Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and twelve.
This episode is brought to you by the Bothersome Things podcast.
Come for the fresh news, stay for the disturbing aftertaste.
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 find Blackhall once again amongst the Elg Herra, The Moose Lords Of The Northern Reaches, as he prepares to continue his search for his long dead wife, Mairi.
Flash Pulp 112 – The Chase: a Blackhall Tale, Part 1 of 3
Blackhall was dreaming.
It was snowing, but he couldn’t feel the cold. There was a crowd standing on the iced path, encircling something at their feet, beyond his vision. Dread filled his limbs as his mind’s eye pulled him closer, against his protestations. Somehow the clustered people did not part, and yet his view of the scene changed so that it was as if he was looking down at it from above. It became clear what had drawn the gathered.
Laying askew on the path was a body. He knew it somehow to be in part that of Ida, the Princess he’d recently seen murdered, and yet it bore the face of his wife, Mairi.
He awoke with a start, biting his lip hard to cut short his shout. Shaking the image from his vision, he was glad to note that he had not actually cried aloud, as the other sleepers about him continued their gentle weezings.
Crawling from the shadows that blanketed the furthest edges of the long house, Thomas moved towards the vast iron bowl that was maintained at every hour and provided the heat throughout the massive rolling home.
Sitting at its edge was the old man, Mathus. While Blackhall had enjoyed his time with the Moose Lords, there were few he’d met who he’d prefer to find tending the flames. As council to the Earl, Mathus had little time for conversation by day, but the frontiersman had come to learn that the gray hair and frail limbs concealed knowledge beyond the vagaries of how best to distribute bread, when to plant, and odd-making on calving.
“You’ve come to ask me again, have you?”
Thomas smiled at the lack of pretense.
“Well, in truth I awoke from an ill dream but surely there would be no better time to demonstrate some of your techniques.”
“I have yet to see you men of the east present anything but fast handed deceit, so why should I flaunt anything of the fantastic? Surely you are happy to place a trio of cups over-top a walnut, and claim it has disappeared?” It was Mathus’ turn to smile.
Thomas had been back and forth with the man since slaying the Lamia – a daemon which came by night to consume the children of the Elg Herra. It had not taken long for Blackhall to realize that the man carried deeply the shame of being unable to assist his people in their time of need, as his first attempts at learning from Mathus had been met with angry spittle flying from the old man’s toothless gums, dislodged by a language Blackhall still could not reckon. Persistence and humility were the frontiersman’s weapons of choice, however, and it did not take long for the joy of victory, mixed with the flattery of the new hero’s esteem, to begin to wear down the old man’s ire.
“No, sir, I can surely show you more than that.”
Thomas had awaited this moment, and he was prepared. Retreating to the bed which constituted his domain as guest, he reached into his battered travel baggage and pulled out a glass bottle, still a quarter-full of whiskey, as well as a rag.
He returned to the fire’s edge.
Taking a seat near the old man, he played the fire’s light through the glass and amber liquid, displaying his handiwork.
“Inside I’ve set a slip of daisy paper with the necessary markings, as well as two drops of my own blood, a small bundle of spruce twigs, two strands of dead man’s hair and a pine beetle.”
Mathus nodded, watching intently. Blackhall was glad to see his wrinkled eyes seeming to now take his entreaty more seriously. The whiskey spirit was a simple conjuration, the second occult working he’d learned, but Thomas knew better than to take lightly any such undertaking.
“I buried this bottle by the light of the moon – it may be dug up any time after the first day has past, but it is best if done at night, when the stars are blotted by cloud.”
Covering the container in the rag, he rapped the vessel hard upon the iron ledge, shattering it within the cloth confines. Standing above the enwrapped wreckage, a handspan tall, was a vaporous figure, which seemed to have the form of a cat, but stood upon two legs. It hissed silently at the pair of onlookers and swung its misty fore-claws in aggravation.
“It will cause mischief if left unattended, but will naturally disperse if the whiskey is left to dry. It will take commands from whomever summoned it, but keep a close eye, as it would be just as glad to twist your needs to an unpleasant end. The man who taught me this was a jovial Prussian named Fredrich. He would often demonstrate his power after over-indulging, and his usual goal was to demand the little beast provide him further lager. I was not on hand for his death, but I may guess its details, as he was found early one Saturday, poisoned.”
Blackhall pushed the bundle into the flames, and, as he did so, the feline wisps of steam seemed to be lost to the night’s air.
Mathus had remained silent, but attentive, throughout.
“Do you have the inscription’s at hand?” he asked finally.
Thomas retrieved from his pocket a separate slip of daisy paper, upon which he’d written the runes.
With a gummy smile, the old shaman thrust the sheet deep into a sack at his belt.
“Yes. I believe there are things I might show you – and mayhaps more that you might show me.”
* * *
The convoy of massive wheeled houses, and the buffalo that drove them, had been called to a halt at the edges of a small, unnamed lake. The black beasts, as well as the Moose Lord’s long-limbed mounts, were being driven along the shore to be given an opportunity to quench their thirst during the final journey before the coming of snow.
“I heard they saw Hakon skulking at the furthest rim of the herd, yesterday,” said Marco, the voyageur who’d traveled westward with Blackhall. Despite it being well into the noon hour, the Frenchman creased his brow against the strength of the sun and the weight of his previous night’s drinking.
“With the majority of suspicion regarding the child-eater now on his shoulders, I have my doubts that he’d openly return to camp, even if he does occasionally attempt contact with friends and family.”
The men were atop the roof of the flagship of the wagons, the massive wooden construct referred to as “The Earl’s House”, watching the endless rows march past the water.
“In truth,” Thomas continued, “I did not ask you up here to discuss the local politics – I’m leaving.”
“So, the old man has shown you what you need?”
“No. He had many interesting talents to exhibit, but a method to bring my wandering Mairi home was not one of them – so it comes time to move further west. I’d be glad to have you with me, but I realize you must stay to tend to Disa, now that she is with child.”
Even as he spoke, from somewhere to the south came the long, low, note of a war horn. Within a beat, it was accompanied by another, then another – only to be drowned out, finally, by a thundering roll of barking.
Dog flesh began to pour from the tall brown grass that surrounded the stalled caravan.
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