“They call you the Bard, correct?” the Inquisitor asked,
lazily reading the thick book in front of him.
Below him, hunched over the stone floor of the dungeon, a small figure remained hidden underneath piles of old and dirty rags. The hood leaned up, looking up at the tall wooden platforms, the face remaining hidden underneath.
“Yes, your holiness,” he said in garbled, unsure Spanish. The voice was raspy and dry, as if the writer had toiled under the desert sun, and the hood fell again to the floor. A man, one of the Protestants that had been convicted earlier in the evening, screamed as the whip hit his back.
“A friar from
“Yes, your holiness.” The same tone, the same movements.
“And not yet two months ago, you appear here and start telling blasphemous tales of wizards and unholy men and beasts.” The Inquisitor’s voice rose up, filling the cavernous chamber. “An island, where some of your fellow shipmates were cast and were subjected to the sins of witchcraft that you, for some reason, escaped unscathed.”
His voice carried across the room. The figure remained unmoved.
“Have you no explanation, Bard?” The Inquisitor said, leaning back in his wooden throne confused. “You are aware these stories are blasphemous.”
The figure looked up, held a gloved hand to his hood, and coughed heavily. He sounded as if he were choking on the dry air. “None, your holiness,” he said through his dusty chokes, “other than what I had previously told.”
The man screamed again as the whip cracked.
The Inquisitor paused, hesitating, thinking, before motioning to the scribe. “Very well,” he said as the man starting writing in careful letters. “Please recount your story for the court.”
The hood lifted up, looking at the tortured man beside him, considering. With a heavy sigh, he searched the rags with his gloved hand before finding a small, leather flask. “I’ll tell you,” he said, uncovering the top and putting it to the hood’s mouth, “but it is nothing that you have already heard.”
The red wine flowed down the front of the rags, pooling amongst the blood on the stone floor.
They were a day out of
The sea felt like it was pulling at him from all sides—an invisible army, tearing at his flesh with a thousand arms to bring him under, to let him join them and the countless others lost beneath the waves. The friar felt his robes taking the water, bring him down, under the surface…
“Il regarde comme nous avons un neuf personne.” A voice, old and worn, decidedly French and speaking low. “Vérifiez autour des plages, là pourriez être d'autres.”
Brother John Cid groaned. His head was wedged uncomfortably in the sand, his long gray hair tangled around him. The friar tried to move his hand to his head; the pain kept it on the ground.
“Il se réveille.” The Frenchman again, curt. “Vais, je traiterai celui-ci.”
Cid opened his eyes. The sun blinded him.
“Bonjour?” the man said, his shadow eclipsing the sun. “Est-ce que vous parlez francais?”
The friar was still dazed from the sun and the rough sea. He blinked a few times, trying to focus at the figure above him—another gray-haired man, dressed in the comfortable clothes of a minor lord or artisan. “Who…” Cid whispered before the other man interrupted.
“Ah, a Briton,” the man said in an accent. Cid blinked again; the man was smiling fiercely at him. “You were shipwrecked?”
Cid felt as if the man was examining him, calculating the risk, a beast being held back by powerful chains and strong, steely eyes.
“Yes,” he said, putting his hands to his knees as he sat up. The mysterious man continued to stare at him. “Where is this place?”
“Ah!” the other man replied, excited. “This is the Chateau Moreau. We’re an island, about halfway between Corsica and
Cid rose to his feet. “My name is Brother John Cid. I’m a Dominican friar.” He looked around—he happened to be lucky. The beach that the friar had landed on was small, flanked by piercing rocks and cliffs that would have surely torn his body apart. The cliffs themselves were on the edge of a steep slope, wooded by windswept trees and shrugs, a small mountain that led up to an enormous stone castle. Easily fortifiable, at least. “Do you get many ships here, Duvert?”
Duvert’s smile widened. “You just missed the last one for a few months, friar. They were all heading to the
Cid grimaced. “I see. Have you found any others? The ship I was traveling on was quite large.”
Here Duvert’s smile faded. “We are a large chateau, sir, but a small island with even smaller beaches.” He struggled with the words, not by barrier of language. “As soon as you were discovered, Monsieur Moreau sent some the peasants that live here with us to search the beaches and caves along the coast. My estimate is that there would only be a few at most.”
The friar badly needed some wine.
They found five more members of the former Crusade out of the dozens that had joined them. The knights Gaius and Christian were thrown at the same time as the friar; another knight named Lord Caldwell narrowly avoided the rocks and swam for shore, using broken pieces of wood; a young page named Archer floated ashore after also being flung into the sea; a hired mercenary named William who had jumped the ship with a small raft and rowed as best he could for land. All the others were dead, lost to the sea.
On the second day after the storm, long after the rogue William had been spotted and collected by the peasants and guards, Madame and Monsieur Moreau invited all the survivors to a feast in their honor.
Cid had spent the past two days, after resting and bathing in the luxuries of the chateau, exploring the small island. Nearly the entire hill was encompassed by the massive stone fortress, the same place that nearly all the peasants and the court of Moreau lived and worked. For most of the island, the hill fell to the sea in a tumble of cliffs, rocks, and caves. On the few gentler slopes, peasants tended to some small, scattered patches of crops and livestock.
Cid had gone up to one of the peasants, hoping to find a route to explore the caves excavated beneath the island. The man started yelling at him, trying to warn him of something, but the friar could not understand his native French: “Les bêtes, le dragon rouge!” His guesses to what it actually meant were overshadowed by his trusted logic: it couldn’t possibly mean what he thought it meant.
Further expeditions to the caves that bored through the core of the island were cut short, however, by his benefactors. When the friar arrived at the feast in his and the other survivor’s honor, the rest were already seated at the ornate table.
At the head of the table sat two figures in a throne fit for royalty. Monsieur Moreau, the lord of the chateau, leaned on an ornate rod made of gold and other precious gems, his red eyes and hair glimmering in the firelight. Madame Moreau sat next to him, leaning into his chair to get a better look at their guest, her dark hair contrasting her husband.
“Friar!” Monsieur Moreau exclaimed in near-perfect English, startling Cid as he closed the heavy doors behind him. “Glad of you to join us. How are you doing?”
Cid glanced across the room. The five other survivors were sitting there along with Duvert, the food glistening in the red light of torches. Moreau’s eyes flickered, like a predator stalking its prey. The Madame had leaned forward in cold, childlike curiosity.
Duvert was smiling again.
“I’m doing well, you’re lordship. I explored your island…” The friar hesitated. “…it’s a curious place.”
“Ah yes,” the lord said. “Part of the reason I live here. It’s odd, but as you can see I have a taste for the odd.” He indicated his staff—an orb that had arcane and blasphemous images inscribed across the glass surface.
Cid looked out of the corner of his eye. The expressions on Duvert and Moreau’s wife had not changed—expectant, as if this had already been written down.
Moreau seemed to notice his eyes wandering and sternly said, “Sit. Please.”
Hesitantly, the old friar took the last empty seat at the table, in between the blond-haired knight and the surviving page. There was a moment of tense silence—the survivors staring at the food in front of them, the magician smiling, the lady morbidly curious, the lord looking over them with the same eye that Duvert did when Cid had first come to on the beach.
Suddenly, Monsieur Moreau laughed. “Eat. Go ahead and eat.”
With that, the feast began. Cid took his wine and drank.
That night, as the nominal guards fell asleep and the moon started to set across the horizon, Cid left his room. He didn’t have long—the moon would be under the sea in the west soon, and he wanted to explore the rest of the island. When he had done it during the day, he had the strangest feeling of being watched by someone.
And what the peasant had said…it was bothering him.
The friar wandered out the doors. He grimaced; the guard post was unmanned. Not surprising, considering that they were on an island, but disturbing nonetheless. Slowly, steadily, he crossed the gentler slope—across the fields of wheat and grapes and pastures, to the far end of the island, the place where one could supposedly enter the caves.
As he reached the end of the island, he looked back. There was one torch still lit, facing him along the middle tower.
Sighing, Cid turned back around and climbed down the rocky slope towards the cave.
There were torches still lit in the cave—also unsurprising, it was probably linked to some sort of dungeon of escape route in case of emergency, but also very disturbing. The friar couldn’t help as if this were all expected, all planned out, as if they torches were lit not moments before to facilitate his arrival.
He wandered deeper within.
It became clear to him that these were not natural caverns, but rather dug out, designed, man made for some specific purpose. From what he had read, the maze Cid was currently exploring resembled some sort of labyrinth. It was not meant to be an escape route at all, but rather the home of something to keep in.
A noise, scampering feet behind him.
Cid turned back, quick and hard, and nearly lost his footing. “Hello?” he shouted into the labyrinth. “Who’s there?” He really expected nobody to answer, but out of the shadows she appeared.
She resembled a human, in position and posture, but was very…different. Very beastlike. The woman had a small snout, like a fox or some sort of bear, covered in red hair and a large tail behind her.
Cid stepped back, losing his footing and falling to the floor. He kept trying to run, the torches flickering and the footsteps of the creature behind him, screaming out a nearly human voice “¡No! ¡No vaya! ¡Por favor!”
“Get away from me, demon!” he yelled back, his leg twisted and injured now, an impediment.
“You speak English?” another voice, this one clicking, as if there were some sort of metal attached to his lips. “Juanita doesn’t mean you harm.”
Cid looked up. This one was a black and white bird of some sort, an abomination between man and beast. A moan escaped the friar’s lips.
“No, please, don’t.” The bird-man’s eyes welled. “We’re trying to help you. The man Moreau made a deal with a demon—that demon is Duvert.”
A roar came from the center of the labyrinth. The bird-man panicked for a second, looking around the near-empty hall, before relaxing again. “Tell me, did you eat the food? Did you drink the wine?”
Cid shook his head, unbelieving, unsure. “I—”
A second roar, closer this time.
“Did you?” the creature was deadly serious, his voice low.
The friar paused for a moment. “I…yes.”
“It’s too late for you then.” The bird man sighed. “My name is Green. I was a painter for this lord Moreau. He had always been interested in the blasphemous and the occult, the darker side of this world. That man Duvert showed up one day a few years ago, and…” he sighed, an awkward sound from his beak, “things began to change here.”
Some snorting, not far off, a large creature.
“He does it in the food. It used to be the ones who worked for him, his servants, those among his peasants, until Duvert showed him how to conjure storms and destroy ships. The stranded are his new subjects.”
Cid looked around the hall—other creatures had started gathering. A lizard, a grotesque insect, a cat, a dog, a pig. All of them bound by this curse?
His thoughts were interrupted by a new roar, at the other end of the same hallway they were in.
“The lord had a doctor. The doctor became the dragon.” The bird man crossed his wing-like arms across his chest. “It seems you are already showing signs of your curse, friar.”
Cid froze, his hands suddenly afraid to touch his own skin. He felt something pulling from his back, a long strand of tissue that curved over his head.
A scream—this time, not from the caves but from above, seemingly from the island itself. The sound was unholy, inhuman, an abomination, blasphemy. The island had claimed another.
“No. This is unreal. This is blasphemy!”
Cid turned around, running as fast as he could towards the coast…
After the story had finished, the Inquisitor had leaned back in his chair. He had been forward, interested in what he thought was going to be the “truth,” but as soon as the Bard mentioned demons or monsters or creatures or whatever sins against God he had dreamt up. More likely, he was a leper trying to hide his condition.
“Do you really expect me to believe that, friar?” His voice was cruel, cold.
The hooded figure remained fixated at the floor.
“The idea of some sort of dark magic, some kind of experimentation with the Devil’s Arts, happening right off of the coast of
The whipping had stopped; the man had collapsed.
The man in the rags sighed, reaching his gloved across the top of the hood, pulling back, allowing the glow from within to emanate across the room, brightening it, showing his eyes, his scales, his teeth, his sharp, dangerous teeth…
“A demon!” The Inquisitor cried, the guards stepping back in fear. “Capture it! Purify it! Kill it!”
The creature that was once Brother John Cid was breathing heavy now—he had spent too much time away from water, much longer than he should have. As the guards moved in, to capture him in the name of God, he collapsed, his sight fading from the world, the darkness moving in, but the tale told.
The job of The Bard was done.