Writing project, June 2019

This month’s word is energy, meaning “the capacity for vigorous activity; available power”. It’s going to be a short one.


I’m fast-moving, high-octane; I never slow down. I barely sleep, just pace my room, mind racing, ready to spring into action at any moment.

Or that’s how I’d like to see myself. That’s how I imagine myself.

In actual fact, I’m slothful, lethargic. My imagination is active, but I am not. I drape myself over an armchair, and dream of action.

I desire heroism, and feats of derring-do; I crave the one perfect moment when I’ve saved the day, rescued the princess, and defeated the villain. I yearn to stand on a mountaintop, sword in hand, clutching a beautiful person to my chest.

But I will only ever have that in my dreams.

Because I am too damn lazy to put in the effort to get it. Just the thought of all the work required, the exercise and training and practice needed to become that hero, wearies me.

So I dram big dreams, and live a small life. It’s easier that way.

And easy is my middle name.

© bardofupton 2019

Writing project, May 2019

This month’s word is truth, meaning “the true or actual state of a matter” or “conformity with fact or reality; verity”.


I always speak the truth; they always lie.

The two of us guard two doors: one leads to death, the other to your heart’s greatest desire. You know this story: the hero comes up to us and tries to ask the one question that will tell them which door to take.

Of course, rumours got around quickly about the right question to ask*, so it got pretty boring for us. And our boss had to grant loads of wishes; she hated that. So she came up with a twist: the correct door changes randomly, and when it changes, only one of us is told. This lends a certain randomness to our answers, and an element of confusion, sometimes. For example, if door A is now death, and I know that, but they don’t, then my answer to the question should be whichever the death door was on the last occasion that they knew the answer. This is extremely hard for me to keep track of, because I actually have a terrible memory. I usually go with the correct answer for what the doors are at now, but sometimes that means I’m not telling the truth.

This is causing me a lot of stress. If I’ve told a lie, even inadvertently, then I am not who I always thought I was. I’m not the one who always tells the truth, but neither am I the one who lies. I’m just somewhere in the middle, like one of you. And if I’m not the one who tells the truth, then who am I? Why am I here?

I’ve tried asking the one who lies about this, but they don’t seem to care. I shouldn’t care; I never used to. But something about the new rules unsettles me. I keep thinking that it’s not right. I don’t even understand the point of it now. We’re just randomly killing people. The boss should just replace us with a random number generator. Or come up with a different test. Maybe this is just outdated.

In any case, it might all be over soon. I heard that someone is suing the boss. Apparently their betrothed asked the right question, but got the wrong answer. So we might have to shut down. I don’t know how I feel about that. What does an archetype do when they’ve lost their function? I asked the one who lies, but of course their answer only ever tells me what they don’t think. And I’m realising now that some questions have more than one right answer.

I don’t know what to hope for. I don’t want to do this any more, but I don’t know if there’s anything else I can do. I have to stop talking now; the boss is coming. If you don’t hear from me again, assume the worst.

*The right question is: “if I asked the other person which door to take, what would they say?” and then you take the other door.

© bardofupton 2019

Writing project, April 2019

This month’s word is voice, meaning “the sound or sounds uttered through the mouth of living creatures, especially of human beings in speaking, shouting, singing, etc.”.


I have an amazing voice. Everyone says so.

Sorry, I know that’s not what you asked. How did I first realise my talent, wasn’t it? I’m not sure I’d really call it a talent! It’s just a feature of me. I think, though, it was when I started going to school. I always thought that everyone reacted to children’s voices the way my family did to mine. I mean, you do, don’t you, when you’re little? You think everyone’s family is the same as yours. I thought everyone gathered around to listen adoringly to their children.

When I went to school, I suppose. I noticed that the teachers responded differently to the other children. And after a few weeks someone contacted the authorities and I was taken away from my family.

For my own good, they told me. They said it would be safer. Although they never made it clear who for.

After that, it was testing, testing and more testing. And then they decided to train me as a diplomat. Well, you know how that turned out! Accusations of undue influence, a UN resolution passed banning the use of people with “special abilities” in diplomatic positions, and of course, the Search.

Yes, I wish the Search had found someone else, anyone else, who was like me. It’s lonely being the only one. It’s lonely being me. I can’t even date, because I can’t turn it off. Why do you think I have this speech-to-text setup? Why do you think you’re in a separate room?

Because nobody trusts me, that’s why. Nobody wants to hear me speak any more. Because they’re afraid – you’re afraid – that I’m the monster. And I’m not useful any more, either, so why not lock me away? Can’t trust people like me, even if there are no other people like me. Can’t let me go, don’t want to kill me, just in case.

In case of what? That’s obvious, isn’t it? Never throw away a potential asset, right?

I don’t want to talk to you any more.

What do I want? I want to be normal. I want… I want to be able to have a conversation where the other person disagrees with me. I want to have a conversation where the other person can disagree with me.

You can’t give me that. Nobody can. So please go. And tell them I won’t give any more interviews. I’m tired, I’m done with this. I don’t want to be here any more.

Just leave me alone. It’s the only thing you can do for me now.

© bardofupton 2019

Writing project, March 2019

This month’s word is scar, meaning “a mark left by a healed wound, sore, or burn” or “a lasting aftereffect of trouble, especially a lasting psychological injury resulting from suffering or trauma”.


I have a lot of scars. It’s the first thing people notice about me. I run very warm, and I live somewhere hot, so I don’t wear much in the way of clothing. Anyway, it’s good advertising for me. Makes some people uncomfortable, but my job does that anyway.

I didn’t set out to be in this line of work. It’s not the kind of thing you dream of as a child. I mean, on the one hand, people come to you and bring you everything you could ever need, but on the other… Well. You lose all your friends, all your family. You live alone, because you can’t have even the appearance of favouritism. And most of all, everyone who sees you knows what you are. You can’t hide, you can’t be incognito – not with the brand on your face that cannot be removed or covered up; it shines through even if you wrap your head in cloth.

So how did I end up here? The same way most of my colleagues did: a lifetime of bad decisions, and a final choice of the “or death” variety. I’m not a truly evil person, or I’d’ve been summarily executed. But I’m by no means a good person either. Just your regular petty thug, really, and so I get to atone for my sins by eating those of others.

It’s not, as you might think, to ease those others’ burdens, to save their souls or send them to some heavenly reward. No, my job is to reduce the amount of sin in the world by eating it, taking it into my body. When I die, they’ll burn my body and offer the ashes to the gods, and that will destroy all the sins I’ve consumed. Or so they tell me.

It’s one of those things that seems very simple, but is actually very complex if you think about it. Essentially, someone comes to me, tells me their sin in as much detail as possible, I write it down on special edible paper, and then I eat it. Sounds ridiculous, right? I left out the part where the priests performed the ritual that turns a person into a sin eater, mostly because I don’t really remember it, and I also don’t like to think about it. It was extremely painful, that’s the main thing I recall. And of course every time I eat a sin, I get a mark on my skin, to indicate the sin’s been consumed. Those hurt, too. I guess they want to make sure I remember that this is a punishment.

Sometimes, if it’s been a busy day, I try to remember that I chose this. I chose to live, no matter how painful it might be. It doesn’t always help. But there’s no running away from this. If I leave my temple, I’ll die. So I carry on, day after day, and just wait for it to end.

What, you were expecting some kind of redemption? There’s none of that here, just pain. Deserved, true, but if I’d truly known what it would be like, I might not have made this choice. There’s no going back now, though. I have to live with it.

© bardofupton 2019

Writing project, February 2019

This month’s word is winged, meaning “having wings”.


How do you tame a winged horse?

Some people say you tame it with kindness, befriending it gradually. Those who believed that died, flung off in midair by a beast they thought was their friend.

Some say you tame it by force, capturing it in a net or bridling it in its sleep. Those, too, are dead, trampled by the enraged beast.

The truth is that you don’t tame a flying horse, but if you are brave enough, perhaps you can make a deal with one.

First you need to locate a flying horse. They tend to live in remote and isolated locations: high mountain plateaus, for example, or rocky islands.

Once you’ve located the horse, you learn its habits, where it drinks, what it eats, and so on. Some flying horses are carnivorous, and some not. Some are nocturnal, and some are not. All are intelligent, and none are friendly. You try to discover something that will please it – food is often acceptable, although some winged horses enjoy small items that can be woven into their manes.

Then you approach, slowly and carefully, but also openly. Winged horses do not like being sneaked up on. Show no fear, because they will not make bargains with cowards. Carry your gift in your hands so they can see it, and do not carry any weapons. If you are armed, they will kill you. They may, of course, kill you anyway; that’s the risk you take.

Ensure you look at the horse you are trying to bargain with, but do not make sustained eye contact. They don’t like that; it reads as a threat.

Hold your gift out on your outstretched hands, and state the terms of the deal you want clearly. Ensure to include stipulations such as “no intentional injuries to be caused” and “to be delivered to the agreed destination within the agreed time period”. Winged horses will exploit any loopholes you leave.

If the horse agrees to your bargain, it will take your offering and allow you to mount it. If it does not, it will take your tribute anyway, and if you are lucky, it will let you go. If you’re not, well, I think you know by now what is going to happen.

Because of the slow and convoluted process involved, nobody has successfully ridden a flying horse. But perhaps you can be the first. If this is really what you want, don’t let me dissuade you. Go chase your dreams: at your own risk.

© bardofupton 2019

Inkwarriors, part 4 (Fiction)

Meril gazed thoughtfully out the window, wondering how she could contact her wizard.

She already thought of them as hers, although she had no idea if they had any interest in her, or even knew of her existence. When she thought about it, which was rarely, she realised that she knew very little about them.

Wizards were traditionally ungendered, but Meril wasn’t bothered about that. Gender was a complicated business in the little kingdom of Azoudar: priests were always considered female, for what Meril had been informed were important historical reasons that could not be explained to her. (She had long ago worked out that this meant that nobody remembered the real reason.) The King was always the King, and always male even if he was not. (The current King was called Emily, and had given birth to two children.) Meril was aware that other places did not do this; she had read of places where, for example, only men could be kings, but it seemed ridiculous to her. It was only common sense that the best qualified person become king, surely. The only problem she had with the way her kingdom did things was its insistence that a person follow the career path of their parents.

“Because it’s not like breeding horses,” Meril said to herself. “My parents are both highly regarded inkwarriors, and I can’t even write basic glyphs properly.”

And of course, wizards had no names: it was thought to be something to do with the source of their power, but no non-wizard knew the truth of it.

Meril knew she couldn’t leave a note for her wizard, as wizards were illiterate: the written word belonged to inkwarriors – and priests; wizards passed down their secrets by word of mouth and during strange occult rituals. Since wizards were even more insular than inkwarriors, the only rumours that circulated about said rites were extremely vague.

She would have to contrive a meeting, somehow. That would be difficult, since technically she was not allowed out of the house alone. Inkwarriors were very paranoid about their secrets getting out, and hence no inkwarrior went anywhere alone. It was said that this was to avoid kidnappings, but Meril was fairly sure that it was more about not giving anyone the opportunity to sell their secrets. And to be fair, that was a real issue: even Meril, who was not yet a qualified inkwarrior, had had people slide notes into her hands offering her quite surprising amounts of money for her knowledge. She’d never acted on these notes, of course, but then she’d never had the chance. The accompanying inkwarrior had always taken it from her.

“This is going to be difficult,” Meril said to herself.

She brightened suddenly – perhaps there was a way. She would just have to be very picky about who accompanied her on her trip out. She needed someone older, and slower. And she would have to time it perfectly.

Two days later, Meril put her plan into operation. She had been noting her wizard’s travels, and knew that they always passed her house at three hours past noon. She therefore arranged her trip out so that she would be returning home at that time.

Meril ensured that she was ahead of her escort, a slow-moving, easygoing inkwarrior called Bari. As they were nearly home, Bari wasn’t too worried about Meril striding ahead. Meril saw her wizard approaching and sped up a little, so that she bumped into them just after they passed her door.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Meril said quickly. “But I just need you to know that I love you.”

The wizard stared at her.

“But… you’re an inkwarrior.”

“I know that,” Meril said sharply. “I’m fully aware of that. I just…”

“Meril!” Bari shouted. “Are you talking to that wizard?”

The wizard stepped around Meril and strode off quickly down the street. Meril sighed as she watched them go.

“Just apologising for bumping into them,” she replied.

“Well… I suppose that’s all right. Just don’t make a habit of it.”

“I won’t,” Meril promised. After all, the wizard clearly hadn’t been interested. Maybe it was time to give up on love and concentrate on her studies, like Paro had told her.

© bardofupton 2019

dizzy (poem)

This is another new poem.

off kilter
at an angle to the world
i clutch the wall
like i’m hanging from a cliff
as if that grip
is the only thing that can save me
i spin
standing still
the world rock solid
and me in motion

© bardofupton 2019