Flash Fiction: “Old Blood” by Jeremy Szal
(Originally published in Saturday Night Reader, September 2015)
They said you couldn’t kill Old Blood, direct descants from the First Men, blessed with wisdom and the ability to peer into the future. It seemed that a blade between the ribs did just the trick. I doubted Lord Commander Roran had predicted that move.
I stood in the Commander’s place, leading the Amelleus army. My army. There were thousands of men bathed in the morning’s pale glow, standing silently in the frosty fields as snow gathered on their helmets. They held shields of Dwenish metal, brandished their swords and flatbows, the arrow tips swathed in poison. They twisted spears that glinted in the sun, maces and warhammers from the far south of Ikbsah, where death was an art and red was the artist’s colour.
Born in 1995 with a twisted sense of humor and a taste for craft beer, Jeremy Szal’s fiction and nonfiction has appeared or is forthcoming in such venues as Nature, Nature: Physics, Abyss & Apex, Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, and others. He is the fiction editor for a rubbish little-known podcast you probably haven’t heard of called StarShipSofa, a Writers of the Future Finalist, and also has a useless BA in Film Studies and Creative Writing. He’s written multiple novels and is on the hunt for literary representation. He carves out a living in Sydney, Australia. Find him on Twitter at @jeremyszal or at his blog, jeremyszal.com.
Main Story: “A Fair Man” by Peter Orullian
(Originally published in Grimdark Magazine #6.)
Pit Row reeked of sweat. And fear.
Heavy sun fell across the necks of those who waited their turn in the pit. Some sat in silence, weapons like afterthoughts in their laps. Others trembled and chattered to anyone who’d spare a moment to listen. Fallow dust lazed around them all. The smell of old earth newly turned. Graves being dug constantly for those who died fighting in the pit. Mikel walked the row, one hand on his blade, the other holding the day’s list.
He passed a big man sitting in a spray of straw. The fellow wore several brands across his chest. A prisoner. More than forty fights. Each win burned into his flesh with a simple hash. He’d die in chains. Or die in the pit. Blood caked his left foot below an iron manacle that had torn up the flesh of his ankle. Dust clung to his sweaty skin. The prisoner didn’t look up at Mikel, any more than he blinked away the fly drinking at the corner of his eye. But there was something foreign about the man. And something menacing. Indifference?
Further down, a young man practiced thrust and parry combinations, his boots lifting more dust into the hot haze. The fellow narrated each movement, the tone of his voice like a man trying to convince himself he’d survive the pit. Mikel hated this type. Not because they sought glory. No one was that stupid. It was desperation. The pup had a bit of training and had almost certainly wagered on his own victory, hoping to turn a few thin plugs. The young man’s sad, nicked sword told the story of his need.
Peter Orullian has worked at Xbox for more than a decade, which is good, because he’s a gamer. He’s toured internationally with various bands and been a featured vocalist at major rock and metal festivals, which is good, because he’s a musician. He’s also learned when to hold his tongue, which is good, because he’s a contrarian. Peter has published several short stories, which he thinks are good. The Unremembered and Trial of Intentions are his first novels, which he hopes you will think are good. He lives in Seattle, where it rains all the damn time. He has nothing to say about that. Visit Peter at orullian.com.
About the Narrators:
Anthony Babington is a voice in the internet’s head. He looks almost, but not quite, exactly how you expect him to. He currently resides in Houston, Texas, but is in the process of relocating to Minnesota. He can be found on Google Plus.
Mark “The Encaffeinated One” Kilfoil loves fiction, so much so that he’s written some (such as the Parsec-nominated Tainted Roses), read quite a lot (a library of over a thousand half-read books and growing), and now narrates it (sometimes actually recorded for others). He’s found that volunteering for a dozen years in radio was a decent way to get a full-time job as a Program Director at a community radio station in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada, but not such a great way to finish his thesis, so he stopped at a Masters in Computer Science. He can be heard frequently on CHSRfm.ca, and two of his shows regularly appear as podcasts, and can be found at encaffeinated.ca and theweirdshow.com. He likes cats enough to pet them but not enough to own one, and computers enough to own several but pet none of them. He will someday write a million words, but at this rate, that will require life extension, so he eagerly awaits the ability to upload into a computer, if that hasn’t already happened and this is all only a simulation.
This month’s cover art is “Abyssal” by Jason Deem, a designer, art director, and illustrator who mostly creates fantasy and horror art, and is the resident cover artist for Grimdark Magazine. You can find him online at spiralhorizonart.com, or in real life in Dallas, TX.