Welcome to Flash Pulp, Episode Ninety-One.
This week’s episodes are brought to you by MT Starkey Short Stories.
Putting the “and” back into Blood and Guts.
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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, Thomas and his companion, Marco, unexpectedly reach the end of their river journey.
Flash Pulp 091 – The Elg Herra, Part 4 of 6
Blackhall and the voyageur, Marco, were well west of the Athabasca when they made their final camp. Both men had settled into an hour long silence, comfortable and companionable, as their eyes turned to the stars, and it was under their own considerations that they fell to slumber. The journey had been favoured with a week’s worth of Summer warmth filling the late autumn days, and the travellers had agreed to rest under the open air to take advantage of the situation while they may.
Thomas awoke only in time to see two figures looming over Marco’s sleeping form – he’d drawn breath to let out a warning, but had been cut short by his own pair of captors. The seized mens’ hands were quickly bound, and they were left on their knees by the smoldering remnants of the fire as their supplies were rummaged through.
“Be quiet,” spoke the apparent leader, in certain English.
The rest of the discussion, however, was a roll of consonants that neither captive could decipher.
The intruders seemed to show some care in their investigation, until they came across a particular bundle of Blackhall’s. The searcher held high Ida’s silver blade, shouting excitedly for another named “Kol”. The conversation became hushed and sharp.
After a moment, the examinations ended abruptly, and the prisoners were roughly lifted to their feet to and prodded into the treeline.
Neither Marco nor Blackhall stood on height with their guards; the closest was the youngest, the nearly-blond boy who stood on the Frenchman’s right, and he was still half a head taller. Their bulky frames seemed incongruous for those who inhabited the area, and neither could Thomas make connection between the locale and their style of dress, as it was unlike any he’d seen in his journeys. The men wore woven shirts, but the rest of their attire was formed of leather; long coats, plucked from the trees as the group led their prisoners away from the camp, were worn over trim breeches cut with a wide hem at the leg.
As they marched, Thomas attempted to explain his possession of the dagger. He’d managed little more than “…regret to inform you that Princess Ida is no more,” before Kol told another, Hakon, to muzzle him with a length of rawhide, and to extend the same courtesy to Marco.
Twenty minutes attention to careful footing brought them into a second encampment.
Four tents, skins of some workmanship stretched taut by line and timber, stood at the corners of the clearing, and, at its center, a fire pit. Alongside the shelters, each tethered to a tree, stood four bull moose.
The beasts were adorned with saddles of a style which seemed closer, to Blackhall, to those worn by camels than those of horses. Ornate panels of leather hung from the seats, on which had been tooled scenes of battle victory, endless horizons, or, Thomas guessed, loved ones. The bull closest, which eyed the new arrivals with an impassive shake of his head, had had a panel damaged, apparently in combat.
As they reached the familiar surroundings, the cryptic discussion amongst the captors once again boiled over, and there was little Thomas could do but watch the match. Although he could make out no more than the emotions of the argument, he was at least able to deduce the names of the Moose Lords. Kol had a man named Hakon who seemed to hew closely to his own position, while the counter-point was provided by one named Asmund – who Thomas thought to have much the same brow and jaw as Ida – and his own quiet ally, Mord, the shortest of the giants.
English phrases began to creep into their speech, and Blackhall knew his scrutinies had not gone unnoticed. Soon the conversation had moved entirely to Thomas’ own tongue.
“Maybe it was in their mind that we all carry such finery as the princess’ blade – what if they have come to rob us?” suggested Hakon.
“Fine,” replied Kol. “To ensure we have met all possibilities of justice, we shall kill them twice.”
“Yes,” croaked Hakon, from behind a smile, “Once for bringing the hag upon us, and once for being thieves.”
“I have heard it said that the child-eater haunts the Prester’s farms as much as our own longhouses,” spoke Asmund.
“Little more than rumour – nothing would dare eat their ugly children,” Hakon replied.
“Asmund,” said Kol, now squatting beside the rising flame. “We were sent to split the flesh of the Prester’s people, and what I see before me is a thieving Prester assassin, likely paid to kill your sister and return this token to them as proof.”
It had taken time, but Blackhall had spent his efforts in dampening his rawhide, so as to find enough elasticity to expel the binding from his mouth. Hearing the passing of what might be his final opportunity to win his freedom, he made his gamble.
The gathered were startled when he spoke.
“Ah, so you were then the Princess’ brother? Ida spoke of your Uncle Myter, and his death on the river. If we are to die so far from home, I ask that you leave me here against these trees facing westward, so that I might face upon my missing wife, and so that, as your Uncle Myter with his birds, I might be some nourishment to the beasts of the woods who’ve so long maintained my own flesh.”
Asmund’s eyes grew wide.
“Kol, he speaks of my Uncle Myter; what knowledge would he have of such a drunk if not for the good graces of my sister? We owe it to ourselves and to the Earl to carry this man at least as far as the long houses.”
“We were not sent out as coddlers, we are meant to be at search for at least another dozen nights – you’d have us bring short our duty so as to extend the life of these lying perversions? They likely cut the tales-they-twist from your sister’s own tongue before her death at their hands.”
The heat in Asmund and Kol’s words seemed to have drawn them closer, and, with spittle on their lips, they shifted to the rough consonants of their language. It was a sharp exchange, and only a moment later Kol drew back a fist. His action was brought short by two words from Hakon.
A smile broke upon the aggressor’s face. He nodded.
“Fine then,” Asmund replied, once again returning to English, “a duel it is.”
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