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Rex Sumner

Rex Sumner


Rex is English, but was born in Java, Indonesia and has spent many years in the Far East. He speaks Indonesian and Malay, sadly he has forgotten his Javanese, Dutch, Thai, Hokkien and Teow Chu.
He has had an interesting life - as a youngster worked his passage on a container ship to Australia where he worked as a cowboy, goldminer, salesman and fruitpicker, before switching from Zoology to the Army to study at Sandhurst.
He saw active service in Northern Ireland and later worked for MI6 as a Soviet double agent. A country manager for an International tobacco trader at 25, he worked as a business consultant in Indonesia before returning to the UK where he raised his two boys while working in marketing and publishing, with forays into NLP and personal development. Now they are adult, he has moved back to the Far East where he travels, writes and researches, interspersed with guiding game fishermen after the magical fish of the Andaman Ocean.
He has always had a passion for writing and this was rekindled by telling stories to his sons.
His hobbies are angling, reptiles, orchids, reading and hockey, though he fears that in his late 50's he is now a little old to keep playing the latter.
His wide experience and knowledge are interwoven into the tapestry of his writing.

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Success! In Search of Spice has already sold 95 pre-orders , and will be published by My Voice Publishing .

$5 eBook

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$10 Scroll of Appointment

0 readers

If you have purchased your place in Harrheinian nobility, and require proof of your advancement, a Scroll of Appointment is emailed to you.
Bearing the Royal Seal, you will receive by email a High Resolution PDF that you may print wherever you are. It will contain your name, title and responsibilities - and the date of the appointment, Harrhein time.

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$15 Paperback copy USA

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Have a copy of the book delivered to you as soon as it is published at a discount. No P&P in the US.

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$15 Paperback copy UK

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Have a copy of the book delivered to you as soon as it is published at a discount. No P&P in the UK.

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$25 Arise, Sir Sponsor!

13 readers

Harrhein is corrupt. For just $25 you can buy a Knighthood and have your name listed in the annals of Harrhein, at least on the peerage page of In Search of Spice.
At the beginning of the book will be the Cast, and before that will be a page entitled Peers and Patrons of Harrhein. Your $25 will see your name appear here under Knights - Sir if you are male or Lady if you are female.

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$25 Webinar

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I will conduct a Question & Answer session on the book using You can listen to questions and ask your own, under the control of the moderators. I will answer all the questions as best I can. I will run two sessions of two hours each, one in the European evening and one in the US evening.

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$50 For new authors, manuscript critiqued

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As their contribution, MyVoice Publishing are making some fantastic offers for readers. First is for new authors. Submit your manuscript for a computerised critique with an explanation of what you need to do to address the issues raised and enhance your chances of publication.

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$50 5 Copies UK

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Receive 5 copies of the book plus an eBook. No P&P in the UK.

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$50 5 Copies US

1 reader

Receive 5 copies of the book plus an eBook. No P&P in the US.

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$50 Enter the Nobility

4 readers

Join the Peerage of Harrhein.
On the Peers and Patrons of Harrhein page, your name will appear under the Landed Gentry in the form that you select, below Dukes and Duchesses.

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$75 Minor Character

1 reader

Nominate the name and description of a minor character. This can be from a number of different races, and the name you select will dictate the race. For example, Chinese names ensure a Sung character. Race options: dwarf, Harrhein (European), Spakka (Scandinavian/Roman), Tahitian, Fijian, Parsee, Tamil, Sikh, Dravid.
It doesn't have to be you.... nominate your friend and specify their role. Please note that you will be held responsible for libel actions if you nominate a politician as a pirate or similar. Seriously, the nominee must agree in writing.

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$75 A Noble Line

1 reader

An extra $25 enables your entire family to benefit from the respect, tithes and responsibilities of a Harrhein Dukedom and all will be listed on the Peers and Patrons of Harrhein page.
Do study the map, and you may select a town for which you would like to be the Duke, or invent a new town which will go on the map. Praesidium is not available. The name must be acceptable and in keeping with the story.
Please note that in order to actually assume the title, you must travel to your town in person bearing your Scroll of Appointment.

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$80 10 Copies US

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Receive 10 copies of the book plus an eBook. No P&P in the US or the UK.

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$80 10 Copies UK

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Receive 10 copies of the book plus an eBook. No P&P in the US or the UK.

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$100 All 5 Videos in the Series

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Encouragement for other authors, a series of videos that reveal the story and background behind the book. Recounted by Rex, interesting by themselves but very useful for aspiring authors who may be stuck on an aspect of their writing.
They will be delivered by email.

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$100 Dinner

3 readers

I will join you and your party for dinner. We can discuss history, battle tactics, politics, religion, racism, colonialism. I am sure I can provide an opinion to make you excited, and back up my arguments with facts! You choose the restaurant and pay for the meal. Anytime in SE Asia, subject to diary confirmation. ROW is trickier, but I will do a book tour to major markets and will join you after the book comes out and give you a signed copy of the book. Date to be arranged, and you will be refunded in full if I am unable to make your location.

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$200 Character

1 reader

Nominate the name, habits and description of a character, who will feature in the book with medium activity. You may select from:
Harrhein: Sailor/soldier; politician; male or female.
Pahippi: female soldier only not leader
Vitua: male soldier not Ratu.
Sung: sailor (brief appearance so 50% discount)
South India: (trader male or female, brief so 50% discount)

2 copies + ebook included

$20 shipping

24 of 25 left

$300 3 Months Book Writing Coaching

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Another reward from MyVoice, a hugely discounted offer for book coaching. You get a weekly email in response to your report and a monthly 45 minute Skype discussion. A coach to ensure you put in the hard work to make your book fantastic.

1 copy + ebook included

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$350 Book Critique

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Another contribution from MyVoice Publishing.
A critique means that your book will be read by an expert in the field and you will receive a written report on the book, showing you were to improve. This is not so much a critique of your literary skill, but of the story composition and probability, and how readers will respond to it. It is about half the normal price and a surcharge will apply for MS in excess of 100,000 words.
If you are an author, and you are not getting your work professionally critiqued, you are missing a trick. You learn a great deal - though your pride can be hurt - I speak from experience! Very worthwhile.

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$500 Short Story

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Nominate a name and basic characteristics and have a short story written about that person set in this world. Story length will be about 5000 words. This will develop that persons character and put them into the story as a fairly mainstream character. Free examples of these can be downloaded from the links above. Suggest you read Wagon Master which was written to remember a friends uncle.
The story will be made available FOC on Smashwords and incorporated into the anthology on Harrhein, Tales from Harrhein. This story may be written after the publication of the book and the character may appear in the next book, depending on the selection.

5 copies + ebook included

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$1000 Story

0 readers

Nominate a name and basic characteristics and have a short story written about that person set in this world. You may include a basic story theme. Story length will be about 10000 words. This will develop that persons character and put them into the books as a fairly mainstream character. Free examples of these can be downloaded from the links above.
The story will be made available FOC on Smashwords and incorporated into the anthology on Harrhein, Tales from Harrhein. This story may be written after the publication of the book and the character may appear in the next book, depending on the selection.

1 copy + ebook included

$25 shipping

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$1000 Go In Search of Spice yourself with me on my Secret Island

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Join me for a week in paradise in a beach front resort. All food and non-alcoholic drinks included in a beach front resort, 3*, no AC but a cooling breeze, wonderful food and superb hospitality. This is where I do my writing! We shall snorkel over coral reefs and visit people in their villages where you can have coconut fresh from the tree as well as cocoa. You will see cloves growing and drying as well as ginger, turmeric and other spices.
Trek up a river, evade the fearsome dragons to find a magical waterfall in which to swim - the dragons are actually huge fruit bats with 6' wingspan and instead of fire they have another weapon...
We will transport you round the island on a motorised tricycle and you can see where I write and discuss plots with me for the next book in the series.
All the food on the island is herbicide and pesticide free, while the many fruits are all local. Lots of fish and fruit to eat.
This is not 5* luxury - more like 3* because this is far from the Western world, no AC, no TV, but it does have Wifi! There is hot water and the sea is a few steps away, clean, blue and beautiful.
This cost covers your food and accommodation together with non-alcoholic drinks and transfers from the airport. You need to get to Kuala Lumpur and the flight from there will be under $200 return. Then I take over - a boat ride, a motorbike trip and a walk, hey presto! You are there, back in time and talking about Harrhein for I am your guide for the week.
For a couple sharing a double bed, there is an extra 20% payable on arrival. Dates to be confirmed, to be taken within one year. All times of year are suitable, this paradise doesn't have a monsoon season, the wind just comes from a different direction.
If you book two places, I will take two couples for the same price. If you book three places, I will take four couples for the same price, but the whole party does things together.
Scuba diving is possible, but costs are extra.
Extra weeks may be booked, without me as a guide, at a discount.
A hundred dollars will easily cover ancillaries like souvenirs, suncream, alcohol (unless you drink a lot!), extra massages (offer includes three). I would like to say it is a spa, but it isn't although the massages are some of the best you will ever have.
Best of all, there are no fast food outlets on the island.... :)
All you need are shorts, t-shirts and swim gear. The islanders are devout Muslim, but very tolerant of westerners.

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$2000 Main Character

0 readers

Have one of the main characters of the novel named after yourself.
Princess Asmara Starr, Crown Princess of Harrhein
Pat Connorson, archer and future genius soldier.
Suzanne Delarosa, courtesan, the most beautiful woman in Harrhein and future Empress. She has her own novella coming out. Delarosa is the name she selects based on the Queen, so this cannot be changed.
Sung Bai Ju changes her name and it is really a title, so she is probably not suitable for naming.
The Great Ratu of Vitua must sport a Lapita name and Hinatea, the leader of the Pahippian fighting girls, needs a Polynesian name.

5 copies + ebook included

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3 of 3 left

$2000 Game Fishing Trip to my Secret Paradise Island

0 readers

This is the same as the Paradise Holiday with fishing instead of searching for spice! One week. You need to bring your own fishing gear and know what you are doing. 35lb class rods and line, you are fishing from shore and boat for GT, Tuna, Sailfish, Barracuda and Jacks. Marlin to 400kg will steal your catch, but if you hook one we usually cut the line because it takes too long to land them and they interrupt serious fishing. You can spin for GT from near the hotel, and a Guide caught one in January 2015 that went 35kg. A 50kg tuna is not unusual and they go a lot more. You will share a boat with me - two types of boats, depending on conditions and what we are doing. A modern fishing boat or a traditional wooden boat. Both will give you a unique experience but the modern boat will require a surcharge depending on how many anglers we have. But the wooden boats are fine for 80% of the time and fishing. If you are up for it, we can try and get some fish on the fly.
Most of the year the water is flat, from Nov-Mar it can be a bit windy and traditional boats don't go far. GT season, but they are available all year.
Traditional boats can take 3 fishermen, modern boat can take 6. There will be others in the party, but you will be the VIP.
The cost includes transfers from the airport, 3* accommodation, all food and drinks, traditional fishing boat and guide. And me!
You may bring a non-fishing colleague/partner who stays on the beach at no extra charge. You may bring a fishing partner who shares your room (double or twin bed options!) for an extra $1000.
Fishing Parties of four people, please book three trips, and six people can book four trips. Maximum is eight people for whom you should book five trips. All based on two people sharing a room.
Non fishing days will see a refund, but they rarely happen. When it is too rough, the fishing is excellent from the shore for GT and jacks.

1 copy + ebook included

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In Search of Spice

Book 1 of the Harrhein Saga, the Conquest of Hind

Culture clash abounds as the people of Harrhein explore the East, traders searching for opportunity and unaware they have Crown Princess Asmara aboard, disguised as a sailor to avoid assassination in a political coup.

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Literary Fiction
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I have always loved story telling. I remember telling ghost stories to each other in the dormitory at school, the pleasure it gave to make another child cry out and hide under the blankets. I did a little writing as I travelled, but was generally too busy. Then along came kids. These guys are FANTASTIC for authors! Every writer should have one - borrow one if you don't have your own. I loved telling mine stories. I would make them up on long drives, seeking to make them educational a well as amusing. The Lungfish story was a favourite, as two naughty little fish escaped predators and evolved lungs and legs.

As an avid reader, I developed a wealth of knowledge on different writing skills and find reading fiction a very good source of discovery, particularly historical fiction and hard sf when the author knows what he is writing about and has done the research. As a small publisher, I found helping authors brought me to a greater knowledge of language and writing skills, how to craft a story. Slowly the desire to tell stories and entertain people came back, so it is a constant itch that can only be alleviated by writing.

Writing is wonderful, as characters come alive in your mind and you paint awesome tapestries in your readers minds. Then you discover the dreadful reality of re-writes and self-editing, but the drudgery becomes worthwhile as you see the polished gems emerge from your prose. Wait a few weeks before re-writing and you find yourself chortling at your own stories - can't be healthy.

An idea came to me, to write historical fantasy based on the British Conquest of India. It all flowed beautifully in my mind, I mapped out seven books immediately. Of course, when I started to write the story, it changed. One of my major characters just wasn't interesting, I couldn't warm to him and so he is relegated to a minor role. Maybe he will pop up later. The female characters became really strong, and two more came out of nowhere. Is it really my story? Where does this stuff come from?

Never mind, it's fun and it's realistic, why I have even lifted incidents from history. Fortunately I have travelled, speak other languages and know about Oriental History, so I can weave in fascinating threads. You will read them and think I have a fertile mind, but many of them actually happened! Ask me about incidents on the Q&A Webinar after you read the book.

My first readers loved the story, which gave me the incentive to proceed. I employed a highly regarded literary guru to critique the work, and the result was positive and highly encouraging. No criticism at all as to my writing style, high praise but concern that some of my characters did nasty things. I have pondered this, and concluded that yes, some of the things they do is outrageous by modern standards, but not at the time. So they continue to hang prisoners and one even takes a scalp.

It helps that I know how to publish and the pitfalls. I would say the first and biggest problem is that we all think our own writing is awesome, so we need independent coaching and help to ensure we are producing the best quality prose that we deserve. Note that I wrote this book over a year ago, and in the intervening time received much positive criticism and re-wrote/improved the book. Seven times and counting. The actual production and distribution is pretty simple. The real issue now becomes marketing. Every year 50,000 books are published, of which barely a thousand sell a hundred copies. There are just too many new books to get reviewed and there are too many reviewers to reach them all.

So Publishizer is a wonderful tool which allows writers to generate pre-orders and raise sufficient capital to generate the all important buzz about a book. It lets us tell our readers more about the forthcoming book, get people excited and raise the interest of retailers to ensure the book is well positioned.

We are using Publishizer for a month to raise pre-orders, after which we shall give the book a final polish and print some Advanced Reader Copies. These are provided to journalists and reviewers to start the ball rolling, and we will run a six week marketing campaign under the auspices of a specialist London company:

Cameron Publicity and Marketing Ltd is a highly regarded UK-based book publicity and marketing specialist. Our 6 week professional book publicity campaign consists of:
Advance publicity consultation and strategy session
A professionally prepared book press release
UK and Republic of Ireland publicity outreach plus selected English-language international media
Personal media outreach by an experienced Publicity Manager for 6 weeks
Pitching by-line articles written by the author
Weekly publicity updates detailing the most recent activities and responses
Interview scheduling and advice Social media support
Four week NetGalley listing

If this Publishizer campaign is really successful, we shall duplicate this in the US.

The funds raised will also be employed in improving the cover and the interior drawings, currently my own poor efforts from my notes.

We will launch In Search of Spice in May.

So what is the book about?

In Search of Spice chronicles the first innocent steps that will lead to the conquest of Hind by trade, love and grief. Harrhein is a kingdom brought into unity by the Starr dynasty, riven with political intrigue. Barons and Lords jostle for power and the right to levy taxes, while the Church intrigues where it can. Some of the characters are based on historical people.

The small regiment of regular soldiers guard the north and the king, while individual Barons and Dukes command their own inferior forces. The story is set in a similar time to the 15th Century except Christianity is not so endemic and gunpowder has not been invented.

Trade to the East is stymied by the neighbouring Island race of Spakka pirates, while in other directions is just empty ocean from which nothing appears.

The Country of Harrhein

Praesidium is the capital (these names just came to me, don't know where from), Galicia and Fearaigh are duchies that were once separate countries. The mountain range that runs up the spine of the country is loaded with geological wealth, and dwarves work with the people in the mining industry. They don't feature strongly in the story, nor do the elves who are frankly based more on the Plains Indians of North America than standard fantasy. It works - see Wagon Master.

A foreign ship of novel design is shipwrecked by the Spakka and salvaged by Harrhein. Imitating it creates a carrack, capable of sailing the oceans and volunteers are sought to sail over the edge of the world in search of trade and the valuable spices. New skills are required, climbing the masts and setting the sails, handling the effect of the wind on a high beamed ship. Navigation and ocean cartography.

Taufik's Rutter

Taufik was the sole survivor of the wrecked ship, a Kochinese navigator from Hind.

This is the story of the voyage, following three crew members in particular.

Asmara Starr, Crown Princess of Harrhein, accomplished blademaster and all-round capable nuisance to her elders, flees an assassination by enlisting as a crew member, in disguise as a mercenary, Sara,

Patraigh Connorson, a rancher's son from the plains of Fearaigh, is a quiet boy with a gift for animals and the longbow, and fights with natives and pirates reveal an astute tactician and warrior.

Suzanne Delarose, a courtesan tricked on board the ship as 'entertainment' for an officer and displays unexpected competence and intelligence.

The story explores themes of love and romance, jealousy and friendship, culture clash, war and fighting, loss and gain, new discoveries and different approaches to similar problems around the world. It takes the reader on a roller-coaster range of emotions with twists and turns. Customs, fighting, sailing, trade, skills are all researched carefully. I do not claim that the way a mast is replaced is how Magellan did it, or that the Heron Strike was a move perfected by Hungarian sword-masters, but many of the customs are genuine descriptions from the far and forgotten reaches of the world.

The book is currently enjoying its seventh re-write, and more than thirty people provided feedback, some very enthusiastically. This enables me to claim with great confidence that if you enjoy novels in the genres of historical romance, fantasy, war, adventure; if you enjoyed Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, then you will read and enjoy this book although I do not claim it is as good nor that it has the depth and complexity of those works.

I have published the first three chapters here where you can download them in a number of formats, or you may read the first part of the first chapter immediately following this paragraph. If you scroll down past it, you will find some links to short stories I have written about Harrhein, stories that give more background and start the character development.

In case you hadn't noticed, there are a number of special offers to the right where you can support the book. When you click the pre-order button at the very bottom, you are able to take advantage of these offers.


"Hi Victor. Have you picked the Champion yet?"

The elderly man turned from his seat in the gallery overlooking the fighting court and smiled.

"Oliver! Oliver Bouvier! What a surprise, and just in time, my wine glass is empty and the bottle is gone. The Navarre red is excellent. As to the blades, well I think we are going to see some unusual upsets today."

Oliver turned and gestured to a serving girl. "A bottle of Navarre red, if you please." He seated himself beside Victor, easing his spare frame into the seat and looked with disapproval into the salle. "A cryptic clue as always. What have you seen?"

"There's a girl come through the qualifying, don't know who she is but her craftsmanship is awesome. She has been going through her opponents like chaff, and one opponent even resigned rather than face her. She is fighting next, up against a professional from Lansbridge, her first real test. Here she comes now."

A girl strode out of the fighters tunnel into the courtyard, tall and elegant, moving lithely like a panther. She was slim and willowy, with broad, muscled shoulders, a little heavier on the right. She wore the leather and chain mail armour of a bladesman, plus a mask over her eyes, enough to obscure recognition. Bright, dark red hair was visible under her hauberk and a beautiful rapier grew out of her hand as if it was permanent.

"A beauty, and young, I reckon. Who is she?"

"No idea, but she has been damn well taught. Strong too, see how tall she is. Only girl to make it through qualifying."

A buzz went through the crowd and a cheer arose from the open area below

"What's that they are calling her? Russet? And Red Rattna? That awful barbarian queen who bathes in her victims' blood? Don't we know her real name and background?"

"No, she's a mystery entrant. She has red hair and a quick blade, that's enough for the crowds. See, she wears a small mask, as is her right. It is clear she is a noble's daughter who has worked with an expert bladesman. She uses a rapier very well, going through all the parries fluidly and automatically. In one of the bouts she met a compound attack by a simple displacement combined with an envelopment and took him."

"I have no idea what you said."

"Ah, Oliver, if you are going to watch fencing, you should learn the terms."

"I don't care about the terms or fencing, I only came to speak with you. Disgraceful they let a girl compete."

"I think like everyone else you hope to see a little blood, and I am sure even a puritan like you would enjoy a girl's blood even more."

"Or a lot. Even better. Damn Papists, happy to see them all die. Not sure if the crowd want to see the girl's blood or see her shed others blood." He mused this last, looking around at the crowd and stroking his prominent nose.

"Well, I think they will be disappointed. She's a clean fighter; she hits the marks perfectly and never takes a risk. At least not yet. She may have to at this level. Just look at Morten. You can see he won't give her an inch."

The fighters were ready, toeing the line and raising their swords in salute. Morten had a longsword. He held it with both hands, his left hand cupped around the pommel. The referee called the start and the jury stooped to watch for hits. Morten came forward carefully and made a small feint, which Russet ignored. He gave a beat to her blade and stepped back in surprise at the speed of the counter-beat. His eyes narrowed and he lunged into the tiny, high opening presented, then desperately tried to bring the sword down in a parry as she slipped his blade, ducked to the floor and sliced up at his hand by the wrist, raising a fountain of 'blood'; actually red ink in small sachets strapped to each bladesman's body. The referee's whistle went abruptly and both players stopped.

"Damn! She's good," said Victor. "She won it with that. Very, very clever and she played for it perfectly."

"What? Over? Why, she barely touched him."

The crowd was murmuring, unsure what had happened, though a canny few were making their way to the bookmakers, strategically placed near the lanes leading into the crowded square.

"Tendons," said Victor with a smile. "That sachet marks the tendon, either he fences now with his left hand or he retires. Morten will retire, he can't fence left handed. Not at this standard."

"But, but it was just a touch!"

"It doesn't take much to slice open a tendon, that's why it is protected. It takes one hell of an accurate blademaster to make that shot - she had a tiny, tiny area to hit, the crease which allows the wrist to turn, that was moving fast but she hit it."

The referee examined Morten's wrist, but Morten only had eyes for the girl, with a stunned smile on his face. His voice carried.

"I misjudged you, ma'am. I congratulate you on your win, quite brilliant. You totally foxed me. May I have the honour of knowing my victor's name?"

The girl smiled. "Thank you, sir, for your kind words. I fear for now I must keep my identity secret a little longer, you will understand later. Good fortune." Her voice was low and melodious, but it carried clearly round the sale.

The referee spoke quietly to Morten, who responded firmly, "I do."

The referee turned to the crowd. "A tendon shot wins the bout for the Mystery Entrant. Morten retires, declining to fence on with his left."

The crowd did not erupt. They muttered, as they felt a little cheated at not seeing more of her. The lucky ones nodded their heads and headed off to the bookies to collect their winnings. The mutterings increased, a little angry, but deflated when the rough crowd outside the Upturned Oxcart pub began to cheer and shout, waving their beer pots.

"Well done Russet!"

"The Red Rattna strikes again!"

"Fastest win for the Red Rapier!"

"Gives us a kiss for luck!"

At this last, the girl smiled and blew kisses to them, causing the noise to double.

"Umph," said Victor, "she is very young. She should stay focused - her next match is against the Champion - she needs to be ready for him, he is superb, highly skilled. Come Oliver, I shall let you buy me lunch and another bottle of this excellent red and I shall explain what happened."

"Never mind, I don't need to know." Oliver was impatient. He looked around. They were in a private booth of the Drunken Courtier, a public house; the veranda overlooked the raised fighting dais, with the door open so the waiters and waitresses could see them. "Is this place secure?"

"Of course it is," Victor glared at him. "I have more to lose, consorting with the likes of you. I don't want anyone seeing you, let alone hearing what we talk about."

"Very well." Oliver didn't look convinced. "So, what is the latest news?"

"All in good time. So impatient, it is not polite to discuss business till after we have eaten."

"I pay you enough not to have to put up with your foibles." Oliver hated Victor for his upper class smoothness, but masked the hatred behind impatient anger.

"Nonsense. And I am going to need more; I have to keep up my position in society. You must follow the customs or you will stand out, and the waiter may report it. He will think it deuced odd if we are talking business over food." Victor waved at the waitress through the doorway. She nodded and moved off.

Victor leaned forward. "I spoke yesterday with a friend from Westport. He tells me you can forget Fearaigh."

"I did not expect anything else. They do not love us."

"They don't care much for your ways, they prefer the old religions, trade with the Elves and they love the Starrs. Half the army is from Fearaigh."

"Tell me something I don't know, and show me the money is not wasted." Oliver's eyes gleamed in his pale face.

As Victor started to speak, a young man pushed his way into the room. "Hello, gentle sirs, my name is Andy. Can I help you with your order?"

"Excellent!" beamed Victor. "You can indeed. First we need another bottle of the Navarre, then tell me the menu. Who is the chef today?"

"Mrs Jenks has the oven today, sir; she recommends the pheasant pie, or the steak and oyster pie. Otherwise I could do you some nice wood pigeons, or there is some ham, and I think if I hurry I can rustle up a lamprey, as it's you, sir."

"Lamprey? Mrs Jenks? Really, ah yes that would be wonderful - I shall have it with a couple of pigeons, they go well together and Mrs Jenks cooks them superbly. The Navarre will complement the pigeon beautifully. Will you share with me, my friend?" he asked Oliver.

"Thank you, no, that would be far too rich for me. Some light chicken broth, bread and a bit of cheese." Oliver tried to smile, which was scary.

"Certainly, gentle sirs," nodded Andy, "it will be about half of the hour, if that is acceptable?" He minced out and they heard him snap at the serving girl to bring the wine.

"Count Rotherstone is on everyone's lips," murmured Victor, wiping his mouth on a napkin with precise care. "He is considered the leader of the revolutionary cadre, even though he does nothing overtly. Raphael is not taken seriously, though a significant number of invitations are arriving for him."

"Invitations? So what? Be serious, man!" Oliver stared at him.

Victor sighed. "Prince Raphael is single. The increases in invitations are coming from mothers of unmarried girls. They are hedging their bets, offering their daughters in the hope of catching a king. The increase means many of the upper classes think there is a chance he may inherit. A good chance."

"Ah, I see." Oliver was actually impressed by the subtlety, but took care to hide that. "How many are converting to the true religion?"

"That I cannot know, it is not widely talked about and very private. But there has been a sea-change in outlook. It is no longer derided, but talked about as just another religion. As you know, most of them care little for religion in any form, so this is a good sign." Victor smiled and sipped his wine, building suspense before he delivered the good news. "The merchant boys are successful as officers. It is agreed to allow many more of them to join, and their competence allows the nobility to move their sons to the City Guard rather than fighting regiments." He sneered. "The weaker, diluted nobility, of course. They don't want to fight the barbarians on the northern border, or meet Spakka raids in the east. They are happy to let your lads do that for them, and the rate of retirement is up hugely."

"Very good," Oliver was pleased. He placed a large purse on the table, which vanished into Victor's pouch. "And the Palace Guard?"

"Oh, no problem there. I lunched with the adjutant three days ago and on my advice he is taking on a cadre of not just officers, but guardsmen as well. You will own it within a few years. Worth an extra purse, I fancy!" He watched greedily as Oliver reluctantly placed a smaller purse on the table.

"What is the King's attitude to the new parliament? Has it changed?"

"Not really. He's not convinced they can do anything worthwhile, and isn't paying much attention to them. The Princess is a different matter. She's been bending his ear about it and I understand she is now forbidden to talk about parliament at meals. I believe she is spending time listening to them in session?"

"Yes, she does. I don't think she likes me very much." Oliver smiled with satisfaction.

Victor took a larger sip of wine, to stop himself commenting on the princess's exemplary taste.

Oliver did not think he would get much more from the old courtier, and decided to leave. Excellent news on the officers, which would speed the process, and even better news on the guard. He thought briefly of his own commission, sitting in his pocket, and wondered when he would take it up. The king would not like to find out members of parliament were officers in the new army they were raising.

The daughter was an issue. She would work out the possibilities, and they needed to debate some sensitive issues in the coming weeks. He decided to bring forward the plan to remove her and install Raphael. He stood abruptly, seeing Victor's raised eyebrow at his silence, and threw a coin on the table. "That's for lunch. I shall meet with you again in a month's time. Get a table at the archery tournament, I shall find you." He pulled on his cloak and left.

Victor sighed with pleasure and ruminated on the ills of life that had destroyed his investments and forced him into taking the puritan coin. To say nothing of the wretched boy who had sucked him into this mess in the first place. Still, he could see the way the wind was blowing and it would be important to come out on the right side.

It was the last bout of the day and had stretched to half an hour, the longest bout so far. The Champion, Ariston, was moving easily, but giving the Red Queen huge respect. Both players were level on 11 points - 12 was the victory target. They had been on 11 for the last ten minutes, an unprecedented time with no score.

Ariston was a well-muscled man in his late twenties, approaching six foot tall, balanced and moving well. He was still smiling as he fought, but his grey eyes showed his care, watching the girl like a cat, riveted on her face. The sweat rolled down his face and his shirt was stained dark. Most was sweat but a few minor sachets had burst.

The girl was laughing. Not all the time, but you could see the joy on her face as she moved lightly and easily, matching Ariston"s every move. This did not bother Ariston; you could see he loved every moment of the challenge. The crowd was hushed. This was a bout such as you were lucky to see once in five years, and to see two blade masters enjoying each other's skill was unusual to say the least. Once Ariston had skidded on a flower thrown from the crowd, and the Red Queen had backed up and let him recover.

Victor's face wreathed in smiles as he watched with reverence. He had a crowd of his friends on his veranda with him now.

Ariston launched an attack in the high line, arm raised, forcing the parried response higher and higher, to the full extension of the girl's reach. In a moment, it would be too high and he would overcome her as he pushed her off balance. A trick he would not have tried had he not sensed her tiring. She went from the high quarte parry, flowing smoothly into a derobement, trapping and forcing his blade outwards as she went forward and leapt impossibly high into the air, pushing his blade well out of line. The forward movement and the jump prevented him from disengaging and he started to back-pedal. The girl's blade disengaged, her foot came up high to replace it and continued pushing his blade out of the way and then her rapier arced back towards his eye.

The crowd sighed, and Victor breathed, "The Heron Strike! That I should live to see it."

At the very peak of her leap, her rapier swept down to his face and Ariston literally saw death. Somehow, she stopped the stab a fraction from the eye, and alighted with a small, victorious smile, her point resting on his cheek. Ariston relaxed and with care brought his sword back to the en garde position, almost touching her arm in the process. He swung the sword round in the loser's salute.

The arena erupted with shouts and screams, people throwing all sorts into the salle. Mainly flowers, some jewellery, even fruit.

The referee went into a huddle with the four men of the jury, rapidly joined by the tournament director.

Ariston went to one knee, and spoke quietly so only the girl could hear. "My thanks, my Lady, for the finest fight I have been privileged to enjoy. It has been an honour to cross blades with you, and I know you will win this tournament."

"You are too kind, good sir. I cannot tell you the pleasure it has given me. I had quite forgotten the tournament, to be honest."

They grinned at each other in mutual respect. The referee called for quiet, repeatedly, until the noise fell. The tournament director stepped up and the crowd stilled, uncertain. This was not expected.

"We have a little difficulty here. The Strike of the Heron may be a winning blow in a real fight, but in tournament the eyes are sacrosanct and use of the foot in this manner is illegal. By making this attack, the mystery entrant has struck a foul blow. Although the Champion has ceded defeat, we cannot accept it. The score remains 11 each and the mystery entrant must be disqualified."

At first, there was a stunned silence. The crowd started to hiss and rise. Before it could reach any volume, the girl stepped forward and stood beside the tournament director, who was looking decidedly nervous.

"Good people of Praesidium, listen to me. I accept the director's decision. He is correct, my actions were outside the rules of the tournament and I apologise I was carried away by the bout and performed an illegal move. It is only right I concede defeat to a very worthy Champion."

The crowd clearly disagreed with her.

She held up her hand for silence, and slowly got it. Behind her mask, her green eyes flashed. "I have made my decision. It is the right one. You will accept it, for now I shall reveal who I am and you will realise that once you know, I cannot carry on."

That got the crowd's attention, sure enough and they fell silent as she raised a hand to the half mask that covered her eyes and the top of her face. She ripped it off and shock rippled round the crowd. A small, square, determined chin and the flashing eyes dominated and enlivened a plain face, high cheekbones and famous nose. The tournament director, the jury, the referee and Ariston dropped to their knees, the Champion with a huge grin on his face.

"Arise," she smiled at him.

"Your Highness, we are well served by our future Queen, both in your martial abilities and your wisdom."

"Regrettably I am unable to continue tomorrow, for my father does not know I am here. I intended to step back today, whatever the outcome and hoped to sneak back to the Palace without his knowledge. I fear that is no longer an option."

Ariston extended his arm. "May I have the honour of escorting you to your changing quarters, Highness?"

She smiled, placed her hand delicately and lightly on his forearm and they walked off the salle to a standing ovation.

Victor turned to his friends. "That was quite incredible. I think we need a barrel of wine, never mind a bottle. Ha! I had a feeling it was the Princess."

"You say that now. I didn't see you rushing to the bookies for a bet." Francis was a fellow aficionado and a long time crony.

"That might have been injudicious to say the least. I believe there was quite a lot of money laid on her being Red Rattna's granddaughter. There was no money on her being our own Royalty."

"I should think not. Who would have guessed that pretty girl could do that?"

"Anyone in the army, for a start. She caused quite a stir when she served on the frontier." Adrian was a recently retired soldier.

"The Princess? She fought in the army? You're joking." All the others looked at him in astonishment.

"Indeed I am not, but your response just shows how out of touch you are here in the capital. We've always had a fighting monarchy here in Harrhein, although the women try to turn the nobility into stuffed cockerels."

"Well, if you say so. Anyway, that winning strike. It was impressive, to be sure, but why is the Heron Strike so special? It looked spectacular, why isn't it done more frequently?" Bruno did not understand fencing, or fighting. But was a keen follower of the elder men and their largesse.

"Hah! Looks are deceptive." Victor was delighted for the opportunity to explain. "Usually when you get so high, you open up your body to your opponent who will always get his blade back and skewer you with ease. You have no defence. But she was cunning in a way no man could be. Incredible elasticity of body, she leapt high to keep his blade in contact with her own and how she got her foot up there, I don't know. Once she got her foot on his blade, he couldn't get back to take advantage as she went on the attack. Mind you, doubt anyone over the age of twenty could get their foot up that high."

Then we are off and running, the Princess interrupted in her bath by her spy with the news of imminent assassination, so she must flee.

Of course you cannot understand the writing of an author from a book description, or even part of a chapter. How does he close a story? So I have been writing short stories to develop the characters and demonstrate how I write - with lots of veracity, the odd long word and plenty of humour. Please read these stories first of all to give yourself an idea. I confess that these haven't been through the same degree of polishing as the novel, but they are still fun. Click on the link to download a free copy.

Thief in the Night Andy Russell helped me with early feedback. Now he is immortalised in this story set nearly ten years before In Search of Spice.

Feeding the Dragon introduces the late appearing character, Sung Bai Ju, as a child. This story is very popular, getting a number of 5* reviews which is unusual for short stories. I had so much fun writing it, just love this little girl.

Wagon Master was written to give a friend an understanding of what his recently deceased uncle, who had been in the Royal Corps of Transport, might have been up to in his life. It is set in Harrhein after Thief in the Night and before In Search of Spice, with some of the characters making brief appearances.

A Tender Embrace is actually set during the course of the novel, a bit more fun with the South Sea Islands and details a fishing trip, based on a supposed method from the Gilbert and Ellis Islands.

In Search of Spice will be published by MyVoice Publishing in May, and if we can get enough pre-orders I shall be off to Southern India to research the next novel. I am beginning to get a better grasp of Hinduism and enough knowledge of Indian history to get knowledgeable Indians waxing lyrical about their past, which is giving me wonderful stories to weave into The White Rani (working title).

If you have any questions, perhaps about the rewards, please go to my Facebook page where I will answer quickly.

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