Tales from the Asylum

SPFBO Edition: S.J. Hartland


One of the goals of SPFBO is to give a chance to self-published authors to get more exposure. This year I’m taking part in the competition with my own team. You can keep updated on our progress and all of our content on my SPFBO 5 page!

Tales from the Asylum is a new feature I came up with for SPFBO. I wanted to create a unique opportunity for the authors to show off their story telling skills by taking their characters and putting them in an asylum room to see how they would deal with the situation. A lot can happen in a closed space…


The Author

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S.J. Hartland is an Australian journalist, former fencer and medieval “tragic” who calls the Darling Downs, Queensland, home. The 19th Bladesman was her first published book. The second in the series, The Last Seer King, was published last month. The third in the series will be released early next year.


The Setting

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The Scene

His prison was a cavity carved from rock, a gloomy press of grubby stone and damp. He slept on straw beneath a moth-eaten blanket—when he slept at all. Endless drumming thumped through the walls. Screams scraped his spine like a blade.

Barefoot, clad in only a thin tunic and pants, Roaran curled up and shivered through black nights and black days he soon lost count of. All that marked time was the creak of a latch when his captors shoved a bowl of gruel and cup of filthy water inside.

The only light was a slit beneath the door. It was just enough to show him the stained walls and the bone shards in filthy straw, enough to reveal the illuminated sigils carved on the roof to prevent him using magic to escape. Roaran understood who held him. He even understood why his captor had left him in this fleapit. To let him anticipate the suffering ahead. To first destroy his mind before—he swallowed—before his captor broke his body and his will.

Roaran trembled. At every footstep to the door, his pulse warred, terrified they came for him. Knowing they must. Knowing his captor would torture him, that his enemy could even kill him again and again without death ever bringing a release.


Time splintered into meaningless heartbeats, their cacophonous tide in his ears. Bowls of gruel appeared. Empty bowls disappeared.

Did another week pass? Did two? He could not unravel time. It no longer belonged to him. Very little did. His thoughts, for now, though they spiralled in an ever-closing loop. His body only reacted to thirst, hunger, and that exhaustion of fitful sleep.

Until at last, with dour footsteps and a rattle of keys, armed men stomped into the hole. Cocooned in the dark with his treacherous imagination, Roaran scrambled back against the wall. His captors said nothing, only clamped enspelled iron across his brow and dragged him out. They did not bind his hands. Unarmed, the metal band suppressing his seer craft, he was defenceless, and they knew it.

Sweat broke out on his neck, his mouth chalky. Roaran could do nothing but stagger towards humiliation and pain, too aware he must shatter.

A warrior learnt to withstand torture, but that training belonged to another life, long put aside. A time before the mockery called destiny.

Yes, his captor would break him. In his enemy’s hands, Roaran’s immortality, his spellcraft, would be weapons to destroy him. Torture him, and he healed. Kill him and he eventually revived, ready to be tortured again. He had to escape. If they took off this headband, he’d take his chance and use magic. For now, be ready. Beneath his breath, Roaran practised a spell as his grim-faced escort forced him across an abandoned ward. Darkness framed crumbling walls. Stars blinked through turrets and scarred towers. Storm-scented air ominously eddied, but the sea’s briny tang, its whisper on his skin, its rolling melody, were cruelly familiar. Could this still be his home, the Isles? Could it? He found little comfort even in that.

His captors shoved him up a tower’s spiralling steps. For all the sultry pall, a chill rose off broken stonework. A bird’s song quavered with loneliness. Moonlight shaped by arrow slits belonged, like the bird, to the world beyond these walls and Roaran ached to hold on to them.

They prodded and pushed him into a chamber near the top. Its menace, its rank stink, hit him at once. Murk crept beneath circling walls. Shutters blanked a tiny window. His soles brushed naked stone caked with filth. There was no torchlight, just a fire pawing a soot-blackened hearth. And near the flames, in a high-backed chair, eyes levelled at him like a sword, sat a figure.

Roaran slammed to a stop. Time snapped still with him. He knew who this must be, yet he was still unprepared, unable to accept this could really happen to him. Him. A seer. A king. He could not be a captive. Certainly not this creature’s captive.

For before him, ready to extract vengeance he had centuries to plot, sat the enemy Roaran had sworn to defeat.


If you’d like to get in touch, you can find S.J. Hartland on social media:

Website | Facebook

S.J. Hartland entered The 19th Bladesman, the first book of the Shadow Sword series into SPFBO.


You can keep updated on our progress and all of our content on my SPFBO 5 page!