I come to thee, these twenty years past, seeking that which thou denied me upon my first—and only, I might add—visit to this shrine. Now wait! Hold thy tongue, though passionately it may wish to counter my words. Thou must listen long and well to my tale before casting down thy righteous decree. Thou must know well my life, painful in its snail’s-tread span, so that thy reason may know emotion and thy god’s true light might uncloud thy scripture-veiled eyes.
I was once a simpler man, and happy without the weight of these jewels and furs. A smith in the town, I passed my days with honest work and spent my nights comforted by my good wife, so fair in her youth. Twin sons did she give me, and no finer babes were there to be found in all of Exeter. Though at times they proved burdensome—and what children, at two winters old, do not?—my Elryna always tended to them when I was hard at work. Ours was the most full of homes, though none of thy opulent company would feel so upon viewing its humble trappings.
Have care to pay attention now, thou whom I hear squirming and sighing with impatience behind thy curtain. My house, whole in spirit, was Fated to suffer turmoil even in the height of its peace and happiness.
It was on a clouded day, just after harvest celebrations, that the Fates did strike my home with their blindly omniscient will. I did toil heavily over a shirt of mail when into my empty house—Elryna had taken her sons to thy new church for mass—came a woman of the Earl’s court. I knew her to be thus, not solely by the fineness of her bearing and of the jewels lying splendid upon her bosom, but more by the retainers which she lacked but seemed to expect as she left the door open behind her. My eyes and loins did then ally against my heart in violent quarrel; I was convinced that she was the fairest dove ever to grace my vision, even more so than my sole love. The lady spoke unto me, commanding that I forge a weapon most fine that she could present to her master. When I tried to ask of her what death-giver would be preferred, I could not command my voice: it was the first of my possessions she would steal away. She, however, knew that which she desired, and upon imparting the measures of a footman’s pole axe, did glide from my home to return to her high place.
It is here that the telling becomes hard, for my shame does wish to beat back my anger and send me from this chamber. But today’s victory will be mine and my family’s, not the Worm’s, whose malicious hand stirs the brine now drowning my once-loving home. Yea, the battle will be won, but perhaps not, I fear, without thine aid.
The woman returned a fortnight later seeking her order. I had finished the arm and was polishing the blue of its blade when she entered my front room. The dampness of the dusk had done no injustice to her comeliness, and her eyes seemed to shine with an inner light—a light of virtue I ignorantly surmised. The lady closed the door to the waning light outside; the furnace’s ruddy glow encompassed her as she moved to stand over me. She complimented fully my labors, all the while seeming to invite my gaze and to stoke my desire. Yes, “white” father, my desire; forgotten were the vows I shared with my once again, almost conveniently, absent wife. I found myself enraptured by the beauty’s voice, in awe of her features. Likewise did she appreciate my virtues, for she then spoke of my appeal to her. Like a boy was I upon hearing of her favor, so excited was my passion. I found myself reaching for her, and, to my surprise, she did not withdraw, but instead gave her body into my arms. My mind whirling in a gray cloud, we retired to the back room and, in my family’s bed, did commit ourselves to damning caresses.
Here can I almost see thy disapproval through the confessional screen, can feel thy righteousness swell through this soft closet’s dark air to lash me; to damn me as thou did when I first came to the poorer beginnings of this now majestic House. Ah! Do I hear a denial from thee? Yes, now thou seem, by thy protest, to recall. My voice hearkens chimes of memory from the depths of thy past. And now! Now, thou try to justify thy youthful posturing, to polish it over like an ill-forged blade. Be silent! Wait. There is more to be said and heard.
Though my mind and heart did revolt against the act to which I had fallen, my flesh could find no complaint. The lady’s touch burned with a penetrating flame; her kisses marked my skin like bites; her bites drew blood. Yet, not once in this arousing, painful deed did I cry “hold, enough!” for I was hers, I realized, from the moment I took her. Somewhere in the depths of my spirit, a fear took hold, a fear of the consequences of such an act. It brushed me like chill winds of gathering thunderheads, whispering promises of disaster. Passion’s voice was the louder, however; and I, vanquished, swore fealty to its command.
Afterwards, she slept, but my thoughts would not grant me such solace—though solace has sleep not been since that fateful evening. Sorrow beat back the now spent passion and established its rule over my humour. I bade the woman awaken and hie from my dwelling and she did so, but not without first speaking of a “bargain.” She promised her return and the value of her favor, then made off with the pole axe—and something more, I fear—into the night.
Tormented was I for the three days until my love Elryna’s return. She came home smiling, but lost the fair expression upon viewing mine. She, full of unwarranted love for me, asked of my pain. Before reason could stay my tongue with its deceptive bonds, I found myself pouring the events of that night out to her. It was then, holy man, that I came to know the value of the woman of my house. No words of condemnation or anger did come from her trembling lips, only solace, understanding, and concern. She comforted my wretched, valueless self, holding me in her arms while I spewed forth the blasphemous details of my sin.
It was at the close of my hateful tale that wrath finally found a home in Elryna’s heart. Upon hearing of the woman’s promised bargain, she immediately crossed herself, as was her recently found faith, and ordered me here to her church, thy once simple shrine. She had been told of thy Nemisis’s underhanded tactics by which man is stolen; she feared for my soul. Here do I command thee to pay the utmost regard to detail, for it was thy ears to which I tried to confess my sin, to stay the Worm’s attack.
Thou had been recently commissioned to our county to smear thy faith about the land. Thou had built a small hall of worship to which not a few of the first gods’ people had been lured. It was at my wife’s urgent behest that I, twenty winters ago, did step into thy fledgling church to confess my deed. Thou, with conceit spawned of thy swaggering youth, did usher me into a similar room as this and, separated from me as you are now, bade me ask for thy god’s forgiveness. Unfortunately, my youth found me likewise no great stranger to vainglory, and I boastfully declared that I sought no pity from thy false god, that it could offer me nothing, that I was here only to comfort my wife’s faith.
Thy pride, smitten, ordered me then out of thy booth and thy hall, damning me to thine Hell. Angered, I stormed out; I swore never to return to such a hollow hall, but to remain in the fulfilling temples of Odin All-Father and his spawn.
I could not, however, return home with the tale of such rejection, so I conjured one of forgiveness and repentance for the woman I so deeply loved. The lie fell favorably upon her ears, and we did return to a life I thought would once again be complete in its security.
Yet, four days later, the lady of the court returned to my smithy, this time bearing a royal edict. Though her presence was not welcomed, the flowery writing upon the parchment was, for it commanded me unto the Earl’s court. The lady—how I now abhor such a reference being used for her person—told of the Earl’s pleasure with my workmanship and promised great wealth for further efforts. Elryna’s gaze in my direction told me of her dislike for the woman, but the room about her and the two boys within it bespoke of the need for the offer. I found myself agreeing to the summons while within I shrank away from the harsh, but silent, disapproval of my love. The woman, with the honor and decency of a common whore, then told me that repayment for this debt would no longer be so simple, or so satisfying. She then, smiling wickedly, turned and left me, my wife, and the growing rift between us alone with our sons in the small room.
From there, my life seemed to improve greatly, despite the ill feelings of my love. The Earl, much to my honor, gave unto me the position of Master Armourer of the Court. In my first audience, he imparted his overwhelming satisfaction with my abilities, then did shower me with robes, treasures, and properties befitting my promotion. Forgotten was the home in which I had earned the new-found glory; I saw a much greater home in which to raise my boys, in which to hold close my family. Lost was the love our simpler dwelling had held, for we moved to reside within the Earl’s hall, to sit about his table. Immediately, the duties of my office consumed my time with the appetite of a giant; less and less frequently did I find occasion to play with my sons or bed my wife. The years, busily filled, slid past like quicksilver.
I spent every light hour—and many a dark one—toiling in the Earl’s smithy. I had forty underlings aiding me and following my command; I did what I could to arm the castle’s forces. My sons, coming too quickly into manhood, chose to follow such a soldier’s course. Our county was, fortunately, graced with peace during their squirehoods, and they, being gifted fighters, were knighted and given trainer’s positions long before the Bellow Downs War which consumed so many lowly troops’ lives. I had, for these several years, seen little of my fair seductress, as her “duties” kept her in the upper chambers of the keep. Not until my boys had found their seats at the Earl’s table did she return to begin collecting her horrid fees. I knew nothing of her underhanded time-passings until my son Herstorn presented her to me as his bride.
I, at first, failed to recall her face, though its image hearkened cold and painful ripples of faint memory. I remember well my befuddlement upon recognition: she had not changed, not aged a moon since our night together! I looked to my wife, who had taken leave of her constant prayers for the announcement, as was her duty. She was deathly pale, her eyes locked with the eyes of the only woman she had ever seen fit to dub “demon.” Herstorn seemed truly happy, though, and I felt little good would be done to our already loosely bound family if I were to drag the past up from its murky grave.
My son’s glad grins of joy were, however, soon to melt into grimaces of despair. A year ago, the horn of bloody conflict called him to the eastern border to suppress an unruly lord and his serf troops; and, of course, that witch could not bear the chill of a lone bed. She, with her now usual, evil scheming, chose to turn her devices upon my other son, Garret. He, as vulnerable to her spell as his frail father, slipped into the woman’s web. Herstorn’s triumphant and glorious return from battle was to his own brother bedding his wife.
Woefully, my dear wife has had her spirit broken by this echo of painful history. Her health has failed; she was stricken with a frightful fever a month ago and still battles it this very day. Further, my boys have drawn blade against one another. The demon stokes their anger purposefully and carefully; neither now calls the other “brother,” only “enemy.” Even now, I am certain they are planning their challenges, waiting for the most advantageous time to draw the gauntlet. This only further sickens my poor love. In all of this strife, I can bring no light. No words soothe the swollen passions of my sons; no comfort heals the wounds in my clan.
Now, a score of years has passed since the day that first brought all of this misery with its dawn. Now thou shalt learn why I come to thee again, why I belie my ages-old oath. Understand, holy man, that I come to make a deal, to strike a bargain, through thee, with that unsympathetic lord of thine. I step ever closer to the grave; my body is nearly crushed by the weight of the guilt I’ve been forced, by thy wrath and pride, to bear. Thou did force me away from the arms of your god to which I had, unwittingly, fled. Now, forsaken by my gods as I, ignorantly, did forsake them with my first visit here, I seek to offer my soul to your god in exchange for the healing of the bloody shreds of my family. I offer all that I am to him so that he may see it as favorable to strike the hateful woman from my twins’ minds and hearts and end the cursed fraternal battle. Without thy prayers and thy god’s sword, she will plague my life—what little there remains of it—as she has since that fated night.
And thus do I beseech thee to come to my family’s rescue, to correct thy past injustice and negotiate this divine treaty, so that those I love may be freed of the pain which is my doing. It matters not that I shall become a slave to thy god; he would, I wager, make a finer master than the Demon who now holds lordship over my spirit.
Thou sit behind thy rich veil in silence, pondering all I have said and all that I have begged. Then, with a righteous arrogance that has not matured, but swelled like aging timber with the passing of the seasons, thou say unto me, “Get thee from my confessional, heathen! The Lord makes no ‘deals’ with pagans who commit adultery with a woman of Satan! Go forth to thy damnation, succubus-lover; and may thy tainted sons soon join thee in Hell.”
And, with such admonishments rending my hope to tatters, you slam closed your screen… to hide.
Very well, false believer, false father, empty soul. If thy callous lord has no bench about his table for the wretched, then I know of another with whom I can strike my “bargain.” Thy rule book professes that he never refuses that which I offer. I shall go to my damnation; and despite thy heinous, spiteful wishes, I shall remain there alone.