That Damn Indian and the Ace of Blades
So, you want to hear how I ended up like this? Well, I reckon I ain't goin' nowhere, and neither are you, so I'll tell you what it is you want to hear, though I ought to warn you: it ain't for the weak of heart, swear to Allah it ain't.
Suppose I got to tell you who I am before I tell you the tale, so here goes. Folks call me Mississippi Moe, short for Mohammed, on account the banks of the Mississippi are where I came from. My family immigrated from Arabia couple years back and came to Vinland to escape the Sultan's Wrath during Turk War and settled in the South. My brother and me went out West after we came of age, looking for our fortune. My bro is a straight-laced fellow, he was just an Imam back then, but he soon became the Sherif of New Alexandria, a little town in Northern Texas.
I joined him in New Alexandria, but I didn't like the righteous life very much. I got to drinking, and to eating pork, and gambling, and I soon learned that out west, the Sherif serves as a keeper of the peace as much a religious leader. After my debts started piling up and I started causing trouble, my own brother ran me out of town at the head of a mob of angry Norsemen, Mohammedans, and Aztecs. Damn uncivilized if you ask me. He would have put an order for my arrest and decapitation to the Texas Huscarls if we hadn't been brothers.
After I fled New Alexandria I fell in with a mighty bad crowd. You must have heard of the Forty Thieves, the ruthless gang of murders, ruffians, and highwaymen that terrorized the Vinland West? Well, I was right there in the middle of them. The Forty Thieves was a motley collection of cutthroats and toughs. Skraelings, Mongols, Norsemen, Nahuatls, Arabs like myself, and even some Nipponese and Chinamen. I don't have to tell you the name of the fellow who led us, but I reckon I will.
He was an Indian, a religious fellow from the Punjab who knew the teachings of the Gurus by heart. They started calling him Slaughterhouse Selim after he gunned down Alfred Ulfheart and the Mad Wolves Gang up in Kansas, but after the gang went further west, he got another nickname.
We had a little argument with the Hip Sing Triad Organization over rights to the territory of the Jade Coast, and it didn't take long to turn into a shooting war. Selim took a snickersnee slash to the face and by some kind of coincidence caused by Allah or Iblis, it resembled his chosen weapon, the Kukri. Selim then drew his kurkis, he kept two of them in holsters at his belt, you see, and he hacked apart every single Hip Sing he could find. After that occurrence, the only thing folks called the leader of the Forty Thieves was the Kukri Kid.
Those were real good days for the Forty Thieves. We cut a swath of terror across Vinland like no one had ever seen and it didn't take long for us to become the most wanted criminals in the territory. A group of Texas Huscarls, armed with brand new Mjolnir MKIV Repeating Rifles went after us, but those poor suckers didn't stand a chance. The Kukri Kid decapitated the leader with a well-thrown chakram, and we blasted away the rest before they knew what him them.
After that we hunkered down in the Wyoming Lakota Territory, and decided to spend a little time laying low in a fortress carved out of the sheer cliff of a place called Kali's Tower. We set up a couple of barricades, put a few snipers up in the hills, and were able to kick back in absolute security.
Until Egil showed up, that is.
I still remember it like it was something that just happened. The Kukri Kid and I, along with most of the gang, was relaxing the shadow of Kali's Tower, where suddenly a fellow by the name of Ragnar runs in, telling us how one man on a horse was riding straight for us.
"Let me see," Selim said, and he followed Ragnar to where he had spotted the rider. The Kukri Kid took Ragnar's telescope and looked to where the Norseman was pointing.
"By the Gurus," he muttered. "Someone is coming. Looks like he's armed too. I reckon he's real brave or real stupid."
I squinted in the hot sun and could make out a figure on a horse, and there was definitely a sword on his back.
"You want me to pick him off from here?" Ragnar asked.
"Ah, that ain't no way to kill a man. Let's get a closer look." The Kukri Kid walked forward, and we all marched after him, weapons drawn. Soon, we got a little bit closer and we were able to make out the features of the horseman.
He was a Norseman, pale-skinned and with a big black beard done up in braids. I could tell by the ox-horns on his broad-brimmed hat that he was looking for trouble. Two dagger-guns, revolvers with a long blade slung under the barrel, hung from his belt and a Viking Sword with no hilt and a wooden handle rested on his back. As if he could tell we were watching him, he stopped the horse and dismounted.
"You think we ought to kill him, boss?" an Indian ex-Thug asked the Kukri Kid.
"He looks familiar, like I seen his picture somewhere," the Kukri Kid mused. "Ah wait, I got it. That's Egil, Egil Trollguns. If he's here to do what it is he does, that means we are in one Hel of a mess." When the Kid used the Norse 'Hel' he must have meant it, not being a Nordic himself.
Egil Trollguns, the Ace of Blades. I knew that name, everyone in the Forty Thieves knew that name, and I bet you even know who he is. He was born into a feud he didn't ask for, his family against that of Vinland President Harald Fairhair. The feud had been going on since back when all the Norsemen were still cooped up in Norway, and it hadn't settled down. They say Egil's family had Hill Giants and Werewolves in their lineage, and that was what made them so ornery and such good fighters.
Egil certainly was a case for that. He got his first kill when he was just seven years old, splitting a childhood friend's skull open with a bearded axe over a lost ballgame. As he got older, he just got meaner, becoming the top Berserk in his family. The Fairhairs tried to kill him with a poisoned drinking horn of mead, but he caught wind of it and gutted every Fairhair in the house. Soon he found himself an outlaw and had to flee the state. He went out west and became the kind of Viking you read about in the history books.
One time he was arrested by the mayor of Bjornhiem and found himself forced to spend the night in a jail. He busted right out, breaking down the door with his body, then while the mayor was busy entertaining a bunch of warriors and guests from across the country, Egil freed all the prisoners in the jail and raided the town's armory and bank. But then, Egil figured there weren't no honor in stealing from a man and not facing him, so he went back to the mayor's manor.
He cut down some sentries and snuck inside, then picked up a burning log from the fireplace and tossed it on the floor. The manor caught fire and the occupants tried to flee but Egil stood in the doorway with his blade drawn, giving the mayor and his friends a choice: burn up like sinners in Jahannam or die by the Viking's blades. They made their choices, and they all died.
And now he was here, probably looking for our heads. We all watched in quiet restlessness as Egil drew a scroll out of his dusty traveler's cloak. He cleared his throat and read aloud in a strangely melodious voice. I reckon those rumors about him being a skald and poet were true.
"I have here an order signed by the Jarl of Kansas, the Arch-Sherif of Wyoming, and the Cacique of Texas asking for the arrest of Selim Singh, alias Slaughterhouse Selim, alias the Kukri Kid and all members of his gang, known universally as the Forty Thieves." He folded up the scroll and returned it to his pocket. "I know you're out there, Selim. The Feds have promised me freedom if I bring you in, dead or alive. What's it gonna be?"
We all turned to the Kukri Kid to see his answer. Selim chuckled deeply and drew out a hand-rolled cigar from his belt, jamming it in his lips and striking a match on a nearby rock. "By the Guru," he said. "One man against forty? I've never seen the likes of it." He nodded to two of the Gang's toughest fighters, 'Doc' Mohandas an ex-member of the Cult of Thuggee who still carried his sacrifical pickaxe and noose, along with his revolver, and Iron Eagle, a Lakota Brave who wielded a tomahawk with terrifying accuracy.
"You two, kill him," the Kukri Kid said like he didn't care one way or another. Mohandas and Iron Eagle exchanged glances and then leapt out of the hiding spot and into battle-and straight to their deaths.
"Odin's Beard," Egil said with a deranged smile as he saw the two coming. "This is just the way it ought to be!"
Egil drew a bearded axe out of his belt as soon as he saw them coming, holding it loosely in his right hand just as Iron Eagle held his tomahawk. They stared at each other a few seconds and then let the axes fly. Egil jumped backwards and the tomahawk fell short, but he bearded axe thudded into poor Iron Eagle's skull with an agonizing thwomp. Iron Eagle tottered a bit and then fell backwards.
Meanwhile, Doc Mohandas had been getting in position. He struck from behind, wrapping his noose around Egil's neck while chanting his prayers to Kali. Egil gritted his teeth and pulled a leaf-shaped dagger from his belt and then stabbed backwards. After he had regained his breath he slugged the bleeding Mohandas and sent him to the ground, then drew out one his dagger-guns, bent down, and finished the job with a clean slash across the Indian's throat.
The Kukri Kid watched the whole thing in stunned silence. He blew smoke out of his mouth and then pulled his razor-sharp chakram from his neck and gave it a toss. Egil turned about and drew his sword, and I could see twin firing-tubes along the sides of the blade. He caught the chakram on his sword and gave it a little spin before letting it fall to the ground.
"Come on!" he whined, spinning around as he taunted. "That can't be it! These are the Forty Thieves I'm fighting! Come on, Kukri Kid, don't you disappoint the All-Father on this day!"
Well, the Kukri Kid weren't a foolish fellow, and he knew that sometimes in the card game you'll draw a Two of Sticks, sometimes the Bey of Cups, and sometimes the Ace of Blades, but you gotta know when to bluff and when to fold. The Kukri Kid decided he was going to fold.
"Fall back to Kali's Tower," he told us. "We'll meet him there."
We ran back like Iblis himself was at our heels, and he just might have been. Egil mounted on his horse and set off right after us, so we barely had enough time to pick up our guns and swords before he came charging in.
I had an old Gungir Rifle, my Shamshir, and a revolver, and I got them all ready. But I was getting a cold feeling down my spine, and I had a feeling trying to fight Egil would be like picking a fight with Allah. Now I ain't no coward. I've fought men before, and killed them, but there was just something about Egil's eyes that made me skittish as an unbroken horse. I picked up a good hiding spot in the rocks, and figured that if things got too rough, I could hide up there until Egil was killed or got driven away.
Pretty soon, I wasn't thinking about anything but my own safety, because Egil came charging into Kali's Tower and the Forty Thieves rushed out to meet him.
The first fellow went down under the hooves of Egil's horse, trampled to death before he had a chance to fire a shot. And then Egil leapt off of his mount, a bearded axe already flying from his hand and sliding into the side of a sniper. A couple of toughs rushed out with gun-axes and claymores drawn, but they should have known not to battle the Ace of Blades on his strength.
His own Viking Sword was soon drawn and he aimed it at his attacker and twisted the handle. One of the firing tubes went off and the charging Thieves sprawled backwards. Egil hacked into the survivors like he was some kind of wild animal, his eyes getting wide and roars and grunts coming out of his mouth. Six men died from his blade before the Forty Thieves fell back and drew their guns.
Someone hurled a cherry bomb at Egil, but he dived away and came walking through the smoke with a dagger-gun in each hand and an unearthly grin on his face. Each one of his twelve revolver shots hit their mark, and one by one the Forty Thieves fell dead. After his dagger-guns were out, Egil hurled out a couple of more axes, all of which hit their marks, and then ducked back behind a rock to reload.
It hadn't been ten minutes and half of the thieves were dead or dying. Well, Mississippi Mo ain't a fool, and I figured the Forty Thieves just about finished. I hightailed it for the hiding spot just as Egil came charging out with an honest-to-Allah Viking winged spear in his hands.
He struck down into one of the charging thieves, the spear's wings preventing the head from getting wedged into the body, and then drew it out and plunged in it again. Blood was turning the gray rocks of Kali's Tower red, and Egil was loving every minute of it. Then a shot rang on and he let out a grunt of pain. I gasped.
Ragnar stood up and held his Mjolnir Repeating Rifle aloft. "I killed him!" He shouted with glee. "I gunned the Ace of Blades down!"
But he had spoken too soon. Egil wavered, but he didn't fall. He touched the spreading red of blood on his shoulder and let out a mighty laugh. "By the All-Father! You have worse aim than blind Hod!" Then, to show he weren't hurt none, he hurled his spear and it pierced right through Ragnar's head.
Egil drew out his dagger-guns and started up with them again. The Thieves that weren't taken down by the bullets got cup apart by the blades. I even saw Egil decapitated one big Mayan by snapping the dagger-guns like they was a big pair of scissors.
After a while Egil found himself standing there and breathing hard. His guns were empty and there was blood on his cloak and his skin was blackened from the cherry bomb, but he had a wide grin on his face like he weren't no human but a desert dijinn with one cruel sense of humor.
Slowly, he started counting to himself, pointing to the corpses one by one. "Thiry-six, thirty-seven, thirty eight," he said, and then stopped. "Two more." I ducked down in my hiding hole and put my hands over my head.
"You forgot one," came a strong voice was the top of our makeshift fortress. It was Selim. The Kukri Kid was unharmed, and had one of his kukris in each hand. He spun them ominously as he walked down the mountainside.
Egil gritted his teeth and let his dagger-guns fall to the ground, and then drew out his Viking Sword once more. "I call this one adder," he told the Kukri Kid calmly. "She's got quite a bite."
"I have no doubts about that."
"Come, Selim. Let's end this in the proper manner, so man and god can sleep soundly. There's a seat in Valhalla for you, probably right beside mine."
"A heathen heaven, but I'm much obliged for the compliment," Selim said, tipping his turban. Then he leapt into the air and the battle was joined. The Kukri Kid lashed forward with a whirlwind of strikes with his twin kukris, forcing Egil back with each blow. Egil was bent over from his wounds, but he didn't look like he would go down easy.
The Ace of Blades and the Kukri Kid fought on, until sweat filled their eyes and fatigue filled their bones and they still hadn't left a mark on each other except for cuts and scratches. I decided I would intervene.
I grabbed the Gungir rifle and looked down the narrow sights. Egil's back was to me and I was a good shot. I could blast Egil before he knew what happened. But something must have happened, because Selim saw me and suddenly he jumped forward in front of Egil, his hands outreached like he wanted me to stop. But it was too late, the bullet having already left my gun. It struck the Kukri Kid in his chest and he fell backwards right into Egil's outstretched sword. Egil twisted the handle and the second firing tube went off, splattering the Kid's guts all over the sun baked rocks.
"Why'd he do that?" I wondered aloud, letting the rifle drop to the ground.
"A warrior knows a partner in the trade when he sees him," Egil explained, letting the Kukri Kid's body slide to the ground with great reverence. "And he knows a stinking coward too. You stupid piece of slime, I am going to make you regret killing that great man! He had honor, and you have none! Now I will send you to freeze in Hel!"
Suddenly, an idea came over me. I kicked my rifle away, then did the same with my revolver and shamshir. I raised my hands to show that I didn't have no more weapons left.
"Ah, come on Egil, you can't kill a fellow without any weapons! I'm unarmed, see! No honor in killing someone who's unarmed!"
Egil advanced on me, but then stopped to give this some thought. "I reckon you're right. I can't kill someone without any arms." But then a cruel smile came across his face and he raised his sword. "No arms. That's a damn good idea."
So that's why you see me sunk in the shadow of a saloon with my hat in my mouth and just stumps where a man ought to have arms. Egil hacked them both off in two blows, and then he burned the wound and bound it himself. True to his word, I lived, but I don't think I came out on top in that bargain, no sir.
Well, you heard old Mississippi Mohammed's story, now why don't you toss a couple of dinari in my hat, so I can get a some drinking horns of mead at the saloon? It's an old man's only pleasure these days.
Hey, what are you doing walking away like that! You ain't got a lick of honor on you, you stinking piece of slime! Come back here!
Oh fine, just keep on walking. You'll meet and fellow like Egil one of these days, then we'll see who's laughing.