Welcome to Flash Pulp, Special Episode 12.
Tonight we present The Princess’ Long Ride, Part 1 of 1
This week’s episodes are brought to you by Nutty Bites.
Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – three to ten minutes of fiction brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.
Tonight, we find ourselves riding with Sofia Esperon through a fantastic land of blades and bewitchment.
The Princess’ Long Ride, Part 1 of 1
Sofia Esperon was a Princess of The Hundred Kingdoms, and the mount beneath her was a chestnut stallion at the full height of its power. The horse was hard at its pace, its breath pounding the air as much as its legs beat the turf.
Behind her lay a turmoil of upturned grass and men.
The trouble had begun when the Princess had found herself caught between the mire of the damned and the western spout of the madman’s trough – a river widely reputed to scatter minds and leave behind muttering husks.
She’d known it to be a poor choice for travel, but she’d deemed the expediency a necessity, and the alternative – a week’s travel down the king’s highway, followed by a diplomatically long celebration in the bridge town of Webling – was beyond consideration.
A day’s ride later, however, the man-sized bats of the malignant swamp were quick to support the argument for taking the safer route.
Their broad wings and bone-shivering screeches were enough to drive back her retinue, but not the princess herself, who’d broken from the pack of nobles – hand-selected by her father – to drive further into the cattails and mud.
Sofia had been in sight of the marsh’s end, some two nights following, when the muck’s guardian, Kark, overtook her.
Kark had little respect for any sovereignty other than his own, and no interest in conversation but the whispering of his black-eyed horde.
Esperon’s captivity amongst the reedy fortress was spent with damp boots and annoyed shouts, both ignored by her jailer. Kark’s focus was far too absorbed in the mystic concoction he’d set about preparing: An elixir whose major component – only to be added at the moment of apex – was an inordinate amount of still-warm blood from a true princess.
The citadel, which had been grown, through occult means, from the white cedars of the bog itself, was frustratingly slow in igniting under Sofia’s flint and tinder, and, by the time she’d thoroughly judged the winds and stoked the flames, the banner flags of a local noble had arrived upon the scene.
The thick limb she’d taken up as her defense was hard pressed to fend off the howling sorcerer’s leathery minions, but it was with some surprise that she found herself landing in the arms of the Duke of Somdak after vaulting the smoldering outside wall of the compound.
He was quick to explain that the smoke had drawn him, and that, in truth, she’d done him a favour, as he’d been tracking the fiend who’d fouled his game grounds’ water supply – a crime easily laid at Kark’s feet. It was the extent of their discussion, as Somdak was eager to conquer the remote bastion, and so Sofia was made to wait with the Duke’s serving eunuch while the men of the column unsheathed their blades.
The Duke’s guard, a half-thousand strong, had little trouble dealing with the blight upon their hunting lands, and, after a brief exchange of arcane lightning and crossbow bolts, the wizard’s head was adorning a pike at the ruin of his gate, and the host moved again to the fen’s edge.
Given their easily rusted chain and plate armour, Somdak and his swords were eager to be beyond the moisture – at least such was their excuse when denying her requests to palaver with the Duke, though she could see him, even at her distance, holding open conference with his flask of stout.
She was left to ride the eunuch’s tired mare.
When they finally encountered solid ground, and the hunting party’s followers – set handsomely amongst their caravans and extravagant campsites – Sofia knew she was once again bound by the tedious politics of court.
Within full sight of his supporters, and at the perfect dramatic moment, the Duke dismounted.
He began loudly, “My dearest Princess -” only to find his mind drawing a blank.
“Damn, my apologies,” he whispered, as he leaned close. “While I recall your title from our first encounter, your father’s name and house escapes me at the moment. Your beauty seems to have wiped it from my mind.”
Boasting bravado, and a copious amount of victory ale upon the march, were more likely amnesiacs by Sofia’s considerations, but her own perception had remained, as ever, clear.
“My lord, you do not recall even my name?” she asked.
The Duke looked to his closest lieutenants for assistance, but the woman’s annoyance at being disregarded had prevented her from disclosing details of her position to any other amongst the company.
“A shameful, admission, true,” said Somdak, with some urgency, “so speak it quickly, and ease my heart’s dismay.”
Standing in the yellow light of the grassy plain, she briefly watched the beseeching Lothario sway under the weight of his well adorned plate, and considered her response – then, with the determination that would one day unite the kingdoms beneath her, Sofia raised high her palms and gave a mighty shove against his iron chestplate.
Before the Duke might be righted, Sofia took to the saddle of his stallion and laid in her heels.
There was no time for idle romance – she had a prince to save.
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