Tales of Old
Summary: Audio magazine for historical fiction and alternate history. Each week we feature a historical fiction short story. Historians and literature fans will enjoy these great stories that span history from Ancient Greece to World War II.
This is our first historical fiction double header. Our theme this week is fools and jesters. It was common for monarchs, especially in Europe to keep a fool on hand to tell jokes and generally amuse. They held special status at court, often able to insult with impunity, under the assumption that they were not completely sane. Fools By Jon Chan Read by Shawn Robertson The emperor had shut himself away almost two weeks. All around him were his drawings, piling up on every available surface. His only company during that time was David Falcon, his fool. David walked into the room carrying a tray with a jug of wine. He picked up one of Emperor Constantine's drawings. “What do you think?” asked Constantine. “Think? I do not think,” said Falcon. “Thinking is what gets you killed.” Once Upon a Dwarf By Todd McKie artwork Read by Shawn Robertson Hampton Court, 17 August, 1337 Herald: Your Highness, the Dwarf would approach the throne. King: Have the little fellow step forward. Where is the rascal? Herald: He stands behind me, My Lord. Dwarf, approach His Highness. King: Get up here, you little scamp. Dwarf: I hurry forth as quickly as my poorly fashioned legs can spin me, Sire. King: Our Dwarf is in a merry mood today! Will you entertain us? Download this Episode to your computer! Right click (ctrl click for Mac) the link above the story title and select "save link as."
By Heather Parker Read by Bethsheba Paramor Period: 1940's Setting: World War II Our first outing into alternate history. The German paratroopers have taken the north of England. When Amy Miller recognizes her former German professor as their commander, she is torn between patriotism and old friendship. Lake District December 1940 Amy stood on the hillside, overlooking the POW camp in the valley below. The Germans in their grey uniforms mingled with the familiar khakis of the British and she found it hard to believe this could be happening in England. She also had to remind herself that for now, at least, the Germans were the guards. So much had occurred in Grizedale in the last few days, she scarcely had time to consider what might be happening elsewhere. She only knew that the Battle for Britain had finally been lost and the German army had begun the long-feared invasion. She thought about her friends and neighbours and wondered what would become of them all. To Amy, that's all these frightening strangers were; grey uniforms without personalities. But these men were human too. This wild country seemed alien to many of the young German paratroopers, still traumatized by the battle for Grizedale. Most weren't even sure why they were here. Oberst Karl Schiller, commander of the Wehrmacht forces, knew the reason. He looked up at the snow-covered hills he knew so well and wondered how his presence would affect the people who lived here. He felt no hostility towards them but he was under no illusions. To these people he was the enemy Download this Episode to your computer! Right click (ctrl click for Mac) the link above the story title and select "save link as."
By: Pat Tompkins Read by: Shawn Robertson Period: American Civil War Setting: New York City Not all of the action in the Civil War happened on the battlefield. Today's historical fiction brings us back to that time in New York of spies, saboteurs, and assassins. Hearts of Ash The men in the park huddled, their breath mingling in a smoky haze around their heads. In the chilly November twilight, they appeared to be gathered around a fire for warmth. Had a passerby gotten a close look, he would have seen them peering at a heap of rags. But the men were in a shallow vale, surrounded by boulders and trees, not on a stretch of lawn. They did not want to be seen. “We’ve been humbugged by that chemist,” said Ezra. He turned his head away from the circle and spat. Rob held up his hand, as though to signal stop while keeping his eyes on the watch in his other hand. Another thirty seconds passed before the rags burst into flame. “Ha,” Rob shouted. “Just short of six minutes,” he said as they backed away from the blaze. “Six? Seemed like twice that,” said Ezra. He tugged a handkerchief out of his jacket pocket and blew his nose. “That’s no humbug,” said James, punching Ezra’s shoulder. “Gives us time to get away.” “Exactly,” Rob said. Ezra held his hands over the fire while another of the group said, “That’s enough of that,” and poured a scoop of dirt over the rags. James added double handfuls of dirt and the two men stamped out the fire. Seven minutes had passed since they wet the rags with “Greek fire,” a mixture similar to the explosives used in hand grenades. Then the rags seemed to combust spontaneously. The test had worked. The stuff was good. Download this Episode to your computer! Right click (ctrl click for Mac) the link above the story title and select "save link as."
By Anatoly Belilovsky Read by Melissa Hartzel Period: World War II Setting: Russian front Historical fiction from the front lines of the Great Patriotic War. By November of 1941 the German army was threatening Moscow and Leningrad. Millions of Russians had been killed or taken prisoner in the first months and the air force was out of pilots Marina Raskova organized the 588th night bomber squadron, composed entirely of women - mechanics, pilots, navigators, and officers. "Ot vinta!" At her command, mechanics stepped away from the propeller. She turned ignition on and thumbed the starter button. The engine coughed, belched smoke, caught with a rattle. Prop wash reached around her windshield into the open cockpit, tugged at a flyaway strand of hair. Katya tucked it under her flight helmet. She listened to the engine for a few seconds, then gunned it. Download this Episode to your computer! Right click (ctrl click for Mac) the link above the story title and select "save link as."
By Robert J. Santa Read by Shawn Robertson Period: early 1700's Setting: Assisi, Italy Today's historical fiction returns us to Italy, this time to the monastery of St. Francis of Assisi where we find the great violinist Giuseppe Tartini hiding out from the persecution of the Cardinal in Padua. Giuseppe Tartini (April 8, 1692 - February 26, 1770) was a Venetian composer and violinist. According to legend, his most famous solo violin sonata was inspired by a dream… Giuseppe awoke in darkness. Eyes closed, body relaxed, he stretched out on his simple bed listening to the sounds of night. He heard no birds calling, signaling the hour before sunrise. He heard no distant rattling of boards and stone sheets as Brother Guillermo baked the morning's bread. It was early, and all of Assisi was shrouded in blackness and quiet. Yet in the stillness, without a sound to confirm it, Giuseppe knew someone stood in his chamber. He listened for the stranger. Could it be the Abbott, watching him as he had done every day for the last six months? Why would the Abbott come stalking in the middle of the night? No, there was a malevolence present, and the hairs on Giuseppe's uncovered neck and forearm rose with gooseflesh. He flung the covers back and jumped out of bed. Facing the dark corner and doorway, he stood there poised, ready to grab at the rapier leaning against his headboard. The chamber was empty.
By Amy Myers Read by Tony Honickberg Setting: Jacobean England Time: early 1600's Amy Myers (aka Harriet Hudson) is a master of historical fiction, and even more exciting, historical crime. What could be a more holy, unlikely setting for a crime than the busy scholars, creating the King James Bible from the ancient Hebrew and Greek texts? Yet murder lurks.... "See, the witch cometh!” The raucous cry sat strangely on the lips of the richly dressed old woman at my side. Her eyes gleamed with hatred as she pointed her finger at the fair bride who was now entering the banqueting house of Saxton Hall on the arm of her newly wedded husband. Not a man present but would surely be envying Master Thomas Bell his good fortune in marrying the beautiful Countess of Carlross -if he lived to enjoy it. "The witch, the witch," the assembled guests around me were murmuring, but none dared speak out in the presence of His Majesty King James I. An authority on witches he might be, but he is also the countess's cousin. He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love. The words consumed me, as I gazed at the bride and her groom. Oh, the Song of Songs, the Canticles of Solomon; they have ruled my every thought for four years now, ever since had had the honour of being chosen to be one of the fifty-four translators for the new Bible authorized by His Majesty at the great meeting of 1604. That I, Septimus Fish, a humble vicar of a small Cambridgeshire parish, have been so chosen I owe to my dear friend Archdeacon Clarence Hall. It is because of him that am here at this wedding today, for he is presently chaplain to the countess. Did I say wedding? Perhaps one that foretold a funeral.
By Dave Schofield projects Read by Jane Osborn A gripping tale of from the mines of north England in the 1800s. At five thirty I hear the back-gate creak and his heavy boots. The stones laid in our yard are not bedded properly and they scrape and bang like slammed doors. The hair on my neck stands up. ‘I’ve put you water and soap out,’ I shout through the window, my voice cracking, I’ve spoke to no one all day. The colliers stand in yards along our street all half or fully naked scrubbing the coal off at basins which turn ink-black from the fine dust. Thomas says nothing and begins stripping. Stooped body, long thick bones, his ribs and red raw skin. His awkward shape carved into place by hard surfaces and painful actions.
By Townsend Walker Read by Shawn Robertson Historical Fiction Period: 20th Century Setting: Italy In a narrow cobbled street in the village of San Giovanni nestled in the hills of Calabria, on a Monday night in the summer of 1870, a pitched wail from the rooms over the butcher’s shop heralded the arrival of Bruno. On Wednesday morning a sharp cry from the adjacent café told the village that Mario was born. And Thursday evening the baker’s new son, Tommaso, announced himself with a lusty squall. So began the story of the three friends. From that moment they were known as I Tre. Additional links: Cantaraville, international PDF literary quarterly
Period: 19th Century By Don D'Ammassa Read by Malcolm Grieve I do so enjoy a picnic,” said Miss Harrington. “I feel that it's quite important not to lose touch with the natural world. Don't you agree with me, Mr. Shaw?” Artemus Shaw disguised his incredulity with a pretended cough, bobbed his head vaguely. They were seated on cushioned chairs in a screen house almost within view of Harrington Hall. The servants had brought china place settings, sterling silver flatware, and crystal wineglasses from the house, arranging them on the marble topped table that the groundskeepers had carried out earlier in the day. Their meal had been carefully trundled from the kitchen on wheeled carts, kept warm by chafing dishes whose oil fueled heaters were efficiently sheltered from any stray breeze that might blow them out. They were dining on stuffed Cornish hens and drinking wine freshly imported from France, while the servants kept watch for any stray insect that might have penetrated the fine mesh of the fabric stretched over the ornate framework that surrounded them. Artemus was dressed plainly but practically while Miss Winifred Harrington was fully coifed and corseted, her only concession to their “natural” surroundings having been the choice of relatively sensible footwear. Even her parasol was more decorative than functional. So tell me about your adventures, Mr. Shaw. You promised to do so. Father says you've been quite reticent but I assured him that I'd draw you out.” Link to the book Being Wrong by Kathryn Schulz mentioned in the outro.
Period: 20th Century By J.J. Steinfeld Read by Shawn Robertson When the tall man, without knocking or uttering a word, entered the two-bedroom apartment, the small woman inside tried to throw her arms around him. His face was pale and covered with perspiration; his coat was torn in the front and back. She had never seen him appear this frightened. “Tell me, tell me,” the woman demanded, but the man moved silently away from her and went to the front room’s window. The heavy curtain was drawn. as he had instructed before he left the apartment in the morning. Dark, he wanted it dark when he came back, if he came back. When she held him this morning, she felt she was holding all the heroes of history. The woman, in her late twenties like the man, had waited for him all day, occupying her time worrying and pacing around the cramped, dark apartment. Only when the man was at the opposite side of the room from her, did the woman notice the blood on his left hand.
Period: Early 1800’s Setting: Napoleonic wars at sea. By William Hope Hodgeson Read by Kevin Harty Read full text Captain Drool and the two mates sat in the cabin and argued, gross and uncouth; but Monsieur Jeynois said nothing. Only smoked his long pipe and listened, while the bosun held the poop deck! I had grown to like Monsieur J eynois, for the brave, quiet way of him, and the calm speech that seemed so strong and wise against the rude blusterings and oathings of the captain and the mates. The Saucy Lady was a private venture ship - in other words, an English privateer - at the time of the French war. She had been a French brig, named La Gavotte, and had been sold at Portsmouth for prize-money. Monsieur Jeynois and Captain Drool had bought her, and fitted her out against the French, with six twenty-four-pounder cannonades a side, and two long eighteen-pounders - the one mounted aft and the other for'ard, for chasers. The brig was a matter of 350 tons burthen, and sailed very fast, and made good weather of it.
Period: 1800’s Setting: American West By Stephen Crane Read by Shawn Robertson Text version The great Pullman was whirling onward with such dignity of motion that a glance from the window seemed simply to prove that the plains of Texas were pouring eastward. Vast flats of green grass, dull-hued spaces of mesquite and cactus, little groups of frame houses, woods of light and tender trees, all were sweeping into the east, sweeping over the horizon, a precipice.
by Jean Davidson read by Tony Honickberg Period: 1300s Setting: England This story ©Jean Davidson 2001, first appeared in The Mammoth Book of More Historical Whodunnits, edited by Mike Ashley You may, try to escape the past, but its long chilly fingers can stretch out to touch you whenever and wherever you least expect. I'd thought myself free and clear, reborn and reinvented as Scotland was reborn with Robert the Bruce as king. I thought I was so safe in my new life and new identity I'd even started courting a Highland girl. But who should have known better than me? You can never be safe. And now here I was, clattering up Tower Street past All Hallows Church under armed escort. The walls of the Tower of London loomed on my left, ahead the River Thames sparkled in the early morning summer sunshine. I shuddered as we turned and crossed the first drawbridge and entered through the Lion Gate. Long ago in my old life I'd been instrumental on several occations for sending other men on this route. They'd not come out again and I could only pray that i would escape a similar fate. But first, I had to find out what I stood accused of before I could talk my way out of it.