THE CONFESSIONS OF SAINT CHRISTOPHER: WEREWOLF Chapter 11
Not only did the Chieftain deign to talk to a slave, he came to me.
The previous night, the beast had been most unhappy to find itself at the bottom of a hole. As I had dug down to sixty or so feet, however, it could not leap out. When it tried to climb out, its claws could not find purchase in the damp earth. It tore away great handfuls of the well’s circular wall, to no avail. Oh, how it raged! The Marmorca stood gathered at the top of the hole, on occasion dropping in a flaming branch for light, which but served to irritate the monster all the more. There were no unbelievers in the village by morning, when they lowered the rope so that I could climb up.
“Tell us how one demon will free us from this other to which we owe tribute!” the Chieftain commanded. I recognized him as such by his bearing, a huge man with beard and hair down to his waist, a deep, jagged scar along his left forearm. He carried a single-edged battle-axe, its head near as wide as my chest, its edge nicked and dulled by a thousand cuts. Even though I knew him to be the leader of the barbarians, I pretended, as a provocation to his pride, not to know.
“Who are you?” I demanded.
My insult had the desired effect as the big man’s eyes and nostrils flared. The others who stood surrounding us—it seemed the whole village had turned out—might have been afraid of me at that point, but not their Chieftain.
“I am Valsalvas!” he thundered. “War-chief of the Marmorca! Scourge of the Romans!”
Blowhard, I thought, but did not say it. “I am the man who holds your fate in his hands!” he said.
“How is that?” I asked. I heard someone in the crowd gasp at my effrontery. No one, I supposed, ever spoke to this Valsalvas in such a way.
“You are no demon now, are you?” he said, shaking his weapon at me. “I will hack you into pieces if you do not do as I command!”
“Save your threats,” I said. “There is no way in which you could seek to destroy me that I have not already contemplated myself. Start chopping away at me with that big axe of yours and I would transform into the beast and kill you.”
“You dare . . .?!” he spat.
“He to whom I am in thrall,” I said, “and who will not allow me to die, is the king and lord of all Devils, and I assure you, Valsalvas of the Marmorca, his power is far greater than yours. Or do you want to challenge him?”
Terrible though he was, and secure in his own might, still could I see in the barbarian’s cruel eyes a superstitious fear. Even the greatest, strongest of men is still only a man. This Valsalvas understood that much.
“You summoned me, wretch!” he reminded me, managing to salvage his pride in the process. “That means you desire something from me, something your Devil master cannot or has not given you. Shall we bargain, then? Tell me what it is you desire in exchange for ridding my people of the vrykolakas. Your freedom, no doubt?”
As I have said, it seemed all the Marmorca had come out that morning, this including the slaves and the women. I saw at some little distance my two companions from the slave post, the two Christians. I could not remember their names, but I pointed to them. “It is not within your abilities to give me my freedom, Valsalvas,” I said. “And so I ask for the freedom of these two men.”
Valsalvas turned, staring down the men, where they stood gaping, with contempt.
“Those two dogs?” he sneered. “You are trying to trick me, Devil-slave! To ask for something so paltry!”
“The price is too low?” I said. “Very well. I ask for freedom for all your slaves. Set them all free!”
The Chieftain glared at me. “Freedom for them, but not for yourself. You expect me to believe…”
“I told you, it is not in your power to grant my freedom. It is my hope, my only hope, that the vrykolakas will kill me, even as I kill it. One creature of the darkness pitted against another, the strength of the Devil divided against itself! Death will be my reward, if I am to have any reward at all! And so I bargain, yes, for the lives of your slaves! If you do not agree I will not help you!”
I had lost myself in the moment. I spoke without fear, for indeed I had no fear of the Marmorca, so great were the distresses I already bore, and I spoke without thinking, too, I confess. In that I made a mistake. I also had made a mistake in judging Valsalvas’ intelligence by his appearance. The man, it turned out, was far from stupid.
“You have given yourself away, Devil-slave,” he said, sneering. “You admit to me that you desire nothing save your own death, and that the vrykolakas is your only hope of achieving this. I think you will fight the vrykolakas for your own purposes, whether I offer you anything or not!” He laughed.
I cringed. I knew he had me.
“But let it not be said that Valsalvas the Fierce has no honor!” he continued. “I will grant your original request, at least. Those two feeble whelps, over there, will have their freedom, if you keep your vow, and destroy the vrykolakas!”
“Those two and one other,” I said.
I had seen her drawing closer, one timid step after another, watching. The pretty little slave girl, the one who had asked for prayers for her friend. I pointed her out. I might have gained freedom for every slave in the Marmorcan village, had I been more shrewd, but I had misplayed that gambit. I could help this girl, if nothing else. “She goes free also,” I said.
The girl gasped. I heard her. Valsalvas roared with laughter.
“Taken a liking to her, have you?” he said. “Yes, a pretty thing, isn’t she? I wonder what you might hope to do with her, since you intend to die. Ah, but there is some little time before you die, isn’t there?” he guffawed. Then he reached out one of his giant arms and grabbed the girl, dragging her into his embrace. “What do you think, Samaethea? This creature has taken a liking to you! Wants to paw at your supple flesh!”
She looked like a child in his grasp, or a doll. And she looked terrified.
“I’m afraid she won’t be going anywhere!” Valsalvas said. “She belongs to me, and I’m much too fond of her to ever let her go. Not until she is old and worn out, but then I’ll find some use for her, I’m sure! No, Devil-slave, I’ll provide you with women, if that’s what you want, but this one is mine!” He cackled, squeezing the girl’s rump, almost lifting her off the ground as he did so.
The girl, Samaethea, looked at me. Her face conveyed some trace of gratitude, in that I had thought of her at all, but for the most part it bore the same helpless despair I had come to know so well. For her, it seemed, as for me, death would offer the only hope of escape from her sufferings.
But was death more than either of us could hope for?
WAYNE MILLER is the owner and creative director of EVIL CHEEZ PRODUCTIONS (www.evilcheezproductions.blogspot.com, www.facebook.com/evilcheezproductions), specializing in theatrical performances and haunted attractions. He has written, produced and directed (and occasionally acted in) over a dozen plays, most of them in the Horror and Crime genres. His first novel, THE CONFESSIONS OF SAINT CHRISTOPHER: WEREWOLF, is available for purchase at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/734763
MORTUI VELOCES SUNT!