Thirty-seven Years Before The Escape
A bolt of lightning struck nearby and the sky danced with bright flame. Angry, bitter rain had cursed the day. It hated all those traveling and all those righteous. Frank stopped to camp along the ruined road, raising thanks to Cor-lyn-ber when the rain subsided.
Timothy pulled dry wood from his pack and started their fire. They prayed in silence for an hour before the food was ready and conversation began. All throughout the journey, they spoke of their faith, and the village in the mountains of Durst they were going to lead. Lightning rattled across the sky, throbbing like a heart of flame, pounding out the promise of doom and the threat of more torrential rain.
Then he came.
He wore a long leather coat that flapped in the growling wind. He threw his hood back and grinned at the holy men. The lupine smile brought Timothy’s heart to beating. This stranger was a young man, strong and lean. He took a seat across from them and extended his hands to the flames. His eyes transfixed anyone who peered into them. He looked at once hungry and unable to eat. This man had a craving for something that teeth and maw could not consume.
Timothy looked at Frank, Frank at Timothy, and no one spoke, until the stranger smiled as he stared into the fire.
“Tell me to go,” the man said. “Tell me you will not share a fire and a camp with me, and I will walk away.”
“Go,” Timothy said.
“No, stranger, stay. We have a humble camp, but you are welcome to share,” Frank said. But Timothy knew immediately this was a bad idea. Something long ago had soured this man, and Timothy wanted him as far away as the raging sky.
“Long road, bitter day,” the man said.
“It was,” Frank replied. “But I have hope for the night.”
“Lightning rages above us. The ground is swampy and brought to ruin below. The trees drip down upon us with sour rain, and you speak of hope.”
“Hope is all we have,” Frank said.
The man looked up at him and grinned again, but said nothing. His long fingers waggled in the air as he pointed at Frank’s throat. “What is that?” the man asked.
Frank reached up to the brooch that held his coat tight and ran his finger across it lovingly. “This is a symbol of my life and servitude to the mighty Cor-lyn-ber, Father of Hope and Light.”
“Father of Monsters,” the man said.
Timothy looked the man in the eye and growled. “What say you about our god?”
Frank extended his hand to settle Timothy and shook his head. “Cor-lyn-ber does not nurture monsters. Why say you this?”
“Have you heard of Havoc?” the man asked. “Maybe Wrath or Descent? Were these not monsters all, blood-drenched killers that crushed men and women alike beneath heel?”
“Every faith boasts warriors. Every church is guarded by those ready to do battle. Cor-lyn-ber is a god of righteousness. He is a god of protection, a god of love. That makes him willing to fight for the light and those who require aid. Why would he not possess the power to wage war upon darkness?”
“Have you killed men?” the stranger asked.
“No,” Frank said. “I am a man of the cloth. I am for the teaching. I am not for battle.”
The man turned his eyes to Timothy and grinned. “How about you, then? Is there blood on your hands?”
“Do you have a name, stranger, or just rude questions?” Timothy snapped. He longed to grip this man and toss him bodily from the forest. An old itch nagged Timothy, an itch that had once been so sweet, an itch he refused to scratch now.
The man nodded. “That is your answer then.” The man smiled, spreading his arms wide. “I am Miladroga Viscus, Miladroga the Seeker.” Back in the distance, lightning struck out in anger and thunder rolled right on top of it. It resonated, filling the camp and the forest around them in wrath.
“What is it you seek?” Timothy asked.
“A place to do my work, a home to nurture, and a people to call my own. I will wander until I find it. And when I do, I will hold it tight and never let it go.” Miladroga curled his long, boney fingers, as if strangling a thing he could not grasp. He looked up, his face red in the light of the flames, and he grinned again. “Where are you going?”
Timothy looked at Frank with caution in his eyes, willing him not to answer. But Frank smiled and said, “We are headed to Chaste, a city nearby that is in need of leadership and guidance. It will be our home until its true guardian rises to take our place.”
“I know it, this town you will make your home in. It is cold and desolate, a hard town chipped from the rock,” Miladroga said. “You will need a warrior beside you to keep order and hold the people in check. Is this your man?” He pointed at Timothy. “Is this your killer, Frank?”
Timothy tried to think back in the conversation if Frank had ever introduced himself. He could not be sure that he did.
“Timothy is a reformed man. He has vowed never to take a life again. He has sought and found his honor. Timothy is a man of peace,” Frank said. “And we will not need violence to hold our position. Chaste is brimming with good men and women who work hard and love hard. It is a jewel of our faith, and they long for the embrace of Cor-lyn-ber.”
“Yes, I’m sure you’re right. It is the pursuit of all men to be embraced by a god or goddess. I’m sure that is the truth in Chaste as well.” Miladroga proffered a small steel flask and quickly unstopped it. He held it up before them both and gleamed a predator’s smile.
“May the gods look down on us tonight and watch our parley. May they find entertainment at this fire, and never forget what happens here,” Miladroga said.
Timothy understood this man, knew his mind and his smile. A monster had entered their camp, and Timothy would not allow him to hurt Frank, Frank who had saved him from the darkness and taught him another way.
“What is going to happen here?” Frank said.
Timothy curled his hands into fists. He would have to go back on his vow. He needed to pluck this man from the world.
“Acts of fate, destinies undone and lives fallen,” Miladroga said.
Timothy rushed forward and Miladroga grinned as his hand flew wide. A fist full of mud slapped Timothy in the eyes. He stumbled and hit the ground. In a flash, Miladroga had a log from the fire. Timothy screamed as the log jammed against his face. Searing pain raked his cheek and eyebrow, and Timothy thrashed.
Frank stood, pulling a baton, and Miladroga pulled his branch back for another strike. “No,” he said. “Put it down. Or I will crush his skull before your very eyes.” Miladroga gripped the log with both hands and held it high above his head. “Do it now!”
Frank dropped the baton. Timothy groaned.
“On your belly,” Miladroga screamed. “Cross your hands behind your back. Curl your legs.”
Miladroga worked fast. He crossed the distance and in moments had bound Frank tight. He patted the priest’s head and returned to Timothy, who fought to get up. Miladroga kicked him down and laughed as he began the beating.
Fire and hard wood battered down on Timothy. The worst pain he had ever felt rattled up around him, caging him in bars of rage and helplessness. Timothy fought to get to his feet, and nearly won them many times, but the log came back and the beating continued. Miladroga laughed constantly. Near the point of passing out, Timothy realized the man above him was descending into madness.
An hour later, all three men sat around the fire, and Miladroga prodded the flames. “We have so much work to do,” he said.
Timothy nearly vomited in his fear. He had learned more in the last hour of his life than he had in years, and he languished in the throes of those dark truths.
He was not brave. Maybe once he had been, but no more. He was not powerful. He had long thought himself a powerful man—strong limbs, strong mind. The last hour had taken those ideas. He was not much of what he had thought.
“Your work, Timothy, will take the longest, so we had better get started,” Miladroga said. The man untied one of Timothy’s hands, and slapped a steel flask in it. He unstopped it and, in a breath, crouched behind Frank.
“Drink,” he said.
“What is it?” Frank asked. A blade was instantly at the priest’s throat.
“It is Devil’s Brew.” Miladroga motioned to Timothy. “You are going to drink it all. When you do, I will untie you.”
Timothy already knew he would drink it. If it would save Frank’s life, then he would do it. Something had broken inside him. Timothy had no notions of surviving Miladroga.
“Do not do it, Timothy!” Frank said. “It is a damnable drink. It will ensnare you to the weed, and you will become an addict.”
“Yes, Timothy, the drink will grip you and you will crave it,” Miladroga said. “You will become a slave to it. And from this day on, you will claw through life, ever-searching for your next drink. Soon, the drink will not be enough for you. Soon, you will have to chew the leaves. Then more and more debauchery will follow. That drink will take your will. That drink will force you down roads of misery and death.”
Timothy looked at Frank and sobbed. To drink was to suffer eternally. He had seen the effects of it before, haunted nightmares of slavery, men desperate for freedom.
“If you fail to drink it, however, I will take this fillet knife and skin this bastard alive. I will peel the skin from his body and eat it before his very eyes,” Miladroga said. He smiled, so gleefully that Timothy almost vomited. “Drink that flask to the dregs and I will hold the knife back. I will not drain a single drop of blood from his body.”
“I love you, Frank,” Timothy sobbed.
“No, Timothy, don’t do it. Please, I beg you, no. Let him kill me. Let him torture me, but do not drink.”
The rain began again and Timothy groaned. He swallowed over the sounds of Frank weeping and praying.
Miladroga smiled. “Yes, priest, call upon your god. I want him watching what comes next.”
Timothy gagged on the dark liquor. It was thick and gritty and he thought he would be sick. He felt none of the effects, and was at once convinced his god had delivered him from the worst of the addiction.
Then his lips dropped into bliss beyond telling, and his body craved to follow. His throat dripped with pleasure beyond his comprehension and it poured down his spine. Nothing had ever prepared him for this. The sensation of falling and flying suffused itself into his limbs and he felt himself growing hard. The erection was painful and desperate until he forced the drink into his mouth again and felt himself release in such trembling satisfaction as no woman had ever brought to him.
Far away, Frank wept as Miladroga stared, lustful at Timothy’s fall.
Timothy stopped and shook the flask slightly. He sobbed. “Is there more?” His self-loathing boiled, but he could not help himself.
“Oh dear, Timothy, there is so much more. Now, you drink up and I will set you free.”
Tears of relief rolled down the monk’s cheeks. For the first time in his life, Timothy wished he were dead. When the flask was empty, Miladroga crossed the camp to stand behind Timothy. He cut the bonds and tucked the knife in the monk’s hand.
The idea did not grip him. Nothing seemed to fully have a handle on him, not the darkness standing over him, nor the gravity that held him to the ground. Air made no sense, nor did taste. His senses were a riot of color and ecstasy. He looked down at the knife dumbly before it all started to ebb.
The drink drew away from him, the pleasure dropping. He had reached the high water mark. As the drink receded, a crippling hunger grasped Timothy. He gnashed his teeth and wept. Timothy jabbed the blade in Miladroga’s face.
“Yes, kill me. Gut me and spill me out into the mud,” the man said over the pounding rain. The fire hissed and failed. Darkness rolled round the camp to smother them all. “But I have no more of the drink on me.” Miladroga pointed to his bag and shook his head. “The rest of my stash is buried in the woods. You will never find it in all this mud.”
Timothy had never heard such terrible words in his life. He had to have the drink. He needed it before all other things. The world wasn’t making sense anymore. It was all coming apart. The drink was the answer. He needed it to think clearly. “No, I must have it.”
“There is a way to more,” Miladroga said. “A road out of this pit you are feeling at the notion of never again drinking that brew. Never again.” He leaned in, stepping forward as the knife receded. “Ever.”
Timothy turned to look at Frank and sobbed.
“Yes, dear Timothy. You see now, don’t you?” Through the trees, the moonlight struck Frank and lit him up in silver tones. He looked like an idol, beautiful and sacred. But sacred things would not help Timothy now.
“Please, no,” Timothy sobbed.
“Oh, I want you to remember this as the first time you begged me. And I want you to learn, Timothy. Learn what happens when you beg.”
Timothy felt hope for the last time as he looked into Miladroga’s face. Maybe this dark man would just give him the drink and leave, if Timothy could beg just right.
He dropped to his knees and gripped Miladroga’s pants. “Please!” he cried. “I beg you, mercy, let Frank live. Give me the drink and I will do anything. I will give you anything. I will go with you. You can beat me again. You can do anything you want with me. I will do anything to you, just please. Please. I beg you, please.”
Miladroga grabbed Timothy by the hair and dragged him to his feet. He turned him around and gave him a light shove in the direction of Frank. The need gripping him ever harder, Timothy felt he would die without the drink.
“You are denied. This is your fate. This right here is your life,” Miladroga said. “Go now and we will find my stash.”
“I can’t.” But oh, how he wanted to. One quick bit of work, and then more; he would have more. He looked at Frank and his mouth watered. His body shook. He felt dangerous and lean, tearing through the forest depraved and terrible.
“You are a monster, Timothy. This man, this priest, has spent a lot of time fighting to convince you otherwise. But I know what you are.” Miladroga draped an arm over Timothy’s shoulder. “Did he tell you you were noble? Did he tell you you were good? Maybe he told you that Cor-lyn-ber was your path, that his god would clean you of your sins and lift you up.” Miladroga stepped close. His breath was hot against Timothy’s ear. “Do you feel lifted? Do you feel noble? Are you good, Timothy? Or do you belong to me?”
Timothy had been away too long, away from the drink, away from hope. “I am not of Cor-lyn-ber,” Timothy said.
Frank wept and locked his eyes on Timothy.
“Do you belong to me?” Miladroga asked.
“Yes, I am your man,” Timothy said.
“Master. You will call me master,” Miladroga said.
“Yes, master. I will call you master. But will you please give me—”
A boney fist impacted with his kidney and Timothy sobbed.
“You will do my work, or you get nothing, and I will leave you here in this forest with him,” Miladroga thrust a finger in Frank’s direction, “and he will deprive you of the drink to save your soul.”
“Do my work now, or I will leave without you.”
The raging rain blotted out all remembrances of the light, and Timothy crossed the camp, his grip on the knife tightening. He shook his head, but in the end, he did it. In the end, Timothy skinned Frank alive, grateful for the work.
After Timothy drank more, they turned their steps toward Chaste and the life they would lead there—a life of servitude and piety, a life of teaching and nurturing.