The Disciples

Chain Border

Letters found in the rooms of the former Cardinal St Alban du Paris by French Liberationists in 1790. The unbroken seals bore a mark from Constanta, Romania.

***

Dated the Fifth day, Of the Twelfth month, The Year of Our Lord, 1788

Your Worship,

It is with some reluctance on this perishing cold night, I find myself compelled to write. I know not why you sent me to this God-forsaken place, for indeed it is a place where no God you or I serve could ever exist. But I will do your bidding and endeavour to bring a Christian life to these people.

I have now been here some weeks. My sole companion on the arduous voyage a wretched fever, from which I am since recovered thanks be to God and the village Doctor.

My residence is a small granite lodging. The cold seeps in through the pores of the rock, and each morning my pitcher is frozen. A young village girl attends my domestic needs. Her looks are tolerable, indeed favourable, when compared to the frozen grey faces around me. At first we could not understand one another, for naturally she speaks no French. But I have discovered a few local phrases to aid our conversation.

I realize that you would frown upon such an arrangement, as not being within the moral bounds to which I would confine myself. You must trust to my vows. I do not succumb to temptation.

This is a vast, desolate existence. I have not seen but a small ray of sunlight, or snow, or even a wind to stir the stale air. The ground is a frozen hard dirt, with no living verdure. The sky a relentless grey, pressing down so hard as to send us all to insanity. The water a reflection of this same sky, reaching up to meet it.

Our place of worship is a small granite rectory, with no window, or cross. It was locked when I arrived, and did not relent easily. The Lord's flame seemed barely warm enough to light the long idle candle. Beneath the sacristry, another locked door for which there seems no key. A vault perhaps: a resting place for those few who have embraced our God.

At your request I am up before dawn to lead the morning matins. Most of the villagers keep well away, but there are a few in attendance. The candle fat is low. I will arrange to get another.

I will write again soon, as you instructed.

Your servant,
Fr Canis

***

Dated the Twenty-forth day, Of the Twelfth Month, The Year of our Lord, 1788

Your Worship,

There is a matter upon which I must write. It concerns the disturbing disappearance of my handmaid.

She had retired to her rest at the usual hour. At dawn, when I awoke, she had not yet risen. Not wishing to intrude on her modesty I left the door to her chamber closed. However, after morning matins, fearing she may be in the grip of some fever, I knocked at her door. When at my third attempt there was still no answer I pushed it open.

Her bed was empty. Her attire dirtied and torn, as if from a silent struggle. Silent I say, for I am a light sleeper, and would usually have heard the smallest murmur. There seems nothing else disturbed, but for a broken Rosary, the beads scattered about her bed.

I have consulted the village council, but they all shook their heads and would not assist. The village women were more helpful, if help can be gained by fearful looks and frightful wailing. The Doctor visited my dwelling to see for himself the scene. He too has no answer, but I suspect this is not the first such Evil.

For myself, I find I regret and grieve her loss. We were beginning to form a companionable understanding, and the occasional burst of good humour. Now, I must fend for myself, for I can expect no other to sleep in that room. I have sealed the door, and will not open it again.

I must brave the cold outside and attend the evening service, for there may well be some assembled to celebrate the birth of Christ.

I will try to write again soon.

Peace to you this Christmas,
Fr Canis

***

Dated the Seventh day, Of the Forth month, The year of our Lord, 1789

Your Worship,

A most peculiar and fearful turn of events. Last week an elderly woman came to my door. She was older than any person I have ever seen still able to draw breath. Her eyes did not see, and her ears did not hear. Her skin, as yellow as ochre sand, hung in parchment folds from her bones. She had but one tooth, black, in her lower gums. As she walked she leaned most of her gaunt frame on a long dead branch.

I could barely understand her, but I understood enough to know she wished me to accompany her. She followed some instinct stronger than sight or hearing. Our progress was slow, and the cold - for even Summer here is bitter - pierced through to my bones and joints and indeed my soul. This month the clouds have begun to give forth rain, a cold hard rain which cannot penetrate the earth.

It took us the best part of one day. I thought she might surrender to God before we arrived at our destination, this being three low granite holdings at the very west of the village, furthest from the sea. I knocked at the door, for my companion was now devoid of all strength. In time my knock was answered by another old woman, clad in black robes and a shawl. She appeared at first, to my weary burnt eyes, as if a fellow servant of God. But there was no love of God in her homely face. She grasped my sleeve and pulled me inside.

The room was warmed by a fierce fire, and I could feel the moisture rising from my attire. But my comfort in the drying heat was soon unsettled by a sound. A sound I recognised at last as being that of a young child crying. My astonishment was soon replaced by a fear I could not define. A slow insidious fear, which tickled my throat and gently spread. It seemed to paralyse my limbs, my voice and my mind until at last I felt unable to breathe.

Unaccustomed to such weakness, I pushed this fear aside and passed through a low doorway. An innocent enough scene: six young children, of age from but a few months, to maybe several years, laying on a bed. The bed itself was clean. The babes cared for. But, on closer appraisal, there was some undefined shadow cast over them.

Each had the deepest black hair. Each had black eyes, as if their iris were consumed by the darkness of the pupil. As I looked down at those eyes, I too felt consumed by this same darkness. My instincts of old moved my hand to my hilt, but alas now only my Rosary hangs there. These wooden beads, your Worship, of no use before this unseen enemy.

I am ashamed to admit the aforementioned fear took hold in such a way that I could no longer remain upright. It was two days before I awoke, feverish and miserable in the rooms of the village Doctor. I am even yet unclear as to what unfolded. My only surmise is that somehow the old women summoned help for me. The good Doctor had the sense to fetch my belongings for me, and the goodness of heart not to explore them.

There are many questions I cannot answer. For some reason, these women must have felt that a man of God needed the knowledge of these children. I know not what else to think.

Perhaps I may learn more from the wisdom of the Doctor.

Fr Vincent Canis.

***

Dated the Fourteenth day, Of the Forth month, The Year of our Lord, 1789

Your Worship,

There is some enlightenment. The good doctor and myself have become the firmest of allies. I have remained at his dwelling, and will do so as long as I may. I find I dread returning to my previous quarters. As once again I grow stronger, so does my grasp of the local tongue. I have learnt much of events past in this village.

It would seem several people have disappeared in recent years. All less than a score on this earth. All maidens. Each girl missing from her bed at night, the very same as befell my servant. Fear and hysteria have swollen into superstition. Ritual sacrifices are prepared to appease non-Christian evils. Certain individuals are regarded with terror and suspicion. One such is another visitor: a man residing in an old timber dwelling at the foot of the mountains, to the west.

The Doctor has as yet no opinion to offer. The children were all found - abandoned new-born babes - near the village hall. They are being cared for by an old midwife who fears them as she nurtures them.

There are now even fewer parishioners present at my daily service, and I fear they too will stray. I must confess to you, your worship, that I think daily of returning home, and forsaking your mission. I would willingly face another more perilous voyage than before. Perhaps, your worship, this errand is for another.

I will write further when I know more. It is late, and I do not wish my candle to keep the good Doctor from his sleep.

Fr Canis.

***

Dated the First day, Of the Tenth Month, The Year of Our Lord, 1789

Your Worship,

Though I find it difficult, I must relay to you the following. She has been found - the young servant girl I employed. Her innocent lifeless body was dancing in the waves of the Black Sea. She wore no clothes. In death, she knew no peace, only terror.

The good Doctor has taken her in, and I have prepared to administer the last prayers of God, to speed her soul on its way. The doctor felt an investigation was appropriate. Of course, your worship, I would not assist. The defiling of the human temple is against all our teaching. But I feel I must inform you of his findings.

She had been with child, and was but a few days past its deliverance. There had been considerable blood loss during the birth, but this did not cause her to die. Her neck was bruised and torn, by hands perhaps wearing a ring such as that worn by our brethren. The doctor felt it was this person who had brought her death.

Another more fearful, more puzzling fact. Our Doctor could not say how the seed of the child was planted, for when this innocent girl died, she was still a maiden. This news must freeze our very hearts and souls, for surely, your Worship, only a God, only our God, is capable of such a miracle. My mind swirls with the turmoil.

I pray with purpose I have never before felt. My faith more frequent and urgent by its very questioning. But there seems no help from the God I serve. I entreat you, your Worship, to supply me with your wisdom.

Perhaps there are answers in the hills to the west.

Fr Canis.

***

Dated the Second day, Of the Tenth month, The Year of our Lord, 1789

Your Worship,

It is Autumn, and cold winds cut my face and hands like a knife. I have learned much. More than I can relay to you. More, perhaps, than I would ever wish to.

The stranger lives in the foothills of the mountains. The mountains themselves give him shelter from much of the bitter southwest winds. This is as well, for he does not light a fire to give warmth, nor light. His woolen robes are torn and dirty. His hair is grey. His beard long. But his face not much older than mine. At once I noticed the ring on his right smallest finger. He is, or was, a fellow servant of God.

The unknown fear tickled my throat as I entered this house, and I thought my voice would fail me. But I could not show weakness in front of such as he. We conversed tolerably well, your Worship. His French is stale, but fluent. I will try to relate to you some of our conversation.

We sat either side a small wooden table, and watched each other's face in the shadows of the solitary candle.

"I knew you would come," his voice had a rasp of disuse, which disappeared as our converse grew.

I asked from whence had come this wisdom.

"You were sent by his Worship, the Cardinal St Alban du Paris, to preach the teachings of a Christian God. To remove Evil from this place. A place, you know, as do I, God has forsaken."

"Again I say, how do you know this?"

"I too, was sent here by the Cardinal. I was younger even than you. Perhaps more arrogant. I had no doubt I could preach the lessons of God and convert these heathens. Little did I know I would become the vessel of Evil."

I could not reply to this, and waited for him to go on.

"Look at him," he rose and made to touch my shoulder. I shrank from his gesture. "Full of his own faith. Confident he can rid this place of Evil. But he knows nothing of this perversity. Knows not of its extent, its ruthlessness."

"Then you must enlighten me."

He returned to his seat with a hopeless sigh. "There have been six disappearances in the years since I arrived. All maidens. Nine months after each is lost a newborn babe has been left at the village hall. Five of the Maidens have never been found. The villagers cannot comprehend these crimes, and do little to prevent them. All the wailing and offering of sacrificial goats is of no avail."

"How then, must they combat this Evil?"

"Have you not guessed, Father? I thought you would. I thought that was the reason for your company. It is I, dear Father. I am the root of all the evil. I have no memory of my deeds. No notion of my motivation. But I know, now, beyond all the doubt I allowed myself to feel, that it is I. It seems I do all in the dead of night while captive by a malignant sleep. Yes, my poor Father," and here he looked me at me with eyes as black as the night, "it is I, or the Devil working through me."

"Then you have taken the lives of these innocent maidens?"

"And more, dear Father. It seems I have helped create their offspring. Forsaken my vows."

"And you have no memory of these deeds?"

"None at all."

"Then how do you know this to be true?"

He stood again. Instinctively I withdrew, but he made no further move towards me. "I know. Pray to your God you never have to know the wisdom I now know."

"This makes no sense, Father. Where do the girls go? How are the children created? My handmaid...the last maiden was but a virgin. These things cannot happen."

"Untouched are they? You know more than I. It is indeed then, the work of the Devil." Again his eyes devoured mine over the flame. I put my hand to my hilt but found only the folds of my robes. I thought he might laugh at my discomfort. "Do you know the church?" he asked.

"I know it. I hold mass there daily."

"Of course. But do you know the vault under the sacristry? The door is locked. The key in the Tabernacle. Perhaps you should look there."

I should have felt even more trepidation, your Worship, however my fear all but evaporated. Instead I was left with the beginnings of a grim resolve. I must stop this pestilence. "There is a way to end this. Your life must end." I spared him any unfelt sympathy.

"Is that not your mission, Father, as decreed by the Cardinal himself?"

"You know I cannot take a life. Life is sacred. Though shalt not kill." I said this even as I remembered past lives taken before I gained the truth of your guidance.

"Even to stop this madness, you will not take exception to the teachings of your God."

"Your God also, Father."

"No. Not my God. No longer my God. Perhaps, not even yours." He walked over to a small Eastern window lit by the first strugglings of dawn. I licked my lips to calm my voice.

"You must take your own life."

"How noble. How courageous. To throw myself from the cliffs. To plunge a knife into my breast. I cannot contemplate such a fate. Could you?"

"Have you the courage to go on with this...death? This Hell in life?"

"To take one's life is to go straight to another Hell. You do realise, Father, that by your very suggestion you will have a part to play in my death. Your pure priesthood will also be tainted by the Devil. Although you do not physically kill me, you will know, and your God will know, that you take responsibility."

I knew all this to be true, your Worship. I knew I may as well cut his throat with a knife as suggest he take his own life. But I too lacked courage. Lacked the courage required to end this Evil by my own hand. As I pulled on my coat, he said one more thing to add to my disquiet.

"What of the children, born out of this Evil? The Devil himself does this work. By leaving his seed to germinate and ripen in young fresh fruit, his seed will make more seed, and his crop will spread over many lands."

I left him then. The cold morning wind crept under my coat. The fear, which by false bravado I had kept away for a small time, returned.

What, indeed, of these Devil's children? Could I allow them to live? Could I leave this place with the job not yet one half finished? And then, your Worship, the Devil himself must have taken my thoughts. He showed me the Doctor's apothecary, with its herbs and elixirs. Perhaps a strong tincture of opiate, such as that used in the battlefields of my homeland, to quietly and painlessly ease their lives away.

So I wait in vain, your Worship, for your guidance. This riddle, I fear, will drive me to madness.

Perhaps I will find solace in the Book of Proverbs…
And do not put us to the test but save us from the evil one.

Father Vincent Canis

***

Dated the Fifteenth day, Of the Eighth Month, The Year of our Lord, 1790

Your Worship,

It has been many months since my last letter to you. Since I have had no reply, I know not if you receive these epistles, or indeed if you still live. Perhaps all is not well with my place of birth, but I no longer have the breadth of thought to find much care or fear for other lands. My world condensed to one small village.

This, your Worship, will be my last letter. I must make a decision, as you soon shall see. I, Vincent Canis, must decide which path follows the lesser evil. But I digress, and in order to make you understand, I will take this narrative back some way.

The very day after my visit to our fallen brother, there were two events of such magnitude I have been unable to put ink to paper. The first - his body found by a local fisherman on the rocks at the base of the cliffs. It seems, your Worship, he at last found the courage to do what he must, and end the Evil which reproduced itself through him.

But alas, this wickedness has not ended, and how in vain and despair I wish I had taken more heed of your warnings. What arrogance is it, to think one can convert heathens and rid the Devil with a small book of fables and a crucifix?

This same day I looked under the sacristry, and found instead of a tomb, a room furnished with a bed, a table and chair. Blood stained sheets in the corner. Candle fat and stone plates on the shelf. Rosary beads on the floor. Four walls whispering of life given and taken away, yet so solid as to let no sound through. I locked the church for the last time, and rid the key.

The children live. All with black hair and black eyes, and faces that would be innocent. All but one. My hand shakes as I confess this, the second thing of magnitude. Another young baby was found on that fateful day. Barely a few days old. A girl: so small, so delicate. Different from the others. Fair, with blue eyes. It would seem, your Worship, that the Cursed One found another vessel through which to do his evil work, even before my predecessor ended his life. And if I were to look at my reflection in the frozen glass before me, I would see the same fair hair and blue eyes. The features of my child. The child I made, with the Devil, inside my poor deceased maiden who is dead by the hands of none other than myself.

Father CanisAnd now, your Worship, the choice I spoke of. For even in this desperate state I have a choice. The one a terrible choosing, but one my conscience dictates. Destroy this Beast by destroying all the children, and thence myself. Each morning I wake and seek the courage to take this path. Each day I see the apothecary with its vials and powders. Each night I retire to a sleepless bed, telling myself it will be in the morrow.

The other seems easier. My fingers will not be again tainted with murder, although my soul will be touched by cowardice. This choice is to leave. Go home. My friend the Doctor, who knows nothing but my goodness, has expressed a desire to see a different world. That is all the reason I need to go. I tell myself I will benefit from your council, since there is no reply to these letters. But I know, deep in that place of knowing, that I leave to escape this Evil, and my responsibility.

My choice is made. You will know my answer, your Worship, in time. Either I will return and you will see me in the flesh, or I will not.

Tomorrow is again the celebration of the birth of our lord.

The wise man's heart leads him aright,
The fool's heart leads him astray.

Proverbs again...little comfort this day.

Ad majorem Dei gloriam
V.C.

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