If you have just arrived at The Library in Purgatory, the first chapter is here.

"I never found the girl, I never got rich. Follow me."

~Leonard Cohen

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Chapter II.1

Twenty2 The Hard Way

"The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed."

                                                  -Stephan King, The Dark Tower
                                                   The Gunslinger


I was...was dreaming, following a back beast across an arid and parched desert, over snow-capped mountains, through rivers and under oceans. 
Always it was this beast I followed, driven on by a burning curiosity to know its sinister secrets hidden in the foul stench of its dark breath.  I chased it for years.

Finally, on the other side of the world, I followed it into a mucky and black forest, forbidding and drear.  No birds sang, no brook happily babbled, no tree-running wind; just the soft thud of my heavy footsteps and the half-conscious muttering of some long-forgotten poem:

The parrot ate the
fly, to be like the rhino

I stopped, all thoughts of poetry and gloom vanishing from my mind like the mist in the breeze.  Standing in the clearing before me, surrounded by an icky-black moat loomed, or more aptly, leaned the remains of an old castle.

The walls were toppled and crumbling, some sections knocked inwards as if by some terrible blow, roofs half burned and rotting as was the drawbridge, which was down and skewed over the moat at a precarious angle.  Everything was scorched black and overgrown with weeds.  There didn't appear to be anyone around and of the beast, there was no sign.

I started slowly across the bridge, testing each rotted step carefully; I didn't feel like taking a swim.  Having safely crossed the fist obstacle I continued on, stopping just short of the main gate.  The dew on the knee-high grass was soaking my boots and I shivered in the damp grey air.

The archway was half collapsed, the wooden gate having been ripped off its hinges and thrown about thirty feet back inside as was the iron portcullis.  Hanging from the remains of the arch a tattered piece of parchment warned in dried blood:

"Abandon ye
all hope,
etc., etc..."

I smiled at the cynicism, temporarily warmed, and walked through.

The courtyard was a shambles, scorched holes in building walls and the remains of the outer wall strewn about where it had been knocked in and breeched.  It looked like the fighting inside had been as fierce as that outside.  In front of me and off to the right was a building that looked relatively unscathed.  It was a little smaller than the rest and at a second glance appeared, from the outside, to be a chapel.  I decided to start my exploration there.

The Chapel was about forty feet high with a small cross on the steeple; there was a round stained glass window over the double-doored entrance.  It was of Jesus on the cross; his head had been smashed out.  The doors were ajar and I slowly climbed the steps.

It was dark.  About five feet in front of me I could make out another set of double doors.  As my eyes adjusted to the dim, I realized that I was in a small waiting or greeting room.  The chapel proper must be behind the next set of doors.  I pushed them open and stopped, frozen.

"Please come in.  Welcome to my smashingly humble castle."
The chapel was about sixty feet long by forty. An aisle marched down the center with ten rows of pews on either side.  There were candles everywhere, the only lighting, and the shadows and light danced on the walls and the painted ceiling hauntingly, devilishly.  At the far end up where the pulpit should have been sat a small throne and sitting there was the figure that had greeted me.

"Oh don't be such a boor and do come in.  It's so often we get guests," he said laughing and gesturing to a pew in the front row.  I walked up slowly and sat down.

"Uh, hi..."

I looked him over, or at least I thought it was a him.  He sat easily in the throne, one leg tossed over an arm; all other features were hidden from sight, veiled behind a black cloak that covered him completely.  Even his face was unobservable, hidden in the recesses of the hood pulled far forward.  He appeared to be of good size, though it was hard to tell with the cloak.

"And what brings you to Castle Unperilous good sir?  A vacation perhaps, or maybe you wish to sell some life insurance?"  He laughed again.

"Actually, I was following a beast."

"A beast?  You don't say?  Was it smashingly terrible?  Evil?  The spawn of the devil himself?

"I'm not sure about any of that.  I only know that it was black."

"Black.  Hmmm.  Might it per chance look like that one over there?"

I looked where he was pointing and saw nothing at first but as I stared I saw a hideous shape moving with the shadows, a pair of luminous red eyes and with a dread shudder of excitement I that it was the very same.

As if the beast knew I had seen it crouched, watching me intently, licking sharp rotten teeth.  I half stood up to run.

"Never mind it.  I was a gift from my mother, incestuous bitch!  It won't bother you unless you forget about it.  Just keep an eye on the shadows and you'll be fine."

"A gift?"

"Yes, it's the kind of things mothers give to sons they love very much.  I'm surprised you don't have one.  Oh well.  I hope you will forgive my rudeness, I am...well, you see, that's the problem.  I don't know who I am.  Don't have a face either.  That's what the hood's for.  Terrible shock to people who've had no experience in this sort of thing.  In any case, I am the prince of this castle and you may call me whatever you wish."

I stared at the prince in shock, and then quickly looked back to where the beast had been eyeing me, but it apparently had slinked off to parts unknown. 

"No face? That's terrible.  And you don't know who you are, your name I mean?

"Nope.  Haven't a clue."

"Maybe you have amnesia."

"That's what I thought at first, but I remember everything else about me just fine."

"Well, in any case, I am....," the bench was hard and I shifted, "that's odd, I know I know who I am but can't seem to recall what my exact name is at this moment."  I peered quizzically at my hands as if it would help me remember, "Oh well."

"Smashingly said," the Prince yelled, "it seems we have more in common than we first thought.  Come, come, sit here on my throne.  The pews are so damned uncomfortable; no wonder religion is such a bore, a real pain in the ass, eh?"  The Prince sat down on a step and leaned back against a wall.  "So what do you think about my castle," he gestured around him, "damn hard to find decorating, interior or exterior, like this?"

"It looks a little worse for the wear," I said as kindly as I could.

"Worse for the wear, eh?  I suppose it does doesn't it?"

"But I would think it better to have a rundown castle than none at all, "I added hopefully.

"Right you are, the Prince cheered up.  "It didn't always look this way you know, brand new when I first got it.  I was pretty young then though."

"Well, what happened?"  I was curious to find out what had wreaked such havoc outside."

"It really was a smashing castle when I first got it, first rate all the way 'round.  All the kids get then around here when they're born you see, the Castle Fairy I think.  In case, it came with a dragon, a legion of knights to defend her, a monster in the moat, a wizard to work magic, the works.  Real first class.  But it seems that neither of my parents wished me to have such a fine castle," he paused and scratched his head.  "You know, I think they were pissed because it was a much finer castle than their own.  Anyway, they combined their forces and laid siege to the place.  They told me I had a choice, I could either come with them or they'd level the place.  I was still pretty young then, but had enough presence of mind to tell them to fuck off. 
It was a wondrous battle, lasted for years:  sweeping charges into flanks, spies, assassins, artillery barrages, swords, lances, bows, death, blood, magic that shook the earth, dragon attacks hot as the furnaces in hell.  It became apparent that I hadn't a chance in hell of defeating them and against my wizard's wishes I changed my strategy to one of total annihilation-- I would cost them everything they had to take me.  I had my wizard cast a spell on me, a charm, or maybe a curse and I became invincible, impervious to all attacks.  I stood on the battlements alone and let their archers have their way with me.  For three days I stood there and for thee days they shot every arrow they could find at men until there were none left; not a singe one missed.  I did not fall, and in fact, laughed at them and taunted them till my father's forces were so disheartened they retreated in full flight.  My mother, being the stronger of the two wills though, would not give up.

Eventually the gate and walls were breached, the knights and wizard slain, and the dragon taken off in chains and muzzle to be sold.  My mother gave me that abominable beast as a gift and wished me to come live in her castle since my father had departed.  It was then though, that the extent of the spell cast on my by the wizard became clear; for when my mother went to embrace me she impaled herself on the thousand arrows her archers had filled me with.  I had felt each one entering, standing up there those three days, burning like cold steel.  But the spell did not allow them to kill me, only to remain, unable to be drawn out.  She was furious and spent months and millions in gold for the best wizards but none were able to remove the spell.  Finally she left in disgust, leaving me to the remains of my castle," his voice trailed off into the shadows and he looked up. 

"I've been here ever since.  I also...have been unable to find a way to remove these," he pulled back his cloak; underneath was a suit of rusted, bloodstained armor and protruding from that glittered the tips of a thousand arrows.  He wrapped the cloak around him and continued, "Nothing worked.  It wasn't much of a bother though till I fell in love with a princess that sympathized with my plight.  I killed her, trying to be close.  I vowed never to let that happen again and retired here to spend my years alone.  You are the first guest I have had in fourteen years.  But come, it grows dark, let us have something to eat, perhaps you grow hungry," he rang a bell next to him.  I had no idea how he decided that it had grown dark since it had been dark in the chapel since I arrived, but somehow I sensed that he was right.

We waited in silence for about ten minutes and then a shadow began to emerge from behind the curtain.  I tensed, thinking the beast had returned but was instead shocked to see a small, distinguished gentleman in a butlers outfit approach with a silver platter in one hand.

"Ah, good evening Geeves." the Prince said.

"Good evening sir."

"We are very fortunate today Geeves."
"And how would that be sir?"

"We have company."

"So it would seem.  I overheard you talking and surmised that he would be eating here tonight.  Is there anything else I can do sir?"  Geeves asked, setting down the platter.

"No, thank you Geeves.  Your sense of hospitality is smashing as usual."

"As you say sir."  And with that Geeves was gone to wherever he had come from.

There were two objects on the platter, though I could not make them out.  The Prince picked one up and handed it to me, taking the other for himself.  It was a knife.

"I'm sorry we don't have more," the Prince said, "but we subsist on pain here," and with that he slashed his wrist and began to suck on the wound.  Slowly, I followed suit.

"So," said the Prince, putting down the knife, "surely you must have a few tales of your own.  Tell of them to me, and let me forget my troubles for a time."

"Fair enough," I answered.  "I will tell you of my travels over the last year through many lands in pursuit of your dark beast...stories...stories for the Damned.

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