‘… some damned odd fellows in the earlies.’: Three examples III

In the course of telling you about two chaps at a time and place, where they were to be the last expected, I seemed to have mystified you more with the account of Flashman in a tight fix…. but this is necessary so that you enjoy the denouement all the more when it eventually gets here. Trust me, I know what I’m doing….

We were at the point where Flashman, escaping Gurdana Khan and his men, is pulled back to safety by his orderly, Jassa. Lets take it from there.

~~ I’m not certain what line our conversation took, once I’d heaved up my supper, because I was in that state of blind funk and shock where talk doesn’t matter, and I made it worse – once I’d recovered the strength to crawl indoors – by emptying my pint flask of brandy in about three great gulps, while Jassa asked damfool questions.

That brandy was a mistake. Sober, I’d begun to reason straight, and let him talk some sense in me, but I sank the lot, and the short result was that, in the immortal words of Thomas Hughes, Flashy became beastly drunk. And when I’m foxed and shuddering scared into the bargain… well, I ain’t responsible. The odd thing is, I keep all my faculties except common sense; I see and hear clearly, and remember, too – and I know I had only one thought in mind, seared there by that tartan villain who was bent on murdering me : “The durbar room – his best refuge!”. If there’s one thing I respect, drunk or sober, it’s a professional opinion, and if my hunters thought I’d be safe there then by God not Jassa or fifty like him were going to keep me from it…

Well, Flashman does go the durbar room and has a lot of excitement there, but it is out of the scope of this post, fascinating as it is. From there he is taken by two slave girls to be bathed, but it is a dastardly plot. Just saving himself from being crushed by a falling roof – while one of the girls is, in his place, Flashman scrambles to safety – relative safety, that is. He is set upon by three hooded assassins armed with scimitars, who kill the remaining girl before turning their baleful attention on him. Our hero manages to drop the leading one with an arrow shot – don’t ask where he found it – and grabs the sword, but there are still two against him. Back to the good lieutenant…

~~ I grabbed it, knowing I was done for, with one of the flank men driving at me, but I managed to turn his thrust and hurl myself sideways, expecting to feel his mate’s point searing into my back. There was a yell and clash of steel behind me as I landed on my shoulder and rolled over and up, slashing blindly and bawling like an idiot for help.

Wasted breath, for it had arrived. The other flank man was desperately trying to parry the sweep of a Khyber knife in the hand of a tall robed newcomer – which with a scimitar is rather like opposing a pea-shooter to a rifle. One slash and the scimitar blade was a shattered stump, another and the thug was down with a cloven skull – and the man whose thrust I’d parried leaped back and was off like a hare, dodging for the shadows. The robed apparition turned from his victim without undue haste, took one long stride and brought over his sword-arm like a fast bowler, letting the Khyber knife go; it turned once in the air and drove into the fugitive’s back, he hurtled against a pillar, clinging to it with that…. (well, lets not be too graphic) … and slid slowly to the floor. Twenty seconds earlier I’d been having my knees washed.

The robed man strode past me, recovered his knife, and cursed as blood splashed his coat – and only then did I realise it was a crimson garment in the tartan of the 79th. He stalked back, hunkering down to wash his blade in the water lapping over the tiles, and surveyed the shambles where the bath had been, the great rock that filled it, and the dangling chains.

“Well, I”ll be a son of a bitch,” says he. “So that’s how they did for old lady Chaund Cour. No wonder we never saw the body – guess she didn’t look like much with that on top of her.” He stood and barked at me. “Well, sir? You aim to stand around bollock-naked and take your death of cold? Or would you prefer to make tracks before the coroner gets here?”

The words were English. The accent was pure American.

To be continued….


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