THE CONFESSIONS OF SAINT CHRISTOPHER: WEREWOLF Part 16
Elsora won my devotion that day.
She had nursed me throughout the night as I grew sicker. “I fear I have been poisoned!” I told her.
The sun had scarce risen when Valsalvas and several of his soldiers came to get me. I did not see them coming; I lay inside on my crude cot, helpless. Elsora saw them and she ran away. But as I soon learned, not to abandon me to them. She had no cause to owe me her loyalty, yet loyal she proved. Ugly, mannish Elsora, as fierce a protector as I would ever have!
“I knew you were the cause of this!” I managed, coughing, as Valsalvas had his men drag me from beneath the covers. “You put something in the wine!”
Like all men intoxicated by their own might, Valsalvas couldn’t help boasting. “I went to see the witch!” he said. “An old woman, an outcast from the black tribes to the south. She told me how to deal with you. Gave me a special potion, just for you!”
They dragged me through the doorway by my legs. My limbs were paralyzed. Breathing itself proved a labor.
Lying in the dry dirt, I saw Elsora returning. With her came Dalmontenes and several of his men. Oran too accompanied them; he and Elsora were the only ones unarmed. Dalmontenes looked ready for a fight.
“What are you doing?” Dalmontenes demanded.
“Since when does your Chieftain have to answer to you?” Valsalvas barked. His own men, the six of them, had spread out, their hands on the hilts of their swords. Dalmontenes had four men with him, four fighting men not counting grim-faced Oran.
“Reprobus is a comrade,” Dalmontenes said. “A member of my crew.”
“You will have to find another,” Valsalvas said. “This one is too dangerous to our people to live among us.”
“Dangerous to them,” Dalmontenes said, “or to you?”
The two fierce men stood appraising each other, testing each other.
“Will you throw your life away for this one?” Valsalvas asked. “You know well the price for rebellion, Dalmontenes. It will cost your head! Is this dog worth it?”
“I lose my head,” Dalmontenes said, “only if I fail to take yours.”
All the men tensed.
“Draw your sword,” Valsalvas hissed through clenched teeth, “and you die! You and all your kin!”
“No!” I shouted, or tried to. I had not known Dalmontenes long, but I had grown to like him. The same with Elsora, and even my irritating devotee, Oran. I did not want to see them harmed should Dalmontenes attempt a coup and fail. “Do not fight over me, Dalmontenes. I am already dying.”
Dalmontenes stood balanced on the precipice. I could see how much he wanted this excuse. He had made it known to me how little use he had for Valsalvas. Hated him, in fact.
“Don’t do it, my friend,” I urged. “I have enough bloodshed to account for without provoking more.”
“You heard him,” Valsalvas said. “Be off, while you are still able.”
Dalmontenes didn’t move.
“Please,” I said. “Not over me.”
All waited, the moment poised on the edge of a blade. At last Dalmontenes stepped back from the abyss.
“It takes a brave man,” he said as a parting shot, “to attack a man unable to defend himself!”
Valsalvas bristled at the insult but said nothing. He did not want a fight with Dalmontenes, not at that moment. I realized I had not prevented the inevitable clash between these two men; this would come, of a certainty. I had only delayed it. At least I would not provide the cause, and likewise bear the responsibility should my friends suffer.
They took me to the shrine of the vrykolakas, where indeed preparations had been made to construct a door: a pile of stones waited, and two slaves, one of them at work mixing a mound of mortar. A guard stood watching them, leaning on his spear, straightening to salute Valsalvas when he saw the latter approaching, with his men dragging me between them.
It is strange, the things that occur to one at such a time. On my back, looking up at the canopy of the forest, the sun in scattered patchwork breaking through the intertwined branches, it came to me what a pretty spot this was, tranquil, peaceful. As nice a place as any to end up entombed alive.
“The witch warned me not to kill you outright,” Valsalvas said. “She said that the demon is imprisoned within you and that I should leave it there. If I killed you, she said, the demon might get free and there would be no way to contain it. That is what happened with the other demon.” Here he meant the vrykolakas. “We will leave a little chink in the wall, for you to get air,” he continued, “and for the slaves to bring you food and water.”
“I can’t move,” I said. “How can I feed myself?”
“The effects of the potion will weaken in time,” Valsalvas said. “The food and drink the slaves bring to you won’t contain such a heavy dose, just enough to keep you weak, keep you from transforming into the beast. It is said the old woman can transform herself into a crocodile and into a bird, so I figure she knows what she is talking about.”
“You’re just going to leave me here?” I asked. “For how long?”
“Until I figure out what to do with you,” Valsalvas said. “How to kill you without freeing the demon, or how to destroy the demon. Perhaps until you die on your own.”
“Or you do,” I said.
“I am not going to die anytime soon. If you are still alive when I am an old man and ready to die, I will let you out. You can kill me then, if you are still able!” He cackled.
They laid me inside on the smooth dirt floor of the shrine. I lay there, immobile, as the slaves sealed the doorway. True to his word, Valsalvas ordered them to leave a small space open, just large enough for me to slip my hand through. And true to his word, the paralysis of my limbs wore off in a few hours.
This, then, became my home. Another, smaller version of the Penance House; only, unlike when I’d been confined to the other, this time I had no expectation of eventual release. Valsalvas kept my little prison under heavy guard, lest Dalmontenes or some ally come to break me out. Slaves came once a day to bring me some scant food.
The moon rose, but the toxins in the food kept me from transforming. The irony of it, of having found a cure at last to my curse, now that it was too late, was not lost on me.
I deserve this, I would tell myself. I deserve this as punishment for my sins.
In truth, I reckoned it a far less terrible fate than I deserved.
Of course I considered, early on, abstaining from the food and water they brought. Without them, without the toxins these contained, would I transform again before I starved? I expected so, if I waited until the moon had grown almost full. Then would the mounded rocks and slathered mortar, piled up against the shrine, prove capable to contain the enraged werewolf? Valsalvas harbored no doubts.
“Starve yourself if you want!” he’d said. “Perhaps you will become the demon again, not that it will matter! You will not get through that wall!”
I felt less certain of my prison. Not that it mattered.
I had decided to accept my punishment, to continue to ingest the witch’s poison, to remain a prisoner in the little Penance House. If I could not kill myself, this, then, would suffice. I regretted only that I had not been able to free Samaethea, but I had learned the agonizing lesson that some things will always remain beyond one’s control. I accepted this as one of them.
Prison, then. Penance. Justice. As strange as it must seem to you, reader, I came to a sense of peace. But you must understand my state of mind in those days, and the degree to which I bore hatred towards myself, feared myself and the thing inside me. Yes, I accepted, even embraced, my new fate. I might even have thanked Valsalvas for it.
Had I ever seen him again.
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!