The Priest Whispered
A Story of Altiva
Teel James Glenn
When the Brothers go away
The Baddy Men come out to play
They smile and laugh
And say your name
And When the Brother’s come again
Everyone you know is slain!
Cozen Nursery Rhyme
“Hurry inside, child,” Senera’s mother yelled from the safety of the doorway, “It is almost suns’ down.”
“Coming, Mama,” the child called as she bolted upright from reclining on a pile of hay.
The ten-year old girl sprinted from where she had been watching approaching storm clouds behind the barn, neglecting only half her chores. Her wild red hair flew behind her like a fiery cloak and her bare feet slapped the dusty ground to raise a mini-dust devil around her as she raced across the courtyard.
As the girl ran it seemed to her like the shadows of the buildings were chasing her and she let that fantasy play, imagining lurkers in the dark with phantom fingers reaching for her. She giggled at the thrill of it and zig-zagged to avoid the crooked shadow of the windmill that pumped water from the well. She pretended the vanes were reaching for her and jumped over the outlines of the wildly spinning vanes on the ground.
The last glow of the larger, slower sun, the Elder Brother, faded and the first raindrops as ambassadors to the coming storm began to fall just as the heavy wooden door was slammed shut behind Senera. Her mother shot the bolt home with vigor as the girl scurried past and skid to a stop in the center of the main room of their humble home.
“In the holy name of Yulin, girl don’t you have any sense at all, what kind of witless child have I raised, young lady,” the girl’s mother said. “You can’t take a chance being out after dark, not since Megra and Sundra and all that happened to them last week. You scared me!”
At the mention of her schoolmates, found dead the week before, Senera stood stock still and her brows knit. The memory of them and the furor when their bloodless bodies were found washed over her so that she flushed with sudden shame for forgetting them in her play. “I’m sorry, mama,” she said, looking down at the floor and flushing with shame, “I just lost track of time.” She moved forward to embrace the woman.
“It’s alright,” the woman said, ruffling the girl’s hair, which was a mirror of her own long flaming locks. “I just worry so much, my little.”
At that moment Senera’s father came in to the main room from the lean-to that was attached to the back of the house. He carried a final armload of wood that was to stock and keep high that night’s fire. No one would dare venture out again till suns’ rise. “Heavy storm rolling in,” he said, matter-of-factly as he knelt to stack the wood. Then he looked up at Senera, “Did you get your chores done, girl?”
“Uh, most of them,” she said. The girl disentangled herself from her mother and ran to help her father as he set the wood neatly.
The fire in the hearth was low so they began stacking the wood beside it though they would feed it slowly to make sure the wood lasted the entire night. The evening chill would take some time to set in, so for now the few glowgems along the wall were enough to illuminate the main room. A single candle in front of one of the wizard-grown crystals would be amplified and reflected back for hours to give a warm rose-colored light to the entire house.
“I heard a rumor today that was going around in the town square,” Senera’s father said. He was dark and broad as befitted his career as a smith, but had surprisingly delicate hands and the same bright eyes as his daughter. “The government is going to send an official examiner to investigate the deaths.” He dropped into his chair by the fireplace with a tired sigh and began to unlace his boots. His daughter ran to him and began to help with the laces. He smiled down at Senera who was earnestly focused on the boots.
“They won’t do anything,” Senera’s mother said with exasperation. She had set out a meal of rough bread, cold meat and fruit for them on a side table. The family ate their main meal at midday and only had a light evening supper. “When the fansavs came in my mother’s time the government in Tolan sent a whole company of troopers after only the second death. Only the second! They came with a priestess of The Goddess and together they drove the demons away, even caught one and held it while the priestess sprinkled her blood and performed a ritual on it to kill it before it became a panic. Only a holy one’s blood can destroy them, you know? Now here there have been close to a dozen bodies found in the last month and yet nothing from the Emperor. Not a single trooper or holy one. Now, one examiner?”
“Easy, Azkor, my love,” he said. “You’ll frighten the girl.” He pulled on his slippers and patted the young girl on the head to reassure her. “Especially with that howler outside.”
“She should be frightened, Vurn,” the woman said. The sound of the wind-driven rain punctuated her statement with a sudden harder gust that rattled the shutters. The woman scowled at Senera, who was now poking the fire with a stick and doing her best to be invisible. “She dallied tonight to almost the last moment.”
“Did not,” Senera said. “I got in before Elder dropped.”
“Don’t talk back to your mother, girl.” The man took off his leather apron, placing it on a hook by the hearth and took his place at the table. “Come to meal now.”
The girl knew enough to not argue with her parents when they were in serious ‘adult’ talking and came quietly to the table to take her seat.
The girl’s mother sat across from her husband and bowed her head, reverently. “Yulin, mother of us all,” she prayed, “We give thanks for this meal and pray that you give peace to the souls who have fallen to the Dark Ones. Please protect this house and all who dwell here with they bounty and mercy.”
As she finished, a shrill laugh cut through the silence that followed and all three family members turned to see the source. Arkor screamed and Senera jumped up from her chair to throw herself to her father’s side in a terrified hug.
In the doorway to the sleeping room were two figures out of nightmares. They looked much like long-haired men, one dark haired, one silver haired, wearing grey rags which did nothing to conceal their desiccated state. Their physiques were skeletal beyond living human possibility.
The skin of the intruders was pale as parchment as if they had never been in sunslight and their hands were unnaturally long and thin with black, claw-like nails. It was their smiles, however, that were their most frightening aspect.
Both figures had broad, feral grins that reached all the way to their pit-dark eyes. They seemed merry in spite of their look and their laughter was like a child’s, pure and high-pitched, which made it all the more chilling.
“Prayers are pointless, meatsacks,” the tallest of the nightmares giggled. “Unless you make them to us and then, hehe—we might answer them!”
Senera’s father was on his feet now. He grabbed a knife from the table but before he could move toward the apparitions, the shorter of the pair sprang across the room. It was an animal movement, so smooth and apparently effortless that it was upon the smith before the man could draw breath to yell.
The skeletal figure wrapped long-toed bare feet around the man’s waist clamping onto him and, still giggling in a high-pitched voice, began to slap the startled victim repeatedly so the man dropped the knife.
Arkor and Senera both screamed and the young girl flung herself on her father’s attacker, wrapping her arms around the monster’s neck.
The girl’s weight had no effect on the apparition except to elicit a long, hearty laugh. He stopped slapping the near-unconscious smith and spun around to grab the girl up, holding her above his head.
“Leave her alone!” Arkor cried. She charged the monster holding her daughter, but the second nightmare, one with stringy silver hair, was across the room in an eye-blink and pressed the woman against the wall. He held her with ease in a cold steel-vice grip.
“Relax, meatsack,” the nightmare said to Arkor, his breath scented with decay. “We just want to have fun.” He licked a lizard-like tongue along her cheek eliciting a groan of horror from the woman.
“Stop it!” Senera screamed and kicked as the nightmare held her aloft. “Get away from my momma. Let me down!”
The apparition laughed again with a cackling joy. “Oh, I like it when they squirm and wriggle, Avar,” he said. He jostled the child, delighting in her renewed squeals of terror and protests as he did.
“So much better than when they just faint, eh, Jorta?” The second intruder now pulled the struggling Arkor from the wall and danced into the center of the room half-carrying, half dragging her. “This night is going to be fun, fun, fun!” He whirled the dazed woman around, laughing while she moaned. “Silly meatsacks with only one silly bar on their shutters—so easy to slip a stick in the crack and lift the bar!” He giggled like a schoolgirl as he whirled the terrified mother.
Vurn had recovered enough to rise to his knees, murmuring curses while he tried to focus his eyes on the monsters before him. “Damn you,” he hissed, “I’ll kill you.”
“Oh, ho,” the nightmare called Jorta said as he spun Senera around over his head while she screamed. “You silly meatsack, we do the killing.” He looked at his companion monster and the two of them sang out, “Blood is the key and blood is the source. Blood is the answer, to life and death, of course, of course!”
“So Jorta, “ Avar said with another hearty laugh, “who’s first: the wide one, the woman or the wiggly one?”
“Monsters!” Vurn yelled. He was on his feet now; though still unable to focus clearly yet, he lunged at the apparition holding his daughter aloft.
Jorta backhanded the smith with a casual gesture but with enough force to drive Vurn backward into the table and overturn it.
“Going to be a good night,” Jorta said as he turned his full attention to the girl he held. “They may make it all the way till dawn.” Now he took hold of Senera by the arms and swung her around in imitation of his companion’s dance moves with her mother.
“Let me go!” she yelled. “I hate you!” She tried to strike him but he kept her at full-length from him and she was helpless. “I’ll find you when the suns comes up!” She cursed the monsters.
“Oh, little one”, Jorta said. “You won’t see the suns again.”
For the first time the true seriousness of the horror that had come to her family home struck the girl and she went from angry to truly frightened and started to cry. This only made Jorta laugh.
“Let’s snack on daddy,” Avar said. “That will hold us for bit, he’s plump and full of liquid goodness.”
Both invaders tossed their hostages aside like so much baggage and turned to move toward the stunned smith, who by now was on all fours and bleeding from a wound on his forehead.
Just at the moment the two monsters loomed over the fallen man there were three loud knocks at the barred door of the cottage. The sound of them were loud enough to cut through both the sound of the storm and the sobbing of the two huddled women on the hard-packed dirt floor.
“Oh ho,” Jorta said. “More fun on the hoof!” He turned and moved to the door like liquid fear and removed the bar.
The wind blew the door inward and a figure entered. It was a tall figure wrapped in a damp blue, hooded cloak so no details of their face was visible.
Jorta slammed the door and barred it after the figure and turned to face the new arrival, but the visitor seemed to ignore all that was going on in the room and strode to the hearth and crouched. The figure extended powerful-looking hands over the dying fired to warm himself.
“By the Rythem,” the croucher said in a harsh whisper, “it is all but a waterfall out there.” He pushed back his hood to reveal a handsome, angular face topped by short salt and pepper hair. He swiveled his head to take in the whole room and looked up to Jorta. His eyes were grey and the tan lines around them said he spent much time in the suns and that he smiled a great deal.
“Good to be dry,” the new arrival spoke in a deep rumbling whisper that, while rasped, was easily heard over the battering sound of the rain on the shutters.
Senera, holding tight to her mother, pulled away and yelled, “run, mister, they’re fansavs!”
The new arrival did not start at her pronouncement but stood slowly. He threw back his cloak to reveal boots, leather breeches and a long dagger in a scabbard at his waist. “Easy, child,” he whispered.
The source of the harsh whisper became clear when he turned fully from the hearth to face the two monsters. Along the stranger’s throat was a crude line of long-healed scars that marked some trauma of his past. He smiled softly at the girl. “There is nothing to worry about. All is with the Rhythem.”
Jorta and Avar stopped moving forward when the action of the stranger also revealed he had a wide-open shirt. On the center of his chest were an intricate series of brands that combined to form the triple diamond of the Omphast, the symbol of the Kovar religion.
“You are a priest of the Kova?” Jorta hissed. The stranger nodded.
“See, meatsack,” Avar said to Arkor. “Your goddess can’t even send one of her own to your calls; this wandering priest is hardly an answer.”
“Never disparage a deity,” the priest said. His manner was relaxed, his smile warm but his eyes were cold in their appraisal of the two intruders. “For the Lady Yulin is revered even by we of the Kova.” He nodded to the mother and daughter. “And who is to say how a god may answer a prayer? We are but mortals, after all.”
Jorta laughed again. “I know I prayed for a little more entertainment than these three,” He said. “And see, my prayer is answered with a jester to give me enjoyment.” The two intruders flowed to either side of the priest, just out of arm’s length and stopped.
“I will drink you deep, meatsack,” Avun said. “And I will hear you cry for all the gods and goddess of the three ages in vain before you die.”
“No!” Senera cried.
“Easy, child,” the priest whispered, his smile hardening and his eyes still fixed on the intruders.
“I’m not a child,” she insisted, “My name is Senera.”
“Then, Lady Senera, do not worry,” the priest said. Then his voice took on a musical tone. “You know the old rhyme, ‘Blood is the key and blood is the source. Blood is the answer, to life and death, of course, of course!’”
This made both Avun and Jorta roar with laughter. “We will drink yours dry, priest,” Jorta sang in mock musicality.
Now it was the priest’s turn to chuckle, a soft, sibilant sound. “Change is the Kova—the supreme principle; and you fansav fly in the face of that. You are blasphemies made real.”
“Oh,” Avun snickered, clearly amused to discuss deep philosophy with his future meal. “Just how do we blaspheme, holy meal?”
“You are dead, but do not decay nor change,” the priest said, with a teacher’s casual statement of facts. “All life is change so, to serve the Rythem, as is my duty and delight, I must aid in your transition.”
Both fansavs laughed. “No time for your rituals and prayers, priest,” Jorta said, “just time for us to feast.”
“Mine is an active religion.” With that the priest swirled off his cloak, tossing it over the startled Jorta’s head. In doing so he revealed a back-sheathed sword. It was an old-kingdom two-handed style with a serpent wound around the agate hilt to form the knuckle-guard. He shifted it so the handle peaked over his right shoulder and adjusted his stance in clear preparation to use it.
Avun recovered from his own amazement in an eye-blink and sprang at the priest but the sword was suddenly unsheathed and whistling through the air to meet him.
Avun’s body hit the floor before his head flew into the wall at almost the moment that Jorta threw off the cloak.
“Meatsack!” the monster snarled as he darted toward the swordsman. He avoided a horizontal slice of the crystal blade and closed on the priest.
The weight of the fansav bore the priest into the hard stone of the hearth and knocked the wind from him so that he fell to the floor. The monster pinned the swordsman, holding the wrist of the hand that held sword pressed firmly to the dirt.
“Now I feast!” Jorta hissed. The priest strained against the monster, but its strength was truly inhuman and the sword hand was pinned as surely as if by a spike.
“You’ll tell me how you stuck down Avun,” the fansav said. He leaned in so his face was inches from the priest’s. “And I might kill you quickly; only holy blood and ritual may send one of us on.”
The priest, straining to free his arm, hissed through his teeth, “The ritual was in my sword’s making; it is a crystal sword—grown in my own blood.” Then he added fiercely, “Now, girl!”
Abruptly Senera, who had come up behind the fighting pair, smashed a fireplace poker into the back of the fansav’s head.
The monster howled and spun to face her but in doing so lessened his grip on the priest who slashed with the full torque of his body.
The clear crystal sliced through the fansav from beneath his left arm to exit out his right shoulder, parting beast’s head and body. There was no blood, for only the living had blood that throbbed and gave life.
Senera ran to her fallen father and her mother made her way to them and all hugged in tearful reunion.
The priest rose and watched the two fansav husks turn to dust on the floor of the cottage then made the diamond sign of the Kova.
In a few moments the young girl detached herself from her family to bravely walk up to the swordsman. She looked down at the dust of the intruders and then up at the priest who towered over her.
“Thank you, Mister Priest.” She watched him re-sheath his sword with great interest then asked, “Are the bad men gone for good now?”
“Yes, by the Rythem, for now and forever.”
“Good,” she said with finality and it was certain she would recover with the resilience of youth and soon the night would be only a dark memory.
“Yes, it is,” the Priest whispered with a reassuring smile, “Very good.”
Teel James Glenn has traveled the world for forty years as a stuntman, fight choreographer, swordmaster, jouster, illustrator, storyteller, bodyguard, actor and haunted house barker. One of the things he’s proudest of is having studied sword under Errol Flynn’s last stunt double.
He’s stories have been printed in over a hundred magazines magazines from Weird Tales, Spinetingler, SciFan, Mad, Black Belt, Fantasy Tales, Sherlock Holmes Mystery, SciFan, Sixgun Western, Crimson Streets, , Silver Blade Quarterly, and anthologies in many genres. His short story “The Clockwork Nutcracker” won best steampunk story for 2013and has been expanded into a full novel.
He is also the winner of the 2012 Pulp Ark Award for Best Author.
His website is: TheUrbanSwashbuckler.com