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Nick Smith
Handsome, hairy and modest.
Handsome, hairy and modest.


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I know I've been lost at sea for awhile and I apologise greatly! I've been busy founding a new craft brewery in North East England ( Anyway, here's a classic to keep you going from the original Irish Folk Band, about Irish refugees sailing to America. Check our the awesome Uilleann pipes! Cheers all!

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Apologies for not being on here much recently (aka past seven months)! I feel like I have neglected my wonderful Saturday Scenes community especially, as well as my fellow homebrewers and lovers of sea shanties! Rest assured that my life is as chaotic as ever. Plenty of good news to report: I am no longer a teacher, and I now own and run a craft brewery in North East England

I'm still writing away, but time is sparse. I feel much happier in my new life as a brewer and business owner, and the sea of creativity sloshes around in my skull with far greater tides than it used to when I was slaving away for an ungrateful government! I miss all of the wonderful people I have met and been inspired by on Google+, and I hope to reconnect soon. xxx
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Our latest beer has hit the shelves!
The NEW AGE BROWN 6.5% is out and about! Delivered it to the first few venues including MMM & GLUG Newcastle, TURBINIA Newton Aycliffe, WOODHAM NEWS Newton Aycliffe, EMPTY SHOP Durham. Here's the commercial description for this hoppy little number:

"Inspired by both the historic strong brown ales of the North East, and the modern hop-bombs of the craft beer revolution. Expect malty dark chocolate in contrast with sharp passion fruit Citra hops. Welcome to the New Age!"
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So we are absolutely delighted to report that we have a brand new beer about to join our core range. The NEW AGE BROWN 6.5% is inspired by both the historic high strength brown ales of North East England, and from the hop-bombs of the international craft beer revolution. Expect bitter dark chocolate tones with the sharp contrast of tropical passion fruit from US Citra hops. Coming soon... #craftbeer  
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In everyone's experience, what is the absolute lowest temperature you've bottled conditioned? I've just had a batch carbonate beautifully in two weeks at 15oC (59oF). I'm just wondering how low I can push it :)

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Hey everyone! Can you help me report my book on Amazon as free elsewhere? Here's the amazon link:

And here's the link to give them when reporting it free on Kobo:

All you have to do is click the "tell us about a lower price" link in the product details. Thanks, and if you need help doing the same with your books on Amazon, just let me know and I'll help out. 
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Very sweet music video here by Mad Dog Mcrea performing fellow folk musician Seth Lakeman's "The Sound". The scene of musicians in a living room enjoying an evening together is one that is common place in my parents' home.

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Down on The Steps of the Faithless all twelve Unborn crouched in a low back stance, their practice staves held above their heads. They had been there some time, and Thelm knew the burning in his muscles must be shared by his fellows. Holding each end stance for as long as Father Legnyre dictated was a dreaded task made even more awful by their location.

A flurry of snow mixed with the ash of the surrounding lava fields hissed as they struck his skin. Some of the flakes were cold, but others were still hot to the touch and steamed as they stuck to the ice. The stench of sulphur compounded the effect, entering his nostrils. He wanted to cough, or to shake the ashen flakes away, but that would be a failure of his task, and would no doubt lead to a longer training session for them all.

“Aegron’s Fire Plough!” Father Legnyre bellowed from the next Step above.

In unison the students performed the technique. It would almost have been a relief to spin on their back left feet and to arch their staves around in a scythe-like motion if they did not have to finish in an even deeper and more uncomfortable stance than the one before.

Each of the Steps was as deep as a small room in the towering temple above – deep and wide enough for the whole class to perform each technique of the sacred fire dances. They were on the sixth Step; any lower and the heat from the gently encroaching lava would be unbearable.

Mother Draed had told them the Steps were used as a punishment for the Faithless in a bygone age, that heretics of the Fire Goddess Aesir would be chained there to watch the river of fire and to repent their sins. Apparently the river had been bright orange in those days, moving with speed and bubbling malevolence as it swept about the temple. In the modern age it was mostly black – still far too hot to walk across, and only occasionally throwing debris upon the Steps.

Thelm could make out places the rusty iron rings had once been to hold the heretics. The severity of the crime would decide how long a Faithless would be held for… or upon which step.

It was said on the sixth Step that they would generally last only a few days before the spitting river would burn away their flesh, or the fumes would kill them.

“Aesir’s Gambit!”

Thelm moved as the other Unborn did, ducking low, turning to the left, feinting with his right foot, then thrusting forward with the stave into an outstretched position that in any real fight would leave him completely compromised. It was one of many techniques that he had long ago mentally shelved as useless, just like—

“Reygin’s Kiss!”

With an inward sigh he performed the elaborate and excessive technique, although he did take a little liberty with the reverse sweep of the stave by shortening the movement to finish a fraction of a second before the others. Straying from the sacred forms was not allowed. He paused his breathing in the end stance, knowing he had just got away with it…

“Don’t think I didn’t see you Thelm Unborn!”

…or not. Damn.

“Now,” Father Legnyre continued, “I think we had all better start from the beginning…”

No one complained. No one breathed a word of discontent. It was more than their lives were worth at the temple; but Thelm knew from the hardening of his fellow students’ faces they were less than pleased with him.

That’s fine, Thelm told himself, it’s just an honest mistake, and they’ll feel the same… or at least maybe they would have done if he hadn’t done the same thing three times in the past fortnight….

“Juntyre’s Welcome!”

It was dark by the time they had completed all seven Dances of Fire, and the blackened lava fields beyond the river could be seen glowing with hints of ember-like orange.

Father Legnyre dismissed the tired students in silence, “—except you Thelm Unborn.”

Most of the Unborn had satisfied smug looks upon their faces as they moved past him and began the long ascent up the more normal sized steps to the temple above. Ilmay, one of the only two girls amongst them, pushed right through him, her lips pressed tightly together in quiet anger.

When they were out of earshot Legnyre spoke. “Do you know why I have asked you to stay behind young Thelm?”

“Yes Father,” Thelm said meekly.

“Go on.”

“Because I performed some parts of the fourth Dance of our Goddess incorrectly.”

The old man sighed from the Step above. “It is not that you made a mistake, it is that you chose to make shortcuts… again. Such things will not be tolerated in the Birthing – you will fail.”

Thelm wondered if he was meant to say something. A hot flake of ash landed on his eyelid, and he brushed it away with the sleeve of his thick red linen robes that marked him the same as everyone else in the temple – a Fire Dancer of the Goddess Aesir. 

“Do you have anything to say for yourself?”

“Sorry,” Thelm answered quickly.

The man seemed to consider his single word for a moment, perhaps wondering if it was one of regret or arrogance. He dipped his head. “Good. Now, to prove to me you don’t like to take things the easy way, you will return to the temple not by the stairs your fellows took, but by climbing the Steps of The Faithless, and whilst doing so you will reflect upon your Unborn sins. If you are lucky there may be supper left in the great hall.”

Climb all fifty Steps? Each one was as tall as a man! He shot an angry look, but Legnyre had already turned away from him.

The first Step was easy. He hooked his fingers between the great basalt blocks and hauled himself upwards, swinging his right leg over, and rolling on his side. The Steps were ash-clad, and his red robes were immediately dirtied. He could make out the patterns made by Father Legnyre’s feet.

He repeated the exact same motion until about the thirteenth Step where the sharp edge between the blocks stripped the flesh from his fingers, he winced, squeezing just below the wound and watching the crimson liquid intermingle with his blackened ashy skin.

Swapping hands – and swinging his left leg instead – allowed him to continue for another seventeen steps, but it was very awkward using the other side of his body, and he stubbed his left toes painfully, bashing the nail clean off his littlest toe.

He cursed the temple, cursed the Order of Fire Dancers, and cursed Father Legnyre and his stuffy old ways, along with the rest of the Unborn, Born, Reborn, Fathers, Mothers, and the High Mother too. No. Not the High Mother. He could never curse the High Mother…

His anger sustained him for more Steps – he had lost count now – but anger alone would not be enough for the next one. With dismay he saw the blocks were so close together there was no place for his fingers to find purchase. The Step’s lip was also rounded preventing him from grabbing hold of the edge.

He jumped, trying to lay the flats of his palms directly on the stone. It would probably have worked if the thin layer of ash didn’t make him slip. He fumbled for the ledge as he slipped backwards. He landed on his back with a slapping dull thud that knocked the very wind from his lungs. He tried to breath, found he couldn’t, so coughed and choked instead.

He lay there stunned, gasping for air, inhaling a flake of hot ash that had landed on his upper lip. He coughed violently again, rolled to his side, and felt he would throw up. 

For a moment he thought he would never feel fresh air flowing through his lungs again, and he began to panic, to choke, to draw sharp stabbing breaths.

He was unsure how long it lasted, but his breathing did return to normal, and he found himself staring down the Steps of the Faithless he had already climbed, and beyond to the river of fire ambling through the black and twisted lava fields. The cracks of orange on their blackened surface were bright enough to read from on some evenings, and tonight was no exception. Beyond the river of fire he could see the flaming mountains where the ash came from. He followed the sulphurous yellow cloud from the horizon all the way over the red-tinged sky to the temple above.

As a child, when he had first arrived to become Unborn, he could taste the foul brimstone in every breath, somewhere crossed between the metallic flavour of blood and noxious rotten eggs. Eight years later and he barely noticed it anymore unless he thought about it…

He thought about it now, missing the sea-tanged air of his first Mother’s farmstead on the fjords. When he was finally Born again, he thought he would like to take residence by the coast, even if it was the more traditional posting for a Sea Dancer…

When he was Born again…

If he was Born again.

The Birthing trials were at the New Moon in just quarter of a cycle. There, before a Mother or Father, he would be tested on the history of the Fire Temple of Aesir. He would recite the Annals of the Seven Sister Goddesses, of their rise and fall, of their allegiances, and enmities.

He would be questioned by the Reborn on hypothetical situations; on his judgement of the law of the lands, on his understanding of the sacred ceremonies that any Dancer: Fire, Sand, Sea, Storm, Wind, Sun, or Death must be able to do – a union of partners, the birthing of a child, the blessing of a newly delivered Unborn, of the vows before the Goddesses, and the death rites of believers.

Later, with all the Mothers, Fathers, Born, and Reborn of the temple bearing witness, Thelm would be expected to perform all the Fire Dances of the Goddess Aesir.

Then finally, he would be called before the High Mother herself, invited into her inner sanctum, where the final test would take place.

Everything could be prepared for except for that last task. No amount of reading, practicing, and studying could help an Unborn in those last moments of their gruelling day, and that was because everyone’s final task was different. It could be the answering of a riddle, or a quest to bring an item of importance, to perform some physical feat, to sing a hymn, or anything of a hundred different options chosen specifically by the High Mother.

Those successful would take their vows on the Steps of the Faithless and be Born again to be apprenticed off around the lands to a Reborn Fire Dancer, to assist in all their religious duties, record keeping, and advising of a specific area. Many Born would stay like that for their whole lives… But some would return to the temple a little older, a little wiser, and study once more to become Reborn.

Unborn, Born, Reborn – and then Father or Mother. The thought of all of that to come made Thelm feel sick.

Even though he had been told his whole life the pattern laid out before him, it didn’t make it any easier to accept, not with the Birthing trials coming so soon. It seemed everything had been waiting for this moment, and all he could do was lie on the Steps of the Faithless, his toes, fingers, and elbows bleeding, his flesh and robes covered in ash, his body aching, just staring onto the lava fields.

Tears of frustration began to roll down his dirty face, cutting channels through the smeared ash.

“You’ll have to explain the point of this specific ritual,” someone called from near by. “Everything is new and strange for me.”

Thelm frowned, not recognising the owner of the voice. He sat up, twisting his neck a little too fast.

A man of about his own age of sixteen was stomping towards him. Clad in fur tunic and stout skin boots he was certainly no Fire Dancer.

“Who are you?” Thelm asked cautiously.

The man stopped a few paces before him and offered a wide white-toothed grin. “Orfun Braunbjarson.”

The man had a second name – he was definitely not a Fire Dancer. Even as a child to his first Mother, Thelm had been denied the use of a family name – like all those bound for the Temples of the Seven Goddesses, he would become an Unborn first.

“Thelm Unborn. You are here on pilgrimage then?”

It was not uncommon for strangers to attend the temple to pray or else seek the guidance of the Mothers and Fathers.

“I am not a believer,” Orfun grinned again, “but my grandfather is. He has come here to die closer to his Goddess.”

Thelm dipped his head, “They used to chain heretics here – The Steps of the Faithless they call them.”

“Is that so?” Orfun asked, brushing a flurry of ash from his long brown hair and looking down towards the river of fire. “It is a good thing that we live in the modern age then. Is it not?”

Thelm wasn’t quite sure what to say to that, so said nothing. He had come across many Faithless in his life, and he was usually envious of them.

“You are hurt Thelm Unborn.”

“I have been tasked with climbing the Steps,” Thelm said, trying to regain some composure and rising to stand.


The question made Thelm frown. Why indeed? Because he had dared to think there was a faster way of swinging a stupid stick than a hundred generations of Fire Dancers. “Because I am proving my dedication to Aesir herself!”

“Aha…” Orfun was still grinning, “and is she watching?”

The man was goading him, and Thelm was already angry and exhausted. He felt like wiping the smile from his face, but Orfun looked bigger than he was, and it was probably against the rules of the temple to hit pilgrims. “Where are you from Orfun Braunbjarson?”

“Ousterland – my people are wandering fur trappers.”

“And is it considered rude to insult your hosts in Ousterland? Because in Skogenfjord it is.”

Orfun seemed to hesitate for a moment, then dipped his head. “If I have offended you, I apologise. I am just entertaining myself, I assure you I am mostly harmless.”

Thelm continued to frown – he had been expecting to have an argument, a way to vent his anger, but Orfun had apologised. “There are many that would take offence to such words in the temple.”

Orfun was looking back at the river of fire wending its way through the lava fields. “It is a good place to watch the fires and think, I can see why you have come out here Thelm Unborn.”

Thelm’s frown softened. It was hard to be angry with this tall smiling man with a friendly voice. He shuffled in the ash to stand beside him. Pockets of bright orange were bubbling in a distant section of the snaking black river, and the sporadic snow swirls were hissing as they closed upon the hot rocks.

The snows had stopped earlier, but now, moving in from the north, they curled around the temple. Cooling the air, chilling the flesh against his sweat-stained red-robes.

“It is a punishment,” Thelm said quietly.


“Climbing the Steps. It is my punishment.”

“Ah… I thought as much,” Orfun grinned again, twisting his neck to look at the remaining Steps. “How many have you done?”

“I started on the sixth.”

“Really? I am impressed!” Orfun gave him an appraising look before looking at the Steps again. “You only have seven left.”

Thelm nodded his head glumly. Seven too many. His toe was throbbing painfully, pulsing blood where the nail had been torn away. His whole foot felt slippery when he tried to move it. His fingers and elbows ached too where the flesh had been grazed or cut on the basalt, but thinking about it only made it worse.

“So what did you do to deserve this then?”

“I decided to change one of the Dances of the Goddess Aesir.”

“Careful, you’ll turn Faithless like me with such outlandish behaviour.” Orfun was grinning again, and this time Thelm smiled with him.

“You wouldn’t understand… You are not a Fire Dancer.”

“So I won’t understand because I don’t wear a red robe? Try me Thelm Unborn, for I have travelled much of the Middle Realm in my short sixteen years, probably seen a thing or two more than you have locked away in this tower of black rock and brimstone.”

Thelm paused. He shouldn’t really be discussing the training techniques with an outsider, let alone a Faithless, but he had so few friends at the temple, so few that he could speak openly to, so few who could make him smile… “Why are you Faithless?”

“Why?” Orfun snorted a laugh, “Is it not obvious? The Seven Sisters haven’t walked the Middle Realms for a thousand years, and all trace of their powers disappeared in the time of our Great Grandfathers.”

It was true… No one had displayed any of the Goddess Graces in living memory now, but in a bygone age it had been different… “Each movement of every Dancer, every temple, was left to us by the Seven Sisters themselves. To change them is sacrilege, and because I did exactly that I must atone for my sins. So I climb the Steps.”

“So why did you change it in the first place?”

“To make it faster! I took a shortcut!”

“Aha Thelm, so you changed the very steps laid out for you by your Goddess. Which means that like me, you don’t truly believe.” Orfun looked triumphantly smug, and Thelm felt angry once more.

Turning away, he approached the next Step and made to scramble up despite his aching muscles. He felt himself slipping back again and feared he would be winded on the ashen stone below once more, but he felt a friendly hand on the small of his back, another beneath his heel. Orfun pushed him up to the Step above.

“No,” Thelm said, clambering ungratefully to a stand, “I must do it alone!”

“Was that actually part of the instruction?” Orfun scrambled up beside him, his muscles no doubt fresh, his flesh not stripped from his fingers and elbows like Thelm’s.

“Well… Father Legnyr never said anything specifically about it I suppose…”

“Then come Thelm Unborn, let us ascend the last Steps of the Faithless together, then you can show me around this temple of yours!”

He felt the large clap of the friendly hand upon his shoulder, and despite his initial complaint, Thelm Unborn, Fire Dancer in the service of the Goddess Aesir was immensely happy to have made a friend.

*  *  *  *

Thanks for reading! Apologies for the length, but it was my first Saturday Scene for awhile, and my first ever Fantasy. Click on the link for more great stories. #saturdayscenes   #fantasy  
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A song that stays in my head for weeks at a time, all the way from 1957. Enjoy!

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+Dan Watkins just reminded me of this. A bit nautical too! I wonder if there's a sub-genre of work songs for oil rigs?
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