Monthly Archives: November 2017


Raðenn was moving on his hands and knees across the floor of the cell. Against his palms he felt dampness, stickiness, the encrusted muck of ages. But he persevered, feeling carefully over every inch of the filthy stones. He had searched his own and Mal-Den’s clothing, but found nothing that could be used as a tool of escape. So he had made his way to one corner of the cell, dropped into the posture of a starving dog that noses through the rubbish of the streets, and begun to finger his way back and forth across the space. It had seemed small enough when he paced it round, but grew infinitely huge as he felt carefully over the flags. About halfway through the task he came to where Mal-Den lay, and gently moved the priest onto an area of the floor he had already searched. In spite of the warm cloak that wrapped him, Mal-Den was beginning to feel alarmingly cold to the touch, and he responded with only a faint noise when Raðenn shifted him. Sighing, the prince went on with his search. Just as his feet backed into the wall opposite his starting point, he felt an irregularity in the joint between two of the flagstones.

the dry well



Out in the southern reaches of the desert, the host of the Sguush was stirring as the sun returned. Stretching arms and legs stiffened by the cold night air, men, women and children moved slowly and silently about their business. Small rations of food and a swallow of water were allotted to the youngest and oldest. Everyone else tightened the sashes of their robes, and got on with lading their belongings onto the backs of their donkeys. At the tent of the Old One, the Firsts awaited her commands for the day; but there was no change. ‘We go south,’ she said, and they responded dutifully; ‘We go south.’
As the long straggle of people and goats and donkeys set off, a handful of carrion birds began to circle above them, each widening sweep carrying them, too, towards the south.
the dry well



‘Where’s the kids, Grand?’ She pointed down towards the floor. Ar-Nen gasped. Fixing the candle on a ledge he knelt down and scrabbled at the earthen floor until he had uncovered a wooden trap-door. ‘You hid it really good, Grand, they would never have spotted it.’ Flinging the lid back, Ar-Nen peered into the darkness. ‘It’s me, it’s OK, come up now.’
Slowly the four little ones struggled out of their hiding place. The smallest was silent and wide-eyed, the next two shaking and weeping while the oldest, Ennet, said, ‘I kept ‘em quiet, Ar, I did. They was scared but we cuddled the baby and we kept quiet. What we going to do, Ar? Will the soldiers come back? Can we have some supper now?’
Ar-Nen stared around at his family, and deep fear seized his heart.

the dry well



Years later, it was that meal in her old home that was clearest in Tamnet’s mind. There were not enough spoons to go around, and she was very anxious about the princess, gingerly dipping her battered tin spoon into her stew, while across from her Torik tried to eat as daintily as possible with a large and clumsy wooden paddle generally used for cooking purposes. The children were unnaturally quiet, Saranna seemed to be off in her new-found dreamland again, and only Mara and Tamnet sustained anything approaching a conversation. From time to time Tamnet lost track even of this, as the thought, The princess is eating my stew, in my kitchen, overwhelmed her again.

the dry well



‘‘What’s up?’ says I.

‘’Murder and blood,’ he tells me.  ‘Death and misery is up, that’s what.  Get home and look after your lady and your little ones, Torik,’ he says.’

He swallowed more tea, while Tamnet squeezed his arm and the others stared at him.

‘So I carried on towards home, and on the way through the merchants’ quarter I saw one more person, not anyone I knew, but he was sneaking along in the shadows.  I hailed him, and he whipped out a knife!  Threatened me with it, too.  I spoke gently to him, and he craved my pardon.   ‘But don’t you know?’ he asked.  ‘They say the Voice of Jaren and the prince attendant are taken and imprisoned, and that Callis the foreigner is ruling all.  They say the king is dead, man!’  He was gone before I could any more sense out of him, and so I came home.’

All turned to Saranna, who had made an indeterminate noise at this news.  ‘What is it?’ asked Tamnet, but Saranna could not speak.



‘We must leave this place, and travel south.  The cruel desert god is punishing his people in the city and the farms, and we are caught in his malice.  We must move south.’  Murmurs arose at this; the terrain to the south was simply more desert, for perhaps a hundred leagues; how many of the people would survive such a journey?

‘Silence!’  All turned again to the Old One.  ‘We have no choice.  We must seek the place where the river flows out of the mountains, the river they call the Jar, though of old its name was Sann.  If we must, we shall climb into the high plateau to find water.’



Saranna turned her head to look directly at Tamnet, who shivered.  That look – I have never seen that look in her eye before!  What is she thinking? Before she could say anything, Saranna spoke.  ‘Tamnet, I do not think that Torik has any right to command me in this.  Of course, you must do as you think right, but I have important matters to deal with.  I may hold knowledge and power against this evil that you do not have.’

Saranna Portrait


Less than an hour later, Ar-Nen was skulking in some dusty bushes that hung down over the wall of one of the grand villas between the palace and the temple.  There had been no stalls set out in the market, and he had a vague idea of seeing whether some back gate and kitchen door might have been carelessly left open.  Although it seemed unlikely, he had few options open to him.  Crawling on hands and knees, he negotiated the tunnel between the base of the wall and the trailing, spiky branches that swept as far as the ground.  He made good progress, until a voice startled him and he tumbled over, flat onto his stomach.  He was up at once, looking for the source of danger.  ‘Who’s there?’ he growled.

‘Who are you?’ replied a girl’s voice off to his left.




This is Ben Batten’s second collection of poetry. I reviewed his first, ‘Newlyn Eye’ in a dialect verse of my own, celebrating perhaps the specifically Cornish/Westcountry feel of the poems, which spoke to me particularly.

I’m writing in prose about ‘Landlocked’, which should not be taken to indicate that I find any less delight in it or any less of the local feel.

But it’s a book I need to describe more – seriously, appropriately because in it Ben opens his heart to us very directly. Cornwall is there; reflections on the art of poetry itself are there; some of the poems are very funny, even some of the more serious ones.

Very many of them are about, or were written directly for, Ben’s late wife Sue. Cancer took her from him, and he writes of his loss, his pain, his anger, his grief. Poets do that, it’s how we make our way through the dark as well as through the light.

Humming softly beneath the pain and sorrow, though, are insights expressed in strong words, not of resignation exactly but of vision; of how all the things that come into all our lives, even loss, can be endured, and more than endured; triumphed over.

This book brought me to tears many times, not only because I have also lost my life’s partner, not only because of what Ben is writing about, but because of how he writes it.

This is a true poet, unafraid to use even his personal pain to convey the experience of love and hope to his readers.

Here is the sestet from a sonnet written in the garden of Anne Hathaway’s cottage:

‘But nothing lasts forever, and we know
That golden days will pass, and winter’s sorrows
come: we shall face them, if it must be so,
And walk together through all our tomorrows.
Yet, in this summer garden, dearest wife,
It is as if all nature whispers Life



Raðenn opened his eyes.  He could see nothing; blackness still surrounded him.  He tried to sit up, but groaned as his stiff body grated against a rough surface below him.  He groped around and felt cold stone, damp and slimy.  Carefully he rolled onto his side, peering into the darkness in the hope of distinguishing something, but his eyes might as well have been closed.  Levering himself up onto one elbow, he struggled to remember where he was.  Then, as he tried to turn onto his hands and knees preparatory to standing, his hand struck something soft.  He felt carefully over this object, and as he did so it stirred and groaned.  Raðenn’s memory cleared suddenly.  The priest!  The temple – we are in the dungeons!  He moved his hand more carefully until he came to Mal-Den’s face, and was able to slide the hand gently along the priest’s arm, finally giving his hand a gentle squeeze.



‘Lord priest.  Mal-Den.  Can you hear me?’  There was no reply.