Pulp and Dagger Fiction Webzine presents

Blood of the Lynx

A four-part tale of swordplay and sorcery
Fred Blosser

PREVIOUSLY: Zhangi has rescued the kidnapped princess Cimele from the castle of the pirate king, Iochus, and the two flee into the night for their rendez-vous...unaware that the man who originally hired Zhangi intends to betray him...


And from the great heart grievously
Came forth the shaft and blade,
And he stood with the face of a dead man,
Stood a little, and swayed--
~ Chesterton

The ruin was built on titanic proportions, far grander than the scale of human architecture. People called it the temple of the Olden Ones, although none truly could say what purpose it had once served, or who had reared it in the forgotten ages of prehistory. Gnawed and crumbled with age, the walls rose to lofty heights, roofless. The wind moaned through the slumped remains of windows and doors, as if ghosts prowled there, voiceless with grief.

Under a gray sky, Zhangi gathered twigs and branches from a nearby grove and carried them back to where he had left Cimele and the horses. As he approached the ruin, he heard a nervous snort from one of the ponies, an excited stamp of hooves. Coming closer, he saw the princess standing beside the horses, and a few feet away, a horseman astride a sleek bay, holding a lance at rest. He recognized the bay, the crested helmet on the rider’s head, and the falcon insignia on the man’s mailed shirt.

“Fetch the princess’ horse, Zhangi,” Ruom said. “She rides with me.”

“Captain, what …” Cimele’s question trailed off in confusion as she glanced from Ruom to Zhangi. Something in the officer’s tone, or in the glint of the morning’s dismal light off the blade of his lance, must have disquieted her; she edged toward the outlaw.

Zhangi dropped the firewood and eased his tulwar from its scabbard. “I only pledged to bring milady here, and I have kept my word,” he said. “I didn’t promise to relinquish my stewardship.”

“It’s foolish to challenge me, outlaw,” Ruom said quietly. “Soon, a troop of the imperial guard will arrive, summoned by my sergeant. If you wish to keep your head, take your horse and ride out.”

“Ho, Zhangi!” The greeting echoed from the walls of the ruin. Toqahe Skull-Cleaver rode out from behind the shadows of a massive, time-ravaged column, where he evidently had been waiting in silence. He tossed something on the stony ground that clattered and rang. It was the morion of a Melgwenian sergeant, split down the middle, its polish dulled with dried blood.

“I guessed that your man would follow me, dog of Melgwen,” he rumbled. “I waited for him, and we fought. As you can see, men have good cause to call me Skull-Cleaver.”

As if maddened by the turn of fortune, Ruom kicked his horse forward, lance leveled to impale Zhangi.

The outlaw side-stepped and seized the haft of the lance, wrenching Ruom from the saddle. The captain turned the fall into an agile roll of his armored body that brought him to his feet, as he dropped the spear and clawed his sword from its scabbard. He flung himself at Zhangi, hewing and slashing, and steel rang as the outlaw caught the blows on his tulwar.

The two antagonists circled each other, advancing and striking, slashing, warding. Their breaths came in short, brutal gasps, booted feet scuffing and thumping on the ground. They were evenly matched in weight and reach, but different in the martial styles they brought to the fight. Zhangi fought with an economy of movement, while Ruom pressed the duel with the graceful flourishes of Melgwenian swordsmanship.

“I’ll offer you the same opportunity that you gave me, captain,” Zhangi spat. “Sheath your weapon and ride away.”

“No! Should I give up now, having come this far?” Ruom’s words burst in harsh gasps of breath through his teeth. “I’ll gut you, outlaw, and then I’ll speed your burly friend after you – death to you both!”

His sword hummed in a powerful cut that would have opened Zhangi’s belly had it completed its arc, but the outlaw parried with split-second reflexes. Before his opponent could recover, he immediately retaliated, unexpectedly thrusting rather than slashing with his tulwar. The point drove up under the captain’s chin, ramming through underjaw and palate, cleaving into his brain. Life fled from Ruom’s eyes, and as Zhangi recovered his blade, the officer sank to his knees and then sprawled face-down on the barren ground. A widening pool of blood seeped from his fatal wound.

“You should have accepted my terms and returned to your raven-haired sweethearts, Ruom,” the outlaw muttered with no enjoyment of the kill. He wiped his blade angrily on the dead man’s mail.

He was aware of Cimele’s confused and frightened gaze as Toqahe walked his horse over and dismounted beside him. “It worked just as you must have expected it would, Zhangi.”

“In truth, I suspected only that Ruom planned some sort of treachery, and that once we parted, he would seek to remove you from the skein of events.” The outlaw’s voice was heavy with fatigue. “For the rest, I trusted that you would return at an opportune time, as you did. You have my thanks, friend.”

“You’d have done the same for me,” Toqahe snorted. “And now, what of her highness?”

“She is the heir of Merander. And once the people of Melgwen sicken of Edobik’s bloody rule, as they eventually will, they will come to her support. Cast Edobik down, and we restore land and hope to the Lynx clan. We must protect the princess until that day comes.”

He glanced over at the young woman. She stood in a posture of uncertainty, hands clasped together, her face pale and drawn, shaken by the violence of the gray afternoon. But as her eyes met those of the outlaw, she seemed to find something in his gaze that reassured her, and she looked a little less frightened.

“So the hard work of the mission is behind us,” the Skull-Cleaver said.

“No, not all of the hard work. On the long ride from Crius, Cimele and I had no time for talk. She does not yet know how long she was imprisoned, unaware, in Crius. She does not know that the Yorl holds sway in Melgwen, or that her father is dead.”

“Well … she must be told, you know.”

“Yes, she must be told.” He looked at the dead man on the ground, the crumbled ruins, the gray sky from which a few bleak flakes of snow swirled. “And to wait further would be no kindness.”

Heavily, as the other nodded agreement, he strode over to tell the princess of her loss.

The End

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Blood of the Lynx is copyright by Fred Blosser. It may not be copied without permission of the author except for purposes of reviews. (Though you can print it out to read it, natch.)