Tag Archives: The Chase

Flash Pulp 114 – The Chase: a Blackhall Tale, Part 3 of 3

7 Jan

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and fourteen.

Flash Pulp

Tonight we present The Chase: a Blackhall Tale, Part 3 of 3
(Part 1Part 2Part 3)
Download MP3
(RSS / iTunes)

 

This episode is brought to you by the Bothersome Things podcast.

It’s like eating a unicorn for dinner.

Find them at BothersomeThings.com, or find them on iTunes.

 

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 participates in the end of the siege of the Elg Herra, and concludes much outstanding business.

 

Flash Pulp 114 – The Chase: a Blackhall Tale, Part 3 of 3

Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May

 

Moments after the departure of Thomas’ former companion, panic began to march through the beds at the edges of the rolling longhouse, and down the center aisle which held the iron bowls of flame that maintained the Moose Lord’s heat and cooking fires.

Blackhall could not translate the flurry of speech which surrounded him, but he could see that all were focused upon the small closets at the rear of the wagon which acted as the home’s latrines, and he moved quickly to scrutinize what he suspected was Marco’s work.

The cramped space stunk of spilled gin and the involuntary releases of death.

Within, his sockets bulging and his legs thrust straight, was the corpse of Mathus, the Elg Herran shaman. A length of folded cloth remained at this throat, the obvious instrument of his murder.

His body had been stripped of ornamentation, the fled Frenchman having rifled anything that might be of value, monetarily or mystically.

For a moment Thomas shut his eyes, rubbing at their dry and rasping surface with forefinger and thumb. Fatigue was heavy upon his shoulders, and the imagined spectre of Mairi’s dead face drifted up to him from the inky depths of his closed lids.

As he let out a long breath and once again opened his vision, Mairi’s aspect was replaced by that of Disa, who stood before him.

“Was it my Marco?” she demanded.

Blackhall confirmed the worst with a short nod.

“He also removed all that might have some worth from our shared bunk – including the ring he gave me in safekeeping till our ceremony of binding.” She spoke in husky tones, and a flash of despair crossed her face.

Before she might weep, the pregnant woman strode away.

* * *

The attack came at noon, and Thomas, who’d relocated to the roof of the rear-most in the procession, finally had his first close-viewing of the Presters, as a raiding party detached itself from the larger force and moved against his perch.

They came with fire in hand, and their dogs baying in the lead. The alabaster-skinned men huddled close behind the hounds, with leather shields held high to stave off arrow attacks, and those without torches toted long, rough-hewn logs on their shoulders, to act as pikes against a bull moose rush.

Blackhall’s unsettling plan had formed soon after the discovery of Mathus’ body, but the knowledge he intended to implement had come straight from the old man’s tongue, and he knew the shaman would gladly give anything to bring an end to the threat against his people.

Still, Thomas had kept up a stream of apologies as he’d conducted his grisly work – all the better to keep his gorge from rising.

Now, as the approaching contingent moved to catch their wheeled target, he set aside Marco’s cast-off gin bottle, which harboured the old man’s sight organs, and raised his Baker rifle. His targeting was arbitrary, as any of the encroaching assailants would have happily seen him dead.

The crack and roll of gunpowder filled the air, and the lead of Blackhall’s foes fell, his torch landing amongst the trampled grasses, forgotten.

Construction of the larger charm had been considerably less disgusting, although the moving of the fire bowl had been sweatier work. Once in place, Thomas had wound leather about a wooden lid, to hold it over-top a concoction he’d mixed within the basin itself.

With Asmund’s assistance, he sent the vessel tumbling to the ground.

The volume of the cauldron had allowed him more room for reagents than during his original demonstration to the old man, and, as the cedar covering shattered upon the ground, a misty feline of immense proportion rose up, nearly overtaking the height of the wagon itself.

The dogs ceased their forward movement with animal terror in their eyes. They turned and began to flee.

At the cowardice of their beasts, the pallid-men also pivoted, and the retreating mob was soon moved to panic as a cluster of mounted defenders arrived in response to the prearranged signal of the birthing of the ghostly cat-daemon.

Blackhall knew the phantasm would not remain corporeal long, only until the last of his whisky supply ran into the earth, but it was ample for his intentions. In short moments the riders had retrieved the fallen Prester corpse, and returned with it to Thomas’ station.

It was easy enough to extract the necessary blood from the cadaver’s weeping wound, and, once again taking up the gory gin bottle, the frontiersman mixed in the last component necessary for his preparation.

A man came running from the assaulting line, shouting to rouse his people. Blackhall noted another beside him – a familiar, hunched form, which he suspected to be Hakon.

Thomas BlackhallThomas could only guess what fearful words the traitor must have used to press the desperate plan after realizing that this might be his final attempt to lay low those who had spurned him. Nor, for that matter, did he know what volume of riches the Presters must have originally promised the defector to turn against his people – Blackhall wondered if it was a sum greater than that which had purchased the loyalty of his former friend, the voyageur.

Whatever oaths the Prester King now pawned in his own tongue, it was enough to rally his host, who moved forward as a mighty wall, driving the flood of frightened hounds before them.

Although it still stood, the summoned whiskey spirit’s form had begun to blur, and, despite its aggressive stance, its clawed hands had begun to dissipate in the breeze.

Blackhall implemented his closing scheme, tipping the now sealed gin bottle on its side, upon the roof, and setting his boot heavily through the glass, crushing the blind orbs within.

The rushing line fell forward, suddenly asleep upon the unyielding plain.

The pack, spooked by the apparition before them, and the swooning of their masters behind them, scattered as if a cloud burst, draining into the dry turf.

This left an odd moment: all those of Prester blood having suddenly collapsed, and their mongrels absconded, there were but two figures still standing amid the dense heap of slumberers. One stood at the forefront of the failed rush, and one stood in the rear, having been happy to let those he considered savages carry out the grim work of fighting.

A single arrow arced over the fallen sleepers, it’s flight strong and true – Marco was allowed no scream as its shaft passed through his traitor’s throat.

Blackhall turned to see Disa standing alongside him, a bow in her hands.

She spoke.

“I will tell little Marcus, or Ida – whichever happens to arrive – that he died defending us from the Prester siege.”

With that, she moved to re-take the ladder, disappearing once again into the depths of the longhouse.

The lone figure of Hakon had only made five steps when the simultaneous wrath of the multitude of long-stymied archers was unleashed, cutting him down mid-stride.

Seconds later, the grunting efforts of the harnessed buffalo had pulled the triumphant Elg Herra beyond bow range.

Blackhall turned to Asmund.

“They’ll sleep two full days, more than time enough for the caravan to make an orderly escape.”

“We should turn about to cut their throats,” said the Earl’s son, “but I’ve no stomach for butchery. Considering their intentions, we have been kind to them.”

“The dogs will not stay long from their master’s guiding hands, and it will not be so kind a fate if they have been too long in feeding their animals,” replied Blackhall.

The frontiersman stooped for his rifle, eager to be once again on the path that would lead him to Mairi, and yearning for the distance which would put him well away from the politics of others.

 

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.

Flash Pulp 113 – The Chase: a Blackhall Tale, Part 2 of 3

5 Jan

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and thirteen.

Flash Pulp

Tonight we present The Chase: a Blackhall Tale, Part 2 of 3
(Part 1Part 2Part 3)
Download MP3
(RSS / iTunes)

 

This episode is brought to you by the Bothersome Things podcast.

Come for the unsettling news, stay for the disturbing banter.

Find them at BothersomeThings.com, or find them on iTunes.

 

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

Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May

 

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.”

“The Presters?”

Thomas Blackhall“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.”

“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.

Flash Pulp 112 – The Chase: a Blackhall Tale, Part 1 of 3

3 Jan

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and twelve.

Flash Pulp

Tonight we present The Chase: a Blackhall Tale, Part 1 of 3
(Part 1Part 2Part 3)
Download MP3
(RSS / iTunes)

 

This episode is brought to you by the Bothersome Things podcast.

Come for the fresh news, stay for the disturbing aftertaste.

Find them at BothersomeThings.com, or find them on iTunes.

 

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

Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May

 

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.

Thomas Blackhall“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.

 

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.