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

Who dares open the doors of his mouth, ringed about with his fearsome teeth?
His breath sets coals ablaze, and flames dart from his mouth.
Strength resides in his neck; dismay goes before him.
When he rises up, the mighty are terrified; they retreat before his thrashing.
The sword that reaches him has no effect, nor does the spear or the dart or the javelin.
Arrows do not make him flee, sling stones are like chaff to him.
A club seems to him but a piece of straw, he laughs at the rattling of the lance.
He makes the depths churn like a boiling cauldron and stirs up the sea like a pot of ointment.
Behind him he leaves a glistening wake; one would think the deep had white hair.
Nothing on earth is his equal—a creature without fear.
He looks down on all that are haughty; he is king over all that are proud.
    ~ The Book of Job

Philippe opened his eyes, but inky darkness was all that he could perceive. Reaching out, his hand touched nothing, but he heard the clank of metal and felt its weight upon his arm. Forgetting his benighted surroundings, he touched his arms and his chest. They were, as he had surmised, covered in armour. A growing light drew his gaze skyward where he saw the moon break free from a blanket of clouds. Before long, the illumination from the mistress of the night sky chased the darkness away and revealed a collection of ruined arches, a rocky shore, and a body of black water. Philippe was filled with the desire to explore this melancholy place, and stood up. In doing so, he was reminded of the armour that encased him and he took a moment to study it. The armour was antique in form and condition and had surely been forged in the long ago days of chivalry. Moreover, he was armed. A heavy sword hung at his side.

What was the meaning of all this? He remembered being in his cell and writing the narrative of the series of events that had led to his impending execution. Had his jailers drugged his wine, strapped this armor upon him, and cast him upon this alien shore. For alien it was. The little vegetation and the odd style of the arches were like none he had ever seen in his native land. Was this how they chose to execute him? By casting him upon the shore of…was this the Levant, or was it the coast of Africa?

Before he could take more than two steps towards the arches and dark water beyond, a strong wind sprung up and the water began to churn violently. Philippe took one more step forward and then the sea erupted. He was covered with briny water that stung his eyes. After wiping his eyes as best he could, Philippe returned his gaze to the shore’s edge. His vision was filled with a horrific sight. Swaying above one of the arches was a giant creature long and sinuous like a snake but with an un-wholesome head more akin to a fish than a serpent. Its gaping mouth was full teeth larger than bodkins.

Slowly, Philippe drew the sword at his side. This abomination, if it was indeed real and not the product of some dark fancy or some exotic potion, would surely kill him. However, Philippe determined that he would grievously wound this beast before his last breath left his body.

The thing opened its mouth wider. And laughed.

Philippe trembled. He had never heard a more terrifying sound. But then his face burned with shame. He took the sword in both his hands. “Foul demon! Is it not enough that you shall take my life. Must you mock me as well!”

The creature turned its thin head one way and then another looking carefully at the trembling man. “My dear Philippe. What have I done to you that I should be confronted with a naked blade?”

Philippe started. “You have me at a grave disadvantage. You know my name, but I do not know yours.”

“I am known by many names,” the monster said. “Yamm…Lotan…Leviathan.”

The sword dropped from Philippe’s hands.

“Yes, yes. You prayed and made offerings to all of those names.”

The monster did not smile, but Philippe was sure he heard triumph in the monster’s voice. “Then I am in Hell,” Philippe said and straightened up. “As long as Malfait is ruined. Whatever torments await, I shall accept my fate.”

The monster laughed again. “I do not know of this place you call Hell,” it said. “And I am not here to torment you.”

Presently, Philippe became aware that the water around the monster was full of smaller versions of itself. These creatures thrashed about and bit each other. A more horrid scene, Philippe could not imagine.

The monster continued. “I am merely here to tell you that I have indeed granted your wish. The Comte du Malfait, as you call him, is ruined. And now, I shall take the offering owed to me. An offering worthy of such a deed.”

The creatures swarming about Yamm or Lotan or Leviathan receded and in the shimmering moonlight, Philippe could discern the hoard swimming off to a distant shore. It was a shore he had not noticed before, but now, through some dark magic, it was clearly visible to him. And Philippe recognized it. A chill washed over his body as if he had stepped into a mountain spring in April.

“Wait!” he cried out. “I do not understand. I am here! Why does your foul brood swim to that distant shore?” Philippe ran to the water and waded into the inky sea. “Why do they not come for me and rip the flesh from my bones?”

The monster began to slip beneath the waves. “Because my dear Philippe, there are more succulent morsels living upon that distant shore.” The monster laughed again and disappeared beneath the waves.

* * *

Isabel started from her reverie. “Maria!” she cried. “You frightened me sneaking in like that!”

“Sneaking in?” Maria laughed. “Did you not hear me call your name? I called you once, twice, and thrice before you jumped.” The older woman shook her head. “Now come away from that open window. The chill night air will settle in your chest. I should say you were under some spell. Staring off into the darkness like that.”

Isabel blanched. “Under a spell? Do not speak with such an idle tongue.”

Maria laughed again and walked over to the young woman she had known from birth. “And I know the one who cast the spell.”

Isabel scowled, but before she could speak, her servant continued. “It’s that dashing Comte.”

“What?” Isabel cried.

The servant leaned close to Isabel. “Now my lady, there’s no need to be coy within the confines of your own bedchamber,” Maria said. “So wealthy and dashing. Oh! And those eyes! He glanced at me for but a moment tonight, and that glance brought back certain memories from my lusty youth!”

“Maria! That is enough,” Isabel said turning her back to her servant in an effort to hide the growing flush upon her cheeks. “Help me with my dress. I am very tired and wish to go to bed.”

Maria smiled and said, “Very well my lady.”

Once alone and in bed, Isabel reached for the candle upon her bedside table so that she could blow it out. However, some fancy stayed her hand. She thought she heard something scratching on her window, and Isabel hoped that Maria had fastened the window’s latch securely. Isabel did not breath while she listened to determine if the scratching continued. The candle flickered and she was certain it was going to go out.

Then there was a flash of light outside her window and presently Isabel heard the rumble of distant thunder. A storm rolled down from the surrounding mountains quickly the wind rushed through the trees in the garden below Isabel’s window.

Isabel began to breath again and she chided herself. It was merely the wind blowing a tree branch against her window. She let out a small laugh.

How could she have been so impressionable? How could she have been so foolish to let the Comte’s fantastic story affect her. Maybe Maria was right. Maybe he had cast a spell on her. Isabel rolled over on to her to back and stared at the canopy above her bed. There was genuine concern in the Comte’s voice. She had discerned it clearly. He seemed so earnest in his desire to save her from some terrible calamity. If this was his way of wooing her, with horrid tales, it was a strange way indeed. How could he expect to capture her heart and gain her affections in such a manner? Falling into his embrace out of fear was surely inferior to an embrace promoted by genuine affection.

There was another possibility. It was possible the Comte believed the words he spoke.

A flash of lightening filled the room and at the same instant, thunder shook the very walls around Isabel. She cried out and draped her blanket over her head. Several more clashed of thunder and lightening filled the night, and between the reports of thunder, Isabel thought she perceived a scratching at her window. “It is but a branch blowing against the window pane,” she said aloud. Then she repeated those words over and over until the storm finally subsided.

When she could no longer hear the rolling thunder and when the clouds parted to reveal the light of the moon, Isabel sighed and stopped reciting her words of comfort. However, she decided to forgo extinguishing the candle. Rather, she gazed intently upon it and endeavored with all her strength to keep sleep at bay.

Continue on to Part IV…

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3 comments

  1. Wow, my curiosity mounts and mounts! I absolutely love your portrayal of the demonic creature Leviathan — he first appears as something purely monstrous, but then the elegance of his speech puts one in mind of one of Lord Byron’s devils. The balance of elemental terror and an earthier villainy is so well done, it actually made him all the more frightening to me — I have no idea what to expect from such a being. Poor Philippe: it doesn’t appear as though he knows what he’s conjured or bound himself to! In this circumstance, he seems Faustian or like one of Lovecraft’s benighted heroes.

    It’s difficult to choose a favorite moment, but I particularly loved the passage in which Isabel wonders at the Comte’s motives and the truth behind his fear: “If this was his way of wooing her, with horrid tales, it was a strange way indeed. How could he expect to capture her heart and gain her affections in such a manner? Falling into his embrace out of fear was surely inferior to an embrace promoted by genuine affection.”

    I do wonder if Isabel WILL succumb to the Comte’s wooing — and whether the basis of that love will have something to do with terror as well as affection. It seems that she herself acknowledge’s the seductive potential of the emotion…

    Liked by 1 person

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