Number five in the series of Flash Fiction challenges.
E is for Egremont
After a few weeks of animal-related stories, I felt it was time for a change. Mostly because I found a particular myth that I rather liked, but there are also fewer mythical creatures that begin with the letter E.
Egremont is a town in Cumbria , just outside the Lake District. Once an industrial town, famous for mining iron ore and dying cloth, it’s now a servicing town for the nearby Sellafield nuclear site. The town grew up around the castle, built in the 12th century and still visible today, albeit as a ruin.
There are a dozen stories that can be told about this place. The supposed curse that led to many inhabitants being denied male heirs is interesting enough. Or perhaps the tale of Grunwilda de Lucy, killed by a wolf on a hunting trip. More tantalising is the “Lost Boy of Egremont”, William FitzDuncan, who simply vanished one day.
I’ve picked a more magical one — a murder plot involving a hunting horn. None other than Wordsworth has addressed this story in a poem , so I might have my work cut out with this one…
E is for Egremont
Hubert snuck out of bed, skulked up the stairs to the tower, and breathed into the horn. No sound escaped. He had to stand on tip-toe for his lips to reach it, unlike his older brother, who at ten years of age was already a foot taller. Eustace could sound the horn so loudly, farmers ceased in their toil to gaze up at the castle on the hill.
Hubert blew again, harder, but still nothing could be heard. Inhaling until his young lungs almost burst, he blew into the horn until the tower swam around him, and stars exploded behind his closing eyelids, all in silence. He never felt his father catch his falling body, or noticed being carried back down the stairs. He woke when he was tucked kindly, but firmly, back into bed.
“Why can’t I blow it, father?” he murmured.
“Only the true heir to Egremont can ever sound that horn, Hubert. You know that.”
He was sure he saw his brother smirking in the next bed.
Eustace’s childhood ended when their father died, but the Crusades would be what made him a man. He promised his wife that God would reward his pious service with the son and heir they longed for upon his return. Hubert swore to himself that Egremont already had its heir. War was a dangerous thing, but perhaps not dangerous enough to rely on. One of Hubert’s drinking partners had proven amenable to the suggestion that accidents happened on the road. The purse of coins sealed his brother’s fate.
The drinking pits and gambling dens mourned Hubert’s absence, the townsfolk talked of the man pining away for his beloved brother, and the farmers peered up to see the figure straining his eyes for the returning banners of his brother’s army. When the day came, when the pennants rose above the horizon and flapped in the wind, Hubert stood tall. He pressed his lips against the end of the horn, breathed deep, and blew harder than his eight-year-old self could have ever imagined possible.
And silence echoed through the tower.
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