Excerpt: The Leopard Stratagem by T.A. Uner

Title: The Leopard Stratagem
Author: T.A. Uner
Genre: Historical Fantasy

Book description:

Camus Scorpio, the vicious criminal overlord, who for years tormented the good merchants of Rome, is dead. His ruthless army of thugs and bloodthirsty killers wiped out by the avenging force of Tullus the Leopard King, the Leopardess Celestra, and their Troupe. 

But the victory is a costly one. Anna, Tullus’ lover, is dead, and her departure serves as an open wound to all her friends in the Troupe. Needing time to collect himself and continue developing his magical abilities, Tullus decides to seek out the wisdom of a reclusive wizard named Hradack, also known as the Leopard Master and a product of the Age of Paladins. 

In Rome Eliana becomes involved in political intrigue and finds herself caught up in a conspiracy involving a persecuted race called the Dryads. 

Decimus, now a prominent Centurion in the Praetorian Guard, is assigned to a new Roman Legion in Switzerland, where he faces the biggest challenge of his military career. 

As Tullus’ power in Elemence grows, he foresees a hideous plot by an unknown enemy called Serpentus, who has kidnapped his Troupe friends and is holding them hostage on the island of Capri. 

Unbeknownst to Tullus, Serpentus seeks revenge against the Leopard King and Celestra, and has armed himself with arcane powers. Under the tutelage of a fanatical cleric, Serpentus harbors plans of destroying the Leopard King and Celestra before embarking on a destructive path of conquest.


Author Bio

T.A. Uner is a former Management Professional who spent over 15 years working for various fortune 50 companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange. 

An accomplished public speaker and event promoter, he is also a graduate of George Mason University, and holds a Bachelors degree in Speech Communication and History.

A finalist in The 2010 Moonlight Mesa short fiction contest, his first short story, “The Banker’s Wife,” was published internationally in an anthology titled, Award Winning Tales. Mr. Uner lives in Virginia. He is the author of the Leopard King Saga and other works.

He looks forward to more readers discovering the life-like characters that inhabit his stories.


The Leopard Stratagem

A fierce gust of wind stung Tullus' face while Celestra fought to keep up with him.

The cold had announced itself hours ago, imposing its arrival like an unwanted guest on the   
two dauntless travelers. Tullus' Leopard-print breeches had frozen to his legs and he wondered how much more of this cold he could endure.

Thin, powder-white mist surrounded Tullus and Celestra. Around them a frozen wasteland  devoid of life. Celestra growled her disdain: no doubt the Leopardess hadn’t encountered weather this cold during her lifetime.

“I think we’re lost, Girl,” Tullus said. He pulled Vulcan’s map from his backpack and eyed it confusedly. Tullus squinted at the map’s handwriting, but could make nothing from it. The frozen haze made the map almost illegible. He summoned the Lucis spell and glanced at the map under the illumination of the yellow Lucis orb. After reading it for a few moments, he looked up and cursed; Celestra had disappeared. Now he could add her absence to his list of grievances.

He called out to the Incantra but she did not respond. Tullus drew his cloak tighter across his chest. His boots were stiff and his feet were so cold he could barely move his toes, while his body felt like a stiff slab of meat that had been left out in the cold overnight. Celestra appeared in front of him, her spotted coat emerging from beneath the invisibility cloak of the Furtim spell. She growled.

“What is it, Girl?”

Celestra pointed her right front paw towards a dim outline of a cylindrical object in the  distance. Tullus cast the Oculus spell and noticed it was a tower of some sort. It looked old, but still intact. He smiled for the first time in days–finally, a stroke of good luck had come their way. “Lead on, Girl.”

They trudged on towards the tower as the fierce wind fought to claim them in its frozen grip.

As the tower grew closer, Tullus eyed its oblong shape that twisted upwards toward the glacial sky, its exterior webbed in ice. They found a wooden door crusted in ice. Tullus tried opening the door but it was frozen. He summoned what Vigor he had left and threw his shoulder into it. After two attempts, and with Celestra’s added might, the door slammed open.

Inside was dark. Tullus again cast the Lucis spell, and the glowing orb reappeared above his head, offering much needed light in addition to warmth. Tullus pulled the door back in and the howling winds deceased. It was still chilly inside; but for now they were safe from frozen death.

A stone staircase spiraled upwards to a second level. Tullus and Celestra followed it. It ended in a stone landing which opened up into a large, shuttered, stone room containing a long, dusty table surrounded by wooden  chairs. Tullus removed his backpack and slumped down in one of the chairs. Despite its careworn condition it supported his weight.

Tullus surveyed the room. A pantry stood against one of the walls; next to it was an alcove where an old wooden sign was posted. The following words inscribed on it in gold Latin print:                                    

Outpost III: Home of the 14th Air Wing known as The Star falcons
Commanded by Metux the Younger

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Review: I Woof You From the Bottom of my Heart by Kathy Vassilakis

Title: I Woof You From the Bottom of my Heart
Author: Kathy Vassilakis
Genre: Children’s Book

Reviewed by Jo Linsdell

The idea to write this book came from my daughter and my dog. This book was written to show children how special a bond and friendship they can have with their dog. Dog's are wonderful pets and love us unconditionally. They will protect and love us no matter what. Children deserve to learn that at a very young age and grow to love all animals. Compassion for animals is intimately connected with goodness of character
I love the concept of  I Woof You From the Bottom of my Heart. It brought back images of my old dog and my son together. They made a great pair. 

The pictures are simple and colourful, making them appealing to younger readers. I liked the story and how it showed all the things a dog and child can do together, from the dogs point of view. I did feel however that the rhyming and flow could have been improved in places.

You can grab a copy here:


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The Struggle of the Artist

It’s raining again in Seattle. It always does at this time of year. I can hear the drip drip drip outside my window and feel an extra bit of cool from the moisture in the air. It makes me put on a hooded sweatshirt, makes me shiver a bit even after doing so. Having set the clocks back, it’s already dark by 5:00, and that brings with it the temptation to curl up under a blanket on the couch and watch an old movie, something seen before, maybe something funny like Spaceballs, or something with a bit of heartbreak like The English Patient, or something with a good speech at the end like Last of the Mohicans. I must admit I love the bit where they’re on top of the mountain with the wind blowing and the sun going down, and the guy is going on about all the future change to come but implying that none of that really matters because they were once there. They stood on top of the mountain. They lived their lives, played their part. That’s all anyone can do. That’s all that matters.

It’s the artist who thinks otherwise.

It’s the artist who says, “Yes, that’s all true, but just let me get this little thing down.” And the artist hopes that little thing will affect the future, inform the future, maybe even change the future. And that thing might just be a sentence, maybe only a phrase. It could be a photograph, a painting, a sculpture, a chord progression with an accompanying melody. Whatever it is, it’s something that the artist believes has the strength to survive, something that will transcend, something that will live beyond even the mountain and the sunset and the wind.


And I sit in my basement tonight listening to the rain, and I think about that scene on the mountain where one Native American passes his knowledge on to two white people, the Native American being the last of his kind. It’s gorgeous. It’s meaningful. It absolves. I can relish in the strength it provides, but I can’t rest easy. I can’t simply die happy and content on a mountain after a life of work and struggle and loss and love. I feel compelled to reach for something more. I feel compelled to leave behind something that is not just biology, something that is purely me and yet external.

That’s the struggle for the artist.

And it isn’t about fame or riches or Amazon sales rankings. It isn’t about being on the radio or in the magazines or seeing strangers on the bus reading my books. It’s simply about leaving something behind and having maybe just that one person years from now pick it up and leaf through it to a certain marked passage, pages that nearly fall from the book for the amount of use they get, and after reading, the person closes the book, holds it close, squeezes it as if to wring more meaning from the glue that binds the pages, and says quietly to himself or herself, “Nice.”

As a musician, one sees that reaction right away. In the moment of playing a monster E chord, the crowd erupts. The world ignites. The writer does not see that. The writer has to imagine. The writer has to hope and wonder. The writer has to have faith. The writer has to be like that Native American on the mountain, strong in his belief that he was here, that he worked and struggled and made his life, that he mattered.

That he will matter.

It’s still raining now. My last beer is empty. My girlfriend is upstairs on the couch curled up under a blanket and watching a movie. Down here in my writing room, I notice a spider in the corner, a daddy longlegs. I consider it briefly and let it live. I stand up, walk over to the bookcase. I run my fingers along the rows of books and stop on one, Charles Bukowski’s You Get So Alone At Times That It Just Makes Sense. I flip though it to a marked passage, read, then flip to another marked passage and read some more. I set it back on the shelf next to a Haruki Murakami book and say to all the books, to all the authors whose lives are here, even to my own two books there on the top shelf, “Nice.”

Then I go upstairs. I open a bottle of red and pour two glasses. I give one to my girlfriend. We toast to the rain, to the warmth of the couch, to us. And I silently toast to the struggle, to that other part of the struggle that is not the artist, that is just a man living and sitting next to a woman and rubbing her legs, to remembering that sometimes it’s good to stop writing, to look around, to feel, to love, to simply be, to be able to look at my future kids and grandkids and give them reassurance of my existence, or to reassure them of their own when years from now when I am gone they pull a book from the shelf and say to a friend, “Check this out. My grandpa wrote it.”

The friend will take it then, “That’s cool.” He’ll flip through the pages, will look at the front and back covers, will ask, “Is it any good?”

“I don’t know, but he wrote it.”

Photo by Stacy Albright, stacyalbrightimages.com
Dave O'Leary is a writer and musician living in Seattle. The Music Book, his second novel, was just published by Booktrope Editions.
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Interview with V.L. Jennings

What genre do you write and why?
I love writing juvenile science fiction, mostly at the middle grade level. There is very little science fiction out there for middle graders. I’ve chosen the middle grade level because the 5-8th grade years are key to catching students interests in science. My goal is to inspire students to ask questions, and to explore the hows and whys of the world around them so they can reach for their dreams.
Visionary from the stars by V.L. Jennings
Tell us about your latest book.
Visionary From The Stars and The Alien Mind have both been previously published but in 2013 they were picked up by PDMI Publishing LLC and their science fiction imprint Rara Avis. They offered to breathe new life into my books and help me promote my books farther than I could do myself. Both books have been thoroughly edited and gone over; my apologies to all my fans who may find some changes in the newer editions, trust me- the changes were necessary and make for a better reading experience.
The brand new e-book editions release this November, The Alien Mind was released early this month. The paperback books will be released here soon as well. The covers and the interior illustrations are brand new and sport a modern futuristic twist thanks to PDMI’s amazing digital artist Matt Ostrum. He took my previous sketch designs and turned them into amazing works of art! Nessa Mckinney has also created a fantastic interior design layout that furthers the enjoyment of the reading experience as well.
I am very pleased at the transformation they have achieved with both of my books and I am very excited to share them with everyone! 
What are your thoughts on self-publishing verses traditional publishing?
I learned that while I CAN self publish my own work it is very hard still for self publishers to gain acceptance by bookstores. Unless you have a large following or a large street team willing to spread the word about your books far and wide it is hard to get your work noticed. Being able to show that I have a publisher that believes in my work enough to invest their time and money into it has made a big difference. The one thing I stress over all though is to find a publisher that treats you and your book like family. Yes, they are providing you a service in editing, promoting, illustrating, and publishing your work. However, you are providing them the means to pay their bills as well, if you are not pleased with how your book turns out then you won’t be as energetic in your end of the promotion of it. Both of you should be working together and collaboratively in the design and promotion of your book because a non selling book hurts not just the publisher but you as well. You are both on the same team.

Who or what inspired you to become a writer?
Honestly, it was a mix of the Star Trek television series Enterprise and the space program that inspired me to become a writer. I wanted to go out there and explore new places and new possibilities. To discover how things work and help people. Unfortunately, I realized that the farthest we had gotten was sending some robots to Mars and we were many years away from feasibly being able to send people there.

So, instead, I decided to put my creativity to work exploring the universe and our place in it through storytelling.

Did you learn anything from writing your book that was unexpected?
It was through writing my books that I discovered that there are numerous alternate ways to achieve your dreams, to stretch your potential. I may not have actually explored other worlds but I feel like I have.

I’ve also unexpectedly discovered that characters don’t always turn out like you expect them to. If you write them correctly they come to life in your mind and often take over the story and tell you how the story will play out, how they intend to respond to situations, instead of allowing you to puppeteer the story in the direction that you had originally intended. It truly has been a wild ride!

The Alien Mind by V.L. Jennings
Why do you think readers are going to enjoy your book?
Both books were influenced by CS Lewis’ story telling style as that was what I was reading at that point in my life. However, I have also been told that they also bear a bit of resemblance to Heinlen’s style as well. Beyond that, I believe readers are going to enjoy my books because there’s no mumbo jumbo thats going to throw you for a loop like other hard core science fiction books; just an adventure that will pique your curiosity in the unknowns along the way.
What is your work in progress? Tell us about it.
Right now I am working on a sequel to The Alien Mind. The Alien Mind is a stand alone novel but things with the Aruk are gearing up to be much more troublesome in the second book. Rivinaig and Daniel’s relationship is growing and Rivi is struggling over whether to let it grow or whether she should ignore their connection due to the Aruk threat. I’ve realized that the outcome of the Aruk take over is greatly affected by her decision and I’m not entirely sure if she will be able to make the right decision in time- which is why this is a work in progress.

I have other, less developed stories that I am exploring as well, so the next completed story you read from me all depends on when Rivi decides to make up her mind.

When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?
Just this past year I was hired on to be PDMI’s Illustration Department Manager so much of my spare time goes into keeping the illustrators and authors organized, collaborating, and on track with their respective book projects. I also illustrate childrens books for PDMI, most notably the Wiggle Worm series by Karen and Kathy Sills.

When I am not doing any of these things I am busy with my three kids. I have a three year old that I stay home with and I also have a ten yr old and a 13yr old both of which have some medical issues. I’m a researcher at heart so between running them to doctors appointments I spend some of my free time researching things like Pectus Excavatum, Di George syndrome, and Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura. I also have plans to go back to school for web designing. I also enjoy taking time out to watch tv shows like Doctor Who, Flash, and Walking Dead. On the weekends you might catch me at a comic book store or at my local theater watching the latest science fiction or action adventure movie. 
 V.L. Jennings
What advice do you have for other writers?
I offer the same advice to writers that I give to every one else; never stop exploring your potential, never stop reaching for the stars. Anything worth doing is worth doing right. Explore, learn, figure out what works and what doesn’t. Find people who will support you and help you along the way; that could be a publishing team or a street team. You can’t get very far working alone.
Where can people find out more about you and your writing?
Well, I ‘feel’ as though I am everywhere. The reality of it is I can most easily be found on my blog at www.virginialorijennings.com or on facebook at www.facebook.com/vljennings. You may also catch me over on twitter or google+ from time to time, but those previous two places are where I hang out the most. For those of you who don’t have facebook... my page is public so you can still stop by if you’d like. I blog more than once a week but I pretty much always keep it open on my computer screen so if you’d like to chat with me feel free to start up a conversation any time!
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Excerpt: Aloise by Medini Summers

Title: Aloise
Author: Medini Summers
Genre: Historical fiction

Book description:

‘Whitechapel be a bed o’ roses compared to the Seven Dials.’ The lanes and alleys of the Seven Dials, City of London, are noisome with putrid decay and dark, devilish deeds. Mired in prostitution and violence in this human cesspit-privy, Aloise is reckless to escape. To avoid the specter of starvation she must sell her only asset. And to remain independent of the Cash Carriers, she is goaded into a fatal assault on her protectors. 

Fortuitously, a flicker of hope arises, emigration to a far exotic country – New Zealand. However, the Canterbury Colonization Society demands an upright character and respectability. Aloise’s profession is discovered and her application for NZ denied. Eventually, Caroline Chisholm, a philanthropist, adopts Aloise as a sound, strong-minded prospect for the new colony. She is offered free passage and a contract of employment with John Jones of Waikouaiti in the Province of Otago, South Island, New Zealand. 
A voyage aboard a square-rigged schooner, ‘Isabella Hercus,’ awaits. 

Purchasing link:

Author Bio: 

Medini Summers has been writing for twenty years. Two books have been published in traditional format, five novels are now on Amazon Kindle Books and two collections. Medini lives in quake-wrecked Christchurch beside the ocean with her sister and  five feline companions.


Chapter One

London – Seven Dials:
I do wish he would hurry on, I think, mentally totting me costs for the week. Me four shillin, what I is now earning, is tucked up safe in the inside pocket I stitched for the purpose, just below me left titty. I leaves the buttons undone when I is ticing to add a bit of the old allure. Then I cin shove me shillins in me safe place afore the business takes place. There’s me rent – two shillin, food – four shillin, bath house – sixpence, and clothes – eighteen pence. I gotta put something away for a new gown. This here be worn to a friz.

The young gent, with whom I be cavorting, against the wall of the very grim Boyd’s alley, which cuts between Great St. Andrews and Queen Street, begins to pant. He speeds up the action, bumping me against the damp stone wall. His legs is bent at the knees, because I ain’t very tall. It must be blooming hard work, but he don’t seem to notice. I would say he’s too wild, but I’ve had worse. A person does have feelings, after all. But stead of complaining, I croons to him, “There’s me beautiful man, that’s loverly, come on,” rubbing frantically on his tail-coated back. The encouragement speeds up the coursing charger, who dashes to the post a clear winner.

What a relief. But stead of whisking off to me next job of work, I tends to him, professional like; straightens his upright collar, ties his neck cloth into the pretty winged arrangement, what fashion dictates, smoothes the gold and red vest, picks up his topper and brushes the muck off it, before returning it to his wavy-haired noggin. “Nice titfer you got, sir. There, that’s better. Don’t tell your missus. Will I see you at Evans, same time next week?”

“Very likely, pretty Aloise. But don’t look for me outside. I’ll meet you round the corner at one of the clock.”

“Ow!” That’s put me in me place. Musn’t be seen with em what’s above me. Me filth might taint em, being that they is so respectable.

“Are you all right?” inquires my gentleman of the night publics, “I was a bit on the rough side.”

“Never you mind, sir. I be fair enough. I’ll walk you back to your carriage, ifin you don’t mind.” This seems as good a scheme as was ever invented, us being protection for each other. I ain’t scared of the shadders, but with the state of him, if he meets a bludger or a blagger, he’d be dead meat. Saucy minx that I am, I takes his arm and we march along as happy as you like, just as though we was a real couple. Only, he is dressed for the toff and I is – well… We saunter up Queen Street, past me very own building and on toward St. Georges.

Even though Queens is a main road way, it still be narrow, the tall, wretched tenements leaning drunkenly (they be on the grog) over the mud-paved track. It’s hard to say what keeps em standing; probably the filth. It glues em together. And the stink. The smell be worse in the back alleys, where all manner of filthy rubbish has accumulated – old weges, dead cats and dogs and the night buckets, which is emptied there. There’s a masma, a thickness in the air, that’s so solid you could cut it with a knife. Out on Queens, it be positively haromatic. We toddle across Neal Street.

“Do you like living in St. Giles, little Aloise?”
I looks up at him utterly at a loss. “Well, sir, it be a perticular beautiful part of the city,” I say with a smirk. I adopt me cultured tone of voice, the one I be learning to put on to suit me high-stepping clientelliers. “You can have a very fine view to the countryside.”

“Oh, that’s interesting. Where can I do that?”

So I explains, “Top of Great St. Andrews at number fifty two, from the window of the garret on the fifth floor. You can see the tops of the trees beyond St. Giles.”

“Aloise! How droll! What a funny creature you are!”

“The likes of me cin afford to be funny.”

By now, we are approaching Evans Hotel on Dudley Street. His carriage has just arrived. Evans has a low dark entrance, no ornament, and no sign that it be a place of entitainment. So it’s only them what’s in the know that gets to go in. Supposed to fool the bobbies, but it ain’t shassing no one.

“I’ll leave you here,” he says hastily. “I’ll see you next week, Friday evening.”

“Morein likely, sir.”

I watch him cross the street safely, then inside the vehicle, miffed for having me charade of the ladylike companion cut short. “Just you wait, Mister Freddy, whatsishandle. One day, when I’m a lady, I’ll be looking down me snoz at you and your kind. When I’m respectable. When I have earned me place by me very own cleverness.” This Freddy ain’t so high n mighty that he cin look down on the likes of me. But he do and so do almost everyone else. I be from the dung heap, the lowest of the low, a trollop from the Rookeries.

After he’s been carried off, I bethink meself of me next employment. I is still four shillin short for the week, so I had better gird me loins, lure another fine reveller to those very parts. It’s getting a bit late for me trade, only a few stragglers be trickling out. I won’t be able to charge much. By another hour I be all done up, having been standing about for most of the night, one way or t’other. Trying to look beguiling hour on hour, be the worst on it. But if I doesn’t pot em tonight I’ll be on the cadge again tomorrow. Gotta stick it out or I’ll be hungry before long.

Submerging me loathing ain’t working no more. It’s worming its way inside. It’s filling every part of me. If I continue in this way for much longer I’ll become like the other hussies.” Those gin-soaked filallies, what don’t care about anything. If you ask em, they’ll tell you, they’d just as soon be dead. The only thing what keeps em going is the grog. They love it. It’s their god, their dearest friend. They got no feelings whatsomever. In fact, they’re dead inside. As these women gets older they loses their looks and their price goes down. They drifts into the cheaper areas, where it’s more than likely they’ll get their froats cut. How many of me friends have ended up in the fleet ditch? That’s where I be headed, sure as cheese. No doubt I will deserve it.

I sigh with frustration, miserable and cold. It don’t look like no trade be coming me way tonight. Just about all the late clients of Evans be drunk and not inclined for the dabbing. I’m a thinking again. Lou’s sharp now. I be well known for being able to look out for meself. I don’t take the white satin to console me, but I sure have been tempted. Neither have I worked in a disorderly house, just to be preyed on by them Abbess and Abbot. I keeps meself independent. That way me shillins is mine.
I be lolling against a doorway at the top of an alley, just beyond Evans Hotel, when an iron arm goes round me froat. Before I cin shout I be on me back, with a heavy boot on me chest. It pushes down on me windpipe, until I am choking, then eases off.

“C’mon, tart, cough up. Where’s your takings?”

Thinking fast, I squeak, “Got nothing. I spent me last sixpence on a pie from Cock ’n Pye Pie Shop round on Great St Andrews.”

“Your lying! C’mon, where’ve you hidden your coin?”

The nasty looking cove, with a grizzled face, has a billycock and a flash waistcoat. He obviously fancies himself. This one starts groping round me skirts, but I chose the hiding place well. The coins be packed in tight so they don’t jingle.

I gotta do something quick. “Now look here, gents. I is well and truly got. Since I don’t have the means to pay you I will offer payment in kind. How would that suit you?” I sees they’s wavering. They’re really after coin. But me charms have won the day, because, by this time, they be on display for all to view. That be what decides it. First the cove gets stuck in, then his sidekick, a part Blackamore, hauls me up, having a good try at grinding me into the wall.

“Yer our tart now,” the billycock says, most jolly, when the testing of goods is done. “We’ll be back, soon as a gown can be arranged to suit yer ladyness. You be workin fer us after this.”

“Not likely,” I mutter as limp as a rag doll. “I be working for meself. You’re not having me shillins.” With a nasty grin the cove slips down the alley, his Blackamore at his heels.

“Bastards!” I cry after them, shaking me fist. Those coves be cash carriers, sure as hell. They’ll show up again to try to git me on their side. “Devils, bloody beggaring men! You can’t! I’ll never let you get the better of me!” I’ve had a frightful lapse in me concentration – what was the cause of this cerfuffle. I’ve bin stupid. Me innards has turned to mush and the creeping misery is claiming me mind, a sick disgust that has me ready to vomit. However, I didn’t get a walloping and me shillins is safe. Now me thinking be in terms of comfort. I drags me weary body back toward the Dials.

It’s darkish in Great St. Andrews, but some carts is plying, their lazy donkeys plodding slowly up from the Garden with their loads of cabbages and spuds. Art Chimsey, me perticular friend, is setting up his stall, in his usual spot, in hopes of getting ahead of the rest. This clever fellow is also a chaunterer, having copies of his songs to sell at a penny a sheet. I cin see em poking out from beneath the taters. He do sing as sweetly as any blackbird whatsomever. Art, by his cleverness, makes enough dookin to feed his four chavies. His wife be a laundry woman.

“Evening, me old cock sparrer,” I chirp, glad of a friendly face, at least one that will not rob, wallop or cheat me. “It’s good to see you, Arty. Makes me think things are not so bad after all.”

“Morning, me little darling, me lady Aloise.” He does a comical bow of deference. “You look as though yer bin through the mill.”

“So I have, so I have, but I don’t want to talk on it.”

“That’s alright, I’m sure. I wish I could help. I keep tellin yer, Lou, you’re too good for this here life. If anyone deserves somethin better, it be you. Let me escort you home, me dear.”

Arty’s words always lift me, reminding me of a better life. If it weren’t for the likes of him, where would I be? “You’re too kind, Arty, me old friend. But don’t leave your stall. They’ll be down on it like a flock of swine. I’se hungry and I’m after a pie and a sup of something.”

“Keep away from the liquour, darlin, you know you should. Yer can’t be a lady if you’re a drunk. Ifin you start to imbibe, you’ll put yerself in danger. Keep sharp, me good gal. It’s the only way to go. Have you heard about Bessie?”

“No, Art, what’s up?”

The sludge inside me belly twists up into hard knots. “Not, Bessie. Our little Bessie. No, dear lord, where will it end?”

“Bessie Bird were a drunk. It were only ever a matter o’ time. Ifin you can’t think straight, how are yer to look out for yerself?”

“Ae, I know, Arty, I know.”

Though, I’m thinking I’m not up for advice, me friend Bessie’s fate has rattled me thoughts. Arthur Chimsey’s cautions are well meant. I pass by the bird fanciers’ emporium. The turtle doves, blackbirds, parrots, thrushes, larks and canaries are belling in a chorus of wakening. I do wonder at their joy, when they are imprisoned in their tiny cages. Puppies for sale in the back of the premises is doing their squeaky, lonely bark. I feels sorry for em all, shut up in their cages. I would free em if I could.

Next the birds, is the print shop, what pressed Art’s song sheets during the night. They also do religious tracts. If that’s what you is about. After that is the aquarium then more bird shops. A surly clobberer is lurking in his shop doorway before getting on with the day. He’s the second-hand wizard, rejuvenating old coats, hats and sich like. Several more of the same kind, then the translators’ establishments. I knows something about that trade. Beyond are the rag and bone lurks, filled with every kind of rubbish, dark and dingy. I would never lower meself to purchase clothing from em. Mostly they sell to the factories at Leeds, where the rags is munched up and has wool added, so that a new type of cloth can be churned out. Clever that.

Next the clothing dives, be the Cock ’n Pye Pie Shop. At once me heart lightens, because they makes me favourite game pie. If I sneak in the back door, I cin get one for cheap. I peer in the wide glass winda. Within, everything is clean, lamplight flooding the rows of bread loaves on the wooden shelves, ready for sale at nine of the clock. Sliding in the back kitchen, I see that Sim is just removing a paddle of pies from the big clay oven, where the embers is glowing brightly. Snapper, his prentice, gets me a piping hot game pie, as big as me face, wraps it in an old pamphlet and relieves me of me sixpence.

“Loverly!” I exclaim. “Thankee! Thankee!”

“Come on, Lady Aloise, outa here. There be no room for gawpers,” Sim chivies. “We have fifty more pies to bake.” He gives me a friendly shove toward the back entrance. I be loath to go. ’Tis a favourite place of mine. The warmth, the aromas of fresh-baked pies, the cheerful, golden lamplight; me spirits rise just a bit. Lucky they have, because next door is the grog shop. Me mind has bin focused on knocking back a drain of the golden liquour. Stuffing me face, I walks straight on by and up toward the circus of the Dials. Arty’s words have had their effect. What a dear fella he is, even if he does go on a bit. He’s only looking out for me.

I cin see the column on which the dials used to rest, each prong pointing to one of the lanes. The seven diverging roads of that circus are Great and Little Earl Street, Great and Little St. Andrews Street, Great and Little White Lion Street and Queen Street.

Beggars are huddled in doorways, some consumptive, some starving. But I is immune to that. However, I do drop a crust beside a bleary-eyed child, who exposes one weepy ball. She plucks up the morsel to force it into her tight little maw. The chile be beyond saving. The food ain’t going to help. “What a waste of me delicious pie!” Ignoring the loungers against posts, the same ones I saw yesterday, like they’ve got their name graved on their very own post, I fetch up at the circus court of the Dials. There be donkey cart owners, beggars, blaggers, loiterers, chavies and pedestrians taking up their daily vigils; crooked night time hoperators and worn out tarts are returning home to their rest in the tenements, hovels and cellars of the Rookeries.

Here I espy me friend, Lawless Letty, a harlot of fearsome reputation, a woman who’se the accepted leader of the street girls of the Dials. Dear Letty does her utmost to take care on us, fighting those who would abuse us mostly fiercely. She’s as strong as an ox, beating many a big beggar in a bout of fisticuffs. She’ll be out to get the evil bastards who did for poor little Bessie Bird. I’m almost feeling pity for what’s a coming to em.

“Aloise! Have you heard about Bessie?”


“It were just a matter o’ time. She never was a survivor. Not like you and me, Lou.”

“I know.”

Letty’s scarred eyebrow twitches, her crooked nose sniffs as tears fall from her black eyes. Her boat-race is battered from all the routs she’s been a part of. “You should let this be a warning, me deary. You should get out of here as soon as you can. I’ve always said, Lou, you‘re the one whose most likely to make a go of it.” She takes me arm in her vice like grip. “Some toff is going to fall for yer. You could get married and be secure for ever more. Have a nice house, servants and all, be the lady in yer own little domain.”

“The only codger who’se going to marry the likes of me will be some wizened up old blighter who can’t get a decent woman. Who wants to be married anyway? I don’t need it. I’ll make me own way. To be tied to some beastly man for evermore – uh!”

Ignoring me protests, Letty says, “What if you liked un, Lou. Marryin might not be so bad. Remember how Bessie used to go on. She wanted to fall in love, get married and have a swag o’ baby birds.”

“And look where that got her. If she’d been tougher. That nonsense just weakened her. Love! It’s not for the likes of us.”

Letty looks at me for a moment. “Bein tough might suit me but you ain’t that kind, me lovely.”
“Gor blimey, Letty, you don’t half go on. Leave it off.” Letty gives me one of her fierce hugs, the only kind she knows and slopes off in pursuit of the murderer of Bessie Bird. “Stick it to the beggars, Letty!” I shout. “Give em one for me!” She’ll get em right enough. Just as she gets her tups, frightening the gents into it then forcing em to pay her above the usual fee.

Away I trot down Queen Street to me rickety, rackety building, half way along. There be the usual assortment of rag and translator emporiums, then the print shop. I takes a look at the flyers and handbills for entitainments. There be theatre, an artist what will draw your phisog for half a crown and a sheet about emigrating to somewhere called the Canterbury Settlement.

Within this flyer be a picture of a fine vessel, fully rigged, and the words – ‘Emigration of the Working Classes.’ Arter that, there be something about the Archbishop of Canterbury, a list of names, then – ‘The Association of Canterbury will grant Assisted Passages to Port Lyttleton in the Canterbury Settlement in ships to sail during February & March to a limited number of Working Classes, being Gardiners, Shepherds, Farm Servants, Labourers, and Country Mechanics. The Emigrants must be of the highest Character for Reliability, Steadiness & Respectability, as certified by the Clergyman of their Parish. Full particulars, (smaller letters) with forms of Application, may be obtained from the office of the Canterbury Association, 9 Adelphi Terrace, London. H. F. Alston, Secretary.

Distractedly, I thinks on the weirdy notion of emigrating to a new life in a far away land. The thought sends shivers up me back. Then I lands back to meself with a crash. Certified by a clergyman – the likes of me. And I don’t have a trade like what is listed on the sheet. Though, this gal is in a trade, being of great service to humanity. But it be no more recognised than a turkey’s service to gluttony. We be reviled, the lowest of the low. Though, that be only by em what’s above us. Round here, my profession be most common and acceptable.

Dismissing this notion of escape from me present lot, I enter the black doorway of me lodging; it be crusty with mouldy, greasy, black filth. I climb the apples, which be rotted and lurching in places then come to me door on the third floor. I flicks me key out from amongst me coin to let meself into me tiny room. It has a low bed with a worse for wear, straw mattress and a patch-worked, woolly blanket, made of linen and wool, a family treasure, folded neatly at its foot. This little touch gives the chamber a welcoming appearance. Add to that the dried-out, dusty flowers pinned to the dirt-blackened walls – it has a homely feel. A meagre morning light struggles through the grimy, cracked casement. Old rags are stuffed into several holes in the glass. If I could only get the landlord to fix it, but the Jews aren’t known to respond to our pleas. The floor be modestly clean. I does it with a little brush, what I have purchased. Should the winda open, I would throw the muck out into the street. As it is, it gits shoved into the corner. This is where I chucks me pie wrapper. I be thirsty, but there’s no water. I gets it at the bath house tomorrow. I’d rather die than take the water of the canals. That’s where the foul stuff of the alleys empties. Some as stands that water in a bucket for several days till the muck sinks to the bottom, then scoop the water off the top for drinking and cooking. That be a fair way to kill yourself.

With that waggish thought, I flops on the bed, coddles meself in the patchwork and scrunches up tight against the cold, swooning away from me pleasing reality. A dream born on the hopeless wishes of Bessie Bird slips below me defences. I is walking hand-clasped with a handsome youth. Strangely pleasing feelings invade me senses. Sweet sensations fill me body. The dream shifts and warps into darkness. The covey bastard is looming over me, shaking a tawdry piece of chiffon in me face. “You’re ours now, Aloise. We own yer body. Your soul belongs to us.”

“No, you can’t have me. Not you or any man,” I shout, the disgust coiling in every part of me. “I’d sooner die.” I wake sweating in the cold room.

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