Author’s Note: I humbly submit June’s edition of Cait Gordon’s 2020 Flash Fiction Challenge, featuring Parliament Hill as this month’s setting, the object is a pill bottle, and the genre is historical fiction – all in 1000 words. Thanks for reading and enjoy! Note: The city of Ottawa was founded as Bytown in the 1820s. Parliament Hill didn’t exist then as it is today, but the Barrack Hill Base did in its place.
Harold stood at the ship’s bow staring over the open water. The wooden dragon head, attached to the front, bobbed up and down in the rolls of the waves, and the rhythmic splashes of the oarsman echoed behind. The westward trek up the Ottawa River had been exhausting. With wind directly to their front, they couldn’t rely on their sail.
Harold’s long flowing beard and braided pig tails blew astern. At least his horned helmet stayed on his head. Content on his first journey, he dipped his fingers in a small leather purse attached to his belt and retrieved a small bottle, stopped by a cork. “Adrenal Nucleoprotein Tablets, take two a day.”
“Not sure what Colonel By will use them for. Too bad Doctor Smith came down with the clap. He would’ve loved the trip.” thought Harold.
A fortress on a hilltop signaled their arrival in Bytown. Harold bounded to the stern.
“Magnus,” he barked, “we’re within a league of Barrack Hill. Reduce speed for docking.”
Like Harold, Magnus wore a horned helmet and heavy furs, and yelled the order to the crew. The longboat slowed.
“What on…” yelled Harold. ”They fired a cannon at us!”
“There’s the entrance to the new canal,” Magnus replied. “It should shelter us from the fortress’ cannons. Crew, full speed ahead.”
Cannonballs rained on either side of the vessel.
“Magnus, know what these are for?” He showed him the pill bottle.
“Why should I care now? We’re in the heat of battle! Oarsmen! FASTER, like your life depended on it.”
After a tense minute, Magnus turned the helm hard to port and the crew slowed the ship gracefully into the inlet. Harold had never seen anything like it, but in the distance steps of the lock appeared that would take his ship down the canal. They needed to come to a dead stop because the lock-master had to lower their ship and open the gates to continue them their journey. He wasn’t around.
“Why did they shoot at us?” asked Harold.
Magnus hopped off the boat with rope in hand and tied the ship down to a cleat and ran to the front. A crewman tossed him a line and he repeated the process before returning.
“Maybe it was a mistake?” said Harold.
“They must’ve thought we were Americans attacking them,” said Magnus.
“Do we look like Americans?” said Harold pointing to his horned helmet. “Besides, the doctor told me he alerted Colonel By of our arrival.“
A bugle sounded from the top of Barrack Hill and a garrison stormed out of the fortress.
Magnus grabbed a two-handed axe. “Ha-ha! We’re in for it now! I’ve been waiting for this moment for nearly a year!”
“What?” said Harold. “When I signed up to join the North American Nordic Society last week, I didn’t think I’d be risking my life!”
“You’re not serious? We live for this stuff! A big part of what we do is historical re-enactments. Look at the men! They’re all primed and ready to go!” The crew had grabbed their axes. “Man, Doctor Smith must be regretting missing this! First one he’s missed in years!”
The crew charged off the ship and ran towards their assailants on the hill. Their blood curdling screams made Harold’s hair stand stiff on the back of his neck.
“Praise be to Odin!” Before Harold could reply back, Magnus leapt off the boat to join the others.
Harold stayed behind and observed the vikings and soldiers having a bally-good time fencing and sparring with their weapons. He never learned in history class of a Viking-British battle that involved muskets and axes, but it didn’t bother his shipmates. Next time, he’ll be sure to bring a weapon.
He fingered the pill bottle again. He had his mission. Nervous, Harold walked forward into the sea of clanging weapons with his hands in the air.
A soldier stopped his sparring. “Why aren’t you fighting?” he asked.
“I have something for Colonel By, may I see him?”
“He’s a busy man. What business do you have with him?”
“I have his Adrenal Nucleoprotein tablets from his doctor,” said Harold shaking the pill bottle, “who asked me to deliver it.”
“Doctor Smith not here? Too bad! He would’ve loved this! I’m Captain Johnson. We are all field engineers working on the canal project. This town is so boring that we welcome some fun from the Society. Hope you didn’t get too scared with our cannon welcome! We need some target practice, ha-ha.”
They walked up the hill together to the fortress. Johnson introduced Harold to Colonel By.
“Your pills sir, as prescribed by your physician.”
“Thank goodness,” said Colonel By. “With this bloody canal project, we’ve had so many delays and cost overruns, I thought I’d die of a stroke. You know, we built this thing to protect us from an invading American force. Doubt that’ll ever happen now. And my reward for my efforts? A nagging headache and missing all the fun outside.”
He read the instructions on the pill bottle and pulled the cork at the top of it without success. “Damn, can anyone open these things?” He smashed the bottle on the edge of a table and picked some pills in between the small shards of glass.
“Ah, much better,” the colonel said swallowing a handful. “Now, Harold. For giving me the relief from my aches and pains, how would you like to take your fine vessel I see tied in my lock on an inaugural sail down my canal tomorrow? Before it even opens up to the public.”
“I’d be honoured. Can I wear my horns?” said Harold.
“But of course, I too am part of the Nordic Society.”
The following morning, Harold, the crew, and Colonel By wearing his viking helmet, navigated the locks to begin their 200 kilometre trek to Kingston. The first of many voyages boaters would take along the Rideau Canal.
Viking Siege © 2020 Bruce Gordon. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without permission except in the case of brief quotations in critical articles and reviews. For more information, contact Bruce Gordon.