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Signifying Nothing

February 9, 2012

Freedom just around the corner for you
But with the truth so far off, what good will it do?

——

Garkan shook uncontrollably. Sweat poured off of him like rain, far faster than it did the previous summer in the fields or any summer in all his years before that. Now it was Fall. There was a chill in the air.

This shouldn’t be happening.

Whatever the thing was, it was clearly stalking him. He could hear it scratching and banging about in the house above, searching for something. He tried desperately to control his breathing. He tried not to think of the bloody scene he had glanced at but still hadn’t had the chance–the stomach–to think about, to conceive of, to accept as having been in any way real as he lay under the floorboards of his own house.

His beloved wife, torn nearly in half at the midsection, entrails spilled out on the floor like newly filled sausage-ropes.

His daughter–only fourteen…at least it should have been her. The object he saw wore her dress, was in his house. Must have been her…

But couldn’t have been. The thing, the lump, the life-size straw doll he had seen had no head. There was a red, meaty flap with some hair attacjed and what appeared to be deep gouges in the floor planks nearby, but no other sign of Vannes’ pretty brown hair, her ocean blue eyes, her…

The thing above had gone quiet. The shuffling and throwing of things had subsided. He wondered–God forgive him for thinking it–if the thing had just given up and gone away, that he would be spared to live a life of an unhappy, childless—but living—widower.

Then he started screaming. A mighty blow, as if powered by a devilishly powerful arm, came down on the wood just above his head. Dust fell in his eyes and mouth, turning his fearful bellow into a pitiful gagging sound as he struggled to clear the passageway to shouting for help. He tried to clear his eyes of the dirt to see what was happening as the thing above slammed the floor again and again. He heard the wood crack and knew he would shortly be face-to-face with the demon.

When the floor-ceiling opened up, he could at last see it. The beast mere inches from his face resembled what he imagined a hound of Hell would look like, yet it also had human hands. A demon! A wolf demon!

That explained the strange markings he had seen, or rather mostly ignored, when he went into town recently. He had thought little of it when Frodrik, an old man known to never turn down free wine when it was offered–and to seek it aplenty when it wasn’t–had said to him and anyone who would listen that it was an ill omen.

One powerful strike with a claw, cold, hard and sharp like iron, split his face open. He knew his time had come.

He laughed and tried to speak with only half of his face moving as his mouth filled with blood.

“Quand on parle du loup…”

He wasn’t really sure why he was laughing as the light faded from his eyes for the final time.

——

The book had come from a witch they had burned. In truth, getting the book had been the primary reason for having her burned in the first place. In order to do so they, of course, had to point out what she had been up to and how God disapproved of it.

The author of the book was unknown. There were several theories floating about among the pontiffs who determined where the three went, who they went to visit, what was to be done to those unfortunate enough to garner the trio’s attentions. In her case, she had been using some of the information to create, among other things, miscarriages. She had done so more recently for a servant who got pregnant after being used by the son of the master of a local house. She had to either leave town, and being poor that meant becoming a prostitute in Paris or some other larger community, or to lose the unborn child. She chose the latter.

This information was easy enough for the three men to discover thanks to the sacred confessional and the cooperation of a priest in a neighboring village who had been reprting the goings on for over a year. The serving girl became their primary witness that the woman—what was her name? He could not recall, this being a common sort of occurrence of late—had been fraternizing with demons, had put a spell on the serving girl that made her lose the baby (which she conveniently blamed on a local Lutheran minister that had come into town), and was attempting to heal people with a power that had not come from the Grace of the Almighty, but must therefore be of the Evil One.

Mortime rarely thought of it negatively anymore—his raison d’être depended on it after all—but people were so goddamned gullible, so easily swayed to believe whatever horses*** some authority figure managed to say with a straight face, that really he could not help laughing watching the sheep eat it up, behave as ridiculous as asked, if not more so.

Yes, it was fun being the Church’s scalpel.

It had not always been so. Mortime had committed his first murder at the tender age of thirteen or fourteen (being a street urchin, he didn’t actually know his date of birth, his actual age, nor even the name he had been christened with, if such an event even occurred). He escaped prosecution for that and many other crimes.

Years later, at around the age of eighteen, largely out of desperation, he had tried to rob a coach outside Leon only to find himself quickly outmatched by—of all things—a bishop. He suddenly saw the clergy in a new light. Here was a man who dressed himself in robes and played God’s kindly emmisary but could kill easily, clearly had killed on numerous occasions.

And yet the Bishop did not kill Mortime. Instead he laughed at the young man and sized him up with a glance that seemed to pierce him to his soul (if he had one). The bishop seemed to make his mind up about something and told Mortime to make his way to a particular abbey some miles south and to ask for ‘Brother Enreiche.’ Having no other prospects and deciding that perhaps it was time to leave Leon anyway, he wandered toward the abbey as instructed.

Mortime thought he had been duped when he asked for the friar (he would later learn that Enreiche did not even exist), was taken to a small dark room in the cellar and several men assailed him, knocking him senseless and unconscious.

When he awoke, he found himself on a boat where he was expected to do some minor tasks for some bread and a little meat or be whipped and thrown overboard. When he arrived in Italy, he was again taken to an abbey, this time in chains along with several other unfortunates who had asked for the fictitious priest at one place or another.

This abbey served as a school, but not like the ones that were cropping up all over Europe. This one was about teaching how to kill and get away with it, to avoid detection, to eavesdrop on conversations, to divert attention from yourself and make an escape, to poison a target, to start simple squabbles between neighbors and wars between nations, how to spread rumors effectively, how to elicit a confession of any kind desired through dealing pain effectively but without death, and several other similar topics.

A large part of their indoctrination was dedicated to understanding how the Holy Father was to be their direct line to Jehovah himself and how, if they lived to the end of their training (more than a few did not), they were to be among the Holy Father’s favored children, daggers to strike at the hearts of unbelievers and other defilers of God’s will. They would operate where open warfare would be inefficient, quietly and economically, preserving God’s treasures that were safely kept under guard in the Holy Father’s palace. By having an effect like a fulcrum, smaller than the object that required moving when leveraged properly, they could do better than an invading army would and be far less costly.

And that is what the three men had done for years now. Though he had not done so lately before today, Mortime at times had wondered if there really was a God, and, if so, he also wondered if He laughed as Mortime did at the foolishness of his creations. Did He laugh at their pain, laugh at the hapless s***ting and pissing themselves when they died? Was it a divine jest that the body ended much as it had arrived, by soiling itself?

Thoughts like these were largely to pass the time. Waiting for the other two to finish their tasks could at times make him impatient. He had become the planner, the one who would visit a particular place in disguise to learn the lay of the land, the relative position of the buildings, hear the rumors, who was sleeping with whom, which people could be exploited to do what. It was, Mortime imagined, having a stage filled with characters, props, and set pieces that had no order at all, merely chaos. Mortime would decide who would play which roles, who was to die and at whose hand, how each scene would be set and play out.

He had a talent for it, he had discovered, and now took more pleasure in seeing how events would unfold. Sometimes things went quite surprisingly, which only delighted him more because he could learn how to improve his plans in the future and it made him think on his feet quickly to adjust the plans so that the end result was the same. Whoever was to die, would die.

He was a lot like God, if there were such a being.

This particular s***hole had earned the Church’s ire in so many ways that it was surprising how long it took to getting around to destroying the place. They had harbored jews. They had even once harbored a wandering Moor. They, like the burned bitch they took the book from that sealed the place’s doom, had started using herbs to heal instead of prayer. They had started discussions of converting en masse to Lutheranism. There was even talk of doing away with church altogether.

That last was the one thing that could not be tolerated. People had to be subject to God so that they would do the bidding of the powerful out of fear. Without that, there would just be chaos. Order must be maintained, even if it required killing entire villages to maintain it.

Mortime shook himself from these thoughts. It was unlike him to be so reflective on the past, to think about it all so…philosophically.

But this had been his masterpiece. That book had provided so much useful information. The harvesting and preparation of the substance that grew on bad wheat had provided hours of entertainment for the three of them after he had snuck in and spiced the town well with it.

In general whenever they used it, people had done all sorts of strange things. They danced in the streets, for one. The tests they had performed on prisoners had shown that if someone was expecting something awful to happen, that would be what they would imagine once the substance took effect. On the other hand, if they expected good things, they would be overly happy, dance, sing, laugh, giggle.

Mortime had spent some weeks seeding the town with rumors of a beast devouring livestock, had drawn strange, animalistic and demonic chalk symbols all over town in the nights previous to prepare the villagers for what was to come.

When it came time, there were mostly screams of unimaginable horror coming from the villagers. Mortime sometimes wished he could see what it was that they saw. What fiends had been unleashed through the poisoning the well? Did they see Beelzebub himself?

If so, the madness from the mere sight of such a thing soon soon set them to tearing one another apart. Strangulation was common, though there was also the man stabbing a woman long after her soul had fled her body for whatever reward, torment or oblivion awaited her.

Most importantly he had convinced a local woodsman, slowly and incrementally, by whispering to him while the man was in a drug-induced slumber that he was becoming a loup garou, a beast of legend, a hound of Hell. He slowly introduced the bad-wheat substance to him night after night, all the while whispering to him how the town had purposely made him live alone in the woods, how a particular woman in town should have been his but was promised to another just to spite him, how any number of accidental events had been nothing more than a concerted effort by the villagers to hurt the man because they secretly despised him.

“In fact,” Mortime explained toward the end of the preparations, “the nicer they are to you, the more they secretly hate you.”

That had been a stroke of genius. Now, even if someone smiled at the man, he would only see their deceit. It would feed the hatred Mortime had created in the man’s heart and that would translate into his using his very large arms and his sharp axe in ways that would hopefully surprise even one as used to seeing bloodshed as Mortime.

Mortime’s patience had paid off. The woodsman had gone on a rampage thinking himself some sort of beast. He was so convincing in the role that Mortime cast him in that even the “wolf’s” victims seemed to think they were being chased by an animal or demon. The man’s axe had become a great claw, rending flesh, beheading victims, disemboweling them. He was a one-man army, and killed… Mortime had lost track… probably thirty people in a twenty-hour span and struck blind terror in others.

Mortime again snapped himself out of his musings. Fillip had just come out of a small hovel nearby, a body in tow. The older man dragged it behind him by one bootless foot. Given the time it took him to enter and come out, the voluptous corpse’s half-dressed state, and the red-tint to Fillip’s lined face, Mortime knew that Fillip had just finished having relations with the corpse.

Good God, he thought. How many is that today?

Mortime shook his head in disbelief over the man’s necrophilial prowess. Fillip’s stamina was incredible for a man of his age. Mortime could only manage sex about twice every twelve hours at the whorehouse in which he spent time in between assignments, and that was with attractive, talented, living partners whose desire for Mortime’s well-muscled body was only surpassed by that for what was in his moneypurse. This man could f*** the dead all day long and never tire of it.

And that was the real beauty, the real blessing, of the position they held. They were permitted to indulge whatever sins they desired because they were in God’s service. He would forgive their transgressions because they killed for Him, tortured for Him, showed the world that He was to be feared, and removed any who refused to submit to whatever whims it was that His earthly representatives wanted this week. Their many rewards, their ability to do His Will and nothing could stop them, well that was proof that they were on the right side of things.

Occasionally, they would be stopped by some local sheriff or constable. The guard might be curious about what was in the sack (a dead body), why there was blood on Adolfo’s boots (because he’d just slit several throats—it was incredible he managed to keep it off of his clothing, though he typically worked in the nude), or why there was a muffled cry coming from the back of their wagon.

First, Mortime would show off his golden rosary. That would, in years past, at a rate Mortime estimated to be about a quarter of the time, put an end to any questions and they would be free to go. That particular item was well known to mean they were emmisaries of His Holiness and not to be trifled with.

But sometimes, in the second sort of situation, the man in question would still be looking for something. That would be when the coinpurse would open and they’d be on their merry way toward or away from whatever mayhem they had already or were about to cause. The purse would be a little lighter than it was previous, but that was still cheaper than paying off a magistrate to get out of jail.

Yes, bribery would take care of the lion’s share of the rest of the occasions. Usually.

The third kind was sort of an odd bird. These few (didn’t seem to matter if they were in a city or a village–this kind existed in both) would neither submit to religion nor greed. These sons of whores served neither Jehovah nor Mammon and the Book came up short on what to do with someone like that!

These were the ones that would awake to find themselves in bed with a dead whore or local girl (depending on if he was married or not, which Mortime deemed would be the most damaging to him, and the availability and character of a suitable beautiful female to murder in the bed next to the unconscious lawman). The interloper would soon be tried and sentenced for murder and fornication, even dereliction of duty in some locales if he had been inquiring while on duty. (Yes, once such a fine bastard inserted himself when he was not even working but passing by quite randomly, f***ing completely the bribe he was about to offer to a guard who’s business it actually was.)

Mortime had learned well what herbal mixtures to keep at the ready to put any person who saw too much to sleep quickly. He also knew how to arrange things so that the curious personage would never live to do so again and it would quietly serve as a message to others to not interfere.

More recently, after about the third time they painted the story for such a murderous scene, the first option became more prevalent than the second and they hadn’t run into the third type again since. Word spread quickly: If you see the golden rosary, you never saw it!. Mortime had heard that very phrase in a tavern when he was in disguise attempting to learn about a parish where a priest was questioning some minor decree of His Holiness, a place the three men had never even been near before. Not only had word spread quickly, it had spread far.

Thinking of Adolfo, where in Hades was the man? Was he off killing a few survivors or…

The answer came quickly. Adolfo made a corner with several children in tow. The young ones were walking of their own volition, seemingly happy with their newfound savior Adolfo.

Mortime could imagine where each child would wind up. The ten year old girl would wind up serving wine to the Church’s upper echelon on visits to the See. Her small, nubile breasts bumped and fondled “by accident” whenever one priest or other wanted something off of her tray. The younger one (seven or eight? It was getting dark and Mortime had trouble seeing her clearly) would be sold to some Caliphate, most likely, who secretly supported the Church’s war against his more powerful rivals. Or to some other despot in some far off European s***hole in the effort to support some other struggle that the Church was waging.

The boys, likely brothers from their appearance and around five and six, would wind up as monstery servants for a time or special altar boys, and either eventually join Mortime and others like him in their work when they were old enough–if the boys showed promise for the finer arts and survived the training–or be sent to work on a ship as pegboys aboard a vessel moving Cardinals and Bishops and Vatican gold and artwork from and to wherever the cargo was destined to be picked up and delivered.

Adolfo not only had a way with a knife, he had a way with children as well.

And then he had his way with them, though he showed far more restraint than Fillip did with corpses. Adolfo always remembered that the little flocks he recovered from this sort of foray were a precious commodity to be sold for the greater glory of God. “Those who cause these little ones to fall,” he would frequently say. And he treated them kindly both before and after whatever it was he did with them in private. Better than they would be treated when they reached their final destinations and their new, less gentle masters.

Soon, they finished spilling oil around the village and set fire to most of it, but not until after adding the finishing touches of evidence that would show that the village had engaged in black magic and had received just punishment from Hell itself in those parts that were not to burn but rather serve as a warning to others. The message always had to be deniable but clear.

After they were confident that the fire would spread much as desired, they loaded the few surviving children and their plunder into their wagon. Such as the plunder was in a small, isolated French community like this one. Fillip was good at finding where people hid their valuables, though, and had done surprisingly well despite the place’s meager appearance.

As Mortime started the wagon in motion, he heard the younger girl say to the older one, who was crying uncontrollably but thankfully quietly, “I love you. Remember that.”

Silly girl, Mortime thought as he smiled to himself.

She would learn as he had when he was young. They would all learn, likely sooner than later and likely in one or another of life’s harshest ways imaginable–experience could be like that. She, they, would learn. All of them.

Love is dead.

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