Welcome to Flash Pulp, Episode Ninety-Three.
This week’s episodes are brought to you by MT Starkey Short Stories.
Dark tales of shadowy doings in dimly lit rooms.
To find them, click here.
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 finally reaches the home of the Moose Lords, where he must complete long standing business.
Flash Pulp 093 – The Elg Herra, Part 6 of 6
Blackhall’s first view of the longhouses came on the morning of his fourth day riding with the Moose Lords. The evening previous, the small band of travelers had met another mounted patrol, and the Elg Herra had spent a merry night conversing in their own tongue. As dawn broke, they’d kicked the ashes of the fire under, checked the lashings that held Kol’s body in place – now wrapped in the hide of his own saddle bags to stifle his musk – and departed.
Thomas was glad they’d waited till light.
The structures trundled as if massive beetles, the painted symbols on their oblong rooves exposed to the riders, who had approached from the peak of a gentle crest. Great treads marked their passage upon the plain, and, as Blackhall took in the behemoths, he noted that the shortest of the five had no less than sixteen wheels. They moved in an arrowhead shape; the lead and largest wagon was followed by three ranging in a wide row, then close behind those came a mass of black animals. The smallest, and nearest, of the wheelhouses brought up the rear.
“An impressive sight,” he remarked to Asmund.
“A welcome one,” the man replied. “The furthest, the one in the lead, we simply call “The Earl’s House”, although he is but one of its many occupants. The one at center we have named “Night”, as it serves only to allow those who must patrol in the dark hours an opportunity to slumber. On right and left are those we call Dusk and Dawn – they are home to many more Elg Herra. Our shortest house, the one which trails behind, is Relief; it carries lumber, tools, a forge, and the various necessities of maintenance.”
As they overtook the rearmost shadow, Blackhall tightened his coat against the chill wind blown from the spruce trunks that acted as wheel-spokes. Above the grinding complaints of the axle could be heard the occasional creak of shifting wood, familiar to any who had sailed upon a tall ship. However, soon after, both sounds were drowned by the roar of the hooves which gave the conveyance motion. A sea of buffalo moved at its head, the beasts harnessed into an orderly grid and maintained by a half dozen lithe daredevils.
“We call it dancing the squares,” said Asmund. “We value the dancers as we value warriors, and the tales of their bravery are often given equal time in tales of combat. They maintain and direct the beasts, giving them food and water even as we travel, and ensuring the security of both oxen and tack.”
Thomas watched a youth leap from the back of one frothing animal, take three quick steps along a taut leather line, and complete his journey by landing with splayed legs upon the shoulders of another. The boy smiled to see them pass, his fingers still busy working at some unseen kink in the rigging.
As they drew ahead, Blackhall took in the herd. If the grunting rows which pulled Relief had been a sea, then here was an ocean. Thousands more buffalo trampled flat the grasses, their order maintained under the eyes of a wide and moving ring of cow-moose mounted wranglers. Many of the watchers, both men and women, raised a hand in greeting to Asmund and Mord.
It was another half-hour before they overtook the Earl’s house.
* * *
The plan had been straightforward enough. Fifty-seven able bodies, each one the mother or father of a missing child, were sequestered in a single longhouse, in place of the fifty-seven innocents that made up the remainder of the community’s progeny.
“It is my understanding,” Blackhall had told the Earl, “that you contend with a beast known as the Lamia. I have heard her name invoked by mothers as a boogieman, but she was once well known, long ago, as a murderous hag who consumed infants in blind vengeance for the death of her own children, who were supposedly struck down by Hera. You would know her by her face, which unhinges into a monstrous expanse wide enough to insert a child whole.”
His words had been enough to bring the elder leader’s shoulders to sag, and to convince the man of his plan’s merit. It was a necessary trust, as Thomas felt it imperative that none but those involved should know, especially as only Mord and a hand picked second would be on hand to guard the true children, now tucked away in Relief. Blackhall had been sure to implant the defenders’ weapons with what little silver – a nearly universal poison to what the Elg Herra named mist-walkers – the community could turn up, but it had left his trap poorly armed.
The most difficult aspect of the preparation had been the covert modification of the half beds, so that grown forms might appear as if children, and yet still spring readily from the depths of the bedclothes to encounter the monster.
The charade of maintaining a strict watch over infants that were not on hand was wearing, and so it was almost with relief, on the third evening of his vigil, that Thomas finally heard the mid-night click-and-thud of a window being manipulated someway down the darkened hall.
“For Ida!” he bellowed, throwing off the heavy covering he’d laid over his oil lamp. It’s meager light was enough to allow the Elg Herra to leap to their stations, bodily barring each possible exit.
The crone was quick to react, and she immediately began to spider to the nearest shutter on all four of her gout-covered limbs. With a careless toss, she removed one of the window’s guardians, then reared on the stout woman who alone secured the opening.
With a desperate grunt, Thomas threw his saber. The lamia, seeing the inbound weapon, reflexively flinched, even though the sword had been cast on a clumsy arc. The projectile rebounded heavily off of the shutter and clattered to the floor. Blackhall, however, was quick behind his missile; his freed hand had closed immediately upon Ida’s dagger, gifted to him by her brother on the first long night of his duty, and, with his full momentum behind his arm, he plunged the short blade into the crone’s neck. A spurt of clotted, fetid blood ran over the sleeve of his greatcoat, and the hag fell, dead.
Marco, having closed the distance, spotted the outcome, and slapped Thomas’ clean shoulder with a smirk.
Only later would it be noted, with grim eyes, that Hakon could not be found amongst the ranks as the news spread beyond.
* * *
The sweet wine with which they’d ended the conference finally brought a smile to the old man’s face.
Blackhall cleared his throat.
“I can not keep both your daughter’s dagger and my clear conscience. It was Ida’s wish to pass on the blade to one of your people. Perhaps it would be best if it was kept in your care until the next heir is born.”
The Earl’s grin faded as he reached a hand to the jeweled hilt. With a careful hold he set it beside the cup from which he drank. After a moment the man reached forward, once again taking up the long stick with which he’d been stirring the fire. With an eye on the flames, he set to tapping a gentle rhythm upon the iron bowl which held them.
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