The Caves of Despair...
Once They Were Soldiers...
By Sergio "ente per ente" PALUMBO
In 1209, having failed to demonstrate the errors of Catharism, Pope Innocent the III assembled a crusade, appointing a series of French barons to head up an assault against the heretical movement. Twenty years of war had passed since then, twenty years of war raging between the Church and the Cathars: it was called the Albigensian Crusade. This made the French kingdom’s southern region an attractive target for northern noblemen looking to acquire some important new lands. In order to wear down the enemies’ resistance, the leader of the crusaders even ordered his troops to cut off the heretical prisoners’ noses and lips, but even this only served to harden the Cathars’ remarkable resolve.
The war ended with the signing of the Treaty of Paris, but Catharism wasn’t completely extinguished yet. The Inquisition was established in 1229 to defeat the remaining Cathar groups, which were in hiding here and there. A popular, though as yet unsubstantiated theory, held that some weak hereticals escaped from one fortress before its destruction. It was widely supposed in the Cathar region of that day that the escapees took with them le Tresor Cathar. What this treasure consisted of was a matter of speculation: claims ranged from sacred texts to the Cathars' accumulated wealth. But nobody ever discovered where that was hidden.
Some Cathar leaders kept themselves concealed in the Pyrenean foothills, so the Crusaders were forced to go there and hunt them down.
But searching for such people on those steep slopes and inside such dark caves was a time-consuming job. However, it offered huge rewards for those who were successful.
So Catholic men at arms searching for some Cathar escapees weren’t infrequent around the area of river Aude, near the mountains.
“I saw someone hiding in those caves down there!” the sergeant suddenly cried out, just coming out of the woods. His band - made up of ten armored soldiers - did as ordered, quickly approaching the main entrance along the rock face. “I won’t be going back to the castle empty-handed, that’s for sure. Follow me, soldiers!”
The men crossed the meadow, running towards the cliff, finally arriving at the entrance.
“It looks like a steep and slimy mountainside, sir,” said one of the tallest men, a battered war hat on his head.
“And it’s almost dusk,” added another one, his wild blue eyes showing how weary he was becoming.
“Don’t talk rubbish!” the bearded sergeant replied, touching the heavy pale fabric that covered his graying hair under his helmet. “Get a move on. Try thinking about the reward we’ll get for every heretical prisoner we take, instead of whining about how tired you are.”
So all of them, fearful of the bellowing of their fat ranking superior, made their way towards the darkness just past the entrance. Their swords made a clanging sound, while hitting the coats of mail below the knees of the soldiers. While going downwards, flanked by layers of damp limestone and granite that allowed water to seep in, they heard sounds of moving cobblestones and the sound of footsteps shuffling. Even with their torches blazing bright, there was no way to see the descending path clearly or the surrounding space, either. If they hadn’t been hardy men at arms used to battle, they would have been a nervous wreck long ago. But their lust for money, along with their compliance with the bad-tempered sergeant, kept them moving forward.
“There are lots of caves here,” one staying at the rear spoke very softly.
“Yeah, you’re right… He could stay hidden in here for as long as he wanted…” the soldier next to him nodded.
“Or he could be guarding something in here something very valuable.”
“Are you referring to the fabled Tresor Cathar? Don’t even talk about it. I’d be happy if we could just get out of here without breaking some bones.”
“Stop chattering, you fools!” the sergeant hissed. “We have business to take care of here.”
So they silently continued their advance in the bowels of the earth. When they finally got to a long wall, that faced a huge cavern, one soldier happened to see the shadow of the escapee. “Here he is!”
“I knew I saw him go into these caves!” the sergeant exclaimed.
“He’s only a little boy,” another crusader said, as the figure huddled in the light of the torches.
As the men regrouped, surrounding the unfortunate boy, he appeared to be a down-at-heel slender little child, maybe 9 or 10 years old, underfed and half-naked - but arrogant none-the-less.
“You can’t get away now, Cathar!”
But, as the soldiers were going to grab him, one of the men cried out, “Wait! There is someone else.”
Suddenly, they heard some footsteps: other figures came out of the darkness. There were at least twenty of them.
“Who are you? Stay back, Cathars!”
The one who now stood before the multitude of shadowy individuals, started speaking. “We came here some time ago, running away from soldiers like you, crusaders searching for some heretical people like us. We entered these caves and found a man already inside who had been living inside long before we arrived.”
Everyone was silent now, listening to the newcomer’s words.
“But he was not a man, he was something else. He fed on us, but in return he gave us great power, undisputed superiority, a deeper strength! Even though we can’t go outside under the sun now, as you do, we live better than before, feeding on those who live on the surface. We only drop in on them at night now, when we are hungry of course…”
The bloodshot eyes of the newcomer made the soldiers’ blood run cold.
“…but sometimes food presents itself to us, just as you did today,” the slender child added.
There was the sound now of famished mouths devouring flesh and bones in the dark and the soldiers’ yells of pain filled the cave they were inside of. A river of blood, spurting from the men at arms, began to cover the rocks, and was avidly sucked by the vampires’ pointed teeth.
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"I'm an Italian public servant who graduated from Law School working in the public real estates branch. I've published a Fantasy RolePlaying illustrated Manual, WarBlades, of more than 400 pages.Some of my works and short- stories have been published on American Aphelion Webzine,WeirdYear Webzine, YesterYearFiction,Another Realm Magazine, Alien Skin Magazine,on Australian Antipodean SF, on Orion’s Child Science Fiction and Fantasy Magazine and will be published soon on Quantum Muse Magazine. I am also a scale modeler who likes mostly Science Fiction and Real Space models, some of my little Dioramas has been shown also on American site StarShipModeler or MechaModelComp, on British SFM: UK site and Italian SMF.”
Here a brief presentation of Michele DUTCHER who edited the short- story:
“Michele Dutcher, aka Bottomdweller, lives in a carriage house in Old Louisville Kentucky with her border collie – Daisy Dukes. She has a BS degree in Elementary Education from Indiana University with minors in theology & sociology and has been writing Science Fiction stories for about a decade.”
Labels: Sergio "ente per ente" PALUMBO