Skulldrinker [A Bit of Flash Fiction]

Posted: July 27, 2021 in Uncategorized
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[Note: This short piece originally appeared in Pendragon (now defunct) but it’s been almost 8 years since it saw print, so I thought I’d throw it up here.]

“Cups! Get your cups here! I’ve got flagons, tankards, skins, and steins! Cups! Get your cups here!”

The old man pushed his cart down the cobblestoned street, his wares clinking and banging together. The sun was just dipping below the city skyline, long and ominous shadows reaching like grasping fingers along the walls and ground.

He stopped outside a tavern, the sign swinging back and forth declaring its name as The Knight of the Burning Pestle. A few younger folk were lounging outside, pipes clutched in teeth. The mayor, in his infinite wisdom, had recently declared smoking inside verboten, citing fears of fires. Most people thought it was because he couldn’t stand the smell of pipe smoke, while he did enjoy taking in the local color at every opportunity.

“What’s that you’ve got there?”  one the smokers asked, pointing to the canvas that covered a number of the cup-maker’s wares.  Given the weapons they carried and the clothes they wore, the old man took them to be adventurers or mercenaries. Wasn’t much difference between the two when you got down  to it.

The old man smiled, resting against the handles of the cart. It was obvious he’d been a large man once in life, and his frame still possessed a large portion of that strength. “Oh, just a few trifles,” he said. 

He pulled aside the cover, revealing a variety of goblets. Each was unique in their grotesquerie, stylized as a severed head, but with gemstones where the eyes were to be. In most cases the lower jaw was missing, having been worked into the base of the drinking vessel.

“You made these yourself?” a woman asked. From her robes and the staff she carried, the old man marked her as a mage.

He nodded. “Took me a long time to get it right, too. Skulls make for a piss-poor vessel you see. All those holes. It’s not just where the eyes were either. There’s the ear holes, the place where the nose used to be, and you have to seal the bottom part neatly too, otherwise all the wine runs out. I found the trick is using something to seal all those little holes. Resin works pretty well, and I found a way to make it stand up to alcohol as well.”

“What? You expect us to believe that those are actual skulls? Ha!” the biggest of the group laughed. His hand rested on a massive broad sword, and his beard was tangled with bits of food and bone. “If that were true, old man, I’d have you killed for a murderer or worse.” He scratched at his beard. “Of course, you could just be a graverobber. That’s almost as bad.”

The old man shook his head. “Oh no, I’ve acquired all of these over the years from the bodies of those that have crossed me,” he laughed. “Ever heard the tale of King Latimer the Friendless?”

A slender man, a lute slung on his back, nodded slowly. “I heard he abdicated his throne ten years ago. There’s rumors he went away, looking to perfect a secret technique and vowing to return to his kingdom when he felt the time was right. Honestly, we’re better off without him. He was a tyrant and a despot of the worst sort.”

The old man grinned, drawing a silver-runed axe from under the cart. “Friendless? Hmm. I suppose. But I did finally figure out how to drink wine from my enemies’ skull, and let me tell you, there are few things as sweet as that.”

The screams that rose that night heralded the return of King Latimer, and that night he earned the new appellation of Skulldrinker, his legend and his infamy echoing down the centuries. 

Comments
  1. How morbid! And fun in a very dark sort of way. =)

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