by Jerome Brooke
The tower on the outcrop near the shore seemed deserted. The waves pounded the rocks, and the gale ripped at my cloak. I shivered and pulled my cloak tight around me.
I spurred my horse forward, stopping at the stairs leading to the gate. “Hello!” I called: “Hello to you!” I waited for a time and considered dismounting. Then I heard the door opening slowly.
A figure in a white cloak slipped out from behind the half-open door. The person slowly moved toward me. “Who are you, my Lord?” a soft voice called out.
“I am Lord Hunter of the West March,” I replied. “I seek assistance from the wise woman of this tower.”
“I am she. Do you have a gift for me?”
I pulled out my pouch and held it high. The person approached, and a delicate hand reached out for the leather bag. The person from the tower took the bag, and looked inside.
“What do you wish, sir? Is your wife barren? Do raiders harry your lands? Do you have an enemy?”
“No,” I answered.
“Then what do you desire?”
“I am unlucky in love. All the maids of the kingdom leave me unmoved. I want more than a docile woman with little passion or desire,” I ventured. “I desire a love charm.”
The person before me pushed back her hood, to reveal a woman with dark, flowing hair. Her dark eyes stared into mine. “I am the Lady Vixen, a woman wise in the Black Arts,” the woman intoned. “I too am unlucky in love. I did cast a spell at the midwinter solstice. I asked that a brave knight be sent to me and that he accept my love.”
“Am I that knight?” I asked, amused.
“That is for you to decide, my Lord.” The woman opened her cloak wide, to reveal her nude body fully to me.
“You are most fair, Lady of Darkness,” I said. “I would lie with you this night.”
“Then come inside my tower.” She laughed. “I will feed you the nectar of the flowers of paradise. Be warned, Lord of the West, that the fruits that you do partake have been ensorcelled. You will be bound to my will forever more. I will lead you to victory in battle, grant you great wealth in gold, and give you strong sons.”
“What further price must I pay then?”
“You must come to me on each night of the full moon and sate my desire, My Lord. You must also permit me to visit your hall when I will. You must seek power in the kingdom, so that you may be known over all the lands.”
“I agree to all this,” I dismounted, and pulled the woman to my arms.
“Then you are my love and slave to my womanhood,” the witch laughed softly as I pulled down her cloak.
* * *
“Here, quaff, my lord. It is a rare wine of the south,” quoth the woman of the tower.
I sipped the wine, and sampled the sweetmeats spread on the table before me. The woman gave me a dagger. The weapon had a hilt of gold, and bore a ruby upon the pommel.
“When you sally forth in your dragon ships to raid the lands of the south, take it with you. My spells will bring you gold, captives, and plunder.”
I rose, and grasped the arm of the witch. I pulled her to me. “Well do I like your wine, Lady. Moreover, the dagger is the ransom of a king.” I pulled open her robe. “Yet you have a finer favor that I seek.”
The witch smiled, and led me to her bed. “Remember, you will be my love all your life. You must turn away from soft women, who think only of gay songs and sweet nights of joy. When I call, you must come to me.”
The witch smiled. “Come then, you shall be mine!”
* * *
Three days I spent in the arms of the witch. Gentle were her hands, and soft her words. Yet at times, when ruled by passion she dug her nails into my back. She also bit my neck, when pleasure she knew.
I wondered what else might cause her to unsheathe her claws. I might also find that her fangs could draw red blood.
She rose on the third day from her white sheets, and did say unto me: “To your castle you must return. We must make plans to win renown, to extend your lands, and silence those who mean you ill. Go, lover, I will come to you soon. The land to the north is by right yours. Your mother there was born. The lord who rules there now holds the land through incest. His mother was cousin of his father! Lead out your men-at-arms. Take the land. You must seek greatness, if you wish to lie beside me!”
At the behest of the Lady of Darkness I did ride forth, and returned to my lands. I called forth my knights from their holdings, and readied my guardsmen. I sent an envoy with my demand to the wretched man who ruled my rightful lands.
I gathered my war band while I waited for the expected reply. I rode forth after the lord of the north did tear up my scroll, and bid me come to give battle.
We met on a field near his keep. I led my knights in a charge against his left. I unhorsed the first foeman who came against me, leaving him under the hooves of the horses of my men. Two more foemen I slew, till we cut through their ranks. I wheeled my men, and came against their center, where lurked my enemy.
I cut my way through to the side of my foe. We traded blows, while our men fought around us. My foe was slight, and his might was not equal to mine. I cut into his arm, causing him to lose his sword.
“Yield! Mercy! Give me quarter!” was his cry.
I drew back for an instant. Then I could hear the whisper of a voice I knew well: “Slay him! Run through this offspring of sin and incest!”
I steeled myself, and plunged my sword into the man. He did scream like a woman — the craven! He grasped the mane of his horse, leaning forward in the saddle. I plunged my sword deep into his side, to be sure of him.
The men of the foe saw the fate of their lord, and drew back. My own knights raised a cheer, and did shout my name! “Moray! Moray onward!”
Soon the foe turned to flee. Some did indeed escape, others we took prisoner. We stripped them of their arms, and bade them dismount. The knights we bound, to hold for ransom. The men-at-arms we herded into the castle of my foe, to await my pleasure at their release.
The foe who did lie wounded on the field, or who were weak from loss of blood, we put to the sword. Some of them were unmanned, calling for mercy, “No! No, I beg you!”
This did not avail them, and the war axe silenced them.
Thus did I my lands extend, at the behest of my dread lover.
* * *
Other lands I did seek, and wealth amass by lending aid to other lords in their battles. So passed my days. My nights I spent with my dark lover or other maids with whom I sought to father sons.
The Lady of Darkness did hold wider ambition. My liege lord, king of the realm, did visit his greater lords in his royal circuit. Thus did he feed his men and court, and house them well. He obtained his due rents, and might borrow gold coin here and there.
Now in time did he come to my keep. He did now count me among the magnates of the kingdom. I rode forth to greet him, and pay him homage.
I met him outside the gate of my keep.
“I am honored, my liege and king. I ask humbly that you accept my hospitality. Enter into my hall. We have prepared food and wine for you and yours. Tonight, we will provide a great feast as token of our loyalty.”
“You are most kind, good Duke of the March. We will gladly enter your noble keep. Verily, we shall hold you in our heart most dear.”
We then rode into my stronghold. Little did my king know that he rode to his doom, my mission hid by a false smile.
My dark lover did bid me to send a man into his chamber, with a red hot poker drawn from the fire. While others did hold down the king, the poker was thrust into his vitals. His lover boy, who beside him did lie, had the same fate. Both were guilty of the same sin, as all the lords of the realm did know.
Envoys did I send, with news of his death. All did know of his sin and that his fate was well deserved, by custom of age out of mind. I stated that I found him dead, as indeed I had. More I did not say.
Sons he had not, since with women he was helpless and unable to get them with child. Now, through my mother I did trace a blood tie to the dead king. Indeed, all of us were of common blood, if the old records were traced carefully.
I proclaimed myself king and sent gifts of gold to some of the magnates I knew to want of it. Verily, they proclaimed me king, as did our Archbishop. I knew that he had the same vice as the late king, and I sent to him as envoy a boy fair of face, with a bag of thirty pieces of silver, or was it gold? I do not now recall.
No matter now. I sometimes recall a time when my smiles were true. In those days I did not seek the rightful lands of others. Indeed, I felt compassion and gave mercy freely. Even now, I sometimes regret a sentence of death. I have dreams of men I put to the question or killed with red-hot pokers. But all this I set aside. Power I now hunger for each day.
Now I know I am well matched with the Lady of Darkness.
Copyright © 2012 by Jerome Brooke