His mail rattling with each step, the sergeant of arms strode with purpose into the cavernous hall. In one hand he dragged the submissive priest behind him, his other hand rested on the hilt of his sword. The whole while, the Prince watched the spectacle, a look of boredom on his face.
He slumped in his throne, one leg bent with his foot resting in the seat cushion, his opposite elbow set on the arm of the chair with his chin planted in his open palm. He visibly jumped when the sergeant flung the priest across the floor, whereupon the cleric slid to the bottom of the raised dais.
Lying in a crumpled pile, the priest mumbled incoherent prayers in between whimpers. Recovering from the surprise of the clergy’s sudden forced genuflection, the Prince straightened in his throne, assuming what he thought was a more regal posture.
“Your highness, the priest you summoned,” the sergeant bent one knee, tipping his helmet in salute.
“Did he tell you where the girl went?” the Prince leaned forward, only far enough to peer at the old man at his feet.
“He claims he does not know,” replied the sergeant while aiming an armored boot at the priest’s frail body. “My troops have ransacked the chapel, she is nowhere in the cathedral. We will find her.”
Rising from his throne, the Prince moved to sit on the bottom step of the dais. Stroking the old man’s head as he would pet one of his prized hounds, he murmured sounds of comfort. With the same reassuring hand, the Prince snatched a fist full of the priest’s white hair, pulling his head up to expose his pale neck. In his other hand a stiletto, kept hidden in his boot, was pressed against the old man’s jugular.
“You gave her sanctuary,” the Prince accused.
“No, sire, I did not, I could not,” the priest words almost too quiet to be heard. “I do not know where the girl is, I swear.”
“Take him,” the Prince released the priest, letting him dropped to the floor. “Either find out where he has secreted my bride or send him to his Maker.”
Taking a handful of the priest’s cowl, the sergeant dragged him back out of the hall. The Prince gestured to one of his other attendants, directing him to bring one of his consort to his bed chamber. If the sergeant returned with the missing girl, he would deal with her as only he could.
When the sergeant finished his interrogation, he found the Prince in his rooms, the unlucky consort’s pale and lifeless body on the floor in front of the brazier, her eyes open and unfocused. The sergeant briefly surveyed the scene in the bed chamber, quietly giving an order to the attendants at the door to remove the dead woman.
“What did you find out?” the Prince, smeared in crimson blood, didn’t bother to cover his own nakedness, a languid smile on his face.
Watching the prince trace random designs in the spatter on his chest, the sergeant forced down the urge to gag. A man accustom to ordered violence, the sergeant couldn’t comprehend the Prince’s lust for inflicting pain for pleasure.
“The girl went into the catacombs,” the sergeant assumed his customary deportment. “The priest gave her his rosary, a sign to the spirits to allow her passage.”
“Did she escape?” Finally looking up, the Prince used the bed covers to wipe off his hands.
“I ordered two men into the tunnels, but they were sent back, barely able to report,” the sergeant, shook his head, remembering how terrified his men were. “The spirits will only speak to you sire. They are aware you are seeking the girl, and won’t answer to any one else.”
“As it should be,” standing by a ewer of fresh water, the Prince allowed one of his attendants to wash the gore from his body. “What else did the spirits say?”
Giving his full report, the sergeant relayed that the spirits refused passage to any other without the Prince’s presence.
“You will accompany me to the catacombs,” ordered the Prince. Once the Prince was washed and dressed, he didn’t want to wait any longer to hunt down his wayward bride.
A troop of men stood guard at the entrance of the tombs. A low, moaning wind kept them far from the gate.
“They will tell me where the girl is?” the Prince asked his sergeant.
“That is my understanding,” the sergeant stood in the dark doorway, his sword drawn at the ready.
Pushing his way around the guard, the Prince moved into the pitch black. Followed by the sergeant and two torch bearers, he announced himself to the spirits.
Stumbling out of the gate days later, the sergeant was alone and near death. Fading in and out of consciousness, it was another week before he could speak coherently about what happened.
Once the Prince was in the labyrinth of tunnels in the catacombs, the spirits began speaking to him. Playing on his vanity, they easily separated him from the other men, telling him that he alone was worthy of their help. Lost in the dark, ghosts of long dead kings buried within the tombs bolstered his false sense power and eminence. Leading him deeper, down into forgotten depths, the Prince was abandoned in the blackness, the voices of his ancestors taunting him for his pride and arrogance.
Outside the castle, far away from her past life, a young woman sat at a massive loom, weaving a pattern she created for her first commission as a full guild member. A well-worn rosary, a life-saving gift, hung from her belt. The town people whispered that she had the gift of a seer, able to speak to the dead, a skill she learned in the castle catacombs.
A continuation of this story: Catacombs
For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Janey challenged me with ‘Vanity working on a weak head produces every kind of mischief.’ (Jane Austen)” and I challenged Fran with ‘If you live to be 100, I hope I live to be 100 minus 1 day, so I never have to live without you.’ ~ Winnie the Pooh”