Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and thirteen.
This episode is brought to you by the Bothersome Things podcast.
Come for the unsettling news, stay for the disturbing banter.
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 Thomas Blackhall ensnared in a trap formed of duty and the hungry mouths of curs.
Flash Pulp 113 – The Chase: a Blackhall Tale, Part 2 of 3
Blackhall expected panic, but instead it seemed it was only he and Marco who had little idea on how to conduct themselves during the attack.
The call of the war horns had turned hundreds of dogs upon the caravan, but within moments the flood was met by the first of the defenders: a group of three youths, each on a cow moose, drove hard against the deluge, their long clubs swinging heavily. The ragged gray and brown mob made short meals of the lot – the furry-tide seemed to simply rise and overtake them – but this slowing was enough to bring another twenty riders forward at a gallop, and the strengthening line brought the horde to a brief halt. Even then – while the center of the pack held at the sight of the fresh guardians, the pooling edges began to surround the group, so that soon they too would be drowned.
Thomas moved swiftly to the ladder, to begin the long run to his Baker rifle, stored alongside his nightclothes, but he knew it would be for not – that by the time it was in his hand, his friends amongst the Elg Herra would be laying bloody and half consumed by wolfen-snouts.
His re-entry into the home was brought short, however, by spotting the spindly-limbed Mathus, clambering, gargoyle-like, to the roof of the wagon nearest the conflict. His gray hair had taken to the wind, and Thomas could see the man’s scrawny arm holding aloft a turkey, which gobbled out its panic at finding itself in such a high position.
In his off-hand the shaman held a knife, which he drew, with force, across the fowl’s gullet.
Careful to keep the blood dripping well away from the wood of the frame, Mathus spoke words lost to the din, and sprayed the red warmth across the ground below. Within seconds a trail of flame began to project from the site of the sacrifice, a wall of heat that bent at the old man’s command to shield the line of mounted responders.
Before Blackhall could continue the retrieval of his weapon, he felt the wheels of the longhouse once again take motion, carrying the Moose Lords away from the site of combat.
The flaring barrier had held back the bulk of the assault, and now, with the advantage of surprise lost – and the rooftops bristling with archers – the canines began to flow about the conflagration’s furthest edges, maintaining their distance, but pacing the north-moving fleet from the safety of the tall grasses.
* * *
Having left able-bodied scouts atop each of the houses, the Earl judged that there was time enough to call council.
He sat at the head of the gathered, his cushions elevating him above the others clustered around the blaze of the iron bowl.
“Bring me some jerky and bread!” The leader opened, directing the demand at the boy who acted as his assistant and valet.
Before the lad could scramble away, the old man, Mathus, appeared at the circle’s edge, still swinging the limp-necked turkey.
“No. We’ll eat this tonight; if we’re still here long enough to taste it. There is nothing wrong with its flesh – and there’ll be no room for hunting if they opt to maintain the chase.” He flung the former-sacrifice at the boy, who hurried off to pluck and prepare the bird.
The arrival set off a rapid-tongued exchange between the advisor and his lord, in the language of the Elg Herra. Blackhall, unable to comprehend the roll and flow of the words, used the time to question the man to his right, his friend, and the Earl’s son, Asmund.
“Whose hands control the brutes that now skulk in our wake?”
“I rather suspect that Hakon the traitor has had no small role to play, but it is the Presters who raise the beasts.”
“Yes – it is said that once there was a man, Prester John, who lead his people across the waters from a place of great persecution, to settle here on the plains – but they are no longer men by our reckoning. In winter they live as if bears, waking only to gorge upon the mushrooms which they cultivate by the summer moon – or upon their young, should supplies run short. The dogs they also shut away when the snows come, so that in the spring only the strongest remain.”
“It does not sound a pleasant life, but why would they seek to attack you?”
“Mayhaps their crops have been blighted this year; mayhaps a new leader has risen from within their ranks on the promise of our destruction. There has long been much enmity between us, as my own father laid low one of their King’s some time ago – or at least, we believe so, as he crawled away to die, and it is hard for us to identify the differences between the Prester Lords, as their mothers are always their father’s sister.”
A sudden question drew Asmund’s attention from the conversation and into the larger discussion which had sprung from Mathus’ entrance.
Finding no toehold amongst the alien language, Blackhall stood, deciding he might be of greater use amongst the roof-bound sentinels.
As he set his footing to prepare for his climb, Disa stepped to his side. She wore a simple, but well cut, dress, as preferred by most of the younger Elg Herra women, and the growing weight within her belly pressed at its constraint.
“Have you seen my Marco?” she asked.
In truth the frontiersman had had half a mind to ask her the same – the expectant father had disappeared soon after the attack, despite the limited privacy, and Thomas worried that he’d somehow found a corner in which to collude with his most constant companion, his gin bottle.
“No, I apologize,” was the best response he could make.
“Perhaps you’d be better served with this then,” she replied, extending a handful of the spiced flat bread which was a local delicacy. “I saved it for him, but I suspect he’ll have little appetite by the time he returns.”
Blackhall made his thanks and ascended. As he set the trapdoor in place, he noted the woman still at the foot of the ladder, her eyes moving slowly over the longhouse occupants, her left-hand upon her stomach.
* * *
The rolling siege drifted well into the night hours, and it was nearly dawn by the time Thomas crept out of the chill nocturnal wind, seeking a bed. His heart was heavy as he entered, as the watch had been filled with longing for his Mairi, and with the terrible knowledge that every moment he expended facing down the blockade was a moment lost from his search.
The greatest advice to come out of the council had been to rest while still able, and the soft snoring that surrounded his descent proved that many had taken the recommendation. As he moved from the final rung, however, Blackhall was startled to see a bent but familiar form nearby, and, while he watched, to observe his friend fling a sack from the nearest window. It was then that he realized the container was affixed to the end of a length of rope, which, in turn, was wound about a wooden projection along the window’s casing.
“Marco! What work is this? It was some hours ago, but I encountered Disa earlier: she was in search of you.”
“Ahh – you’ll have to make my apologies.”
“Yes – it is time for me to go. The Prester’s owe me much for keeping a careful eye on the wandering Princess Ida, and I’d rather collect than become a hound’s breakfast.”
“Betrayal?” was all Thomas’ tired mind could manage.
“Well, to be fair, I was considering taking the Earl with me, and I’m not. I suspect he’d fetch a tidy sum, but I think you’d make your best effort to stop me, and I’d hate to kill another civilized man, even if he does come from the wrong side of la Manche. Out of respect for you, and our friendship, I choose not to. Still, I believe I have enough within my travel bag to leave me well rewarded. Au revoir.”
With that, the voyageur wrapped the line about his forearm and plunged through the opening.
Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm. The audio and text formats of Flash Pulp are released under the Canadian Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License.