Black Petals Issue #84 Summer, 2018

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Mars-News, Views and Commentary
Goodbye to Nowhere Land-Fiction by Roy Dorman
Just a Minute-Fiction by Mark Joseph Kevlock
Nobody Should Be in 1610 Maple-Fiction by Roy Dorman
Next Stop: Napper's Holler-Fiction by A.M. Stickel, Chapter 1
Next Stop: Napper's Holler-Fiction by A.M. Stickel, Chapter 2
Next Stop: Napper's Holler-Fiction by A.M. Stickel, Chapter 3
Prey-Poems by Michael Keshigian
Asunder-Poems by Mike Rose

berserker.jpg

Chapter 2



Berserker


by A.M. Stickel

 

         

Armor wasn’t the only weight dragging Aylric into the depths. The entire longship was sinking. A huge vortex had opened up during the bloody boarding by another vessel, and the Harvyr slipped into the watery gullet as easily as a raw herring down a hungry man’s throat. The other ship sat perched on the edge of the vortex, her victorious crew peering at their enemies in open-mouthed amazement.

Clinging to the top of the mast, Aylric still had air…but for how much longer? Harvyr’s fallen warriors had not been so lucky. Along with the enemy’s dead and wounded, their corpses plummeted past him, faces set in grimaces that showed their last seconds of life had not been pleasant.

Aylric held to his perch with both legs and removed his helm, and, with the aid of his sword, his breastplate. Next, he sliced the thongs holding the leg guards. Lastly, he gripped the mast and kicked off his heavy boots. Youth and agility abetted the warrior’s desperate swing toward the boarding rope left dangling from the other ship. He leapt and gripped at the right moment, just as the vortex closed.

A massive arm hauled the prisoner aboard, and the arm’s owner held Aylric aloft like a prize catch. While the loser hung there, the red-bearded chieftain, Gunnar, beat his chest in triumph, and sneered crookedly into the youth’s face, roaring, “GUNNAR’S SLAVE!” to the cheers of his comrades.

Gunnar’s triumph was short-lived. A huge gray head rose above the ship’s cracked railing, and  jaws lined with dagger teeth gripped Gunnar to yank him toward the gap. The braggart dropped Aylric, who lay there stunned, watching him swing his sword uselessly at the sea dragon. The monster’s teeth put a stop to Gunnar’s struggles. Still clutched in the hand of the severed arm, the sword clanged to the gore-covered deck. Gunnar gave a gurgling moan as the sea dragon tossed him high and swallowed him whole.

Aylric reached toward the arm and sword to defend himself. Then he noticed that the hungry sea dragon was more interested in Gunnar’s noisy shipmates falling over one another in their efforts to escape. The young captive decided to remain where he was, prone and quiet as a dead man.

So greedy was the sea dragon that it gorged until it vomited undigested body parts. Swords and arrows merely bounced off its thick hide, and scaly eyelids protected the otherwise vulnerable amber eyes. Finally, the creature was satisfied, and turned its attention upon the ship Targyr. Aylric almost laughed when the amorous sea dragon rubbed its neck against the neck of the painted prow and gazed longingly into the imitation eyes, curling a formidable body around the ship in an attempt at seduction.

The beastly lover’s frustrated cries nearly deafened the human survivor. Aylric almost wished the ship could respond. Then he spied the horned helm lying not far from Gunnar’s severed arm. One of the horns had broken off. He crawled to the horn, put it to his lips, and blew with all his might. The sound rose above the wails of the creature, eliciting a surprised “MEEP?” in response. Encouraged, Aylric blew the horn again, but not quite as hard.

The sea dragon withdrew its bulk from the vessel, and proceeded to do a series of dives and prodigious leaps of joy. On the final leap, the creature displayed enough of its body to show that it was most definitely male. Aylric couldn’t help but admire such an efficient, though simple-minded, killing machine. A serrated ridge of tough armor ran along the top of a gray-green body easily twice as long as the Targyr. Four sturdy, web-footed legs with retractable claws were folded underneath.

The sea dragon, finally exhausted, swam back to the ship to rub against the side opposite where Aylric lay. Waves gently slapped the wood, which rocked the ship like a cradle.

Save for the vortex and this active monster, the water has remained as flat as a lake on a summer’s day—odd! thought Aylric.

Runes glowed on the dragon’s neck. Reading them, Aylric realized just who this was: Harvyr. The youth sat up, shook his head to clear it, pinched his arm, and blinked several times. Poof! The runes did not disappear, but the dragon did. They hung in the air and then dispersed into a rising mist.

Mist soon obscured the sun’s red eye and the smell of greenery wafted across the water as the tide drew the dragon ship landward. Aylric stood and stretched his long limbs, heading for the prow, tossing scattered body parts overboard as he did so.

Unnoticed, a shadowy figure crept, cat-footed, slowly forward from the stern, bending to retrieve Gunnar’s sword. Hidden below in a tiny space, one other had survived—Gunnar’s daughter.

“I, Gunnilda, heir of Gunnar Larsyn, say you are a dead man!” shouted the girl, springing at Aylric and swinging the sword from behind—SWOOSH—just as he bent over to retrieve the last body part.

Aylric dropped and rolled away from the weapon which had nearly cut him in half. He kicked out at the girl’s legs ere she could remove the blade tip from wood. Red-haired Gunnilda thudded to the deck.

Gunnilda bit and clawed the stranger, who pinned her beneath him. “Your magic may have given life to a sunken vessel, but your life force cannot overcome and enter me. I would rather die!”

Instead of taking her then and there, Aylric let Gunnilda wear herself out in venting her fury. Finally, the two lay side by side, equally spent and breathless, until he said, “Listen, we’re both in the same boat and headed for strange soil. Your father killed min