Thursday, March 22, 2012

Flashman at the Charge - Chapter 8

Once again Flashman is a Russian prisoner, only this second time around is not likely to as pleasant as his first stint.

For starters his jailer is the frightening and intense Ignatieff. The Russian mastermind isn’t entirely happy that East got away, especially as Flashman lets it be known that they were both aware of the plan to invade northern India via central Asia. On the other hand Flashman, not East, was the man he wanted. He then arranges a little demonstration for Flashman’s benefit.

A terrified soldier up on charges of insubordination is brought into the yard, the man is tied down to a low table and then Ignatieff produces a long whip, it’s quite thick and heavy at one end and thin and sharp at the other. This is the famed and feared Russian knout. It’s use, Ignatieff informs his prisoner, is illegal. However rules don’t apply to people like Ignatieff. There are two types of strokes with the knout, both of which Ignatieff has his flogger show Harry. The drawing stroke makes use of the whip’s tapered end and it cuts the skin, drawing blood, hence the name, there is debate about how many drawing strokes it takes to kill a fit and healthy man. The other stroke; the flat stroke, uses the weight of the knout to snap the spine, properly delivered it kills with one blow. After having killed a man to make a point, Ignatieff tells Flashman that if he doesn’t do as he is told then he will use him to settle the debate about how many drawing strokes it takes to kill a fit and healthy male.

For reasons of plot development Ignatieff turns into a Bond villain, giving Harry full details of his plan to invade northern India and congratulating himself on his own cleverness. Fraser does make a point of having Flashman observe how Ignatieff is too arrogant and confident by far and puts it down to his youth at the time (he was in his early 20’s). What makes Flashman valuable to the Russian nobleman is his reputation in central Asia, he’s done his research well and knows about Flashman’s Afghan exploits (Flashman) even down to his nick name of Bloody Lance. He’s not entirely sure of Flashman, though. On the one hand the reports from the front and his charge of the Russian battery fit with Flashman’s hero reputation, but what Ignatieff has seen of Harry’s behaviour first hand don’t fit with it and he’s highly dubious of the reputation Harry has a fire eating soldier. He wants to use the Englishman to help get the tribes of central Asia onside, because he’s held in high regard by many of them.

Although he’s still terrified of the knout and Ignatieff himself, Flashman’s spirits pick up a little when he hears where he’s going. Afghanistan and the surrounding territories may be hellish places, but to Harry Flashman they’re home country. He knows the languages, the customs and the people. If he can get away he’ll blend in with them and the Russians will never find him. Ignatieff doesn’t say anything, but he puts a tight guard on Harry during their journey, because he may also know exactly what the wily Englishman is thinking. Harry’s awfully good at running away.

Harry is surprised at the activity and size of the Russian camp in central Asia, but doesn’t have long to admire it all before he’s thrown into a cell with a couple of locals. He doesn’t recognise either man, but one of them must have upset the Russians because he’s been suspended from the ceiling of the cell by chains secured at his wrists and ankles and has to be supported by his cell mate so that he doesn’t dislocate his limbs.

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