The Scissors and the Sword
by Ethan Fox Buy at Amazon
Two murders, two pairs of scissors, a Scene-Of-Crime Officer and a Samurai in London: A Supernatural Urban Fantasy!
Two pairs of bloody scissors are the only clues recovered from a double-murder-scene in Hyde Park, and highstrung Scene-Of-Crime Officer Jessica Cartwright has until the next full moon to put the pieces together.
But when a sword on display at the British Museum spontaneously shatters, she is confronted with an unthinkable truth: A man from another era has a score to settle with an ancient enemy, in a clash that threatens every soul in London.
As the fate of the city hangs in the balance, can Jessica overcome a spectre of her own past and uncover the connection between the scissors and the sword, before it’s too late?
One of the questions I feel I’m often asked, as an author, is where my “inspiration” comes from. Usually, like most people, I just give very general, waffle-y answers, because I don’t usually know.
For The Scissors and the Sword, though, I actually had a very specific inspiration.
The Scissors and the Sword is an urban fantasy with many twists and turns. I don’t want to give too much away, but part of the plot deals with what happens when the mythologies of two nations collide. Both the UK and Japan are island nations, each with a long, militaristic history and proud culture, and the points at which they meet offer some very good opportunities for characters to go on adventures.
When I was a kid, I used to live on the edge of farmland. Most of the time it would be quiet, but for a few nights in the summer, the local riding school would keep their horses close by, and occasionally, in the very middle of the night, you’d hear the echoes of the horse’s neighs in the distance. Given the otherwise-pervasive silence, this was pretty surreal. Part of me, as a child, wanted to go out and walk to the fields, to see what it was that had alerted the horses during the night, but I was about 9 years old, and would’ve been far too nervous.
Fast-forward to the late 2000s, and I worked in Japan for a number of years as a teacher of English. Like all foreigners in Japan, I visited all the typical tourist traps, but I was more interested in the smaller temples and shrines of my own town.
I actually worked at two sites, and I used a bicycle to go back-and-forth. Every time, I passed this small shrine in a tiny cluster of trees, the whole thing with the footprint of an average-sized house. There was no signpost, little or no explanation as to what it was.
So I asked one of the teachers at the school, and they said “there’s no shrine there”. I was confused, but had to wait to go to the other school (their English was a bit better). I posed the same question to them, and got the same response, “there’s no shrine there”.
At this point, I confess, I got a little irate, and insisted to the teacher that there was definitely a shrine there. I had to point out the location on a map, and he laughed, waving away my suggestion, before getting out a big Japanese-to-English dictionary.
The word he found for me was “seal”, as in “to seal a container”. This didn’t really help, so the school history teacher got involved and eventually I got the full story.
As it goes, there had been a mighty battle on that plain several hundred years ago. Before the battle, one of the generals had ridden a horse he had raised from birth, but as they waited to get started, the horse suddenly went berserk, biting and kicking the other horses nearby. The general was thrown off, and had to behead the horse to keep any semblance of decorum.
The problem was thought to be resolved, but the farmers of the area saw this. They petitioned the local governor, saying that they thought a horse-demon had taken root in the animal, and beheading it had unleashed the spirit. They were concerned it would possess their animals, which would try to kill them!
This became such a public outcry that it almost led to a riot. In the end, the governor had to ask for help. A priest was sent from Edo (contemporary Tokyo – at least I think so, though that bit was quite difficult to follow). He came to the plain and cut down the trees, building that small shrine-like structure, before performing a religious ceremony. After extensive chanting, burning of incense and such, he closed the doors, locked them, and announced to the people present that the horse-demon was now sealed within the structure, and that it must never be opened.
Apparently, every 6 months or so, a priest will come from somewhere (the teachers didn’t know where), check if the structure is still locked, make any minor fixes, then leave. They said they’d never seen this person, but that it happened nonetheless.
When the story was over, I asked them,
“OK, serious now. Do the farmers nearby still believe that there is a demon horse within that wooden structure?”
To which the teacher responded,
“Well, we Japanese are pragmatic people. Unless circumstances demand it, we’d rather not find out!”
Now, I wasn’t born yesterday. Part of me got the impression that this was a story heavily laced with embellishment and faux-mysticism, but I think the core of the legend is still believed to be true.
This story of the demon-horse reminded me of my own superstitions from many years prior, and I wondered what other kinds of stories could connect up in that way. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was what set me on my way to writing my debut novel.
Thanks for reading this! I’m Ethan Fox, and the novel mentioned in the piece above can be found here:
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