The Queen’s Alchemist Part 3: The Executioner

Part 3: The Executioner

The young man who stood trembling on the trapdoor was barely old enough to have grown the first hair on his chin. A small crowd were gathered, murmuring quietly, as clouds above were heavily pregnant with rain; rather fitting for that morning’s execution.

“Theodore Bartholemew Ashencroft, you have been found guilty of abandoning your post at Irving’s Foothold, leading to the death of seventy-three Atharron soldiers.”

Theo gave a hoarse sob as the dirty rope was tied loosely round his neck.

“This includes the great Knight James IV of Northwind, the good Queen Cassandra’s Giant Slayer and a tragic loss to Atharron. You are hereby sentenced to death for treason and abandoning your brothers without permission.”

A series of tutting and whispers rushed through the crowd of onlookers. The Executioner’s steel mask was barely an inch from Theo’s pale cheek. The rope smelt of sweat and dust.

Theo looked towards the heavens, his tear-streaked face taking in for the last time the grey storm clouds that threatened thunder. As the last of the accusations rolled off the announcer’s tongue, and the Executioner’s large fist snapped the handle to release the trapdoor, Theo could have sworn the enormous silhouette of a Dragon flashed in the stormy sky.

A Hidden Gem in Kanagawa: Tamagawa Daishi Temple

Back in my tour guide days, I used to dread hearing the words “hidden gem.” Tourists claim to want to see unknown places that no one knows about, but if tourists went there, they wouldn’t be hidden. I know some of the popular places in Tokyo, but I wasn’t aware of many places that “no one knows about.”

However, today a friend took me to a temple in Futago-Tamagawa. Futago-Tamagawa, much like other places in Kanagawa Prefecture, has undergone a lot of development in recent years. Young people often visit for shopping and dining. But there is more to the area than department stores and restaurants.

After walking for around fifteen minutes after a delicious Korean lunch near the station, we reached a small temple called Tamagawa Daishi. Now, it didn’t look like much from the outside…

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But what made this very old temple special was that it was much, much bigger once you ventured underground.

Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take pictures on the inside, but here is an account of what we found.

After offering a five-yen coin, ringing the gong, and saying a quick prayer, we ventured inside. The temple was stuffed full of old treasures: ancient gongs, statues of various Buddhist gods blackened by time, and solid gold bells and things I didn’t recognise. Incense burned and the smell of wood filled the air.

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It cost 100 yen to go down into the underground. We signed our names, put on the provided slippers, and headed down there.

“Last time I was here, we got into trouble for screaming,” my friend told me. “The monk had to tell us off.”

Apparently, it was so dark down there they got freaked out and started shrieking. She wasn’t kidding; it was pitch-black and we had to walk slowly, hands sliding along the wall. I’m not sure what the point of a dark tunnel in a Japanese temple is, but it might give you the feeling of walking into another world.

After several minutes of feeling our way along in the dark, we reached this amazing underground room. Again, taking photographs was prohibited and I wasn’t about to disrespect the rules, but there was a long corridor full of the 88 monks of the temple from back then. Some of them had unlit candles or other treasures placed before them.

There were also statues of angels, one enormous stone statue of the monk who built the temple, and various models of the gods of fire. At one point, we came across a god who helped take unborn deceased children to the afterlife. A month ago I had a miscarriage, but instead of being upsetting, the statue of a god with smaller cherubs clinging to his robes filled me with wonder (though I did feel my eyes burning.)

My friend said later that she had forgotten about my misfortune when she had invited me, and apologised profusely. I told her it was fine; I had wanted to visit a temple with these statues anyway, so in a way, it was beautiful, if a little heartbreaking.

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Fortunately, we were allowed to take pictures outside.

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Then we headed to Musashi-Nakahara to see a small farm of pansies. The pansy is the symbol of Nakahara Ward and is popular to buy around December. Some of the arrangements in the picture below were being sold for 30,000 yen (About £206 GBP or $265 USD)!

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All in all, it was a great day and very different from what I usually do. If you’re in the area, Tamagawa Daishi is worth a visit for the vast array of authentic treasures that are hundreds of years old. It’s a little surreal to be in an underground temple surrounded by priceless artifacts from temple worship.

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Spoiler-Free Book Review: “Caitlyn (Book One) Three Bloody Pieces” by Elizabeth Davies

Although I adore new worlds borne from the imagination of fantasy writers – they push the boundaries of their fictional universe, creating a new history, races, and cultures that we can explore and discover – I also have a soft spot for historical fiction. Exploring the story of characters that live in the real world gives them a sense of wonder and magic. If I read a story that is set in our world a few hundred years ago, we know that our ancestors lived in a similar world, facing the challenges and obstacles the character does.

I recently came across a historical fantasy called Three Bloody Pieces. It is the first of the Caitlyn trilogy, written by Welsh paranormal author Elizabeth Davies. Always eager for something new to read, I delved straight into this novel after enjoying the free sample.

Three_3bloodypieces_e_Cover“A dead king, a queen who is more than she seems, and a witch who uses the dark arts to entrap her. Queen, widow, beggar – Lady Caitlyn is all three, and now she can add murderer to the list. When death and treachery propels her south to Normandy, to seek sanctuary with the exiled Prince Alfred, visions of a woman with ancient eyes travel with her. Herleva is a woman filled with ambition and greed. A woman who intends to be more than a commoner. A woman who gets what she wants by whatever means possible, even if she has to practice the dark arts to achieve her goals. A woman who is a witch. Caitlyn finds herself caught up in a magic which changes her very being. A magic which produces a king to change the lives of every man, woman, and child in England.”

Davies’ writing style was authentic and vivid. I followed the story at her comfortable pace, finding it easy to imagine the scenes around me. Sometimes you come across books that focus so much on the description that they lose you on the way. This didn’t happen with Three Bloody Pieces. There was enough description to conjure images of the characters and surroundings without overwhelming us with unneeded “fluff.”

We are thrown into the action from the very first page. Lady Caitlyn has lost everything: her kingdom, her husband, and the victory she’d expected in their battle. Her husband is lying dead at her feet, the approach of enemy soldiers heavy on her shoulders. With barely enough time to bury King Rhain before they have to flee, Caitlyn must set her grief aside and focus on survival. A queen by birth and also by marriage, she is in danger from her husband’s enemies and forced to leave her unfortunate people behind to fend for themselves.

This novel kept me on my toes. Every time I thought I’d be able to guess what was coming, the story went in an entirely new direction. This gave it an incredible lack of predictability which, to me, is very important.

I also really liked Caitlyn’s character. She was brave and could get on with things even when a weaker person would have crumbled. I suppose that by entering an arranged marriage at a young age, she had accepted what fate had in store for her and had even grown to care for her husband; this situation must have prepared her for a life of adapting to her situation even if it were terrible. Caitlyn was certainly pushed to her limit several times, but she never despaired.

The first part of the novel was like a gritty fantasy adventure. Caitlyn was getting strange visions of a terrifying, unknown woman who cut up dead bodies and performed strange rituals with them. Caitlyn and her temporary protectors fled from her homeland in Wales and to a nearby lord who might be able to help her.

I was slightly disappointed that there wasn’t more of a build-up between two very important scenes, but that might be personal preference. The overall mood of the book changed halfway through with a strange twist. If you’ll look at the other reviews on Amazon, you’ll see I’m not alone in thinking this twist was a little weird. I actually almost stopped reading, but I was invested in Caitlyn’s life and was curious as to what would happen next.

As well as being brave and adapting to her unfortunate new lifestyle, Caitlyn remained an empathetic, caring person. She also had a great amount of sass that had me laughing aloud sometimes. This added realism to her character – she wasn’t just a noble queen with a brave attitude, but quite down-to-earth, relatable, and funny with her sarcasm and comebacks, especially the ones she thought to herself as she held her tongue. We’ve all done that before! I can’t list most of my favourite quotes without giving away spoilers, but one of the funniest was “She looked as though the last contact she’d had with water was at her own Christening.”

Even though the aforementioned twist was hard to swallow, the book redeemed itself. I watched Caitlyn and the challenges she had to face, some keeping me at the edge of my seat. Three Bloody Pieces was so charming and well-written that I couldn’t help but buy the others of the trilogy right away. I won’t be forgetting this story in a hurry and I’m eager to read the next.

I want to give Three Bloody Pieces four and a half stars, but unfortunately, that’s not possible. Therefore, I’ll be giving it four stars on this blog and five stars on Amazon and Goodreads.

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The Queen’s Alchemist Part 2: The Messenger

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Part 2: The Messenger

Uldrid’s bow was so low that the tip of his long nose was close to touching his silk-clad knees. “My Queen of Atharron,” he purred. “The Dragons must smile upon you, for you are more beautiful than the brightest of stars.”

The tiniest pinch of snow flittered from his moustache and floated to the carpet, where it melted in the warmth of the coal fire.

Queen Cassandra was the epitome of perfection. Her cerulean gown rippled from the throne like a waterfall, and her cascading auburn hair was like fire, illuminating her pale face. Rose lips pursed at Uldrid’s flattery; his appearance barely brought good news.

“Speak,” she said coldly.

Uldrid straightened, and his sunken eyes met hers. He was conscious of the guardsmen, in their grey and white winter armour, clutching spears as their eyes fixed on each stiff move the man made. Uldrid cleared his throat and gave a weak smile.
“I’m afraid King Roderic remains good on his threat, my lady,” Uldrid stammered.

Queen Cassandra’s knuckles tightened beneath her silver sleeve cuffs. “It’s a threat now, is it?” Her voice sent a chill through the warm room.

“The Giants’ War isn’t his greatest concern. He maintains that Atharron has better harvests, better fortunes, and their Queen…”

Don’t…” Queen Cassandra’s fist slammed against the vase beside her throne; it tumbled to the floor and smashed. “…speak to me of their Queen!”

“A thousand apologies, my Lady,” Uldrid gave another sweeping bow. “But forgive me for saying what I must. Queen Anaya is still angry that your father – Gods, forgive me, the late King of Atharron – married her off to King Roderic, leaving his throne to you.”

“The immediate threat is the Giants in the north,” Queen Cassandra said, her voice trembling ever so slightly. “We cannot afford civil war with my sister’s kingdom.”

“Your wisdom sees no ends, Your Worship.” Uldrid simpered. “As War Counsellor, I shall see personally that King Roderic’s threats remain only that – threats.” He gave a third, flamboyant bow and hastened from the room.

Queen Cassandra shifted uncomfortably on her throne. To think that her own sister would betray her! She had no doubt that King Roderic had no say in this; he was Queen Anaya’s trophy, the Fourth Kingdom’s bloodline. Anaya had always been a jealous, selfish swine. Queen Cassandra smiled smugly to herself. Father always favoured me.

I Got My Mojo Back

In October, something terrible happened: my husband and I suffered a miscarriage. It was my worst nightmare, something that I had never believed would happen to us. My family back in the UK expressed their regrets about how they couldn’t be here for me. Some people were supportive, others distant or saying the wrong things, unintentionally causing more harm. It was stressful having to tell everybody the bad news since we’d excitedly told everyone we were expecting a baby. I almost spiraled into depression. Almost.

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The thing is, after this terrible loss, something awoke inside me. I suddenly had the urge to fight back. Not the doctor, not my husband, and not myself, but at something. I suddenly became the most motivated person on the planet.

I had been in a writing slump for a couple of years. When I was 22, I got a publishing deal with a startup publishing house. It was a dream come true, but it quickly deteriorated. With horrible staff, little to no budget, and a bunch of people who had no idea what they were doing, I quickly cut ties with them and asked them to unpublish the two fantasy novels of mine that they had published. I felt like I’d missed my chance at being a writer, and it put me off for ages, my confidence destroyed.

Although I did self-publish a short story, The Queen’s Alchemist, for fun and published A Bard’s Lament on this blog, I had lost my love and passion for writing – the sheer joy of creation. I’ve written about writing and publishing, and also did a ton of work for HubPages, but I’d lost my love for fiction. It was very sad.

Somehow, this disaster has kicked me back into action.

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I wrote about how making a to-do list can change your life. It really can. Recently, I’ve been waking up early and doing a ton of work: proofreading, writing, tweeting, blogging, research. I’m working on a new novel which I feel really confident about; it’s easily the best thing I’ve written and I’m hoping to finish it before the end of the year and send it to beta readers. I’m proofreading novels for other writers, writing more articles for extra income, and taking care of my husband and our home more efficiently, too, as well as working hard at my day job.

Today, by 10:00am, I had already finished several tasks I had planned, exercised and showered, and gotten started with other tasks that I hadn’t expected to do until the afternoon. Past me wouldn’t even be awake yet.

I’m not saying what happened was a good thing. I will be sad about it forever. But I suppose that phrase “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is true.