Affidavit – Criminal Court of Oslo, Norway
The following testimony of Richard Straffborn, accused of murder in the first degree,
in the case of Norway vs Straffborn, case number CC-113/092189
is hereby given freely, under oath, on this the Nineteenth of September, 1989.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, though I realize that my future—nay, my very life—rests upon the proceedings there today in your esteemed courtroom, I fear that I will be unable to attend the trial on my behalf. To step out of the confining safety of these hard bars would mean my certain destruction, as you may soon understand if you will keep open minds and read this testimony with unprejudiced eyes. The tale I have to tell of the events of July 19, 1987 is one of dark history and the folly of the naive. Much, though, leads up to the crescendo for which I must bear witness; the recounting of it all is crucial for your understanding.
On May 5, 1987, the archaeological book concerning Ardurst Castle was reopened by an student of Norwegian history named Josh Sturguild. It seems the boy, in his curious studies of the more arcane and mysterious pages of this land’s past, uncovered references to the ancient owner of the keep, Anathor the Outcast, in those yellowed records. The information he uncovered told of the expulsion from court suffered by Anathor, once a powerful and respected advisor to the thirteenth century King of Norway, Olag. It was here, however, that the name Anathor disappears from the annals of time… until about forty years ago. If you will recall, Ardurst Castle was discovered, in ruins, in 1946. A fisherman out of Belivack noticed the main tower of the structure peeking over the crest of a cliff along the shore of northwest Norway, near the Russian border. Though the scientific community was in as much disarray as every other element of society following the second World War, a team was dispatched by the NAC—the Norwegian Archaeological Community—to set up a dig there.
As a purely inquisitive venture, the dig was a striking success. The existence of such an isolated, yet strong and obviously self-sufficient, miniature fiefdom surprised the NAC’s team. To enumerate the many finds would require, essentially, rewriting the 127-page report which the team eventually submitted to the NAC after “completing” their study. Suffice it to say that the centuries-dead owner was a learned, just, and intelligent man. His name, they discovered, was Anathor: a personality unheard of until Sturguild’s hapless discovery.
Josh was one of my students at Middlesex at the time of his findings. Knowing that I hold a profound interest in Mideval history, he came to me to tell of the connection Anathor had with the old Norwegian court. A great connection it was, too; Anathor’s past and therefore Castle Ardurst’s prenatal history was a grand curiosity among scholars of such musty things. Needless to say, my imagination was sparked by the boy’s report. Unfortunately, being still a fledgling in matters of comprehensive research, he failed to reveal the whole story behind Anathor, or, more specifically, Anathor’s expulsion from Olag’s court. It, therefore, took me nearly a week of tedious cross-analysis and historical backtracking to procure the complete history. It seems that Anathor was involved in experimentation with mystic or magical forces which Olag could not accept or comprehend. His departure was not the expulsion of a counselor fallen from favour, but rather the banishment of a feared “warlock.”
I am not certain at what point I was enchanted by the mystery and intriguing implications of my study. I only know that, once finished with it, my resolve to journey to Norway to conduct my own research on site was adamant. I hurriedly contacted my friends Doctors Kierkegard Brozney and Henreich Dovensh and, having told them of my findings, asked them to travel from their respective countries to meet me at the closed site. They agreed to the importance of further investigation—Henreich especially—and we arranged for Kierkegard to travel from Poland to meet Henreich and myself there in ten days, on May 22. I, myself, traveled then to West Germany to join forces with Dr. Dovensh. Together, we journeyed by train, auto, and foot until at last, on May 23, we stood on a bluff locked in perpetual conflict with the Arctic Sea and overlooked Ardurst Castle.
The weathered keep stood upon a craggy, broken cliff nestled in a wide, south-facing notch. My heart leapt immediately; the cracked, brown photos from the Forties’ dig had done little to exhibit the exquisite architecture and ingenious design of the fortress. The rock notch’s north wall defended the rear of the castle, thus explaining the lack of defensive emphasis back there, while the steepness of the slope leading up to the fore provided certain security from the rush of hordes. Viewing this awesome spectacle, I could little comprehend the archaeological evidence I had read, as well as obvious visual evidence, that the place had been besieged and over-run.
“I wonder at the magnitude of the army which brought down that place,” I commented to my German companion as we descended down to the ridge joining our bluff with the cliffs. He did not immediately reply, though, as he was lost in distant thoughts, his gaze locked upon the keep. I knew not to bother him further, for the many years of friendship we shared taught me to recognize this, his far-staring, glassy scrutiny. You see, Dr. Henreich Dovensh was, aside from being a noted Euro-Slavic historian, a great sage in arcane matters. He exhibited unparalleled prowess in parapsychological and paranormal comprehension and ability. You may scoff… but I knew him. He was gifted in ways of which the average man merely dreams. It was for this reason that I had invited him to join us, considering the curious facts of Anathor’s past. I felt he might notice evidence of the mystical before a historian or a linguist.
In time, we reached the base of the slope which vaulted up to the bailey and moat of the structure. From this nearer vantage, the cracks rending the exterior walls resembled great slashes in the hard stone.
“Those cracks, there, Henreich… Something is strange about them.”
My friend returned from his mental “wanderings” and looked towards me with a curious expression on his face.
“Why do you say that?”
“Well,” I replied, “if the place was besieged as the NAC dig supposedly revealed, wouldn’t the cracks cleave inward?”
“That is your field, friend. I could not say.”
“Yes… yes…. Well, these cracks appear to yield outward, and directly from the ground. How could this be? Or, rather, how could this have gone unmentioned by the NAC?”
“Why don’t we head up and check it out ourselves? I’m anxious to see Kierkegard, anyway.”
We began the wearisome trudge up the rise, our feet skittering and sliding out from beneath us with each step. Before too long, we gained the top and stood beneath the tall, dark, basalt walls and parapets. Even in the failing light of coming evening, the walls’ rifts revealed themselves to be protruding both out and inward and beginning at ground level.
“If I did not know better,” I proclaimed, “I would swear that these cracks were seismic in origin.”
“What, precisely, is your ‘better’ knowledge? Forty year old reports from rushed Norwegian geologists?”
The truth of Donvensh’s statements was, as usual, incorrigible. The NAC team had been hard-pressed to wrap up the dig, though for what reason, no text could say.
“But no fault lines lie along this coast.”
“At least, no tectonic fault lines…,” Henreich replied cryptically before lapsing into another trance-like silence. Shrugging, I reached into my pack for a lamp, but found I did need it. A yellow glow slipped around the edge of the fallen front gate to bathe the two of us in light.
“Always a day late, Richard. Never a pound short, though, eh?”
The glare of the lamp flashed into my eyes, blinding me, though I needed no vision to recognize the man behind it.
“Kierkegard!” I cried, striding toward him. “I must beg your apology, noble Pole, for I fear that our rental gave us a bit of trouble in Grathnow. We would have—”
“Offer no excuse, mate,” he interrupted, “the spare day has not been an idle one for me! I’ve something quite interesting to show you, come morning. For now, though, enter, enter. I’ve set up camp in the courtyard; some bean stew is burning as we speak.” He ushered me past the gate, then turned back to Henreich, who was staring, apparently unseeing, at the ground before the walls. “You also, old friend. Leave your augury to come sit by the stove. I’ve need of your special advice this evening.”
Starting as one frightened out of a deep sleep by a nightmare’s terror, Henreich looked, wide-eyed, at Brozney.
“Uh, yes… of… of course,” he answered. Then, a smile smoothed his previously drawn and worried visage. “Although I worry about your infamous bean stew.”
Later, reclining comfortably about a small fire and enjoying the aftertaste of the heavy dinner, our talk turned from the cheerful banter of reunited friends to the solemn discussion of professionals.
“Kierkegard, tell me of your findings,” I opened. “Are they anything new?”
“‘Are they anything new?’ Hah! You’d better believe they’re new. I don’t know how the NACs missed it—maybe they were too busy poking about for bright gold or antique blade—but at the rear of the main tower,” he pointed over his shoulder to the black cylinder jutting up against the dim sky, “I noticed some interesting runes written in an old Norwegian script.”
“What did they say?” asked Henreich, a curious glint in his eye.
“Essentially they were the equivalent of an ‘Authorized Personnel Only’ sign. What was so confusing about them was that they rested over a mound of rubble: fallen masonry from higher up the tower. Anyway, I spent all of today moving it out, and you’ll never guess what I found.”
A stillness had crept over the courtyard; not even the once-ceaseless howl of the offshore wind echoed through the area. I shifted uncomfortably, wanting the Pole to continue his narrative, yet inexplicably afraid to break the silence to encourage him. The others seemed to be equally affected by the foreboding quiet, and it was only after a long moment that Kierkegard resumed, in a hushed murmur, his story.
“There is a doorway, still locked, there. I’ll need your expertise to get it open,” he said, looking to me. The strange dread again brushed my heart. I shrank away, inside, from the request.
Then, feeling quite silly at being spooked by the Pole, I loudly proclaimed, “Certainly, certainly! We tackle it first thing in the morning.” I then, with much bluster and pomp, commenced curling up in my sleeping bag. “Good night, lads!” I said, looking at each. Kierkegard smiled and nodded, but when I looked to Henreich, I met only that piercing gaze of his, the one that feels like it is boring into one’s very soul. I glanced away after being momentarily transfixed by the depth of his eyes, the purity of their blue. “G’night, Dr. Dovensh,” I mumbled.
“Try to sleep well, Richard,” he whispered.
For a time, the camp was quiet; then, comfortingly, the wind’s cry returned, filling the dark vessel of silence. The other two spoke softly for a bit about the evolution of the dialect used in this area of Norway, but after a brief, pensive lull in the discussion, Kierkegard skipped to a different subject.
“You know something of the nature of dreams, don’t you?” he asked Henreich.
“Something about some types of dreams, though I don’t want to hear the sordid details of your latest REM romance.”
The Polish linguist laughed hollowly; it failed in the air, dropping to a nervous chuckle and finally dying in a long pause. “No… no, it’s nothing that… good, I fear. You see, Henri, I had a pretty bad… uh, I guess, nightmare last night.”
“Why do you ‘guess’ it was a nightmare?”
“It seemed so… real… or surreal. It was simply unlike any dream I’ve had in my life. The intensity….”
There was a long pause during which, though my back was to the men and the fire, I was certain that Kierkegard was under one of the Guru’s piercing stares.
“What happened?” the German eventually muttered.
“Well, it’s not quite clear to me. All that I remember is terror… and pain… searing, frigid pain. And I couldn’t wake up, Henri! I was… trapped… doomed. I was helpless.”
Throughout this discourse, Kierkegard’s voice had developed a tremble, and the closing “helpless” came out as a squeak, his voice cracking. A thrill ran down my spine; I empathized with the Pole; I chilled at the imagining of anything which could so shake the unflappable, ever-jovial Brozney.
I heard then a rustle from where Henreich sat and heard him say, in a intoned, uninflected voice, “It is no more; it is not real. Sleep.”
I softly rolled over to see him leaning towards Kierkegard. His right arm was outstretched, the fingertips of its hand rested lightly on the Pole’s forehead. Beneath them, Kierkegard’s eyelids had begun to droop and, within seconds, he slumped slowly sideways and lay still on his blanket. Henreich covered him, then laid down himself and, humming his mantra softly in his chest, he drifted off.
I awoke the next morning in shadow, though bright blue sky smiled over the walls. The day was no more than an hour old, meaning I had slept but six or seven hours. I, nonetheless, felt curiously refreshed—as if rousing from one of those Sunday twelve-hour sleeps—and, though I remembered the previous night’s talk, I could hearken no dream to the forefront of my mind.
Henreich was still in the same position in which he had fallen asleep, but his eyes were now open and his light gaze rested upon my rising form. The air of mystery from the previous evening was burned away like the moors’ fog, and I asked him, jokingly, about his “magic trick.”
He looked thoughtfully at me for a heartbeat or three, then asked, “Why don’t you ask Broz about that?”
I shook the snoring Pole out of his slumber, greeting him to the new day. He was slow to awaken, but once he did, his eyes shone brightly and a grand, silly smile bloomed on his face.
“Ingred came to me last night. Wonderful as ever, she was.”
Laughing, we began preparing breakfast. The darkness, the silence, and their numbing grip fled to catch their departed mother, Night.
We cooked and ate quickly, and while we were busy cleaning up the dirties, I ventured a suggestion.
“Well, what say we do a survey of the rear courtyard and towers; try to find something of interest?”
Henreich looked at me and said, “No, I think we need to look into Kierkegard’s door.”
To this day, I know not if I had forgotten about the discovery or had merely hidden it from myself. A brief revulsion at its mention, though, stirred my breakfast. Yet the sun shone now, warm upon my bald, scientific head; I cheerfully consented, and the three of us shouldered our daypacks and headed for the high wall dividing the fore and rear courtyards.
The back yard was a far worse sight to behold than the one in which we camped. Much more evidence of the raiders’ destruction was revealed by stone piles and, strangely enough, jagged crevices which broke the dirt and rock ground into four islands. The northeast tower was no more; strife and time had reduced it to boulder, rubble, and dust.
Kierkegard led us around the curve of the center tower to a large stone door recessed into the corner where the tower and east wall met.
“Here it is,” the linguist said. “Notice the writing above it? Though the message is clear enough—to one who understands it, of course—the etching seems a bit extravagant, eh? I suppose its merely the engraver’s flourish.”
“I don’t think so, Doctor,” said Henreich. His face was chiseled into stern concentration, an unnerving duplicate of the classical mask of Banquo’s ghost in theatre. He reached up to trace the swirls of the rune, but sharply retracted his hand upon touching them. “No, no. Most definitely something more. I think we should proceed with extreme caution, gentlemen. These words do not offer a shallow warning.”
“Well, whatever you think is best, Herr Doktor,” I replied, feeling more than a little exasperated by his theatrics over something so straight-forward. I stepped up to examine the lock and hinges of the portal. “It opens out, so I anticipate stairs beyond. The lock is quite amazingly preserved; must be something in the air.”
“Right, salt…,” the German mumbled with the tone I knew he reserved for children and “non-believers.”
Undaunted, though resentful of his condescension, I reached into my bag for a lockpick and screwdriver. After about fifteen minutes of fruitless struggle with the lock, I cast down the pick in disgust and, proclaiming the lock’s tumblers to be rusted, I dug into my pack for a chisel and mallet. A sigh escaped Henreich’s lips, and with an effort I suppressed the urge to lay into him and his mystical mumbo-jumbo. After a few moments of chipping at the doorjamb, I was able to break out the bolt’s slot. It was with a smug smile of success that I turned away from the effectively unlocked door to face the two men.
Henreich’s face clouded upon seeing my smile, and Kierkegard seemed suddenly quite interested in a bit of mortar protruding from the wall.
“After you, O Cautious One,” I sniggered. The German stepped up to the door and, grasping its ring, hauled it wide.
The first thing which I noticed was the stench that billowed out of the dark beyond the portal. Its fetid talons snatched out at the pit of my stomach, twisting and clawing my gut without remorse. I remember Dovensh retching and doubling over, crying out something about death. The fear which had but visited me the previous night assumed residence in my heart; and there was a moment where, had my reason not been my master, I would have turned and ran the entire route back to London.
Covering my nose with a kerchief, I stepped up abreast of Henreich and peered down into the gloom. For down it was, because beyond the thick oaken door was a spiral staircase boring into the rocky ground. The air in the stairway carried a cold moisture which, even under the late spring sun, clung uncomfortably to my skin and felt as if Death himself had wrapped his heavy cloak about me. Brozney drew an electric torch from his pack and stepped around us to shine it on the stone steps. They were smoothly chiseled, polished, and surprisingly clean.
“Hmmm, friends,” said Kierkegard. “Shall we descend?”
No was whole-heartedly my vote, but I feared embarrassment more than the unknown, so I nodded quickly. Henreich’s response was to step through the door and begin walking softly downward. Brozney followed, and I took the rear, feeling quite reluctant to leave the sun’s shining gaze for the lamp’s hazy glow.
The stairs twisted down for many steps, soon passing the line of permafrost and still winding towards Hell. Part of my mind tried to keep count of the stairs—for the record—but the building reek of decay and increasing chill smothered my attention. Each step down, I could feel, brought me closer to something unspeakable. I was about to suggest abandoning the whole thing when I noticed the echo of our steps swell and saw Dovensh step onto a level floor. I reached his side, and in the dim yellow light, I saw the chamber into which we had arrived.
It was but a short room—almost a hall—running away from the stair’s exit and ending, thirty feet away, in the most amazing set of doors which I had ever seen.
The double doors stood nearly eight feet high and seemed to be made of solid, polished steel. A brass ring was set in the center of each door, and intricate engravings coiled out from their fastenings like the serpents of Medusa’s hair. Most of the etchings appeared to be just decoration, yet some consisted of what obviously were runes. It was these features that made up the doors’ creation; more still made up their present form. Along the seam of the steel slabs there was a dried line of red wax, completely covering it. Furthermore, scrawled runes blazed in some kind of yellow paint on each door. My gaze drank in the scene of these doors in an instant then traveled right with the beam of Brozney’s torch to fall upon the cause of the room’s stench. Lying prostrate against the right wall was the remains of a man, wrapped in a purple and white robe. Henreich strode up to the body and rolled it over to expose the face.
The face was exposed… twice. First when Donvensh turned it; the second time when the head, which separated from the body, complete one roll across the floor.
Kierkegard dropped to his knees, tears dampenning his eyelids, and began mumbling some Polish prayer. Henreich stared at the corpse for a moment; I stared at him. He looked to me, a frightening, stern expression on his face. He then turned to the kneeling Brozney, placing a hand on his shoulder.
“Come, Kierkegaard, can you weep so for such an ancient death?”
Looking up with shining eyes, the Pole replied, “When unconsecrated, yes!” He cast his gaze downward again, and shrouded it with respectful eyelids. He continued his prayer, shifting at one point to Latin. I was recovering from the gruesome shock by this point; and though none too steady yet, I was intrigued by the massive doors and what untouched mysteries they so stolidly interred.
“Hey, so what have we here… other than preserved organic material? No offense Broz.”
I stepped up to the wanly shimmerring brass and picked at a hardenned rivulet of wax.
A slight shock stung my fingertip just as Dovensch bellowed, “STOP THAT NOW, RICHARD STRAFFBORN!”
I froze with surprise, whether at the shock—which I presumed to be static—or at Henreich’s harsh words, I am not sure. Then I bristled.
“Just who are you to order me around, Doktor Dovensch?” I snapped, turning on my heels.
“The one you invited to advise you on paranormal phenomena, Doctor Straffborn,” he replied calmly, if a bit coldly. “That wax is a material focus for a psionic seal on this door. You distub it and those yellow wards on the doors’ faces will have their way with your body and leave it a little, smouldering cinder slowly cooling and dampenning on this chamber floor.”
The chamber suddenly seemed quite cloistering, stifling.
“Conversely,” he continued, “if you disturb said wards, the seal will flare, heat, and weld these doors permanently closed, probably also impacting your body and ours in much the way the wards would, only incidentally.” He must have seen my apprehension, for a long, quiet, low laugh echoed from his broad chest. He was not, however, smiling.
“Well,” I retorted weakly, “I don’t know if I believe all that, Henreich. I invited you here for your knowledge of folklore”—I was lying now to save face—”but, just in case you’re right….” I stepped to one side to let Dovensch through to further inspect his hoodoo.
He peered closely, his nose inches from the wax, eyes squinting tightly. I realized, after a moment, that he had shut his eyes. He hummed quietly to himself, a rhythmic throb that seemed to amplify, though I knew it did not. It got warmer… from our body heat, no doubt.
Suddenly, Henreich stood, knuckled his eyes and behind his temples, stretched, then turned to me and said, “You may remove the wax now and begin working on the locks on the door. I’m going to get some air.” He stepped over to Brozney, who all the while had been watching the two of us as if we were playing tennis. “If you would like to come along, Kierkegaard, bring the remains as well and I will assist in their burial once I’ve rested a bit.”
Brozney nodded after glancing red-eyed at me. He seemed to be somehow apprehensive of me, perhaps because of my outburst, my strangled outburst….
To quell this, I cried, “I’ll be up once the doors are unlocked, lads! We’ll all relax a bit and have a bite, eh?” I heard the quiver in my voice, and was embarrassed.
But my collegues looked back at the stair bottom and smiled calmly at me, nodding slightly.
“Yes, Richard,” said Brozney. “But don’t be too long, alright. This place is doing more than ‘preserve organic matter.'”
Their light swam around the stairs’ centerpost, faded to brown shadows. The echo of their footsteps blended with the occassional drip of white damp, then died.
. [Work In Progress]
Dr. Richard Straffborn