Cheska
Chain Border

To Cardinal St Alban:

The recollection of events of last night cause my hand to tremble and my brow to break into a cold sweat, but I must write to you while all is fresh in my mind for fear I will dismiss it as a bad dream.

I had no trouble ingratiating myself on the peasants of this remote region of Romania, as strangers seldom wander into these mountains and holy men are even more rare. From village to village I was called upon to bless babes and scrawny sheep, wedding beds and pungent mangers alike, till I tired of such wholesome mundanity. I was delighted to accept an invitation to attend a pagan celebration for, as you know, such innocent rituals are often attended by the devil's minions.

After a tortuous climb up steep mountain paths my aching body was rewarded by the hospitality of a thriving little village. I confess to a sense of disappointment for everything seemed as it should be; the thatched cottages were well tended, the menfolk hardy and cheerful, the women apple cheeked and comely in the fashion of these stout mountain tribes.

I spent a pleasant afternoon among the bustle of preparations, lulled by the sunshine and abundant local wine as more people arrived in their colourful costumes. So I was struck by glimpses of the pale, sad face of a young woman between the rosy cheeks of her companions. Sorrow can lend a bewitching beauty to a face, and the dark haunted eyes turned upon me spoke of a loss so profound as to touch my heart, and, I must say, arouse my interest, for tragedy can open doorways to the devil in even the most pious soul. I contrived to meet her but her beautiful face was lost to me in the growing throng.

The sun set over the glowing mountains with stained glass colours that rival the holiest places in Rome. No sooner had the sun's light waned when the full moon rose, chasing away the warmth with its silvery radiance. A growing excitement filled me as I stood with the men and married women and partook of the strong herbal beverage that passed among us. As you know it is my want to engage fully in these ritual to better gauge their wholesomeness. The young maidens appeared and formed a circle before us in their white cotton dresses, and even the most homely was transformed into a goddess in the magical moonlight. Drums took up a compelling beat as voices were raised in song and I was soon clapping along as the women lost themselves in their dance. Around they swirled, bare feet pounding the dark earth, long hair swinging free in a most provocative way. Then I saw her and my heart lifted, for she was smiling and laughing, face transformed into that of an angel. Her lithe movements and graceful gestures were at odds with her slower companions.

I felt she was dancing for me alone as her flashing eyes caught mine each time she swirled past. She broke away from the circle and her slim arms bade me follow her into the forest. I stumbled after her though the darkness, tantalised by glimpses of her white dress thought the trees. Finally I emerged and the mountains lay behind her frosted in silver as she stood waiting. Her eyes were filled with a sweet sad longing, her fingers reaching for mine. I swear I meant only to offer her counsel but when a breeze from below lifted her dress to reveal her perfect ivory thighs and the dark cleft of her womanhood, my animal desire rose within me and I confess to a moment of weakness. I took her cold hands to be drawn into her arms but my eager step landed on nothing but air and too late I saw the steep drop below. I plummeted down, a shrill triumphant laugh following my fall. I bounced from rock to rock but found purchase on a jutting boulder that stopped my descent. The laughter turned to shrieks of rage as I clung to the cold stone gasping for breath. Dark shadows etched the cliff, all pointing down. Water sparkled far below in a tumble of black rocks.

Suddenly she flew at me out of thin air, her face transformed onto a demon apparition. Those lovely features were battered and torn, jaw shattered, her mouth a gaping maw, eyes burning in bruised sockets. The scream stuck in my throat forced its way out. In all my years of battle in my former life, I had never seen such a tortured visage. She flew past me again, her dress rent from neck to waist. I caught a glimpse of rib bones pushed though bloodied flesh. Her limbs were twisted in unnatural angles, bones bent where no joint should be.

I raised a prayer of protection but it only enraged her. Twisted fingers tore at my cassock, claws whipping my face and dragging at my hair as she swept past. I raised my voice higher in prayer, my shouts drowned out by her screams of rage. At last I thought my prayers had been answered for she disappeared and all was quiet save for the moaning of the chill wind. I know not how long I clung there mumbling my prayers until my hands were numb on the rock.

I became aware of a soft weight on my back, a cold spread through the rough wool of my cassock. An icy touch at the base of my spine sent a shudder through me. The cold spread up my skin across my aching shoulders but I dared not loosen my grip. I stared in horror as the cloth on my arms wrinkled with the passage of her icy touch. She was inside my cassock pressed against my body and I was caught in her demon embrace. Her hands appeared at my wrists, white fingers folding over mine, pealing my numb fingers back from the rock, cold cheek pressed against mine.

"Guis my love, join me." she said in a soft pleading voice.

"Jesus save my soul." I shouted over and over, for at that moment I was convinced my mortal life was lost. "Mary mother of God forgive me." Surely I was being punished for all my sins.

The name of our Holy Mother saved me from her deathly embrace and she flew from my back with a howl to continue her tortured flight. I lost all sense of time and I cried out every prayer I knew till my throat was hoarse and still I prayed, on and on through the long night as her claws plucked at my body.

The soft light of dawn coloured the distant horizon, the first golden rays pierced her body and she became transparent. White twisted limbs merged with tendrils of mist rising from below, her moans joining with the sigh of wind through the canyon. Finally I was left alone on my precarious perch staring down as the vast canyon below was revealed in the blessed morning light.

I was rescued shortly after by a search party of villagers, apologetic for letting me drink too much and wander off on my own. When finally on flat, solid ground I threw myself down and hugged the earth, groaning out my heartfelt thanks to the Holy Trinity who saved me in my hour of need.

It was not until later when I was safely before the homely warmth of a cottage hearth and my shaking had subsided, that I dare ask the woman who tended me the question foremost in my mind.

"Who is Guis?"

"Hush now, it's only a fairy tale."

"Tell me." I pleaded, gripping her hand and she sat beside me with a kindly, if not indulgent, smile.

"Guis the red, so the legend goes, was a Roman soldier passing through our village. He wooed the shepherds daughter Cheska, a beautiful innocent maiden, and when he left she was overcome by grief and threw herself from the cliffs. We tell our children Cheska is waiting by the edge to pull them over if they stray too near."

"Why Guis the red?" I whispered and she patted my hand.

"He had red hair, the legend says, just like you."

And so I end my report here for I have exhausted myself in its telling. I must go to my prayer now and hope to find solace in the Good Book for I fear I will not be able to sleep. Woe betide any red headed man who ventures into these accursed mountains.

Your devoted servant…

Father Canis SJ

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