed his entire family. The 12 labours (originally 10 but that pesky King Eurystheus kept changing the rules) were an opportunity for Heracles to seek redemption. It’s the equivalent of Bruce Wayne being the one who shot his parents rather than a faceless gangster.

Learn Pankration

All superheroes have their own fighting style, something distinctive that let’s the unfortunate villain know who’s pummelling him, just from the angle of the punch against his face. But all fighting styles pale against Pankration. And that is the fighting style you’re going to need to learn if you’re going to be a mythical hero. It was either Thesesus or Heracles who developed Pankration and the fact that it allows you to defeat Minotaurs, Nemean Lions and Cerberus means it is highly effective. It works so well by pretty much throwing everything at your enemy, even the kitchen sink (especially the kitchen sink, those taps can sting).
Virtually anything goes with Pankration, there’s only three things you can’t do. Bite your enemy, pluck out their eyeballs or damage their genitals. Other than that feel free to strangle, punch, kick and throw to your heart’s content.
That’s more than enough to get any would be modern mythical heroes started. With a combination of a dark and disturbing backstory, sword skills and fighting ability you should be well on your way to defeating heinous and fiendish monsters before ultimately dying in a tragic way (usually dying alone. Take Bellerophon. He was a hero who had defeated the chimera. He had a flying horse, he was the king and was happily married with four children. Yet he managed to mess that all up by trying to visit Zeus, who sent a gadfy to attack him, resulting in Bellerophon crashing to the ground and ending up crippled and alone for offending the gods).

Front Cover Update: Escapades in Bizarrchaeology

I’m currently working on freshening up the front cover for Escapades in Bizarrchaeology, aiming for something altogether classier so when you’re sat reading it on the train you can feel all smug and intellectual as the other passengers stare at you in poorly disguised envy.

Here’s a preview of the first draft. Opinions and comments welcome.

EIB Cover 2

 

Bat Bombs – an extract from Escapades in Bizarrchaeology

Below you’ll find an extract from my humorous History book ‘Escapades in Bizarrchaeology’.

If you enjoy learning all about ‘Bat Bombs’ then please share the extract far and wide using all the usual social media.

You can also buy the book from Amazon for a mere £8 by clicking here. You’ll even get a free penny for every purchase.

Any help at all would be greatly appreciated as, quite frankly, I need the money.

The Cat Shield was an example of a defining ‘weapon’ in man’s military history, a device that for better or worse forever changed our view on the world and our place within it. But it’s not the only such weapon in the Zoo, take a sharp left when you get to the Bat enclosure and then I can present to you… the Bat Bomb.
First things first, I believe some clarification is in order. By Bat Bomb I do not mean the high tech compact explosive you would find on the utility belt of the caped crusader, no, I actually mean an incendiary device attached to a bat.
This idea came to be in the midst of the second world war and was the brain child of a Pennsylvanian Dentist named Dr Lytle S. Adams (Yes, that Lytle S. Adams, none other than the inventor of the fried chicken dispensing machine). Recoiling from the shock and horror of the recent attack on Pearl Harbour by the Japanese, Adams came to consider ways in which America could strike back at its faraway foe.
Dr. Adams knew that the vast majority of buildings in Japan were constructed from paper, bamboo and other very flammable materials. He had also witnessed the behaviour of bats during a recent holiday in New Mexico, particularly the manner in which the winged wonders found small crevices to shelter in during the day.
Taking into account these two factors Dr Adams had an epiphany; the results of this epiphany can be easily seen through a number of steps written as bullet points for easy digestion. I like to think this is how Dr Adams planned out his idea but there is no historical evidence to prove this to be the case…
TO DO LIST:
1. Get some bats.
2. Attach a bomb to the bats.
3. Drop bats over Japanese cities.
4. Bats spread far and wide before finally hiding themselves in the dark recesses of buildings.
5. After a period of time the bombs explode causing fires to spread rapidly across Japan creating chaos, panic, and destruction.
6. Back to work… 10.45am. Patient. Root canal.
It was certainly the case that Dr Adams’ idea was unconventional, but there were top bods in the American government who believed that despite the oddity of using flying mammals as an offensive weapon that the theory was sound. That the bat bomb actually could work.
Adams submitted the idea to the White House in January 1942, where President Roosevelt himself authorised the further development of the project. It fell to the inventor of military napalm, Louis Fieser, to devise an effective bomb which was also light enough for the bat to carry. Fortunately for Fieser bats can carry more than their own weight in flight, so the bomb he developed was roughly the same size as a bat and was an impressively diminutive 16 grams in weight.
Now that Fieser had bombs attached to bats the next problem to overcome was to actually get all of them to Japan. And for this there was created an elegant and cunning solution. A device so simple and yet so genius I will write the details of it in its own paragraph.
A big metal box.
Yes, a big metal box with multiple compartments in which could be housed the hibernating bats. A parachute was stuck to the back so when it was dropped by a plane at high altitude over Japan, the descent of the box could be slowed. At 1000 feet the bats were awoken from the hibernation, the compartments then opened and 1000 bat bombs were released.
So, how come the bat bomb was never used?
Well it was, only as a test admittedly, but the military were very pleased with the results of the bat bomb when it was deployed on a mocked up Japanese village built in the Dugway Proving Grounds of Utah. Yes, there were some setbacks along the way (the bats set fire to Carlsbad Army Airfield Auxiliary Air Base when they roosted under a fuel tank, resulting in property damage and a high death count of bats) but none the less the effectiveness of the bat bomb appeared to be promising. Not only that but bat loving mathematicians also surmised that ten B-24 bombers could carry over one million bats to their target.
So, to ask the question again, how come the bat bomb was never used?
Essentially the atomic bomb rendered it irrelevant. The new weapon was so devastating in its power and so terrifying in its annihilation of life that the bat bomb was consigned as a foot note in history.
So, how best to sum up? On the surface the bat bomb seemed like a ridiculous idea, after all, attaching explosive devices to any sort of animal seems like something you would watch in a cartoon. However, what if the bat bomb was used before the atomic bomb was dropped on Japan? What if this seemingly absurd weapon managed to bring a close to the Second World War? What kind of world would we live in had an atomic bomb never been used on a civilian population?
Let’s leave the final word to the inventor of the bat bomb himself, when commenting on why his invention – ‘X-Ray’ – would have been a much better weapon to use on Japan than ‘Little Boy’ or ‘Fat Man’;
‘Think of thousands of fires breaking out simultaneously over a circle of forty miles in diameter for every bomb dropped.  Japan could have been devastated, yet with small loss of life’

The Day Eric the Witless Died

It was on a Thursday that Eric died.

Or, as he would have called it, Thorsday.

Eric really hadn’t been expecting it. The battle had been going so well up until that point. The heaving swarm of humanity that made up the Great Heathen Army had tumbled over the emerald green hill towards their prey. Eric had been propelled along with them, feeling unstoppable at the forefront of such a tremendous force.

Warriors clad in chainmail from neck to knee, each armed with spear, axe or sword. Their helms gleamed like pebbles on a beach, every single dane holding aloft a brightly coloured oval shield; imbued with painted or carved images of dragon, wolf and bear. They were the tide and the small force of Saxons, stood in disarray at the nape of the hill, were as inconsequential to them as the shore.

The Saxons had been caught unaware, trapped with their backs at the river and the sudden surprising arrival of the Danes at the top of the hill. Eric had stared down at the small force, a smirk twitching on his lips beneath his dull red beard. With a playful punch, he struck Sigfried on his armoured shoulder.

‘Look at them’ Eric muttered ‘do you think they’re ready to die?’

‘They’ll get to find out soon’ replied Sigfried, spitting a wad of yellow phlegm onto the blade of his sword, before rubbing it off against his leather clad wrist, and tapping hilt three times against his shield. The soft thudding sound it made, lost in the noise of the swathes of men around them.

Eric smiled at his friend ‘You know Odin cares not if you do that. If it is your time to die, then it is your time’

‘Maybe so’ rumbled Sigfried ‘but it makes me feel better.’

‘I leave my fate to the three sisters’ Eric raised his axe to glisten under the bright September sun ‘When it is my time, I will fall in battle and I shall journey to Valhalla to feast and fight with the gods. Mine will be a good death, a heroic death, with weapon in hand and a grin upon my face.’

There was a ripple of noise amongst the Danes as a mountain of a man strode forward from their ranks. He wore a gleaming coat of mail and his cruel war helm gave him a frightening visage.

‘It’s Halfdan’ whistled Sigfried ‘son of Ragnar Lothbrok’

‘I know who it is’ responded Eric, whipping a sheen of sweat from his brow.

‘You’ve seen him before then have you?’ teased Sigfried ‘Good friends are you?’

‘Like brothers’ replied Eric ‘If it were not for the fact I was stood behind Rulf the fat, and that his bulk was blocking Halfdan’s view of me, than I’m sure he would embrace me at once. We would probably hold each other tenderly for several minutes, I would expect’

Sigfried laughed ‘You’re full of pig shit Eric’

‘It leaks out of my ears’ smiled Eric ‘thank the gods for this helmet otherwise shit would be pouring all over you right now’.

Before Sigfried could respond, Halfdan raised his fist aloft and silence spread amongst the assembled men. The only noise to be heard was the panicked cries from the Saxons far below.

‘Rulf’ whispered Eric ‘Rulf. Could you move a little? You’re too fat and I can’t see my brother Halfdan’.

‘If you’re not careful’ rumbled Rulf, his massive frame shifting slightly as he spoke ‘I will rip off your cock and use it as a tooth pick’

Eric stared blankly for a moment. ‘That makes no sense’.

‘Of course it makes sense’ Rulf said ‘For your cock is so tiny it would prove just perfect for removing the gristle between my teeth’

Eric smiled, his missing teeth likes black holes in his face.

‘I’ve been thinking about saying that for three weeks’ said Rulf ‘No clever responses Eric? It is not like you to be so witless.’

‘Well’ began Eric ‘you’re fat.’

Halfdan dropped his fist. And as one, the Great Heathen Army snapped their shields up to protect half their own body and half the man to the left. A shield wall was formed.

Halfdan pointed to the Saxons.

‘Here we go’ said Eric.

With a roar the army surged forward.

 

Eric will return next week. We all know that he dies (mind you, we all know that about each other I suppose) the question is… how?

Hell Insurance (clean edit)

Here’s a ‘clean’ version of Hell Insurance for the profanity despising readers out there (you know who you are).

 

‘I’m damned’

Bishop Rutherford raised a bushy eyebrow at the verbal indiscretion, the gentle, swirling sweeps of his quill coming to a brutal and sudden stop upon the parchment laid in front of him.

‘I’m damned’ reasserted the old man, spluttering the words from beneath beer splattered beard.

Rutherford gently eased the turkey feather into the ink pot at his desk and crossed his gnarled fingers in front of him. When he spoke, it was of the calm demeanour of a man who has seen far too much and understood too little.

‘To be damned once could be seen as an accident, to be damned twice? One would have to see that as intentional’.

The old man looked confused, at least Rutherford assumed that the expression was one of consternation. It was rather hard to tell, the saggy skin of the old man’s face seemed to simply crumple like paper into an undiscernible mess. Rutherford thought it best the old man sat down, and gestured with ringed fingers to the chair.

‘I’ve found the right person?’ questioned the old man as he creaked his limbs onto the wooden seat.

‘That rather depends’ intoned Rutherford ‘on what you mean by the right person?’

‘You’re the bishop, who offers’; at this the old man spoke in wheezing whisper, as if afeared that the shadows of the room hid away prying ears, ‘hell insurance?’

Rutherford’s eyes widened slightly, though the old man was not aware of this, for the dark deep bags surrounding them, hid any expression.

‘That is not a service I have been called upon in quite some time, the nature of your damnation must be severe indeed for you to require such a thing.’

‘I’ve been told’ the old man continued ‘that you can stop me from going to hell, that you can make sure I avoid that fate?’

The old man peered at the Bishop, wetness forming from the mess of his milky white eyes.

‘Is it true? Can you do it? Can you guarantee God’s forgiveness?’

Rutherford nodded, the fatty bulge of his neck folding into itself.

‘And if not God’s forgiveness, I can guarantee the Devil’s ignorance. For a fee.’

‘Anything’ the old man spat with desperation, ‘anything’.

‘This is not a fee that a man would like to pay. Are you certain?’

The old man reached forwards, grasping at the warped wood of the desk, ‘Yes. Please God yes.’

‘Very well’ Rutherford eased his bulk from his leather chair, and with a sweep of fine flowing robes, moved to the corner of the room. From a compartment, hidden from the old man’s eyes by the weakness of the pale candlelight, Rutherford retrieved an aged parchment and unfurled it upon the desk. He pointed with a stubby finger at the small and plentiful writing upon it.

‘A straightforward enough piece of legislation. And by the grace of God invested in me, capable of sparing you from an eternal fate of hell and fire.’

The old man grasped for the parchment but Rutherford swiftly swatted his hand away.

‘Can you write?’ asked Rutherford. It was a rarity for any of his clients to be able to do so, but he liked to ask, for if they could it would save him the tedious work of having to transcribe their dull transgressions. Thievery, adultery, murder. Hate, shame, fear, grief and pain. A man, Rutherford knew, could become distant and detached by the constant and reliable tedium of human frailty.

To Rutherford’s surprise the old man nodded. The Bishop whipped the quill from the pot and passed it to old man, a flick of ink darting from it to stain the wood of the table. The old man gripped the stem of the quill with trembling fingers.

‘Simply write your crime upon the dotted line. I, and the glory of God the everlasting, will take care of the rest for you.’

The old man slowly wrote four words on the parchment, his body tense and taut as he did so. And yet, Rutherford considered, on the completion of the fourth word the figure sagged and placed the quill upon the desk with focused consideration.

Rutherford gathered the parchment in his hands, turning it to face him and read the four words.

He read them again.

And again.

‘What is the fee?’ asked the old man.

Rutherford’s eyes glanced up from the parchment to focus on the man. He considered the possibility of this frail and feather light figure reshaped and reformed into the man he claimed to be.

‘What is the fee?’ repeated the old man.

Rutherford snatched the quill from the table and rammed it into the old man’s neck, who let out a soft, aching wheeze from the very depth of his lungs. Rutherford twisted and pulled, cold and crimson, across the papery skin. The old man’s life blood poured forth, darkening the deep red knots of the wooden desk, as his soulless body flopped, discarded, to the floor.

Rutherford carefully slid the bloodied quill into the ink pot from whence it came.

‘The fee is far greater than you can pay.’

Revolution

This is a test piece of a larger idea for a short story that I have. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s a fairly depressing in tone (and probably much more obviously reflective than I would like) but I’d be interested in knowing if any readers out there would like to share their thoughts on the text and whether or not they think it works as a piece of writing

The steel blade hung like a glittering diamond in the air. The arcs of afternoon sunlight illuminating it’s ghastly shape for all in attendance to see. The crowd gobbled like turkeys in the ramshackle courtyard.  

As Sebastian shambled across the mottled wooden boards, he took a moment to consider what makes up a life. The life of a man. It wasn’t a story that he saw in his mind’s eye, a tidy sequence of events with a narrative flow that made sense from beginning to end, it was simply sensations. The smell of flowers in the hallway of the chateau. The taste of a lover. The feeling of fresh air, glancing across his face.

All he could see around him were the faces of the righteous, the disposed, and the furious. There to judge him. Were they so pure? Were they so innocent? Could they claim to be without guilt? Can any man, wondered Sebastian, do enough to earn a place in heaven?

A thick, wad of spit flecked against Sebastian’s cheek. Spat from the gummy maw of an old woman, her face was cruel and wizened. She glared, bloated eyes staring gashes into him.

She despised him.

She hated him.

Could he blame her? He did not know. Sebastian considered that he had always tried to do the right thing but his life of privilege, of position, his connection to materialism, to the value of objects, had perhaps denied his attempt to live a holy life and now, at this moment, all of that was gone and for the briefest time he felt utterly free.

Sebastian stood atop the rickety wooden platform and felt it shift beneath his weight. He waited there, exposed. His once fine, silken clothing that had caressed his flesh was gone, replaced with tattered, lice infested hessian that hung from his skeletal frame like a sullen scarecrow.

He had fought when the baying mob had come for him. It was on a quiet, moonlit night that they burst through the door of his home. He had lashed out, his beautifully manicured fingernails scraping against the fleshy cheek of one of them. Sebastian glanced done at the fractured, broken mess that were his fingers now. What were once his pride and joy had been left broken by the torturer’s hammer.

Leather gloved hands gripped Sebastian from behind and forced him to kneel, his soft skin forced against rough wood, the forgotten blood of other’s before him licking his neck. Milky white eyes gazed up at him from the wicker basket inches from his face. Who amongst them were friends? He did not know. The rotten remnants of their identities kept that a secret from him.

Sebastian raised his eyes and looked out once more upon the baying mob, there to find freedom in anger and hate, despite those being the very things that bind them than even the most oppressive regimes of class and wealth.

The steel scythed downwards. A man was gone. And yet still the crowd bellowed for more.

Going Berserk

Sometimes life can push a man to the edge. As I sit here at my desk I received a papercut from a maniacal piece of A4 paper, I too, was pushed to the edge. This resulted in my breathing becoming erratic and strained, my eyeballs turning bloodshot and bulging, whilst froth began to spurt from my mouth. I looked like a fifteen-year-old who’d just taken on the challenge of consuming both coke and mentos in front of their friends and peers and then realising, just a few seconds later, that the bodily result of this combination was not an urban myth and they’d just made a terrible, terrible mistake.

I’d gone Berserk. 

The word Berserk derives from the word Berserker, which onlinedictionary.com reliably informs me is ‘an ancient Norse warrior who fought with frenzied rage in battle, possibly induced by eating hallucinogenic mushrooms’.

Sometimes in life going Berserk can be great. For example, your boss has just told you that you misfiled Form 11D… how surprised would he be when you pop a couple of fungal friends in your mouth, rip open your shirt and begin to strangle the shocked jobsworth with the end of your tie. I think that answer to that would be… very surprised.

The same applied to a battle. Sometimes having a small group of Odin worshipping, half naked, axe wielding weirdos who feel no pain or fear on your team can be great.

There’s some debate amongst history loving people (I believe they’re called historians) about whether or not Berserkers ever actually existed. In my opinion they are far too awesome not to have existed. But for those of you who like evidence to back up my wild statements there’s also plenty of that too. Way back in the first century AD, the Roman historian Tacitus described similar warriors within the German tribes. This was followed up on by the historian Prokopios, who spoke of ‘the wild and lawless Heruli’, a group of warriors who went into battle butt naked and played little notice to any wounds that were inflicted upon them, and who were quite possibly the predecessors of the Norse Viking warrior. There’s plenty of references to the Norse Berserkers in the sagas (poems, written by people with a deep hate of rhyming couplets, for Scandinavian and Icelandic leaders) where they are described doing the kind of things that would make Brock Lesnar (a UFC fighter and professional wrestler with a neck so thick you could use it to straighten out the leaning tower of pisa) look like a thing that isn’t very dangerous whatsoever. In the Volsung saga Berserkers are described as ‘mad as dogs and wolves, they bit their shields, were as strong as bears or oxen, they killed everybody, and neither fire or iron bit them’.

Being a Berserker is essentially pausing your life, entering a very long string of commands through your controller, and then activating God mode.

Hell Insurance

‘I’m fucked’

Bishop Rutherford raised a bushy eyebrow at the verbal indiscretion, the gentle, swirling sweeps of his quill coming to a brutal and sudden stop upon the parchment laid in front of him.

‘I’m fucked’ reasserted the old man, spluttering the words from beneath beer splattered beard.

Rutherford gently eased the turkey feather into the ink pot at his desk and crossed his gnarled fingers in front of him. When he spoke, it was of the calm demeanour of a man who has seen far too much and understood too little.

‘To be fucked once could be seen as an accident, to be fucked twice? One would have to see that as intentional’.

The old man looked confused, at least Rutherford assumed that the expression was one of consternation. It was rather hard to tell, the saggy skin of the old man’s face seemed to simply crumple like paper into an undiscernible mess. Rutherford thought it best the old man sat down, and gestured with ringed fingers to the chair.

‘I’ve found the right person?’ questioned the old man as he creaked his limbs onto the wooden seat.

‘That rather depends’ intoned Rutherford ‘on what you mean by the right person?’

‘You’re the bishop, who offers’; at this the old man spoke in wheezing whisper, as if afeared that the shadows of the room hid away prying ears, ‘hell insurance?’

Rutherford’s eyes widened slightly, though the old man was not aware of this, for the dark deep bags surrounding them, hid any expression.

‘That is not a service I have been called upon in quite some time, the nature of your fucking must be severe indeed for you to require such a thing.’

‘I’ve been told’ the old man continued ‘that you can stop me from going to hell, that you can make sure I avoid that fate?’

The old man peered at the Bishop, wetness forming from the mess of his milky white eyes.

‘Is it true? Can you do it? Can you guarantee God’s forgiveness?’

Rutherford nodded, the fatty bulge of his neck folding into itself.

‘And if not God’s forgiveness, I can guarantee the Devil’s ignorance. For a fee.’

‘Anything’ the old man spat with desperation, ‘anything’.

‘This is not a fee that a man would like to pay. Are you certain?’

The old man reached forwards, grasping at the warped wood of the desk, ‘Yes. Please God yes.’

‘Very well’ Rutherford eased his bulk from his leather chair, and with a sweep of fine flowing robes, moved to the corner of the room. From a compartment, hidden from the old man’s eyes by the weakness of the pale candlelight, Rutherford retrieved an aged parchment and unfurled it upon the desk. He pointed with a stubby finger at the small and plentiful writing upon it.

‘A straightforward enough piece of legislation. And by the grace of God invested in me, capable of sparing you from an eternal fate of hell and fire.’

The old man grasped for the parchment but Rutherford swiftly swatted his hand away.

‘Can you write?’ asked Rutherford. It was a rarity for any of his clients to be able to do so, but he liked to ask, for if they could it would save him the tedious work of having to transcribe their dull transgressions. Thievery, adultery, murder. Hate, shame, fear, grief and pain. A man, Rutherford knew, could become distant and detached by the constant and reliable tedium of human frailty.

To Rutherford’s surprise the old man nodded. The Bishop whipped the quill from the pot and passed it to old man, a flick of ink darting from it to stain the wood of the table. The old man gripped the stem of the quill with trembling fingers.

‘Simply write your crime upon the dotted line. I, and the glory of God the everlasting, will take care of the rest for you.’

The old man slowly wrote four words on the parchment, his body tense and taut as he did so. And yet, Rutherford considered, on the completion of the fourth word the figure sagged and placed the quill upon the desk with focused consideration.

Rutherford gathered the parchment in his hands, turning it to face him and read the four words.

He read them again.

And again.

‘What is the fee?’ asked the old man.

Rutherford’s eyes glanced up from the parchment to focus on the man. He considered the possibility of this frail and feather light figure reshaped and reformed into the man he claimed to be.

‘What is the fee?’ repeated the old man.

Rutherford snatched the quill from the table and rammed it into the old man’s neck, who let out a soft, aching wheeze from the very depth of his lungs. Rutherford twisted and pulled, cold and crimson, across the papery skin. The old man’s life blood poured forth, darkening the deep red knots of the wooden desk, as his soulless body flopped, discarded, to the floor.

Rutherford carefully slid the bloodied quill into the ink pot from whence it came.

‘The fee is far greater than you can pay.’