Welcome to Flash Pulp, Episode Seventy-Two.
Tonight, we present The Affair Of Honour: A Blackhall Tale, Part 1 of 1[audio:http://traffic.libsyn.com/skinner/FlashPulp072.mp3]
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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 present a story of honour, risk, and single combat.
Flash Pulp 072 – The Affair Of Honour: A Blackhall Tale
At the age of ten, Thomas Blackhall was witness to his first duel. His understanding of the matter was minimal, but Theodore Ashton, a long time friend of his father’s, had asked the senior Blackhall to act as his second, and so it was that Thomas happened to overhear of the farmer’s field, not far from his own home, that was to be the site of resolution.
Creeping through the tall summer grasses, he came to the edge of a clearing in which stood four men. His father and Theodore Ashton were immediately recognizable, but he had no knowledge of their opposition. The man who would be fired against was young and lean, and stood a good six inches taller than Ashton. It seemed to Thomas’ youthful eye that this would give his father’s friend an advantage in aim.
The stranger’s second was a rotund gaffer, the face of which had grown red with anxiety and sun, who fussed ceaselessly until told to stop by the man demanding satisfaction.
The wind was at the boy’s back, and he could not hear the words exchanged between the gathered – the marking of distance, and preparation of pistols, however, was clear enough.
There was a moment when all was hushed, then came the shooting – a crack and flare from Ashton’s weapon, and, on its heels, the echo of the challenger’s.
For a moment the youth thought the encounter at an end. He was sure Ashton’s ball had flown true, and that the stranger was done in, but after a moment the tall man smiled and insisted on sending forward his second to converse with Thomas’ father.
The large man was animated in his commentary, and the elder Blackhall seemed displeased as he returned to speak with his friend.
The pistols were once again loaded.
The second volley seemed to come with less anticipation. The order of fire was again repeated, although the challenger seemed to pause this time, taking closer aim before discharging.
Seeing Ashton tumble sideways to the ground, and the still standing form of the tall man, young Blackhall moved from his hiding spot, his legs pounding homeward.
Once he’d wiped clean his tears and ventured to the supper table, he learned that his father’s companion had not perished, but instead was simply wounded. It would be a long year before the duelist might regain the use of his arm, but Thomas was happy to know the man had not been slain.
* * *
The second duel to which Thomas was privy took place many years later, as he ventured through the western districts of Upper Canada.
At this event, he was far from the sole spectator. The demand had been well heeded by all who’d been astride the General Brock’s hard wooden stools, and no few of the grogs-men had turned out to see Paul Melnor, a half-pay officer with a well known reputation for his embittered temper, challenged by a vagabond, who the locals referred to only as Ludwig.
Blackhall had not been on hand for the issuance, but, having awoken early to the Brock’s morning gossip, he’d found himself making his way, on empty belly, to the designated field.
The air was chill, and the morning dew soaked the feet of all who’d assembled.
Thomas knew none of the expectant faces personally, although he had some passing acquaintance with the half-pay officer from his short time at the Brock, but it was none of the residents who caught his eye. Melnor’s challenger was a lean man, of some half-remembered familiarity, and the frontiersman set himself to taking a closer look.
He’d grizzled since Blackhall had first seen him, but his inspection left little doubt that it was the same duelist who’d done injury to his father’s friend many years previous.
Despite his increased age, Ludwig seemed limber and full of vigour. Upon the hour of their engagement, his face broke into a smile.
The first shot was Melnor’s, and well placed. Blackhall clearly saw the spreading crimson upon the tall man’s chest, and Thomas was sure it was the aging stranger’s turn to topple. After a moment, however, Ludwig seemed to collect himself, despite the neat hole in his waistcoat.
Raising his pistol, the challenger took careful aim.
The next day the local newsman would not report it as the result of a duel, but as that of an execution; there was little else to call Ludwig’s deliberation in the murder of his foe. The crowd did little but watch as he soon after sauntered to the edge of the throng, accepted a billfold which represented the winnings of the contested card game, and disappeared into the tree line.
Despite their conjecture that the man would soon be seen at the home of the local physician, the people of the town would not look upon Ludwig’s face again.
* * *
Blackhall had prepared himself for his final encounter with the lean man.
He’d long since moved further westward, well passed the settled reaches of the King’s land, into the primeval forest dotted only by the occasional farmstead or palisade of the People of the Longhouse.
It was a year since he’d observed the duel between Melnor and Ludwig, and much had happened in the interim – Thomas had come into the area following a trail of butchery, both of the aboriginals and the European farmers and trappers who’d braved the frontier. The murders had been cruel, and the sites of their perpetration were soaked with scarlet.
He came upon the third set of duelists under the clean sun of midday, in a small meadow. Ludwig had appeared without mount, but his opponent had tied off a well-packed mule along the edge of the clearing. This newest foe seemed to have little stomach for the challenge; Thomas could see the tremors in his hand even at his distance, and the man’s face seemed a mix of sorrow and concern.
Blackhall knew the supposed act of honour to be little more than robbery.
Both men had counted their distance and readied their weapons; shot would soon fill the air.
Thomas intercepted the process with a bellow.
Thinking his opposition to have fired early, the shaken man fainted, his weapon falling, unfired, from his grasp.
Ludwig turned to meet the interloper.
“I’ve been following you for some time now,” Blackhall stated flatly.
“Have you?” Ludwig responded, his face twisting into the same smile he’d worn on the day of Paul Melnor’s murder.
“I’ve come to stand as this man’s second.” Thomas said, carefully pulling the man’s limp body to a position of rest under the shade of a maple tree.
“Will you utilize his pistol?” Ludwig questioned.
“I’d rather my rifle, despite the disadvantages in speed that it presents,” Blackhall responded.
“I leave the choice to you.”
The two men faced each other then, and, as a single raven broke from the trees to take flight, both raised their weapons as if to fire. Ludwig’s arm far out-sped Thomas’, but it was Blackhall who fired first.
He’d been sure that the tall stranger would await the opportunity of a careful response; his greatest fear had been that the silver ball he’d cast would shatter under the force of firing, but, as Ludwig’s body fell to the earth, it twisted briefly into a form that was both man and wolf, proving his concerns unfounded.
It was tiring work, but Blackhall had all but finished digging the lycanthrope’s grave even before the lean corpse’s penultimate challenger had fully awoken from his swoon.
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