I write to you, your Eminence, of the strange events of the week past, and crave your indulgence and wisdom in interpreting them. As many greater men have no doubt done before me, I reflect on the nature of evil; whether like some strange elixir it can be bottled and contained in physical form, or like a tangible and lingering mist it clings to objects and imbues them with purpose and intent. Surely you, in your great wisdom, know of what I speak.
I found myself in the city of Brasnov on the third of this month, summoned hither by the clergy of the Church of Saint Nicholas upon a matter of some secrecy. The local lord, a man by all accounts tolerant and wise by the name of Covasna, had suffered the loss of several servants in the month gone. This by itself could be explained by any number of events, but rumours were beginning to spread, new servants were becoming difficult to engage, and recently, the sudden disappearance of his own daughter had caused Lord Covasna to turn in desperation to the clergy to re-examine his own faith and past allegiances.
Having heard of my experiences in events of this nature, I was begged to investigate. I wasted no time and soon had myself installed in a room on the first floor of the castle, there to await events as they might unfold.
Long into my first night's vigil I was disturbed by the distant clash of metal upon metal, a sound far away and as though from a dream. Against the stillness of the night and my own heightened imagination the sound took on new menace, and when it was followed by the soft clinking of chains, as though hanging from a roof and stirring in a light breeze, I felt the hackles on my neck stir in response.
Immediately, I left my room and, clutching a lantern, made my way towards the narrow staircase that, I believed, led towards the sounds. This staircase led down to the east wing of the castle, to a corridor which gave out onto an internal courtyard. It was not long before I found myself outside, in a long space surrounded by high galleries on all sides that gently sloped down towards the south. Here, with the soft noises of the night distracting me, I momentarily lost my bearings. Until - that was it - I heard the strike of metal again and accompanying it - and my hand trembles as I write, recalling the first time I heard them - distant screams of agony and low moans of the most abject despair.
Surely, you must be thinking your Grace, that the castle would be awake and servants rushing to the yard in response to such a noise? But - how can I describe it - it seemed as if somehow the sounds where meant for my ears alone, and that if another man had been standing close by my side at that moment, he would have wondered what it was that made my hand that held the lantern shake so. The sounds retained a dream-like, far off quality, but to my ears were clear and in horrific and intimate detail. I was suddenly reminded of the stories I had heard of the techniques of the Spanish clergy when dealing with heretics.
Recalled to my faith, I moved onwards towards a small staircase in the lower corner of the yard that lead down, through three turns, to a large, stout wood and iron door. Softly, I pressed my hand to the wood, expecting to meet resistance, but instead found none, and the oaken door swung heavily open. At that moment the eerie sounds ceased, and the night silence rushed in with a force that left me more disturbed than if the cries had continued. Before me was a passageway of some length, sheathed in old stone, ending in another door. Along this I crept, within me rising a feeling of tension so great I felt myself fighting to take each step after the other.
Finally I reached the door, and with some effort pushed it ajar. Within, a large, low ceilinged room, pillared and in darkness. With a start I recognized instruments of torture - a long scarred table littered with iron devices, a dark brazier, ropes of chains fixed to the ceiling and walls, a table for stretching the bones of doomed men. To my left, the largest open space possessed a floor which sloped slightly downwards towards the centre, the four gradients meeting in a covered grill that could be raised by a handle.
As I moved further into the room, the circle of light I carried illuminated further tables lining the dungeon's walls, and finally, against the farthest wall, an upright iron sarcophagus, its front surface engraved with a stylized maiden, arms crossed over her chest, blank pupiless eyes staring sightlessly at me. This ancient, cruel device, its surface encrusted with rust, I recognized as the Iron Maiden, within whose spiked embrace many a heretic had ended their worldly suffering and gone on to an eternity of the same. With a curious feeling of relief I saw the doors to be sealed shut with rust. In fact, all of the chamber showed the signs of long years of disuse and the encroachment of time.
I found myself exhausted by the night's work and the state I had worked myself into, and since both the noises and the feelings of dread had left me, I retired from the room and returned to my bed, resolving to continue my investigations the next night.
On the morrow my host was intrigued by my night's findings, but assured me that all parts of the castle, including the ancient dungeon, had been fully searched with no result. In fact, by the way he looked askance at me, I suspected he wondered if the night had had a more disturbing effect on my imagination than I realized. Nevertheless, I made it known to him that I would be spending the coming night in the chamber, and accordingly began my preparations. First, in the corner of the room to the left of the door, I set a sturdy chair in which to conduct my vigil, looking diagonally across the sloping recess in the floor, and a small table. With me, our Lord's Book, my rosary, and a simple but serviceable dagger. Also, a leather pouch with sundry devices of my profession of which you already know. As the night closed in outside I made myself comfortable as possible, a single candle on the table beside me, and set to reading our Lord's words.
The hours passed, and my attention wandered from the page. What a place I had found myself in, alone, with only my vivid imaginations for company! How many souls had perished in slow, lingering agony within these walls? How many cries for God's mercy had been met with the brutish, impassive gaze of the torturer, wielding his stained implements with the precision of the surgeon? These thoughts, and others too terrible to describe, crowded in upon me like the darkness as I tried to read.
But hold. Was that the whisperings of my fancy or the voice of some other? For from the darkness, I began to hear soft pleadings, low voices whispering just within the range of my hearing.
Slowly I closed my Bible and set it softly on the table, my every sense now alert and straining. Yes, it was unmistakable now, a babbling. begging whisper and - there - the soft clink of chains. Beads of cold sweat had broken out on my skin. I found myself, without conscious volition, slowly rising from the chair, moving towards the source of the sounds, towards the Maiden. I was halfway across the room before the strange blankness that had come over me fell away suddenly, and I became conscious of the lack of control I had over my own body. It was as though I looked out, trapped behind the bars of my eyes, at the movements of a stranger. Can you imagine it monsignor? With growing horror I watched myself move closer to that silent iron monstrosity ... I reached out a hand ... and then, the ultimate horror ... the Maiden's face split down the centre like some horrible parody of a smile ... for the doors were opening, the iron arms unfolding to welcome me into their deadly embrace ... and I saw the cruel spikes that lined the coffin. And all the time I was moving forward, drawn by the whisperings and inarticulate cries that came from within. My consciousness strained back from that dark space from which there would be no escape, screaming, praying and pleading, my inner voice joining that cacophony of voices, in a hopeless effort to regain control of the vessel in which it was trapped.
And then, at the point where I felt that no hope remained and I was destined to suffer that final moment when the Maiden would close her arms around me, a discordant note within the voices. From among the whispered chorus came a single sob - "in nomine Domini ..." - a prayer lifted to the ears of the Lord, from some forgotten soul who had long ago ended his suffering in this place. And with those words came new strength; a fleeting moment when my mind and my body were once again connected. This one moment was my only chance for reprieve. I tore myself from where I had almost come within the Maiden's reach, and in a torment of horror, fled from that cursed chamber.
I endured the rest of that night in fervent prayer, and on the first rays of the morrow woke Lord Covasna and had him gather his men. Armed with blacksmith's tools, we descended to the chamber. There, the Maiden stood, that impassive, strangely innocent expression on her simply worked features. An examination revealed to my surprise that the doors were still rusted shut. I directed the Lord's men, who with crowbars, pried open the ancient valve. In moments the doors were open, and the men fell back in horror. For from within the hell-space, four cruelly mutilated bodies tumbled out upon the floor before us, accompanied by a torrent of blood. Lord Covasna rushed forward, for his daughter's body, her eyes open and staring forward and her face contorted into an indescribable expression of terror, was among them.
I left several days later. The Lord, on my advice, had had the contents of the chamber, including the terrible Maiden, melted down, and the room filled with rubble and sealed. I spent two uneventful nights in the castle afterward. And so, your Eminence, I place these events before you. I can only speculate on the spirit of evil that imbued the place, and wonder whether some terrible consciousness, long-satisfied but left for too long unslaked, had taken hold in that cruel device. Or perhaps the souls of its many victims craved revenge or company in their torment. I cannot pretend understanding in these matters, despite the things that I have experienced in the service of God and holy mother Church; I can only continue to serve as I have, with the knowledge that -
Facilius per partes in cognitionem totius adducimur. ("We are more easily led part by part to an understanding of the whole.") (Seneca)
I remain ever your humble servant,