Mystery. It was embedded in her dark eyes, hinted at by her dress and though her lips parted at first only to smile, they whispered of it. I had no desire to solve her, like some detective in a cheap novel; no, she would not yield her secrets by way of clumsy persuasion. I was instead, of the belief that the unknown was her special province and that she was not only a keeper of secrets, she was born of them. I could tell, by her flawless skin, so fair the sun seemed to avoid it, that she was bred from exclusive lineage. Her hair, like black silk that was never one out of place, always skillfully styled in the latest fashions of Paris and Milan. However, it was her intellect; her uncommonly broad knowledge of the arts, science and politics, history, philosophy and literature and the way she spoke with a voice accustomed to authority, that struck me as if I was listening to someone who had been present to see the whole of history firsthand. Yes, she was always mystery to me and over time, my curiosity became infatuation, my infatuation grew into obsession and soon I could not stop myself, from being in every room with her.
I can’t place the date exactly, when my pursuit of her became formal courtship, but I know that I had long abandoned all sense of reason. That Christmas and the months after are filled with faint and shadowed memories, dimmed by images only of her, but I recall most vividly that it was springtime when I accompanied her to her family estates in the North. Winter had given way to a wild and verdant Spring and as we rode in her father’s carriage through the countryside, I found it hard to think of anything other than her deep, black eyes and the unfathomable mystery they held. Seductive and elusive and concealing some strange light; some spark of unknown power that lived in their depths.
We had not been in the country a week, before I had announced my intentions to her father, who had always struck me as a man constantly distracted by his work, but his face lit up and he showed great enthusiasm that we should be married at the earliest possible convenience. He and her mother insisted on paying for the whole affair, so long as it happened quickly and from then, events unfolded with a fevered pace.
Such a curiously nervous energy filled her father’s house in those days, but she had accepted my proposal and she wore my grandmother’s ring of diamonds and a single flawless ruby, with a stately eminence and aplomb. In fact, I was struck by how calm and assured she was with the whole affair, for even a veteran of military and constabulary service such as myself, found the seemingly endless litany of wedding arrangements more that somewhat daunting. But she took everything as if she had done it a hundred times. There was never a short word on her lips, nor did any frustrated crease mar her perfect brow. She, as always, remained imperviously impassive, only hinting the slightest smile, when we briefly saw each other in passing.
We were married before summer. My family had made the trip North and there was much activity about her parent’s country estate. The wedding was held in a small church on the outskirts of a quaint and picturesque village that drew its living from the fields and forests that surrounded it. So full was my head of visions of her beauty on that day, that I scarcely noticed the strange atmosphere that hung over the town. The doors of every shop and dwelling were shut tight and every window was shuttered and there were no people to be seen. Not even a stray dog or cat was evident, nor was the song on any bird in the air.
The wedding procession through the small cobblestone streets, was made stark by the lack of townspeople and the hired musicians that rode at the head of the parade, played an almost funereal melody as we approached the old stone abbey. I do recall, that deep in the recesses of my mind, the scientific part of me noted that the age of the church, seemed to far exceed that of the village, but with the common practice of building settlements around places of worship, I found it reasonable to dismiss the thought quickly,
The old, iron bound doors were open, and the musicians and the guests funneled in though the arched doorway, into the unnaturally dark interior. I myself was ushered in through a door at the rear of the church, into a small room, where I was instructed by some faceless attendant, to await my cue to take the dais, in advance of my bride and beloved. One of the attending servants provided a cup of wine to calm my nerves and as I sipped it, my tongue detected a rich bouquet of exotic spices that filled my head with visions of far off lands and strange peoples that I had never before seen. Soon after, I was directed down a tight hallway and up and short staircase, pushing my way past black curtains, I emerged into the sanctuary.
There in the first few pews, were my parents and brother and sister, their eyes seemed glassy and they smiled with vapid joy. There was a strange incense burning in brass censers, that filled the church with an acrid and narcotic smoke that stung the eyes and the throat and clouded the mind. The remaining pews were filled with my bride’s father and mother and seemingly dozens of dark, indistinct figures, who were draped in dark clothing that served to conceal their faces and obscure their forms. They looked like shadows, taken on the rough shape of human forms, but my mind was hazy from the wine and the incense and when I tried to scrutinize a single figure closely, I found my thoughts reeled from what my eyes beheld.
In an attempt to gain some control over my faculties, I cast my gaze about the church in an attempt to find some semblance of familiarity with which to ground myself. A simple stone building, too dark for all its windows, I could not help but note the old stained glass images depicting scenes of fire and blood and death; with misshapen figures taking unholy sacraments and depictions of human sacrifice. Lit by only the light of candles and a few brass stand lamps, I was blinded when the doors to the church opened and the light of the sun came in.
There, cut in perfect silhouette with the daylight at her back, was the object of my obsession. Her sheer wedding gown allowed just a little light through, to hint at the shape of her beneath and as she crossed the threshold of the church. The band, unseen until now, began to play a wonderful and melancholy song that spoke of yearning love and sadness departed. A white veil hid her face, enticing me more than ever, so I did not immediately acknowledge the figure that accompanied my love down the aisle. He was tall, with white hair and an ageless face. He commanded a powerful presence, but my eyes were riveted to my one and only love. They gracefully approached the dais, and I was startled briefly, when the Reverend, unseen until now, appeared at my right hand. He too, was tall and of pale, ageless features, wearing black robes and a simple cap, embossed with a script that I did not recognize. Behind him, the black curtains parted, to reveal a gilded table at the center of the dais and upon the table, a silver bowl and a single fat, black candle.
The tall, imposing figure who escorted my bride took me in with one long, lingering look and I felt his gaze tear through my very soul. I felt like a field mouse, under the shadow of a hunting eagle and all there is within me that made me a man of rationality and sense, took flight in terror and hid, deep in the recesses of my psyche. As if recognizing my terror, whether to quell it, or incite it further, the tall man smiled a broad and warm smile that showed two rows or sharp and unnaturally polished teeth and offered up the right hand of my love to me.
Taking my hand, she stepped up to the join me on the dais and we stood, before the strange and pale priest. I felt the small and delicate hand of my bride in mine, cold, but firm and tense with excitement. The music ceased and the sanctuary was quiet. Then, in a tongue that I did not understand, the black robed cleric recited a long and sonorous benediction. His low and droning voice at first made me think of a hive of bees, but then my mind was filled with pictures of a time long ago, when there was darkness on the Earth and different peoples walked its lands.
In my mind’s eye, I saw visions of a time when creatures of myth and folklore took kingdoms and power for themselves, and formed powerful councils and brought death and disease amongst the world of men for centuries, until the light returned. The light forced all these dark beings back to their place between the worlds, but here I was, to be joined to them. I was to give my life and my blood to repair their destroyed lineages. By my union to the daughter of this dark and powerful creature, I was to ensure their return to the world and the beginning of their campaign to reign again up on the Earth and return it to the darkness that existed centuries ago.
The host of the church joined in with the priest, for the benediction had taken on the form of an unholy incantation. As the sound of their song rose to a terrible crescendo, my mind screamed to flee, but my physical self would not heed the wailing terror coming from the last remnant of my sanity. Then, as if in mid beat, all the voices ceased and there was perfect, unnatural silence through the church. My hammering heartbeat and the rush of blood in my ears was nearly deafening.
The priest reached out and took my hand and from somewhere from the folds of his dark robes, he produced a wicked looking dagger. He held my wrist with a crushing grip, that felt like he could easily snap the bones. Even if I possessed the strength, I could not have drawn away my hand, though I tried with all my might to get my body to respond, it would not. He drew the shining blade across my palm, opening a deep and grievous wound and held my hand so that my blood ran into the silver bowl. My bride, her impossibly beautiful face impassive, but for that hinted smile, held out her hand willingly and the priest cut into her hand as well, the blade slicing easily through her perfect skin. Her blood mingled with mine in the bowl and the priest took our wounded hands and placed them together and I could feel her cool blood pumping into me and her body drawing the warm blood from mine. Then the priest picked up the bowl from the table and held it above his head, reciting some new and seemingly ancient words and offered up the bowl to my lips and to my unmitigated horror; I drank deeply. My bride lifted her veil slightly, drinking from the bowl as well and when she finished, the priest stepped back and raised his hands above his head and shouted in the same strange and foreign tongue words I did not understand, but knew full well their meaning. We were wed and without warning, the spell that had paralyzed my body was broken and my senses came flooding back.
The shock of having sudden control of my faculties again was the equal to the shock of the events that had just transpired. Feeling returned to my limbs and with it, blinding pain that seared me to the bone and I felt I was about to collapse, when my new wife embraced me. She held me, with an unnatural strength that belied her tiny frame and kissed me deeply, restoring my consciousness and in turn, my unquenchable desire for her. I returned her kiss and as I regained my feet, no longer feeling the pain that had moments ago threatened to take consciousness from me, I looked into her eyes for what seemed the first time and saw the mystery that had eluded me these many months now revealed. With the blood of her and her people now burning through me like ice and fire, I knew what she was; her lineage and now, my own.
Applause and cheers rose from the figures gathered in the church and the musicians, from their alcove hidden in the dark recesses of the building, began to play another dark and melodious dirge that filled me with such joy and dread, that I was unable to place my emotions. The sensation of the strange fire kindled within me made me feel both incredibly strong and yet, weak as an infant. I tested my legs tentatively as we stepped down from the dais, arm in arm. The iron bound doors of the church opened before us.
Words of praise and adulation in a multitude of languages, some I was surprised to recognise, were heaped upon us as we made our way into the waning light of evening. Though it had scarcely been noon when we had entered the church, now long shadows were stretching through the little village and as we made our way to our awaiting carriage, drawn by two black quarter horses, the disembodied voices of our guests seemed to accompany us like the voices of ghosts. I looked back, towards the church and saw only my mother and father, brother and sister; standing in front of the opened doors, waving and smiling after us. All around them, dark and twisted shadows spread from the open doors of the abbey, their voices sending us their well wishes on our way. Then, one by one, the shadows plucked my mother and father and siblings off their feet and they were gone, lifted away into whatever nether-realm our guests abided in.
I felt a moment of shock and despair, that quickly became anger, but that too was stolen from me as my new bride pulled me up into the carriage. She held me close and kissed me with a passion that set my soul to new heights of ardor. My hands ran over her perfect body, sliding up into her long and silky hair and my lips finding the perfect skin of her neck. I felt her delicate, yet powerful hands clutching my back as she pulled me even closer. The clatter of the horse’s hooves and the bounce of the carriage on the old cobblestone road slipped away and we were carried off into the falling darkness. Our lusts carried us into new realms of unearthly pleasures and our union was made complete. At the cost of my soul and that of the entire world, I had uncovered her mystery, but that was to be only the beginning of the horrors, for now the world had been doomed by our love.
HG – 2016