Sword of Mars

2022, In English | 0 comentarii

de Marius Voinescu


Chains of Duty

Beyond the black curtain of the stage, the blind and deaf puppets sit in their boxes, waiting for a chance to play any role on offer. One of these human dolls, however, refused to be quiet. Bang! He bashed his aged yet remarkably still stocky frame against his cage, the rusty manacles on his chafed wrists clanging together against the iron bars.

“Where am I and who is in charge here? I demand to be heard. I demand to be let out,” he screamed, his voice echoing into space.

But there was no one there to listen. So Gustav sat and lamented and howled curses for all the pain he endured…was still enduring. His trousers stank of excrement, his joints and limbs ached from being stretched on the rack, and his hands were bleeding under soiled wrappings where the demons had hacked several of his fingers off at random. The absence of their gibbering, shrieking, pitiless voices tortured his perturbed thoughts. How will they hurt me next? Will they break my knees, take my eyes, my ears, my tongue? Do they even care for what I have to say?

Even in pitch darkness he could still see their twisted, abominable forms. Bodies carved from clay and iron, and blistered flesh stained with black tar, with horrible faces full of wedged teeth and huge eyes wrought from cracked glass, mirroring all his sins back to him. He placed his throbbing hands on his head, grabbing and tearing at his graying hair.

“I don’t deserve this. No one deserves this. Let me out, please let me out. I will be a good man; I swear I will do good,” he muttered like prayer.

“It hardly matters if your deeds are subjectively good or evil,” said an aged gentleman with a smooth baritone voice.

Gustav raised his head and saw a clean, well manicured hand holding a lit candle in a polished silver holder. He instantly recognized the speaker and jumped to his feet, reaching out through the bars and trying to catch the silk robes of his jailor. Failing at that for being too slow, he rattled the bars, howling like a mad dog and ignoring the agony in his maimed fingers and spitting with rage.

“You Ancient bastard! You wear the face of an angel, but you’re just a callous liar! You sold me, you sold me to that prince of devils Zaebos. And for what? Because I hurt your precious pride by retorting to your insults? I should have known you were working for that hellish tyrant.”

The Ancient Bard only laughed at him, however, a slow amused giggle that steadily grew. Like an elder finding the retarded comments of an idiot child oddly endearing. “Oh but what foolish concepts you have, Gustav Scott Varanger. You were caught and are soon to die. I am here to free you. All you must do is follow this script.”

And he held out a long scroll of vellum exquisitely inscribed with luminously flowing ink. After a considerate look at it against the radiant candle flame, Gustav cringed.

“You want me to do what? To transform into one of those cursed wolves, to become an enthralled pet for a spooky harpy and throw my beloved friend Ophelia into a deep pit? Are you fucking mad or what?”

“You will not do it?”

“No! I will not do it and you certainly can’t make me! Find someone else to play your stupid game.”

“You think I cannot?”  the Bard shouted in a mightily profound tenor.

He raised his many appendages and abruptly an ebony curtain dropped. Gustav saw they were standing on the stage of a ruined theater. Huge segments of rendered plaster had fallen away from brick and mortared walls, invasive creeping vines were growing through the collapsed ceiling, rotten timbers and rubble were strewn all about the floors. And in the worn-down seats was a crowd of rabid, contorted and pleading onlookers. Some had cauterized stumps on their arms, bleeding blindfolds over their eyes, toothless mouths and shaved heads.

“No, let me take his part, I am more deserving of the role!” said one woman.

“I want to be free and wild again. Free and wild, free and wild,” squealed a fat man with a sawn-off nose.

“I was a university student and very well educated. The part should go to me as only I can do it justice!” said a boy with a hideously burned face.

More begging, more pleading and more anguished demands. Until the Bard clapped his arms and the theater resounded with noise as though he’d struck a massive gong. The shaking rafters released a shower of dust and the deranged crowd was instantly rendered mute. Gustav stared at them, hollow mouth trembling open, studying the grim scene clearly enough despite his developing cataracts. He felt a horrible shiver as the Bard placed a palm on his forehead and whispered, “You will do this and more besides, because she is your friend.”

A vivid image unfolded before his mind like an unwelcome dream through paralyzed sleep. He saw Ophelia, delightfully humble as a mountain hare in her summer coat, held in the strong arms of a fellow with a golden olive wreath over his raven black hair. By the side of this handsome prince were an enchantingly beautiful brown skinned woman and an obese priest in black. The priest tugged along a young calf on a rope while the prince unhurriedly placed Ophelia on a low altar between standing stones.

The hare didn’t move, she just stood there patient and unafraid, a willing participant in the upcoming event. While the equatorial woman held the exposed neck of the cow just above Ophelia, the prince brought out a knife and the priest opened a large manuscript.

“We could strengthen her and your bonds together more solidly with a child sacrifice,” said the priest.

“Absolutely not, Simon!” said the prince. “I will not be a hypocrite or a traitor to my beliefs. And this ritual is delicate enough as it is. You must make sure not to summon the name of Zaebos by accident, you understand!”

Simon the priest nodded and placed a dazzling ruby pendant on a silver chain around Ophelia’s neck. The next moment, the prince pierced the young bovine’s neck, ripping it open, and as it hollered and mooed in dying agony, a torrent of hot blood cascaded over the hare. Her long ears stuck to her back, and her breath hissed as her tongue darted in and out, licking and swallowing gulps of the crimson fluid. Simon and the brown woman prayed in unison, but where his words were loud crazy gospels, the woman chanted with the rehearsed precision of an opera singer. The whole scene was insanely uncomfortable and completely bizarre to Gustav.

“What are they doing? Why am I meant to see this?” he asked. But again there was no answer.

When the blood ritual was concluded and the cow was surely killed, the prince washed Ophelia’s fur and there was a shimmering glow around the talisman’s gemstone. On his little finger he placed a sliver ring with a similar design to the talisman, and his lips formed a simpering grin while his dark eyes radiated with an emotion Gustav quickly recognized. It was a hungry sort of love, a possessive rapacious affection, but love all the same.

“No! She is mine. From her afterlife to the next life she was mine! I do not care who you are, you smug-faced bastard, I will destroy you for this!” Gustav shouted, filled with jealous anger and wrathful prejudice.