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The Bullet


It was still early. A glimmer of light poked its way through the small spaces in the room’s only window, but it would be a while before the shadows outside subsided and things looked brighter.     

He looked back at his bed. Like this home of his for the last few months, it was small but comfortable enough. Certainly better than expected. The pillow lay askew at the wrong end, and the still sodden sheets hung limply over the mattress.     Being up was no bad thing. No…being awake was no bad thing.     

The mornings were always the same. They had been for years, even through everything that had happened – the progress, the disappointment, the hopelessness. He emptied his lungs, collapsed into a wicker chair and laid an elbow on the table. Staring at the dull patterns on the cloth, the browns, greys and yellows of his night-time terrors slowly blended with the old-fashioned curls and swirls. He hoped he’d be free of those visions, at least until night came round again.    

What happened that day six years back had its hook in him, alright. The terrors, the visions…they were a relentless echo delivering a message he couldn’t understand.

* * * * *

It looked good. They’d somehow kept on top all day. The bastards had thrown everything at them since sunlight, but his comrades at the machine-gun post on the other side of the river had terrorised the enemy and pinned them down. Surely it was here, today, that the unerring torrent of bad news would dry up.     

The fighting wore on and their bullets found homes in more enemy flesh. What was left of the town would stay theirs. The station, too. He was sure of it.     

He caught his breath, crouched beside a wall at a crossing. To his left, a handful of his men had tucked themselves among the joists of a partially collapsed warehouse on the waterfront. On his right, three more were perched behind countertops in a long-since abandoned store. Ahead, one had ducked into a shallow crater in the road, evicting the rats for a prime view of the bridge over the Escaut.     

He shifted his helmet back on his head, wiped the sweat from his face and broad mustache, and scanned the debris on the opposite bank for any hint of movement that might suggest another advance on the bridge. He needn’t have bothered. The enemy, devastated by the machine gun off to the north, had been pretty quiet for more than half an hour. It was eerily quiet and, for the first time that day, he felt the French September wind bite into his skin. He dared to think it was done.     

The gun across the river crushed the silence.     

In the distance his countrymen were frantic. Loading. Firing. Loading. Firing. Even from this distance he could see gold spitting from the barrel as steel flew through the air about it. The surface of the river between them became an uneven, pockmarked mess as a guttural roar flooded across to the town.     

A shadow in the warehouse above him was waving and pointing beyond the bridge as his distant comrades concentrated their machine gun’s fire. Something was very wrong. The enemy were readying a gun of their own, and in moments it would be up and running, fixing itself on his comrade’s post. He groped for a solution. He and his men on this side of the river were too far off to join the fire on the enemy’s new gun. Taking to the bridge on foot would see them give up their advantage. What else? What else?     Too late. For a few brief moments, the roar of guns intensified.     

Then nothing.     

Then shouts across the river.     

Three figures in brown – two tall, leggy runners, one short and slight – scrambled up and away from the new gun and towards his comrades’ now silent machine-gun post. They slowed, and disappeared behind a bank of sandbags.     

Silence. Muffled screams. Pop. Pop. Pop. Silence.     

He knew what this meant. The bridge was open. Within moments the buildings and streets around him were alive with flying metal. Lethal shards of brick and concrete both leapt up and rained down. He yelled to his men to return fire, but now they were outnumbered, outgunned. Soon there was a man on the bridge. Then two. Three. More. Suddenly there was no water between them and the enemy, who were right on top of them. As the air filled with acrid smoke, he desperately called on his men to fall back into the town. They’d take their chances man to man. They knew the streets. They could still hold.     

He glanced left and right, turned and darted back. He’d find somewhere. He’d organise the men. They’d counter.     

Neither of the two comrades sprinting away ahead looked back as a hot, slithering, stabbing pain stole its way through his left thigh. He hopped and, at great speed, plummeted headfirst into cobblestones, his face grinding through coarse rubble and bullet casings. He saw his friends disappear into the distance, and it went dark.      

He couldn’t know how long it was before he awoke, but somehow the streets, buildings, and air itself felt different. Blue-grey smoke swirled thickly around him, flickers of yellow and green silently illuminating fragments of pavement, road signs, and buildings. A muffled hum crept insidiously through every crevice of the town, winding its way up around his body, into his eardrums, and filling his brain. Leaning on his rifle, he struggled to his feet. His left leg hung limply, the heavy, wet fabric of his trousers clinging to him around it. Nearby, something human-like slumped out of a crater in the road, outstretched fingertips grazing a rifle butt. A rat sniffed at a pool of red, paused, and disappeared into the hole.     

Yards ahead, the smoke billowed and intensified, and a shadow appeared. Was it a man? Yes, it was. The figure sharpened and grew nearer, hazy greys becoming the obvious outline of a soldier. Was it one of us? No, no it wasn’t – the uniform was wrong, and his rifle was trained unflinchingly in his direction.     

He had time to look at his enemy. A short man – shorter even than he was, perhaps. He had the black and red smears of war across his face, but somehow his pale skin glowed.    

The rifle’s barrel rose slightly.     

This was it. He knew he was done. He shifted his weight to his right and let go of his own gun, barely hearing it clatter to the ground. As he stared ahead, he could swear he saw the smoke behind the enemy soldier clear just a little and the merest glimpse of unscarred hillside come into view.     

But the shot didn’t come.     

The two men stared at one another. Somehow in that moment, their minds were one. He could see this man. He could feel him. For a few moments they breathed together, thought together. They were beings separated by a cause, but in that time and place they were the same.      

The soldier slowly and smoothly lowered his rifle and nodded almost imperceptibly. Face, uniform and gun blurred, and then became shadow. Shadow became haze.     

He was alone. He was alive. The battle was lost, destruction was close, but somehow he was alive. 

* * * * *

The visions stirred again in the insipid patterns of the tablecloth. The war-stained, glowing face of the enemy soldier loomed up, out and away from the knitted swirls towards him.     

What was it saying? What was its message?     

As the day’s first light sifted through the window, he finally saw it. That soldier, that day, had been no ordinary soldier, and he’d chosen not to fire.     

He was meant to escape. He was special. He turned and looked out the window. In the distance, the lights of a big town flickered upwards, piercing the retreating darkness. Domes, roofs, and spires glowed with a familiar energy.     

“Das ist München”, he mumbled. “Das ist München”. If he wasn’t sure of it before, he was now. He felt charged, ready to throw off the gloom of the last months.    

In the corridor outside, a guard shuffled across austere flagstones towards the door and peered in through the bars. Inside was a small, gaunt man at a table, wide eyes fixed on a clutch of paper in front of him, writing furiously. The guard grunted, took up his clipboard, and drew a tick next to the initials “A.H.” and the date – 16th June 1924. He shuffled away across the stones again, edging deeper into the shadows.

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Russell Saunders is a writer camped out in the wilds of south London. He left the world of marketing and a 15-year career behind to pursue the dream of writing words for people other than clients, bosses, and other assorted middlemen – that and take a Grand Tour round Italy, build a patio, and look after his son.

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We Are Now Using Submittable

The changes we promised for Copperfield are on their way. While I understand that there may be mixed reactions to this first change, it is one that is necessary in order for us to keep Copperfield going for another 20 years.

As of February 21, 2021, The Copperfield Review is using Submittable as a way to accept and keep track of our submissions. For more than 20 years we accepted submissions via email, but the email system is no longer working.

The number of submissions we have been receiving has been growing, for which we are grateful. However, a number of those submissions are not meeting our guidelines. We have been receiving a lot of submissions that are not even historical in nature, which is a waste of everyone’s time. We’ve also been getting some submissions that are questionable, at best. I’m not referring to quality since quality is subjective. I mean as in poorly executed with typos everywhere, misused words, poor grammar, and the like. Then there are the submissions that say something along the lines of, “I heard you guys publish historical fiction so here’s this 200-word piece I just wrote about the American Revolution.” Yes, that particular piece was every bit as bad as you might expect. With a hope to weed out the contemporary mystery submissions so we can focus on the amazing pieces of historical fiction and poetry we receive, we made the decision to begin using Submittable along with charging a nominal reading fee of $3.00 USD.

Three dollars is in line with what other literary journals charge for reading fees. We hope that the small charge is enough to stop someone from sending a space opera to a journal of historical fiction, or at least it will stop someone from sending us a photograph of something they scribbled on a yellow legal pad. That’s not a joke, I’m afraid. All well-intentioned historical fiction and poetry submissions are always welcome at The Copperfield Review. Scribbling, not so much.

Having the opportunity to read and publish amazing works of historical fiction and poetry has been a dream come true. The Copperfield Review has been the first published credit for many up-and-coming writers, and many of our contributors have gone on to great things. I feel like a proud mamma bear when that happens. I’m also proud of the reputation The Copperfield Review has earned as being a place that publishes high-quality literature.

The world needs stories, good stories, stories that tell the truth about our past and stories that give us an inkling of where we’re going. That’s why I love historical fiction. That’s why I write historical fiction. That’s even why I wrote a book about writing historical fiction.

Thank you as always for thinking of The Copperfield Review. I look forward to sharing many more works of historical fiction with you.

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Transcript Podcast Episode 1

For Readers and Writers of Historical Fiction: A Copperfield Review Podcast

Episode 1

Well, hello, everyone.

This is Meredith Allard, the founder and executive editor of the Copperfield Review. I know for all of this time you guys have thought that I am not an actual person, but that I am just kind of this strange person behind the curtain. And to be honest, for most of the past 20 years, that’s kind of how I felt about my role at the Copperfield Review. Pay no attention to that woman behind the curtain!

But I do actually exist, I have been here behind the scenes at the Copperfield Review for more than 20 years now. It is my thrill to finally have a chance to speak to you guys. I’m going to keep this first podcast on the short side, because I’m thinking that, you know, boring people at my very first podcast would probably not be the greatest thing in the whole world, although it wouldn’t be surprising. So here we go.

And with this first episode, we’re just going to kind of give you guys a heads up about what is coming up with Copperfield, some of the exciting things to think about, you know, a lot of these changes coming to Copperfield have been a long time in the making.

You know, a lot of this was supposed to happen last year in 2020. But last year was last year. And you all know exactly what I’m talking about when I say that. So we had all these great big ideas for Copperfield that were supposed to happen in 2020. Because 2020 was, in fact, our 20th anniversary. That’s right, we started way back in the dim dear past of 2000. So now we’re heading into our 21st year. But I am very happy that these changes are finally in the works.

Now for those of you who are curious, the podcast is going to cover things like reading and writing, obviously historical fiction because that’s what we’re known for here at the Copperfield Review. But we’ll also be talking about things like publishing, creativity, really all of my favorite topics. But then again, this is my podcast. And so if I want to talk about anything else I can. I may also sometimes talk about my cat. So you know, you’re just going to have to, you know, if you love cats, obviously, you’re going to love that. I won’t dwell too much on my cat, but she may pop up on occasion. But then again, this is my podcast. It’s a Copperfield Review podcast, but it’s also my podcast since I’m the one sitting here talking, so you may have to deal with some talk about my cat.

Now, having said that, I would like to point out the fact that I am always up for a cute cat pictures. I am up for cute dog pictures. Cute hamster pictures. I’m not sure I would call a snake cute. But I know there are people who absolutely love their reptiles. So if you think your ham… I was going to say your hamster, but no, hamsters are cute. If you think your snake is cute, by all means. I shall accept that as well. Send your cute animal pictures my way at copperfieldreview@gmail.com. We are going to start a little page there for our favorite animals at the Copperfield Review. So you know, it has nothing to do with historical fiction. But hey, who doesn’t like a cute pet picture. So there we are. Just kind of a little aside there.

All right. So for those of you who are thinking about the Copperfield Review, thinking about submitting to the Copperfield Review, changes are happening. If you’re a longtime reader and or a submitter to the Copperfield Review, you’ve probably already started to see some of the changes starting to pop up. And so you know that we are no longer accepting submissions via email. We accepted submissions via email for 20 years, but I think what was happening was the email submission was getting a little bit too easy. Because some of the other journals were starting to accept submissions only through Submittable and we were still accepting submissions through email. But the problem was some of the emails being sent our way were not really submissions, they were more like photographs. We started to receive things like photographs of things that people had written on a, you know, a yellow legal pad or something that they had just typed up and took a picture of and sent it in. So obviously, we don’t want that. We want real submissions of real historical fiction of real historical poetry.

So if you’re not aware of the fact that we use only Submittable now, please go ahead and visit our submission guidelines page at www.copperfieldreview.com. It says Guidelines right up there at the top, and you’ll be able to see exactly what we’re looking for when you send in your submissions. So for those of you who may not be regular readers of Copperfield, you might not realize that in fact, in July, the Copperfield Review is becoming the Copperfield Review Quarterly. We’re really excited about this. This is something we’ve been working toward for some time now. So the Quarterly will feature additions in digital and paperback formats. So you know, for 20 years, we’ve been an online only journal. And we’re very proud of that fact. As a matter of fact, we were free to read, we were there for everyone. But at this point, being 20 years old, and having the readership that we do, it’s time for us to go ahead and make that change and become a Quarterly journal that is a digital and paperback journal as opposed to strictly being online, are we’re going to be moving to a subscription model. You can buy the editions either if you want to buy them quarterly, as in, you know, you buy a year and you get all four editions, you can buy print editions, you can buy digital editions, you can buy both editions, if you’d also like to you can purchase the edition separately. So for example, you know, if somebody you love is in the summer edition, then by all means you’re just able to purchase that summer edition. We’re looking at starting a Patreon page, we’re starting a subscription model, we’re starting, you know, all of these different thing ways of creating our journal so that it’s the best it can be. For 20 years, we really haven’t been that concerned with making money at the Copperfield Review. We’ve just been looking to publish the best in historical fiction and historical poetry. But we’re at the point now, where after 20 years, we have enough of a reputation. We have enough readers who love what we do. We have enough writers who love what we do. But what we’re really looking to do is pay our contributors, professional rates instead of the small honorariums that we’re currently paying. So when you support the Copperfield Review, you’re supporting our writers and allowing us to pay them professional rates for the amazing works of historical fiction and historical poetry that they create.

We have other fun activities going on as well. We’re currently hosting a contest for the best in historical fiction and historical poetry. We’re also accepting submissions for our second anthology. So that’s coming up as well. So just give me one moment, and let me give you the dates for those. Okay, so the dates for the contest for historical fiction, submissions are being accepted now through October 10 2021 with winners to be announced on Friday, December 10. There is a $25 entry fee per short story and a $20 entry fee per poem. And then the dates for the anthology. We’re accepting submissions for the anthology now through August 31, 2021. And the anthology submission should be sent through submittable. There is a $3 reading fee through Submittable and the word Anthology should appear in the submission title. If you’re curious about our contest, if you’re curious about submitting to our Anthology, you can absolutely check out our guidelines, again, at www.copperfieldreview.com. We’re also creating a shop where we’ll be selling our subscriptions, we’re also going to be selling things like Copperfield Review pens, tote bags, notebooks, because hey, who can write without a Copperfield Review pen? Or a Copperfield Review notebook? Right? I know what you’re thinking. You can actually write without them but it’s more fun with a Copperfield Review pen. So we will be holding a shop book that’ll be coming up in May well, so we’ll have all our cool gear there. The website as you know, it is also going to be undergoing some changes. So if you go to the website and things start to look a little bit strange, that’s why

We’re going to be turning the website into a blog with guest posts with access to the subscriptions for each issue. Our submission guidelines are still going to be there, everything that is already been published will still be there. Now keep in mind that on the Copperfield Review’s current website, we only have what we’ve published since 2012. For the first 10, no 12 years, that’s why I am not a math person, the first 12 years that Copperfield existed, we had a different website. And when we made the transition from that first website that hosted us for 12 years, and then made the switch to our current website, we lost, unfortunately, 12 years worth of stories because the transfer just didn’t happen. That is something that still makes me sad to this day.

But for everything that has been published since 2012, that will still be available on our website. However, anything that is published post July 2021, which is when we go to the quarterly model, that will only be available through subscription through our website. And so just keep that in mind, that is a change that is going to be happening. So if you published prior to July 2021 and after April 2012, your work will still be available on our website, all of that is not changing. What will change is that we are now a subscription model starting in 2021.

Okay, so if you are interested in submitting to the new Copperfield Review Quarterly, again, be sure to check our submission guidelines. Once again, it’s www.copperfieldreview.com. And things have changed a bit as far as what we’re looking for in submissions. And just generally speaking, when you are submitting to literary journals, you always want to go to the submission guidelines on their website because Writer’s Market is outstanding. Duotrope does a wonderful job trying to keep up with all the changes. But even so, editors’ needs change suddenly, and so that new need will be reflected in the website submission guidelines, whereas they might not be reflected in Writer’s Market or Duotrope. So you always want to go to the website submission guidelines. Don’t send something off based on what you see in a year old listing, because chances are things have changed. So for all of the up to date information on Copperfield, about our new website, about our new submission guidelines, go ahead and go to our website, and make sure that you’re following those guidelines.

Now just as an aside, I actually have a new course coming out in May, which is an introduction to writing historical fiction. It will be available through Teachable. I’m actually in the process now of recording the lectures. And I have to be honest, I’m having a lot of fun recording that. It’s great for me, because I’ve actually been teaching for more than 20 years now. And creating this course is a great way for me to do what I love, which is teaching. And then when I’m teaching writing, I’m even more in heaven. So now I get to do that through Teachable and I get to share it with all of you. I’ll be sure to let everyone know when the course is available. The regular price will be $99 USD. But listeners of the podcast and subscribers to Copperfield’s mailing list can purchase the course at a discount of 50% off so it’ll be $49 USD instead of the $99. I’ll let everyone know the discount code as soon as the course is released, which will not be too far away now as I’m recording this on April 12. I just have to finish recording it and finish having the transcriptions made. And I’m really excited to share all of that with you.

We’re also going to have a brand spanking new Patreon page to fund the Quarterly, the contest, the anthology, all of the fun stuff that we’ve been talking about today. Again, the main goal is to pay our contributors. But when our Patreon page is up, I’ll also share that with all of you. And you guys will be able to see more in depth what it is that we’re looking to do to grow the Copperfield Review. We’ve been around for about 20 years, and as I said eariler we have never really been that concerned about making money. Our concern was just keeping it going so that we could feature the best short historical fiction and best historical poetry out there. Now we’re looking to expand our reach. So that’s why we’re trying out all these cool new doodads so that we can make sure that we can pay our writers what they deserve to be paid.

All right. All right. So that is it for me for today. I don’t want to ramble on too long. As I said at the beginning, I don’t think boring people during my first podcast is such a great idea. But before I go, it’s important for me to say a huge thank you to all the readers and contributors who have kept the Copperfield Review going for the past 20 plus years. The Copperfield Review would not have the reputation it has for being a place that publishes quality literature if it weren’t for the amazing pieces of historical fiction and poetry that have come our way over the last two decades.

Here’s a very quick story before we go today. I remember when I started the Copperfield Review in September 2000, and at the time, I was thinking, wouldn’t it be a great way to get this journal started if I could get an interview with a well known historical novelist? Well, I did a little bit of digging and found John Jake’s email. Yes, that John Jake, the very famous John Jake who wrote some of the most beloved historical novels of all time. So I took a chance. Remember, this was 20 years ago, I wasn’t known at all, you know, I was just starting. I didn’t know anybody. I didn’t know anything. But I said, hey, what the heck, you know, just try. So I emailed John Jake’s. John was actually on a cruise at the time. And this kind man emailed me from the cruise and said, absolutely, I’ll answer your questions.

So while he was on the cruise, John Jake answered my emailed interview questions. And to this day, I remember that and I remember the kindness and I remember the generosity. He didn’t know me from anybody, the Copperfield Review had no reputation at that time because it barely existed. And yet, he still took the time to answer my interview questions. And to this day, I remember that and to this day, I think the Copperfield Review exists because of people like John Jake who took time out of their out of their busy schedules. Jean M. Auel allowed me to interview her. I also interviewed Jeff Shara. I mean really big name historical novelists took the time to answer my questions. And because of them, and because of the great submissions we’ve received over the years, the Copperfield Review still exists. And we’re very happy to be here.

Even as we transition to the Copperfield Review Quarterly, I still know that whenever we get a submission from any writer, it’s a privilege to be able to read that submission, and we appreciate it. We appreciated it 20 years ago, and we appreciate it today.

So if you’d like to get in touch with me, you can contact me at, if you want to get to me through Copperfield, its copperfieldreview@gmail.com. If you’d like to submit your historical short fiction or poetry to the Copperfield Review, soon to be the Copperfield Review Quarterly, you can find our submission guidelines once again at www.copperfieldreview.com. If you’d like to visit my personal website, it’s Meredith, it’s just my first and last name.com, meredithallard.com.  Or you can contact me at meredithallardauthor@gmail.com.

All right, everybody. So that is me for today. Thank you for joining me for the first Copperfield Review podcast. I’m very excited about this. In the future, we will branch out to interviews, we will branch out to industry insiders, but for for the first few episodes we are really going to focus on Copperfield itself and our changes and a little bit more insight into submitting to literary journals, writing, and all that kind of fun stuff.

All right, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me. I will see you next week. Bye bye.

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How Much of These Hills is Gold

Written by C Pam Zhang

Published by Riverhead Books

Review by Michael Nellis


America’s history of immigration is fraught with troubles, with racial stereotypes and rampant mistreatment. Often driven to poverty and inadequate living conditions, newcomers to the “land of the free” put their trust in hard work and silent grit to achieve success. And when this didn’t work, as it often did, their families, their children, would be driven to breaking point. All of this and more is explored in C Pam Zhang’s debut novel, How Much of These Hills is Gold

Zhang’s novel takes the American Old West, a setting that has been built up and regurgitated for decades, and puts it into a tailspin. Given their large influence on American history, immigrant stories in fiction are nothing new. What is new is Zhang’s exploration of family dynamics and her effortlessly taut style that backs it up. Two siblings, Lucy and Sam, live in squalor in a small mining town. Only problem is, their father has just died, leaving them orphans in an environment wary of their Chinese ancestry. The one duty pulling at their minds is to give their father a proper burial—but, of course, obstacles soon arise in their path.

While Lucy and Sam meet many others in their journey, from the first page the novel is a dance between them: Lucy, the quietly courageous bearer of burdens; Sam, the younger of the two and more inclined to putting on a show of bravado. Late in the first chapter Sam is revealed to be Lucy’s sister, in spite of her cowboy attire, mock gunslinging, and short hair to convince anyone the contrary. Their father had wanted a son, and he haunts them long after he is dead, both because they are carrying his body around wherever they go and because he incessantly invades their memories and dreams. 

Zhang’s style pulses like bullets from Sam’s gun. Sentence fragments abound and any sentence more than a line in length is studded with commas: “Jim’s eyes snap up. Red eyes, flesh raw at the rims. ‘Off,’ he says. His voice flicks, steel wire. His hands go on writing.” One gets the sense of a rapidly moving eye, one that only soaks in the details that jump and then flits away. For all the style’s brusque swiftness, it causes readers to double back and investigate the significance of the images presented. This is reinforced by the one-word chapter names, which rotate between eight different images, from “wind” to “gold” to “blood.”

As Lucy and Sam continue their adventure they meet some, like mountain men, who are willing to humor them and share a campfire, but the townspeople they encounter gawk, oblivious to their hardships. The novel’s second part delves deep into flashbacks, striking glimpses of the family’s experiences before both parents had died and their “ordinary” lives. Although I picked up the book and stuck with it because of its engaging style, I took away from it an enhanced sense of the sheer struggles that others, especially immigrants, have gone through—and are still going through. Suffice it to say I highly recommend this read.

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Michael Nellis is pursuing an English degree at George Fox University in Oregon, and in addition to nonfiction essays has a passion for historical fiction and poetry. He is an aspiring novelist who seeks to embody a unique blend of fantasy and literary fiction. When he’s not writing, he can be found listening to classic rock, playing Minecraft, or practicing his cello skills. His blog on writing (and more) can be found at michaelnellis.com

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The Case of the Midnight Assassin

New Year’s Eve of 1888 brought to London a sense of anticipation, calm, and beauty combined. Anticipation existed in that the city was hopeful the year 1889 would bring new advances in our rapidly changing world, and that I was eager for new cases to occupy the indefatigable mind of my friend. Secondly, an eerie calm paradoxically layered over the rooftops, stretching from our lodgings at 221B Baker Street to the vestibule of St. James and to the spires of Westminster. Looking out our window, I cracked it a smidgen to inhale the cold night air, its constant companions the fog and chimney smoke of thousands of grates spreading over the horizon and the quietness that pervaded the city at the late hour. This view constituted my last point of the evening; it was a beautiful night.

Holmes and I had hosted a small party of guests for the occasion in our chambers. The idea was a combination of Mrs. Hudson’s and mine. My roommate, at first, was against the idea, saying he needed rest upon the completion of his most recent case; one that involved the stolen emeralds of the Duke of York’s wife and the apprehension of the kleptomaniacal son of a member of the House of Lords. 

“Surely, Holmes, you can do with a little celebration after your recent accomplishment,” I said, attempting to staunch his misgivings. “After all, it is the new year, and Mrs. Hudson’s daughter and her new husband will be visiting.”

Here, Holmes shot a glance at me from his armchair near the mantelpiece. The fire cast a gleam in his eye, which he hid well, for it was gone in a split second. But I caught it in that flash. Holmes had been a bit unpleasant to our poor landlady in the weeks leading up to the Duke of York’s case. It was his habit to be pouty and rude to both myself and even more so to Mrs. Hudson when there was no work or puzzle to occupy his brilliant, investigatory brain, or when there was difficulty in the solving of one. 

During this period of doldrums, Holmes had been restless in his study of the native tribesmen of the Southern Americas as well as New Guinea. He even went so far to, on more than one occasion, emulate the same dress as these indigenous peoples, and had terrified the tolerant woman more than once. One particular instance occurred after I had gone to bed as Holmes started up his violin playing (I was used to his antics and learned to sleep through his spasmodic rehearsing). Well, it had turned out Holmes had played far past his usual late hour, only to incite the wrath of Mrs. Hudson. Imagine our landlady’s surprise as she trounced up the stairs at three in the morning and upon flinging open our anteroom door, witnessed her pale half-naked tenant dressed as an Amazonian huntsman playing the violin, using a dart blowgun as the bow. Needless to say, if the scream hadn’t already woken me up, it would have been the shouting match that ensued.

In my blurry state, I managed to calm down lessor and renter, saying that it would be a miracle already if Lestrade hadn’t been dispatched with his constables to our residence. Both parties, to my great relief, went to bed. But it occurred to me that Holmes had acted rather rudely towards Mrs. Hudson, and I never did witness an apology.

I believe this had inhabited the peripheries of Holmes’s thoughts for he replied in a conciliatory tone to my New Year’s plans. “Perhaps you are right, Watson,” he said, steepling his fingers, elbows on the arms of his chair. “I fear I have rather taxed Mrs. Hudson recently and owe it to her to remedy my misbehavior.”

“So you are for our little celebration, Holmes?” I asked, eyebrows raised.

“As much as social gatherings vex me, I think it wise to throw a small soiree in our quarters.”

“Very good, Holmes. Mrs. Hudson and I would be delighted.”

And so here we were on the second floor in our meeting room enjoying companionship and cheer for the new year. I had invited friends of mine, a Dr. Michael Huddleston and his wife Lucy, a charming woman who knew much of London’s goings on. Michael’s practice was adjacent to mine on Harley Street and the two of us got on well with our common occupations and shared views on many a matter, both political and social. Also in attendance were Daniel Ives and his new wife, Mrs. Hudson’s kind and enthusiastic daughter, Amelia. Both had made their way to London from Devonshire, and Mrs. Hudson was beaming, blissfully content to see her daughter happily married to such an agreeable young man in the textile trade. Holmes, I could tell, had been more sociable than usual to our landlady, and I gathered that his acquiescence and demeanor had mended the rift between them.

The seven of us made a fine party, and all were in good disposition. Mrs. Hudson had brought up cakes and pastries, some of which were made by Amelia in the kitchen downstairs. Lucy made an exquisite fish pie, of which I had more than my normal portion. And even Holmes had provided punch and chocolates. After our piecemeal dishes were served, we sat around in discussion, keeping our eye to the hour. The clock on the mantle neared midnight, and I stifled a yawn and could tell that others were fighting off somnolency. The evening meal and many helpings of punch were taking effect. If it wasn’t for the intriguing conversation between my two friends, I fear I would have dozed.

“It is amazing, still, you must admit Mr. Holmes,” Michael stated. “This new telephone system improves with each passing day. In fact, I wonder if you yourself owned such a contraption could you be able to wish the Queen herself at the tolling of the hour a “happy new year” and could you hear her reply.”

“The technology is getting there, Dr. Huddleston,” Holmes said, “but I fear even if I was to get through to her majesty, she would not hear me, for surely the fireworks over the Thames at the Royal New Years Jubilee would drown out my frail voice.”

The room chuckled, and my heart warmed at seeing such a happy young couple along with the mirth of their matriarch. My small revelry was interrupted by a cry from Lucy, who grabbed her husband’s arm and shook it from the settee. “Look, Michael,” she said. “Look, everyone. The hour approaches!” She pointed at the clock, and sure enough, we were within thirty seconds of January 1st. 

At ten seconds till, we counted down the time, and I noticed Holmes roll his eyes as he saw me look his way. Yet even he mimed the tradition, if not for Mrs. Hudson’s sake. Midnight struck, toasts were made, the two groups of lovers kissed, and Michael and I broke out into song. Upon finishing our jolly Auld Lang Song, there was a knock on our apartment door.

“Who could that be at this hour?” I said. I approached the door, cracking it to find a darkly-clad man bundled in his greatcoat and holding an envelope. Holmes had walked up beside me, and I opened the door wider. “A happy new year to you,” I said by rote. “Can I help you?”

“Yes sir,” he said. “I’ve a letter for a Mr. Sherlock Holmes and a Dr. John H. Watson. Might that be you, gentlemen?”

“Indeed,” I said, taking the letter, eyeing Holmes dubiously.

Holmes looked past me. “Don’t open it, Watson. I want this man to know that I already know exactly the contents of this letter.”

“You do?” I asked, nonplussed. 

“Furthermore,” Holmes continued, “the real intent of this letter is to distract you and I.”

As soon as Holmes said this, the man at the door reached into his coat pocket. 

“You can try to conjure imaginative bullets, sir,” Holmes said with his palms upward in a gesture of futility, “but I fear they will not serve your role as the Ripper’s agent.”

The assailant levelled up his pulled pistol, hesitant. I instinctively froze as Holmes held up a hand for me to do so. 

“What are you getting at?” the assailant said. 

There were noises of gasps and questioning from our guests, who by this time took notice of our ill-intentioned visitor. 

“There is no need to fret,” Holmes said loudly, in a commandingly calm tenor. 

“Oh, but there is,” said the assailant with a grim smile, “Say goodnight.”

“You fool,” Holmes glared at him, “I had your firearm replaced this very afternoon.”

The assailant fired. Click, click, click. There was no gunshot. I was utterly baffled as I flinched at each sound. 

The man immediately about-faced, running down our stairs. I made to chase, but Holmes grabbed my arm. “No need, Watson. You hear that scuffle below? That’ll be Lestrade and his constables apprehending our offender on our porchway.”

“What do you mean, Holmes? What is this all about?”

My questioning was reinforced by the urgings of our guests who stood pale faced despite the glow of the waning flames in our fireplace. 

“Please, all of you relax,” Holmes said. “I can assure you all is well. See there below, Lestrade is just now escorting our would-be assassin via locked carriage to one of the Yard’s gaols.”

He spun around and motioned us to all sit in our previous seats. I was quite irritated with him but also so confused I blankly walked behind the couch. My nerves were so rattled, I opted to stand behind the sofa. 

“You may know,” Holmes began, “that the Yard’s struggles to discover the killer behind the Ripper murders has led them to enlist my help. I had been investigating the case long before they asked me, but once my official role became known in certain spheres, I knew the killer would try and address it. This so-called Ripper, despite his utter barbarism, is a cunning individual, someone who does, must, not want to be caught. As such, I knew he would make a move to take me out.”

“But Holmes,” I said, “the letter that you are holding is addressed to both of us.”

“Quite right, Watson. Our killer hired this agent to kill only me. He wanted you to bear witness to my demise, close up, in the hope you would write about your experience, or at the very least be reluctant to involve yourself in further investigations.”

“How did you know this man was not the Ripper himself?” I said.

“Our foe does not work that way. This is far too exposed. He works only in the shadows and will continue to spread the wings of his darkness therein.”

“Will he strike again?”  Mrs. Hudson asked, shakily. 

“He may try,” Holmes said, “but I have on my side a few allies that would make him think twice. You see, when I first discovered our assailant was following me about the city, I enlisted my young minions. You may call them dirty boys and mischievous girls, street urchins, but to me they are my irregulars—loyal soldiers who can slip into most places undetected, uncover secrets, and execute strategies. Once they discovered where this agent lived, it was easy to have young Mickey slip in here and there, discover the exact model of pistol, and replace it with one that held blanks.”

“Another ally is my brother Mycroft. As you know, he is quite up there in his work in matters of government. He provides the occasional spy her majesty can spare, and I am quite certain their skills supersede those of our talented yet lacking Lestrade.”

Here, Holmes paused, looking at the letter in his hand, then continued. “This letter has nothing written on it, unlike the cryptic notes our foe leaves around his slayings, which I hope to end once and for all in this new year.”

“Here, here,” Michael said, raising his glass. Our guests and myself also voiced agreement, but I could tell there was a troubled split-second movement in Holmes’s face as he said it. Was that a flash of doubt? Hesitancy in solving the case of the century? As with most of Holmes’s mystic persona, I could not fathom the reason.

“Now, if you are all agreeable,” Holmes said grabbing an empty glass, “let us have a nightcap to settle our nerves and end the night in an accustomed manner of cheer without fear. Lestrade has been generous in leaving two constables as sentries on our nook of the street. So drink up.”

As punch was served and conversations resumed, Holmes spoke to me quietly. “I am rather glad you threw this gathering, Watson. Please know, I agreed to it in the full knowledge that no harm would come to any of you.”

“As you say, Holmes, I know your methods, though they still leave me in the dark. May I ask a candid question?”

“Certainly, my friend.”

“Could it be that your eccentric behavior of late toward Mrs. Hudson has to do with the difficulty in this case, which has dragged longer than most? You made quick work of unmasking the emerald thief—did you take that to distract yourself from the Ripper?”

“Here, you see through me, Watson.” Holmes smiled. “Though the emerald case was more of a distraction for the Ripper than for myself. He knows I will not stop until he stops, yet I wanted to see what he would do. You may be perplexed by my studies of the Amazonian or New Guinea hunters. But I ask you, how do you catch an evasive prey?”

“You learn from the best hunters,” I ventured. 

“Precisely. So what appeared to you as me not working, was actually me working.”

“Ah,” I said, sipping the last of my punch.

“I really must keep myself in check, Watson. This case, as you see, brings me to bleak moods, and I do not like mistreating you or Mrs. Hudson.”

“We all act out when under great stress, Holmes.”

“Indeed, Watson. And for one of the first times in my life, I must learn to cope. I hope my year’s resolutions bring progress, for I fear with this new foe, I have met my match.”

______________________________________________________________________________

Nolan has been published in Foliate Oak, Aphelion, Points in Case, The Copperfield Review, and others. He’s worked with editors from TOR/Forge; Random House; Folio Literary; and Dijkstra Agency. Under a pen name, he self-published an Epic Fantasy novel, full of kingdoms and conflicts. An avid reader, he has recently been devouring fiction set in the 18th and 19th centuries.

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We’re Booked Through 2020!

We’ve been receiving some amazing submissions at Copperfield, so much so that all of our slots through 2020 are now filled. Wow! Thank you to all our great contributors.

Please keep in mind that our response policy has changed. To keep up with the latest from Copperfield, be sure to check our Submission Guidelines on a periodic basis because things do change.

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Dorothy Baird

Arrival
          (William, aboard the Transport,
           departed London, July 4, 1635)
 
At dawn our ship tacks into the James River,
heads northwest toward James Towne,
toward land promised me.
 
The Transport rocks under my feet,
the only sound, a steady swoosh
as prow pierces sun-glazed ripples.
 
The fertile scent of foliage lining both shores
revives me after weeks spent below deck
breathing the ship’s stench.
 
A feast of August green feeds my hunger
for color after six weeks of blues—
sky, sea, night.
 
The King demands gold from these lands.
I shall find it on my grant,
whether I dig for it or grow it:
 
Maize, its colors hidden in silks and husks,
will rise from tilled soil, provide
grain for bread, fodder for animals.
 
Grape vines trellised on trees,
draped with clusters of purple-tinged amber,
will fill hogsheads with claret and port.
 
Tobacco’s emerald fans will turn tan,
age to mahogany, deposit gold in my pocket,
before leaves disappear in curls of smoke.
 
I yearn for life as a landowner, no longer toiling
to fill another’s purse. By sunset, God willing,
I’ll feel my land beneath my feet.

__________________________________________________________________________

Dorothy Baird’s poetry has appeared in journals, anthologies and her chapbook Indelible Ripples (Kelsey Books, 1917). She taught at Western Connecticut University and was Managing Editor of Heat Treating, a journal serving the steel industry. She lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

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For the Love of Hawthorne

Written by Diana Rubino

Published by Taylor and Seale

Review by Meredith Allard

Nathaniel Hawthorne has long been one of my favorite American authors. I remember reading The House of the Seven Gables as an English major and I loved his writing. For the Love of Hawthorne is an intriguing look into Hawthorne’s relationship with Sophia Peabody, but it also deals with Hawthorne’s guilt over his ancestor John Hathorne, a merciless prosecutor of the accused “witches” during the Salem Witch Trials in 1692 (Hawthorne added the w to his last name in an attempt to add some distance between himself and his “hanging judge” ancestor).

In Diana Rubino’s book, I was drawn to the idea that love, patience, and perhaps some forgiveness can help us overcome that which haunts us most. I highly recommend this book for anyone with an interest in the Salem Witch Trials, historical romance, or even Nathaniel Hawthorne himself.

______________________________________________________________________________

Meredith Allard is the Executive Editor of The Copperfield Review.

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The Milliner of Klausenburg

A man’s manners are a mirror in which he shows his portrait.

~Goethe

Lotte peered at herself, turning her head from side to side, trying to get the best view of herself in the triple mirror.  She was proud of her creation, copied from a Viennese ladies journal: in gold velvet trimmed with brown lace, the hat sat forward on her forehead, its point emphasising the slant of her eyebrows, echoing her wistful chin.  A veil of bronze organza fell from the back; she pulled this round, relishing its effect against her chestnut hair.  ‘I’ll take it home this evening and try it on again after my bath,’ she thought.  ‘Frau Wolff will never know.  Yes, this hat, and the little buttoned boots.

* * * * *

The woman entered Langhuber’s Café, her head darting sideways, as alert as a bird of prey, an effect enhanced by the mass of nodding feathers on her hat.  She scowled at the portrait of Franz Josef hanging above the hatstand: he returned the scowl.  Magda was irritated.  Her niece had written to her asking for this meeting, so where was the silly woman?

‘You are looking for Frau Wolff, ma’am?’ murmured a waiter.

‘As a matter of fact I am!’

‘If you would please follow me,’ and he wound his way expertly around the scattered, polished tables, the chatter of people and the waxy potted plants to a semi-enclosed booth at the far end of the room.  Impeded by her bustle, Magda’s journey was rather less fluent.  She eased herself into the seat opposite her niece with all the majesty of a four-masted barque edging into a narrow berth.  From here she could look up at the tilted mirror hanging on the wall above their snug – this gave them privacy from the other customers, who could see only the tops of their heads, but she could summon a waiter just by lifting a hand.

‘Lise!  What are you doing in the séparée?’

‘I don’t want anyone to see me, Aunt Magda.’

‘Not like you.  What’s the matter, something wrong with your hat this time?

‘It’s not that – though darling Lotte has promised me another.  It’s Hans.  He has another woman.’

Hans!’

‘He’s not so unattractive as all that, Aunt,’ said Lise.

‘What makes you suspect him, dear?  A letter?  A trace of scent?’

‘Oh no!  It’s because he’s being nice to me.  More than he has been in years.  Solicitous, you know.  Bringing me a cushion. Treating me the way he did when I was expecting Martin.  There was nothing he wouldn’t do for me then!  And there’s another thing but…oh dear, I don’t know that I can find the right words – no decent woman should have to.’

Magda glanced up at the mirror.  The waiters were all busy at smaller tables some distance away.

‘You can tell me,’ said Magda, patting her niece’s gloved hand.

‘In the first two years of our marriage, when Hans was still getting established and was fretful about money, he said we’d have to wait to start a family…’

‘I see…’ said Magda, considering the options.

‘I was mortified…the bedlinen…’

‘Ah!  He provided more work for your laundress, you mean?’

Ilse Wolff’s eyes widened.  ‘Do other husbands do this?’

‘You are not the first wife to tell me this.  It’s next to onanism, of course.  An ungodly and unnatural practice.’

‘Well, the other night he did it again.  It was as if he forgot himself, forgot that we are too old – that am too old for there to be more children…and…and out he came!  It was dark.  He can only have been thinking of someone else!’  Lise whimpered, and fumbled for her handkerchief.

‘My dear, do recollect yourself.  You might be sheltered here, but you are still in a public place.  At least pull down your veil.’ Magda raised a finger to the mirror, and a waiter glided over, as smoothly as though he ran on castors.  Her aunt ordered for them both.

‘Father didn’t want me to marry him,’ said Lise, ‘he said an apothecary was merely a tradesman masquerading as a doctor. But he was the best student of his year.’

‘I remember.  But you did marry him, and successfully it would seem, up to now.  Men are unpredictable, though.  Your uncle Albert was nearly sixty when he lost his head to that dancer.  We women have to put up with much foolishness.  So who is Hans’s woman?’

‘I have no idea.  But I have no doubt that she exists.’

‘Be sensible, Lise, and do not confront him.  Not until you have stronger evidence.’

* * * * *

Discretion was the watchword of the establishment on Szappany Street.  So screams were definitely frowned upon – especially when enmeshed in them was a man’s name.  The doors to the other chambers remained resolutely closed, but the servant recognised the one that crashed open on the third floor, followed by the slap of bare feet on varnished boards.  She tore up the narrow stairs. 

‘Maria!’ shrieked the girl.  ‘Hans is turning blue!  He can’t breathe!’

‘Go back to him!  I’ll send the boy for Dr. Goldschmidt.  Otto!

‘But – the scandal!’

‘There won’t be one.  Goldschmidt’s a client too.’

* * * * *

Mendel Goldschmidt drank down the strong coffee Maria had made for him, and said: ‘He burst a blood vessel in his brain, I believe.  I’ve tried to reassure the poor girl that it wasn’t her fault, but she won’t be comforted.  She’s a sweet thing, even with her face all blotchy like that – obviously adores little Wolff.’

‘Will he live?’

‘Hard to say – and if he does, harder still to know now what lasting damage there  might be.  A terrible shock for her, of course, but if he never does come round, well, there are worse ways to go.  Shouldn’t say any of that of course – he’s still breathing.’

‘What are we to say?  About his being here, I mean.’

‘I shall say he collapsed in the street, on his way to see me about a patient.  You came out on an errand at just the right moment, and had him brought inside.’

‘Where did you take him?’

‘To the Hungarian Sisters.  He’s as good as in gaol there, for they’ll let no-one see him except myself and the specialist I’ve sent for from Kronstadt.  And his wife, of course.’

‘Not her, then.’

‘No chance of that, though she’d be the most devoted of nurses.’

* * * * *

The nun sitting at the head of the bed rustled to her feet on Lise’s entrance, leaving the folded handkerchief with which she had been dabbing Wolff’s face on the marble-topped cabinet, next to a spittoon and a crucifix.

‘I must urge you not to tire your husband, Frau Wolff.  Any undue pressure could be fatal,’ she murmured.

Lise looked down at the slack-jawed face, the matted, grey, untidy moustache; the blacking he used every morning had been sponged out of it.  Drool was gathering at the right side of his mouth; she picked up the handkerchief, but finding it repulsively damp, dropped it.  Hans Wolff stared up at his wife, trying to focus.

‘Poor Hans,’ she said, sitting down.  She touched his right hand where it lay inert on the bedcover; it was cold and unresponsive.  ‘I know, you know.’

Hans gurgled.

‘Don’t fret.  I can hardly fight a duel over you, can I?  I don’t suppose you ever would have for me – not that I have ever given you cause.’

A tear seeped from his left eye.

‘Is that regret, Hans?  For us, or because you won’t ever have her again?  You shan’t, you know, even if you do get better.  I shall find out who she is, and then Aunt Magda will speak to her husband’s cousin – you know, in the Postenkommando – and she will be made to leave town.’

Wolff moaned, an inarticulate, bovine sound.  One side of his mouth twitched; saliva dribbled out the other.

‘Meanwhile, I must struggle on, and find comfort in small things, and in the esteem a respectable woman is held by her neighbours.  In fact, I shall face them today.  I shall go shopping,’ she said, stroking her gloves.  ‘Lotte has sent word that my new hat is ready, bless her.’

The man in the bed groaned, trying to rise, but he jerked uselessly like a puppet on only one string.  The door clicked and the nun billowed in.  Wolff continued to moan and twitch.

‘Frau Wolff, whilst I am sure your presence comforts him, your husband mustn’t be overtaxed.  Depending on what the doctor says, you should be able to see him again tomorrow.’

Lise rose.  ‘Good’bye, Hans.  I do love you, you know.’

* * * * *

Lise peered at her expression in the mirror in the hospital wash-room.  ‘I look too angry,’ she said to herself.  ‘I need to look anxious, devoted – people must look at me and see the strain but tell themselves that I am bearing up wonderfully.’  She experimented, grimacing at her reflection, then when she was satisfied she had found the look she needed, she pulled on her gloves, fitting each finger carefully, and let down her veil.

* * * * *

At the milliner’s, she was disappointed that Lotte was unavailable – indisposed, apparently.  The other girl didn’t have Lotte’s delicate touch, and Lise was sure that she had come close to stabbing her with a hatpin from sheer nerves, but – oh!  The hat was magnificent!  Now she felt ready for her coming task.

* * * * *

The desk intimidated Lise Wolff.  It was an absurdly showy thing, all glossy rosewood and gilt and as incongruous in that plain back-shop as a Steinmüller organ in a country oratory.  Though it could profitably have been sold, when he’d inherited it aged twenty-one Hans Wolff had still nursed dreams of a glittering medical career: receiving illustrious patients in his clinic, dispensing cures seated at this very same piece of furniture.  Instead he was an apothecary, catering mainly to the respectable German-speaking merchant class, and his wife was rummaging for evidence of adultery.

Frau Wolff took her time.  As long as Hans was under the care of the nuns, that woman, whoever she was, couldn’t reach him. ‘So unfortunate that he had to keel over right in front that place…a house of assignation!…’, she thought, ‘but if that servant hadn’t come out at that precise moment and shown such presence of mind he might be dead by now…but how on earth am I to thank such a person?  Fraulein Nicolescu – a Wallachian to boot…  Oh dear, I must make sure everything gets put back just as it was or he’s sure to notice.’  Then she remembered the warning the doctor had given her; even if he lived, Hans might never enter this room again.

For some customers the receipts went back years.  ‘He could have been a good doctor,’ thought Lise, ‘such conscientiousness.’  She schooled herself not to look at names as she untied bundles of correspondence.  Mendel Goldschmidt’s confident, sloping hand occurred regularly.  Her hands trembled when the word ‘mercury’ swam across her vision.  ‘Do keep calm,’ she told herself.  ‘No-one ever got the maladie française from reading about it.’

Three hours later she found the envelope, wrapped in an advertisement in Hungarian for bismuth powders.  The photographer’s name was scrolled across the bottom of each stiff little piece of card; Lise Wolff did not recognise his name but she knew the street name by repute – not good repute.  There were five images in all, of the same naked girl, her hair piled high on her head, yet topped always by an elaborate hat.  She was posed awkwardly, looking at herself in a cheval glass, so that the spectator saw her both front and rear, but frustratingly her face was either obscured by the hat or by her hands.  In one photograph her weight was on her right leg, whilst the left was held awkwardly behind her, on tiptoe.  In another she wore buttoned boots: Lise thought this the most obscene of them all; she noticed too that though the photographs looked new, the edges of this card were not quite as crisp as the others, suggesting that it had been picked up more often.

‘A rather common little body,’ thought Lise, ‘plump legs, too short, the back too long.’

She splayed the photographs across the blotting pad.  In a row they looked like a child’s zoetrope, except that here there was no swinging monkey or flying bird.  ‘I suppose anyone can buy these things,’ thought Lise, ‘some little trollop down on her luck, so half the husbands in Klausenburg get to gawp at her.’ In one of the photographs the girl’s chin and coyly smiling mouth were reflected in the glass, and in another her fingers were latticed over her face, her eyes peeking through and glittering in the mirror – but none of these disparate features amounted to a recognisable person.  ‘At least she had enough sense of shame to hide her face,’ thought Lise.  The anonymity of the photographs gave her the courage to look more closely, though her heart thumped as though she feared discovery, despite the locked door.  The breasts were small, lifted up by the raised elbows, revealing dark smudged armpits, the nipples as dark as Kreuzer coins.  ‘Mine aren’t like that,’ thought Lise.  ‘I wonder – ugh! – do they rouge them?  No letters, then – just some dirty pictures.  I expect he forgot he even had them.’

Lise pushed the photographs together as though stacking a pack of cards.  Then just as she was about to fold them back into the advertisement paper, she noticed something about the hat the girl wore in the uppermost image, and looked more closely. ‘You have to have style to carry off a hat like that,’ she told herself complacently.  ‘It would have looked a lot better on me.’ The hat came forward to a point on the girl’s forehead, and was trimmed with dark lace.  And at the back of her head, a veil shadowed the rounded white shoulders.  Lise dropped the photograph as though it burned her and ran to the little mirror Hans used to refresh the pomade on the tips of his moustaches.

‘Oh my poor hat, my lovely hat!’ she cried, and seizing the veil, began to shred the fine organza.

______________________________________________________________________________

Katherine Mezzacappa is an Irish writer living in Tuscany. She has been published by Erotic Review magazine, Ireland’s Own, Henshaw Press and Severance Publications. Her favoured genre is historical fiction, but she also publishes short romances under the pseudonym Kate Zarrelli (with eXtasy Books). Katherine is represented by Annette Green Authors’ Agency. Her full-length historical novel Merripen is currently out on submission; this novel was longlisted (last 14) for the Historical Novel Society’s New Novel award 2018. As of October 2018 Katherine is a reviewer for Historical Novel Review.

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The Gladiator’s Lover

My dearest Min,

I never wanted it to end like this. I never wanted to say what I felt only through ink on papyrus. That is what always set you apart from my other lovers – the things I could say to you in the afterglow, things I would never say to another in this life. But there are some thoughts that even I am too ashamed to speak out loud. Thoughts I had hoped to take with me to the grave

Grimy shadows clung to the walls, hiding from the daylight above, a haven for the rats. Torches guttered in iron brackets around the arena’s dungeons. Scented sawdust was scattered across the floor, masking other, fouler odours: the stench of enraged animals, the dull aggravating bite of vomit.The metallic taste of spilt blood in the air.

A brief howl echoed through the stone walls, before vanishing back into the depths. Frightening and strident, it set fear even into stout hearts who knew the sound; it was the angry bellow of a lion, prodded and tortured and thirsty for blood. Soon, Aiolos knew, it would have all the blood it desired.

Like the vermin in the shadows, his attendants scurried about. He lay down on the armoury’s thinly padded bench. One worked on his broad back, carefully bandaging an old wound. Another oiled his legs, rubbing and smoothing the taught muscles with his strong fingers. A dull roar shook the walls, and a cabinet bolted to the wall rattled. Aiolos cursed, and his servants fled. He stood, almost brushing his head on the beams of the roof, and opened the cabinet. The bandages pulled tautly across his back, and he felt a small trickle of fresh blood run down to his wide belt.

You have never heard me question my place in the world before. There have been times I nearly lost my nerve, shook so hard I thought I would drop my sword, but I have never before asked the simple question – why do we fight?

 The answer seems so obvious – freedom! Freedom lured me in when I was a young man – freedom from my masters and the total freedom of the battlefield both.

The weapons were finely crafted, of good Iberian steel. They were his tools, with edges honed sharp enough to shave the hair from his forearm. One knife went inside his boot, the other on his waist. Lastly, he slid a plain gladius home into the leather sheath on his left hip. The protruding hilt of the short sword was unadorned, worn smooth from use. Aiolos pulled a short greave onto his left leg. Next came a linen manica on his right arm. He placed the helmet, gaping and fishlike, on his head. Lastly, he hefted a Murmillo’s rectangular shield.

He was ready.

As he left the armoury and climbed the stone stairs that ran through the wooden cages of the slave-pit, the throbbing roar grew louder. It shook sand from the walls and pulsed in time with his heart. His ascent stopped as he reached the arena’s entrance chamber, and the roars grew into a single coherent mass that dulled the senses. Aiolos knew that, once he reached the open air, the noise would pound on his brass helmet like a hammer.

It was not only that I desired to earn my manumission; the infamia that comes with being a gladiator means I can never climb the heights of the nobilitas like your husband, after all, so how much joy could I find in buying up property, statues and other trinkets? What thrill could the struggles of a normal life present me? 

The entrance chamber was narrow and oppressive, and sunlight filtered down through grates overhead. On either side of the corridor, weapons were ceremonially hung beneath inscriptions of names. The former champions of the arena were remembered here, if nowhere else. Their deeds – the number of opponents they had slain, the emperors whose favours they had gained – were not recorded. All that was written was the manner of their deaths.

A fighter waited, sitting well back from the heavy metal gates, wrapping a dirty bandage around a thin cut in his arm. His fight had already been fought. He glanced up as Aiolos’s shadow fell on him.            

‘I heard you were free of this place, Murmillo,’ said the warrior, revealling a deep spear-gash in his side as he twisted to face Aiolos. His festival season was over. Aiolos nodded his head, feeling no give in the straps of his heavy helmet. The warrior spat noisily in the dirty sand.

‘You couldn’t keep away, eh? Well, watch yourself. I’ve seen this one fight. He’s fast, and he’s got a vicious sweep.’ He stopped as a lion’s roar briefly silenced the crowd, and they both looked up at the sunlight tricking down through the grates overhead. The fight was over, and ten thousand voices briefly subsided. An announcer listed the men who would fight next, and they began to chant. 

‘I always liked you, Murmillo,’ he said, dragging himself to his feet as slaves took up the chains that lifted the gates. ‘And I’ve got five sesterces down for you to win. Don’t die out there today.’

While I was still a slave, I burned to be free. But the arena offers me complete freedom, of the most savage and vicious kind – the freedom to fight, to bleed and spill blood. The freedom to kill.

That is why I came back when I won my manumission and became a libertini, again and again. You never understood why I did it – why I continued to risk disfigurement or death once I was free and my patron no longer required it – though you thrilled each time I came back to your bed, sometimes with wounds still bleeding.

But, as my esteem and wealth grew along with my scars, I began to realize that, for us, there can be no freedom from the arena.

His opponent waited for him on the sand.

The gates jolted open. The slow chant gave way to a bloodthirsty roar. The crowd’s appetite for blood had been whetted by the first rounds, by the captives being massacred and the lions running wild. It had been indulged by the clumsy new fighters and the elaborate set pieces recreating the victories of Rome’s history. But their appetite had not been satisfied. Women sang, men bellowed, children heckled, and a barrage of noise bore down upon the two gladiators.

Amongst it all, the Emperor sat, wrapped in regal purple, finely dressed nobiles in the seats all around him. Aiolos could hear nothing within his heavy bronze helmet – the crunch of his feet, the shudder of his breath; all else was swallowed up by the crowd.

Perhaps you believed you truly meant it when you asked me to give up this life, let this contest be my last. But we both know that the only reason you took me to your bed in the first place was because I fight, and no doubt you will find another victor to satisfy you after me. The gods know the nobile ladies do not seek us out for the handsomeness of our scarred faces and oft-broken noses. Any of the thousands of commoners in the crowd would suit you better. 

Aiolos advanced, swapping shield back and forth as he stretched his arms out. The sand crunched beneath his sandals. It was raked smooth throughout the arena, with one exception – by one of the walls, a blood-mad lion lay dying, a hamstring cut, a blood-splattered spear buried in its ribs. It purred for a moment with the deep, terror-inspiring voice of the big cats, before the blood in its lungs choked it back into silence. The beast was doomed, but the groundskeepers knew to stay well away.

His opponent waited for him, patient, unmoved by the lion’s call. He was short, with the lithe and fluid carriage of a dancer. He had the weapons of the Thracian: the vicious sickle-sword, the small shield, the side-plume and the heavy mail belt. The trappings were those of a defeated Roman enemy; this gladiator, however, carried them with pride, for he had cut down more than his share of Murmillos and Hoplomachi. Aiolos wondered if they would be the last thing he ever saw, before he dispelled the grim thought from his head and focused on his breath.

He glanced up at his opponent’s master; the man sat close by the Emperor, beaming at the attention, and betrayed no nervousness in the way he moved.

Aiolos moved to the centre of the arena, drew his sword, and waited. Blood pounded in his ears. He fixed his legs to the ground like pedestals and forced out a deep breath. It whistled through the mouthpiece of his fish-shaped helmet.

The emperor signalled. The blaring horns cut through the din.

The fight began, and the crowd roared.

They could have been just like me, those sitting behind the walls. Perhaps some of them hope that, one day, it is they who will know the glory of the arena. But they do not realize that it is they that have the glory; the teeming masses that surround us are the only reason that we fight. It is for them that we endeavour and struggle. It is for their sport that we die.

Their voices rose exultantly as the two fighters moved together. The two fighters circled one another, and with each subtle lunge or hint of a thrust they gasped and held their breaths for a moment. A vicious thrill whispered across ten thousand faces with the piercing noise of the first blow, metal on metal.

Aiolos stepped quickly back as the Thracian advanced. He swung his unadorned sword, and his opponent swayed aside, but before Aiolos could recover the smaller man was stepping in, flicking the curved sword at him like it was a whip. The Murmillo raised his heavy shield, and the shock of the blow radiated through the wound in his shoulder.

He roared to match the crowd as he smashed his opponent’s blade aside and lunged forward, sword low, the disembowelling thrust of the gladius which the legionaries had used to conquer the enemies of Rome.

The blow had been his trademark move, fast and difficult to anticipate, but his opponent glanced it aside with his tiny shield, Aiolos’s blade slashing at the air a finger’s width from the Thracian’s exposed ribs. Before he could think Aiolos was behind his shield, charging, and the Thracian stepped aside from the felling blow. They broke off and began to circle once more.

The silence of the skirmish vanished, and the crowd’s roar beat down upon the warriors in full force. Aiolos kept back, lashing out probing jabs with his sword. His blood began to flow, the wound on his shoulder matched by vicious nicks from the sickle sword that began to dot his legs and arms. But this fight was not stopping for first blood. Aiolos was a head taller than the Thracian, and his shoulders were far broader, but the crowd could tell that the smaller man was quicker and had the advantage. Aiolos was past his prime.

And amongst them sit those in whose honour our lives are thrown away – the nobiles. Men like your esteemed husband, whose wealth allows them patronage over the games. The raw emotion of the crowd they are united, but it is they who moved stone and metal to build the arena, and it is they who buy and sell men as though they were naught but beasts of burden, to pit them against one another, until eventually, if they live, they may be set free.

And so long as the nobiles preside over this blood-soaked illusion of freedom and choice, the crowd loves them.

Aiolos cut wildly, and the Thracian parried the blade over his shoulder, knocking the gladius from his hand. Aiolos backed away, hiding behind his shield as he reached for the knife on his belt, but that too was knocked from his hand with the next parry. He grew still, forcing himself to breathe as he saw death approaching on the shining edge of the sickle sword. The crowd cheered in delight as his opponent moved in for the winning blow.

The lion roared as it pounced on the Thracian. The dying beast had dragged itself up, and the warriors had been too immersed in their struggle to notice it approaching or the enthusiastic cries of the crowd. The Thracian looked up and dove aside at the last second, losing his sword in his mad scramble to get away from the enraged beast. The lion’s claws raked at the back of his legs, rending muscle and tendon into shreds of meat.

The Thracian screamed. He pulled himself free with his arms, his lifeless legs dragging behind him in the sand. He threw a terrified glance over his shoulder, but the lion was finished; it collapsed to the ground, air rushing from its lungs. It had lived long enough to take one final revenge on its tormentors.

Aiolos put one foot on the lion’s corpse, pulling the spear free from its ribs. His shoulder burned with the effort. He walked over to his opponent, lying waiting on the sand. Their gazes met as Aiolos approached. The Thracian closed his eyes, face twisted in agony.

Aiolos lay the spearpoint over his throat and looked up at the Thracian’s patron. The man’s head was in his hands.

The crowd roared for blood.

The Emperor gestured.

Aiolos hesitated only a moment.

Yet even though I have seen through the illusion, I still play my part in it. And even though I am rich enough to live out my days in comfort, still I come back to the arena. For the false freedom of a normal life is no better than the freedom of the blade, and playing along with the illusion is no worse than never seeing through it at all. If that means the end for us, then so be it.

Your husband is a good man, for all the blood that is spilled in his name. May you be happy with him to the end of your days, Min.

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Patrick Harrison is a writer of historical fiction from the South Coast of New South Wales. He studied Creative Writing at the University of Wollongong, graduating with distinction in 2011, and his fiction has been published in the Tertangala student magazine. He has also worked as a freelance copywriter, journalist, youth activist and retail worker. 

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