“I cannot regret my prayers that brought death upon me.”

Storm with a Shipwreck (1754) by Claude Joseph Vernet (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The Mysteries of Malfait, or the Romance of the Dark Chateau, Part I

When the morning dawned red and still, I could scarcely breath. I paced to and fro for these signs of an impending storm rekindled my all-but-extinguished hope. Comte du Malfait’s ship would certainly be close to port by now, and once the ship had dropped anchor, all of my hopes would be truly dead. Thankfully, the morning portents proved true and by mid-day the storm had broken and raged around the high tower in which I was imprisoned. And it is true that I danced – nay, I capered – about and howled with delight as the storm reached its crescendo.

It may seem strange for a man who has been condemned to death to dance and shout with joy. Indeed, my guards think I am possessed by fear or madness. Or perhaps something darker. Why was I howling with delight? I shall answer directly: It was the terrible scene that unfolded within view of the tiny widow of my cell. You see, my cell overlooks the rocky coast, and as the storm became more savage, the relentless winds drove the sea and every ship upon it towards those doom-bringing rocks. Before my eyes, one ship in particular was dashed into the shore’s stony maw and it began to sink. This was the immediate cause of my celebratory dancing for it was indeed the ship that belonged to the Comte du Malfait. And as the Comte’s ship broke apart and each of the pieces slipped beneath the waves, I let out a triumphant cry. The ship and its cargo would never reach their destination.

Why did I celebrate the destruction of the Comte’s ship? Was my executioner on board the ship? Or perhaps the proof of my guilt? Or of my innocence? In truth, it was none of these. To answer this question, I shall tell my tale in full. It is a simple tale, and I shall relate it to you quickly as my time remaining is short. I have already mentioned that I have been sentenced to death, but I did not mention the crime. Well, I shall keep this knowledge from you no longer. I have been sentenced to death for the crime of sorcery. And I am guilty of this crime. I have not denied it nor shall I. Truly, I did pray and make grotesque offerings to dark and long-forgotten gods. This confession was enough for the Inquisition. They passed judgement and did not care to ask why I performed these blasphemous rituals. However, I shall tell you why.

But please do not think me some foul beast who sought such transient things as power or gold. Nay, my traffic with these ancient gods was done with the purest, most noble of intentions. You see, my damnation was the means of the salvation of my beloved Isabel. We met at a masked ball and I was mortally wounded by the kindness of her smile and the music of her voice. I am no peacock so I will not enumerate the qualities I possess that captured Isabel’s heart. But it was not long after the ball that we exchanged the pledges of our love.

Being assured of her love for me, I went to Isabel’s father, confessed my love, and asked for her hand in marriage. Her father laughed at me. While I am the son a gentleman whose ancestors are as illustrious as any in this land, Fate had recently beggared my family, taking all except our ancestral home and a few vineyards of only moderate value. My current state was not good enough. No, Isabel’s father had other plans for her, and dismissed me with a wave of his hand and another laugh. I had foolishly believed that her father cared more for Isabel’s happiness than his own petty gain.

However, this realization did not diminish our love for each other. Indeed, on several occasions, we meet unseen in the shadows of her garden, and pledged again our love to each other and enjoyed forbidden embraces. In our innocent minds, we believed Isabel’s father would see the error of decision and change his mind.

What horror seized our hearts when it was announced that Isabel was to marry the haughty – and very wealthy – Comte du Malfait. I would have been contented to slowly die of a broken heart if the man chosen for my fair Isabel had been a good man possessed of a noble and kind nature. However, Malfait was the opposite. It was a widely known secret that Malfait debauched himself in every way an evil mind could devise sinking deeper than the ancient emperors of Rome. The thought of this foul beast laying his hands on the sweet Isabel on their wedding night could not be borne. I could do but one thing – destroy Malfait.

But how? I would have gladly murdered Malfait, plunged a dagger into his heart. However, murdering him thusly was well-neigh impossible as he was so well protected behind the walls of his villa. No, an indirect path had to be taken. Eventually, it presented itself. I discovered that the Comte had put the greater part of his wealth into a mercantile expedition to the Indies. Of course, if the ship and its cargo were lost, Malfait’s fortune would be lost with it, and now knowing the mind of Isabel’s father, Malfait would no longer be a suitable match. So, I made a pact with nameless and faceless gods to destroy the ship and thus Malfait’s fortune. My dark ritual was discovered and I was tried and convicted of sorcery.

However, my condemnation is of no consequence for the dark gods accepted my offerings and created the storm that slammed the ship against the rocks beneath the very castle that has served as my prison. Malfait is ruined. And my beloved Isabella is saved from the foul clutches of that odious creature. I embrace my fate as I would embrace a lover, indeed as I once embraced Isabel, in the knowledge that my beloved is safe from Malfait. In the end, I cannot regret my prayers that brought death upon me.

Continue on to Part II…

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5 comments

  1. What a vivid Gothic tale! I enjoyed the foul hints of Count Malfait’s true character as well as the at once sympathetic and slightly-mad protagonist who saves his beloved from the villain’s sinister clutches. There is an aura of madness as well as romantic poignancy that leaves the reader with a haunting aftertaste and a desire for more. Thanks for posting this!

    Liked by 1 person

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