Welcome to Flash Pulp, Episode Eighty-Nine.
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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, Blackhall converses with an unexpected visitor.
Flash Pulp 089 – The Elg Herra, Part 2 of 6
Ida, Princess of the Moose Lords of the Northern Reaches, didn’t allow Blackhall time for an awkward assumption.
“I need to be leaving shortly, as Aalbert will realize I’ve slipped away once he’s conducted his own private business. Two months now I’ve been waylaid here, tending the needs of my addled husband as he wears thin the hospitality of our benefactors within Fort Jude.”
Blackhall eyed the woman and bit at his right thumb’s nail.
“It’s not that I’m unwilling to, but what makes you think I might be a man who can assist you? Whatever opinion I may hold of your husband, I’ve no interest in making a cuckold of him.”
The thoughts ran together as he spoke, uncomfortably greased by the Pastor’s wine, and underlined by the memory of his own Mairi’s warm flesh.
The Princess touched at the corner of her cloak, pulling it open to reveal his saber in her off hand.
“Neither do I. A blade of silver is little more use against a man than a sharpened stick – and a sword is a cumbersome thing to tote on long journeys through the wilderness.”
While he enjoyed the woman’s plain-speaking, he had little patience for the unrequested handling of his belongings.
“Aye, so I’ve a sentimental passion for a decorative piece – what of it?”
He reached out a hand to take the weapon from her. She gave it without resistance, and he could not help but relish the heat of her skin as it briefly encountered his fingers.
It was her own turn to give him a hard look.
“Decorative? That sabre is no more a piece to savour with the eye than I am. The hard use along its edge leads me to guess that it has seen the belly of more than one of the mist-folk, or I’m a child of the Prester.”
“A child of the Prester?”
“Apologies – a term of my people – an idiot.”
Passing his palm over the scruff of his chin, Blackhall attempted to wipe away the muddle brought on by his supper’s drinking.
“I might take you as many things, Princess, but an idiot is not one of them.”
“I’ll accept those words as kind, and ask you to now shut up your flapping gob and heed my own. I was sent eastward by the, uh, Earl of my people. There is a beast which comes skulking in the night to snatch up our most precious – we have long searched for a cure or constraint, but have fallen short. In our desperation, I have been set loose, in an attempt to locate a veiviser powerful enough to be of assistance. Despite being anchored here by the inaction of my husband, I believe I have found such a man, and would ask that you depart, with all haste, to the aid of my people.”
Although the woman’s face remained as impassive as if she’d been discussing the evening’s meal, Thomas noted the moisture that had gathered about her eyes.
“I shall consider your words.”
“I thank you.”
It was only then that he noticed the short dagger she’d held hard against her wrist in the hand which had moved to unfasten her cloak. He raised an eyebrow.
“It seemed to me you were a righteous man, but my father taught me well that it is a dangerous thing approach any who has dealings with mist-walkers empty handed.”
His attention caught on the silver vines entwining the short hilt, and the red gem set at the blade’s base – the dirk seemed forged of a single silver ingot by a master craftsman.
Ida tracked his gaze.
“This was fashioned long ago, before my people entered this land. It is my hope to one day return this weapon to the circle along the iron fires, so that it might be passed on to one of my own offspring.”
The dagger once again disappeared from sight, tucked amongst the soft warmth beneath her cloak.
With that she closed the distance between them, and briefly laid her hand upon his own.
He spent several long moments at the window, watching her fox-fur trim float above the path and towards the triple-storied house that acted as the Commandant’s home, and her own lodging as she waited out her husbands hesitance to move on.
Sleep was long in finding the frontiersman.
* * *
Thomas’ body was in motion even before he’d realized what disturbance had brought him awake. As he stepped down from the porch-door, he pulled his greatcoat around his night clothes and hefted his Baker rifle.
He was not the only man to have sprung from his bed – the gravel lanes of the fort were alive with pounding feet and confused questions.
To his left, at the western end of the Commandants home, Blackhall spotted a clustered knot of lamps. He began to tread the stony pathway, barefoot.
As he approached he noted the figure of Aalbert Bijl silhouetted at the attic’s window, outlined by the shattered remnants of what little glass remained in the pane.
Thomas doubled his speed, shouldering his way through the gathered.
Lying at their feet was Ida, the Elg Herra Princess, her neck shattered, her glassy-eyes cast unblinkingly towards the night sky.
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