Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Secret of Necromazzard

Category: Short Story

When John Valdro told his wife Bernella about his baron’s order, she became worried.

“But why you John?” she protested. “Why should you go? You have just returned from the perilous voyage of Cornode.”

“My dear love,” John kissed her rosy lips. “How can I ever think of parting with you, even for a moment? But being a knight loyal to my baron, I must seek to do away with every evil that casts its shadow on my master.”

“What worries the baron now?” she asked John’s face twitched as he bit his lip, and his look segued into deep concern and confusion.

“My dear woman,” he started telling her, “Baron Robert ordered three of his men already to go to that far off land across the river; they call it Necromazzard. And it is such a torment to know that none of them could cross the barony alive.”

“Oh!” Bernella sat down with worry written all over her face. “That is so unfortunate!”

“That is mysteriously strange, my love,” John said, his gaze sharpened in the empty air. “Knight Bacon was found dead close to the river. Then it was George to go on the errand. He was found hanging dead by the mill in the foothills. And just four days ago, my dear friend Alexander swallowed a deadly poison in his own stable. Three of our brave and loyal brothers are dead, God knows by what evil force.”

“Evil force?” Bernella rose from her seat with a questioning look.

“So the baron thinks,” he turned to her. “And so do I, for I cannot say why would these three knights die before approaching a common destination while many of us cross the barony for other errands every second week.” John saw her wife was all attentive to his words. She came closer and asked, “But what exactly is the baron’s aim in sending his men to Necromazzard?” John put his hands on her shoulders and looked deep in her eyes.

“Much as I love you,” he pressed her shoulders gently, “and more than my soul I do trust you, still I cannot reveal what my master has entrusted me with. Be good to me for my loyalty. Will you?” She looked at him hesitantly, and then leaned ahead against his chest. His arms closed around her as his hands played with her long black hair.


That night John Valdro and his wife made love with heightened passion, knowing that he was to set out on his journey the following afternoon.

“I’m so afraid,” she whispered to him at noon after they had their meal. He held her close to his chest. “What shall I do if you never return from that mysterious land?”     

“My sweet lady,” he patted and rubbed her back. “I will come back… for you, I will.” And their amorous company lasted, with brief intervals of preparation, till the time of his departure.

“Take this John,” Bernella put a small amulet around his neck. “It will protect you from the evil in your way; evil of all kinds.” He sealed her lips with a kiss. They embraced for the last time, and then he went off. She turned to the empty house with a heavy heart and teary eyes. The possible perils of John’s errand, the death of his comrades, and his secrecy about the errand, even kept from her, were all the apprehensive thoughts circling her heart. If he had only told her what the baron wanted from Necromazzard, perhaps she could have made something for him, something protective against the very perils that evil came with for him. But John was loyal to his baron more than his love for her.

As she sat on her bed, besieged by worries for her husband’s safety, tears rose in her eyes. She started crying, letting the tears drop. She was caught in sobs and her tears wouldn’t stop. No more could she hold herself sitting. So she lay on the bed in her sorrow and cried. She cried and prayed until sleep overcame her and she found herself in the valley of dreams.



With a heavy heart, she stepped out of her house door. The evening shadows were drawing over the hills. The first sight of the scene outside her house brought her wonder and awe, for there was a path, winding and trodden bare, but bounded by green grass on both sides. It led from her house down into the valley. She hadn’t seen this path before. It was not there the last time she had been out of her house. But now it was there, before her very eyes. She looked at it in wonder for a moment, and then lifted her face to the sky. It was covered with white clouds amidst which was a strange, ominous redness, like some divine light. The effect of its presence amidst the white blanket of cloud was a certain shape, a portentous one. It became readily visible to her eyes—a dagger, a large dagger of red color. Looking at it, she shuddered with awe right down to her soul. A name echoed in her head—John. With a shudder, she closed her eyes.

On opening her eyes, she saw the winding path again. All was still. There was no sound. Something drove her from within to walk down the strange new path. She followed it, pacing down after every step; when she got into the valley, she was running almost without restraint. She had to hold a tree to stop herself. Then she saw that house at the end of the path. She had never seen it before, but it had a familiar look as if she had been there in some remote part of time. She walked up to it. The door was open. She went inside. There was smoke filling the room the door opened into, and Bernella saw by an old hearth was sitting an old woman with gray hair, reading something aloud from a book. Bernella could not understand the language of the woman but by appearance, she looked strange. She lifted her eyes from the book and looked at Bernella. Her sky blue eyes shone in the dim light coming from the fire in the hearth.

“The wife of Knight Valdro,” she said, with a blank face, in a voice as if familiar with the knight.

“Yes, “said Bernalla. “Who are you?”

“You come here for your husband to be safe,” the woman ignored her question.

“Yes, but how do you know?” Bernella was looking at her blue eyes.

“I can see him,” she answered, fixing her look on Bernella’s forehead. Her words sounded saintly to Bernella. She took the courage to step closer to the woman and sit down quietly in front of her on the rug covering the floor.

“He is not safe,” the woman spoke indifferently. Bernella’s heart sank with her words. She found it hard to speak.

“He is on his way to Necromazzard,” the woman continued, “the land of the lost spirits. Your amulet is his strength, but he will not be able to keep it for long.” Bernella felt going numb at her words. The old woman’s gaze was fixed on her forehead as if reading it for her.

“Why is John going there?” Bernella suddenly found the strength to speak. The woman smiled at her question.

“He keeps it a secret,” she said, “but that is bad for him, for he must trust his wife. You are his strength. The baron sends him on that perilous journey to bring him Necrolap, the stone of the dead.”

“A stone?” Bernella was puzzled.

“Not just a stone,” the woman’s voice went up a little, as if adding force to her words, “but the stone of the dead. He who has Necrolap possesses the power over the spirits of the dead. The baron craves for worldly power, and he sends Valdro to bring him the stone, that belongs to Necromazzard.” 

“Will John bring it?” Bernella asked anxiously.

“No, for the stone is buried in the den of spirits. Nothing in flesh, but only a spirit can get there. No one returns from there in flesh.” It was not Bernella’s strength to stifle her sob on hearing the woman’s words. “But you can save your husband,” continued the woman, now in a softer voice. A ray of hope Bernella’s face as she wiped her tears rolling down on her cheeks. She looked at the woman’s face, waiting for her to tell her more.

“You can save him if he is not yet out of the baron’s land,” said the woman, shifting her look from Bernella’s face to her left. “You see that candle there.” Bernella followed her eyes and saw a thick, dirty white candle covered with dust. “Take it and light it in your room after the sun goes down. Keep the door and windows open, but do not let the candle go out. Protect it and pray for his life, and he will return to you, safe and unharmed.”

Bernella took the candle and looked at the woman in obligation, but she was again looking at her book, busy in reading aloud. Bernella came out of the hut. She felt stranded between hope and fear. It was evening now and the sun was setting down the horizon. She hurried back to her house. Suddenly, she had this apprehensive feeling of having lost her way back as she found herself on a stony path, not the one that had brought her to the old lady’s hut. She looked around and saw that her path ran opposite to where she would go; she could see the familiar acclivity leading to her house. She hurried there and when she reached her house door, it was twilight already. She had not lit any candles in the house and it was very dark inside. She could not see well. She felt her way to the room, but stumbled against something on the floor and fell down right over it. The candle slipped out of her hand. She was lying on something soft and warm, something with a familiar touch and smell.

John! The terrifying thought struck her like a stab. Was he dead? She wanted to give out a shriek but choked. Then she gathered her strength and moved away from the body underneath, giving out a sob. She could see now. It was evening and she was on her bed, wet with perspiration. It was a dream she had been seeing, a bad dream.

Getting out of bed, Bernella thanked the Lord for ending the horrible dream. As she slipped her feet into her shoes, something transfixed her there. The candle, the one she had taken from the old woman’s hut in her dream, was lying at her feet.



There was no doubt for Bernella in understanding the prophetic dream as divine guidance. The candle had been sent to help her save the life of her husband. It was early night and Bernella knew what to do. She lit the candle in her room, opened all the doors and windows in the house, and sat before the candle, looking at its flame. She hoped John would not have reached the river yet, despite the great horse rider he was. Her heart and lips prayed for her husband’s life. And then a gust of wind entered through the windows. The flame of the candle flickered. Bernella’s heart sank; her lips quivered in praying. The blow of the wind died down. She heaved a sigh of comfort. God knows what evil John has met, she thought.

So the moments passed. The candle’s flame would flicker, and her heart quivered with it. She shielded the candle, praying aloud. And then it would burn all right again; her tears would give way to a hopeful smile. Most of the night passed like this—stranded between hope and fear, prayers and worries. Then came the trial of the night. Just a little before dawn, the flame flickered like never before; no matter how much she shielded it from the gusty wind, it would not rise again, not even when the wind died down and the air became almost still. The flame was dying. She cried and prayed for her love, for the life of her dear husband. Failing to have the courage to look at the flame any longer, Bernella closed her eyes and kept praying with all her heart and soul. Suddenly, she felt the familiar sweet scent of John near her. Opening her eyes, the first thing to meet her sight was the pair of strong legs in the black cloak she knew so well. It was John. He stood there with the candle under his foot. She looked up, almost exhausted. He was standing tall, looking down at her and smiling.

“John!” She sobbed. Suddenly there was a loud laughter in the room. John was laughing aloud. Bernella wiped her tears and rose to her feet with effort. He was laughing like a crazy man. She looked at him in near disbelief mixed with relief and a happiness that was yet to explode. But it was all replaced with shame as she felt he was laughing in contempt, laughing at her in contempt.

“John,” she called, stepping closer to him.

“My foolish little Bernella,” he returned.

“You are safe John,” she clung to his chest. “The Lord helped me save you. I am so happy you came back safe.”

“Came back?” he said, in his laughter. “From where?”

“From the perilous land John,” she did not like the way he spoke.

“Much as I love you my timid little doll,” he said, still breathing out laughter, “how can you save me?”

“With the candle,” she forced the words out of her throat, suppressing a sob. “It was this dream. I was prophesied to pray for you before this candle. It came to me from…” She wanted to say ‘God’, but couldn’t. He was mocking at her with his laughter.

“You mean this?” He removed his foot to show her the crushed wax. “This saved me?” With this, he broke into laughter again. Something was changing inside Bernella. The apprehension, the happy shock of his return, and the prayers in her heart—all vanished. Shame had occupied her feelings and his laughter of mockery was melting the shame into anger. She looked at John with aquiline eyes. He was laughing, and to her, he looked ugly, very ugly at that moment. All that Bernella had been through flashed before her eyes: her apprehension, the dream, her prayers for his life, her visit to the old woman’s hut, and the anguish she had suffered. And there he was, laughing at her in contempt. She could hear him speaking like from a distance.

“By the baron’s order, my journey was to begin tomorrow. I just wanted to play a joke. I hunted all day across the moor. And on my return here, I saw you with this candle. I could guess you would be doing some silly ritual again. Oh Bernella, you are such a foolish thing. Where did you buy this candle anyway?” He broke into laughter once again, stroking her cheek playfully. She was red with shame and rage, never believing her husband to mock at her for saving his life. As his laughter got louder, a flash occurred before her eyes. It was a dagger, one she had seen before. She knew where it was. As he stroked her hair, laughing, she drew the dagger out of the sheath tied around his loins. Before he could know what was happening, she had thrust the dagger in his belly with all her might. He staggered. His laughter changed into broken moans while she stood there, shaking in fury. He looked at her with eyes almost still; then he fell down like a dead tree. She saw that his neck was bare, without the amulet she had given him to wear before he left the house. The old woman’s words echoed in her ears, “He will not be able to keep it for long.” He must have thrown it somewhere with contempt, she thought. She stood there, looking down at his still, lifeless body. Her eyes shone with fury as she felt she hated him, all of him.



John Valdro was found dead in his house by the baron’s men next morning. His dagger had pierced his bowels and it stood thrust in his belly. There was no sign of Bernella. It appeared she had fled somewhere after killing her husband. Why she had killed him, no one knew. The baron, however, did know one thing: another of his knights was dead before going out of his territory to make it to Necromazzard.