Welcome to Flash Pulp, Episode Ninety-Two.
This week’s episodes are brought to you by MT Starkey Short Stories.
One man’s vision of a post-apocalyptic yesterday.
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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 witnesses a trial by combat between Moose Lords.
Flash Pulp 092 – The Elg Herra, Part 5 of 6
Thomas was impressed with the speed at which the camp was broken down. The hide tents quickly transformed into saddle bags, filled with bulky gear the imprisoned had no opportunity to identify, and it seemed little more than ten minutes from intention to departure.
The day was spent in a forced march, with Blackhall and his voyageur companion lashed to the saddle of their youngest captor, Mord. The Moose Lords remained as silent as their long faced mounts during the trek, but twice they paused to allow their prisoners drink and a few mouthfuls of mealy bread.
The air had become crisp, and the horizon was marked by the red of a sinking sun, when the halt was called.
Mord disentangled the leashes’ end from the ring upon which they’d been tied, and motioned for the pair to sit, which they did gratefully. Dismounting, the tall man moved to their side, his eyes playing over the open plain that stretched before them.
“We’ve re-entered the domain – it is forbidden to eingvi outside of it,” the giant said, rubbing down his beast’s snout; he did not turn to his captives, but instead maintained a careful eye on Hakon as he spoke. The words seemed to hold the forced carelessness that Blackhall, as a former soldier, associated with impending combat, when fighting men’s lips often seem disconnected from the hearts resting hard in their stomachs.
The adversaries, casting off their long coats, had removed several items from within their baggage, and begun to dress. Their armour was ringmail of a type which recalled the stories of ancient knights to Thomas’ mind, although their design seemed to hew closer to the images he’d seen of the sword-warriors of the far-east.
During his slog, the frontiersman had made special note of the long wooden clubs held in place along the right hand side of each saddle. After a low exchange between Kol and Asmund, both lifted their weapons free of their bonds. The men’s armaments were of the same basic design: a bone-shaped cudgel at one extreme, the other tapered into a blade-like point, and a nub midway between. It was immediately obvious to Blackhall, even at a distance, that Asmund’s own carried considerable engraving about its surface, while Kol’s had but a few simple bands that ran its length.
As the duelists moved away from the larger group, Hakon put over a leg and dropped to the ground.
In turn, Mord let out a short breath and moved his hand away from his own bludgeon.
The moose seemed to fully understand the intentions of their masters; no longer did they move with the lumbering strides they’d employed throughout the day’s journey, but instead the beasts seemed to stalk through the tall grasses as if jungle cats. The men held tight the reins in their left hands, their clubs clutched low in their right. Man and animal moved northward at an ever tightening angle, until, with a bull grunt, the mighty racks turned inward in sudden collision.
In the opening seconds the beasts seemed evenly matched, their thick necks pressing hard upon each other. After a moment, however, it became apparent that Asmund’s mount was losing ground.
Three deciding events happened in quick succession: Asmund laid a heavy blow atop the skull of his opponents ride; simultaneously, Kol, seeing an opening in his extended form, thrust forward with his honed point; his mount, unsure of the source of the impact upon its brow, briefly disengaged its broad rack, sending Asmund’s own beast into a twisting frenzy in attempt to gain advantage. It was thus Kol who found himself over-reaching, and two tines of the bull’s thrashing rack found purchase between the rings of his armor and through the leather beneath, crushing bone and puncturing organ.
He fell from his saddle, his tumble cushioned some by the impinging tall grass, and both Hakon and Mord moved quickly to his side, their prisoners briefly forgotten.
A triple voiced song of low-toned mourning filled the plain.
* * *
By the time the trio returned their attentions to the men in their custody, Marco had cut himself free with a hidden blade, releasing also his companion. The Frenchman had, with hushed voice, argued for an attempt at further escape, but Blackhall had planted himself, and the voyageur had reluctantly stood alongside him.
Asmund only nodded as he noted their lack of bonds.
“It is just as well, but the Earl will wish your presence, will you still accompany us?”
“I shall, gladly,” said Thomas, “but I speak not for my friend.”
The pair exchanged a brief glance.
“Yeah, fine,” replied Marco.
Again, the day’s victor nodded. The Moose Lords had strapped their fallen comrade across his saddle, and now fastened his bridle to Mord’s own mount.
“Hakon,” the man was unable to suppress a light snarl at the summons, “- you shall double back and retrieve what goods you might from the supplies our travel mates left alongside the river’s edge, then make for the long houses in haste.”
Blackhall was quick to explain the need for his rucksack, sabre and Baker rifle, then the reluctant courier turned his mount once again east.
As he cantered into the distance, Asmund addressed Mord.
“I’ll sleep better knowing he’s away, but it may be trouble if he arrives first to tell his version of the tale alongside the iron fires,” he turned to the pair on foot. “It would be best if you rode with Mord and I. You may wonder why I do not offer up Kol’s bull, but it will allow none who is not Elg Herra to ride, and I would not see you injured in the attempt.”
* * *
Upon taking his position, Blackhall was immediately impressed with the difference in height between Asmund’s moose and the equines with which he was familiar. Within the hour he’d grown accustomed to the animal’s the long-limbed cadence, and had fallen into conversation with the man at the reins.
“It seems my neck is to carry the weight of Ida’s departure and death. I was not fond of the little man, but there was little I could do – my sister insisted. As is often the case, it is not the one who is missed that shoulders the blame,“ replied Asmund in response to the frontiersman’s questioning.
“I mean no offense, but – it seemed to me he was an unfit suitor, what drove her to such an unpleasant decision?”
“The hag. Two winters previous she entered the long house as the iron fires guttered and the moon rode high. As we slept, she split wide her jaw and fed Ida’s child, Hobart, into her gullet. It was only the boy’s final surprised cry which brought us awake, and, even then, only in time to watch the crone, her belly bulging, unhinge a window and plummet to the ground below. No man could make that fall and survive. Not a year later, with another three missing in the interim and guards at the ready, her second child, Asta, was also snatched up, while sleeping in her very arms.”
He paused, his hand rubbing at the back of his neck, then continued.
“The harridan moves with the hush of a hunting snake, and we did not know of the disappearance until the morn. After their death there was nothing which might console her. She spent a year weeping, then dried her eyes and did what no one else seemed willing to – went east to find someone who knows more of the mist-walkers than we.”
Thomas closed his eyes.
“I had not realized she was a mother.”
“Do you think it was a simple dispute regarding our direction which carried me into the distasteful position of fighting a man I’ve long held love for? No; we hold not the same concept of marriage, but as much as any man is bound to any woman, Kol was to my sister. He was the father of her children.”
The lament fell heavily from his lips, and they rode in silence until the night’s encampment.
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