10 weeks, 5 authors, 1 story. In To Be Continued… I asked 5 authors (self-published and traditionally published alike) to write a story together based on my prompts, without knowing about each other. They each had 2 weeks to write their part before I forwarded it to the next person to continue. Each part is somewhere between 500 – 1500 words long. So, are you ready to continue the story?
Foreword by me
Welcome to the second edition of To Be Continued… The first edition, The New Sound was born as a celebratory project for the second anniversary of the blog. But halfway through I realised that I loved the process so much, that I wanted to do at least one more story. And so The Butcher Queen came along. I’m also happy to report that the third edition is already underway! But back to this one. Once again, I was able to gather some awesome authors to take part and I can’t wait for you to read what they created!
If I remember correctly, I reached out to them in February, which happens to be my birthday month. At this point I really don’t have to pretend anymore that I’m not vain, so of course my prompt was:
- the Queen’s birthday is coming, so what happens?
I had several ideas in my head where I wanted to see this story go, but I decided to leave it up to Cameron if “she has any rituals for that day or if she requires a big party with guests to boast her wealth, or if she wants offerings and orders a public mass execution”. What he delivered was nothing I expected and also more than that. The others took up his mantle pretty well, and made The Butcher Queen’s story a highly entertaining one with some dark humor, twists, a bit of horror and magic. What else do you need for a good story?
I’d like to thank each author for taking part in creating this bit of fun! And without further ado, let’s meet The Butcher Queen, shall we?
Cameron Johnston is a Scottish writer of speculative fiction (usually a mix of fantasy and horror) and a member of the Glasgow Science Fiction Writers’ Circle since 2010.
He is also a swordsman, gamer, enthusiast of archaeology and history, a fine ale drinker, builder of LEGO, a cat-slave, and owns far too many books to fit on his shelves.
The Butcher Queen – Part 1
Queen Endellion of Old Aaroth began her fortieth birthday celebration with a mass execution. Ragged men and women dragging heavy chains were marched out, then forced to kneel and place their necks upon wooden blocks. They made no sound, their lips sewn shut to avoid offending delicate royal ears.
Her Imperial Majesty watched the gory spectacle from an ivy-wreathed marble balcony, surrounded by flowers, servants, sycophants, and would-be assassins quietly biding their time until that evening’s masked ball. Delicate hands gloved in royal lace and cloth-of-gold clapped with glee as forty wicked axes rose and fell at her command.
Blood and wine gushed down cobbled streets as drunken young courtiers in black velvet overcoats and porcelain masks kicked severed heads into the cheering crowd of peasants. The poor fought over silver marks sewn into the mouths of the traitors in place of their lying tongues – such was the fate of those whose loyalty could be bought by someone other than Old Aaroth’s darling queen.
The courtiers followed up the gift of heads by tossing bulging wineskins and heels of bread to the unwashed masses with cries of: “Blood, bread and wine in Queen Endellion’s honour!” The crowd roared approval, and from the balcony, their queen waved her blessing upon the populace.
“Tea and cake now, I think,” she said, turning in a swish of silk and creak of steel and whalebone. An army of silent servants sprang into motion, arranging her intricate dress and seating her in the morning room with a spread of sweet treats worth more than a maid’s yearly pay.
She sipped a cup of tea already prepared at the perfect drinking temperature – her servants knew her so well, and well knew not to anger her. “What wonders have you prepared for me this year, Chancellor?”
A bald and careworn old man long since resigned to a life of stress and misery stepped forward and bowed. He unrolled a scroll, cleared his throat, and solemnly began to list the forty events taking place throughout the day in celebration of Her Majesty’s birthday.
She lifted an imperious finger at one item, teacup paused at painted lips. “A flight of dragons you say? We had one of those last year did we not? The stench was atrocious. One defecated on the Duke of Elms and ruined every stitch of his clothing.”
A bead of sweat wound down the Chancellor’s bald pate. “This one will surpass anything ever seen before, Your Majesty – the greatest and rarest beasts have been gathered from all the realms to pay homage to you, and each has been doused in the finest of perfumes. May I also remind Her Majesty that the Duke of Elms has just lost his head.”
“So he has,” she replied. She sipped her tea. The Chancellor sighed in relief and moved on, allowing her to pick and choose those few events she would grace with her presence.
While the queen’s attention was elsewhere, a maid brushed past, quick fingers and sharp steel slipping between folds of rich material as she stole something and slipped it into her apron without a single soul noticing. Heart hammering, she silently collected plates and cups on a shaking tray and carried them down a spiral staircase leading to the secondary kitchens. At the bottom of the stairs a woman wearing the black velvet coat and porcelain mask of a courtier was waiting for her in the flickering shadow cast by wall lanterns. She removed the mask to reveal a cheek marred by terrible burns recently inflicted, the flesh still cracked and weeping. The maid knew this woman by a false name only: Mosaic.
“You have a second key for me, little thief,” the scarred woman said, cold and hard.
The maid swallowed. She looked left and right and then slipped a small brass key from her apron into Mosaic’s waiting hand. “Here – before the butcher queen notices it gone. I want nothing more to do with this mess.”
Mosaic nodded and donned her porcelain mask once more, hissing in pain as it touched weeping skin. She left the maid to her drudgery and wove through bustling hallways and rooms to the queen’s bedchamber. With so many people rushing to and fro on birthday business, one wayward courtier did not arouse the slightest suspicion. She waited until the hall was clear before unlocking the heavy door to the queen’s room, slipping inside and securing it behind her. The small brass key the maid had stolen for her was for something far more mysterious contained within, and the queen had kept it on her person at all times, even while bathing.
The royal bedchamber was a soulless, precise room where everything had its set place. More than one maid had come to a brutal end after putting a silver candlestick or goblet back in the wrong spot. The furnishings were all in the best possible taste: the richest fabrics, the most exotic dark woods and the finest furniture crafted by the grandmasters of old. The bed was made, blankets crisp and pressed and unslept in – a curious thing, when Mosaic knew none but the queen had been in or out of the room this morning.
She padded over to a huge steel wardrobe recessed into the far wall, a crude construction that stood out like a sore thumb. Why would any queen in her right mind want such a large wardrobe of dull, heavy steel in her otherwise exquisite bedchambers? Certain loose-lipped maids, when plied with copious alcohol, had whispered tales of strange and unsettling noises coming from within.
Mosaic ran a hand over the door and inserted the small brass key. “Now then, let us see what the butcher queen takes such pains to hide from her servants.”
She turned it. The locking mechanism whirred and clicked seven times, as if made of intricate clockworks.
The door hissed open…
To Be Continued…
If you’d like to get in contact with Cameron Johnston, you can find him on social media:
I highly recommend you check out Cameron’s grimdark fantasy series, The Age of Tyranny of which two books – The Traitor God and God of Broken Things – were already released by Angry Robot! Go and get the books by clicking on the covers:
The Butcher Queen continues in Part 2 by Phil Williams!
For more To Be Continued stories, check out my page!
Ohhh yes! Love this beginning and Cameron’s prose is the perfect amount of haunting. You had me at “dark humor” but the bit of horror and magic reeled me in as fast 👀
YES! I have to say, I made the best choice with him going first with this story. And you don’t even have any idea where it’s going 😀
Wow. Cameron Johnston has an amazing attention to detail. An intriguing start to a new To Be Continued! Already wildly different in tone. So dark and mysterious …
Excited to see who carries it on and what they make of it!
It’s probably not going to be what you expect, lol.