Tuesday, March 26, 2024

DARK HOURS, a Fantasy Romance by Linda Mooney - Chapter 3

Posted by: Linda Mooney


Chapter 3 


Soon after the deaths of the king and the royal family, black clouds of evil began to drift over Noranye. A week passed, then another. Then, one night, not long after Compline, Father Eustice had knocked softly on his door with a message. It seemed the centurion and a lady were waiting to see the priest. Padding barefoot into the rectory, Matthias met the couple who asked that he marry them. Right there. Right at that moment.

“Why the urgency?” Matthias had asked. A lady as well-familied as Emers should have an ample dowry. A Centurion of the Guard like Kayge should have an honor guard. Theirs should be a wedding the village would talk about for months to come. “Why not post your banns, and let the villagers and your family help celebrate this joyous occasion?”

Emers’s face was pinched with worry. “Madeline, my lady in waiting, has brought me distressing news, Father. We are left with no option but to leave Noranye as soon as possible. It has to be tonight.”

Kayge stepped forward. “When my lady passed along her information, I sought confirmation for myself. What news she was given is true. God protect us all.”

Matthias crossed himself automatically. “What kind of news could be so devastating as to drive you away from the castle?” he demanded.

Emers pressed her lips together, hesitating. It was as if her fears were greater than her faith in the church.

If I had only known . . .

“I was sent a warning that the witch Gola is after Emers,” Kayge spoke out.


“She’s out to punish me for her treatment while she was held prisoner,” Kayge continued. “It’s said she believes she can get to me through Emers.”

Matthias shook his head, not certain if he’d heard right. “You know this for certain?”

Kayge nodded. “Benál, my lieutenant, will support the claim. He approached me this evening to warn us that Emers would be removed from her home in less than a fortnight.”

“How can that be? Gola has no control over the guards.”

“She doesn’t need to,” Kayge countered. “Word is she’s woven her dark magic over some of the weaker men. They do her bidding without conscience.”

“Have you spoken to your cousin?” the priest asked the woman. “Have you warned him? Have you asked for his help?”

“And what would you have me tell him?” she half-whispered, half-cried. “He fears the witch as much as anyone. Besides, he is my legal guardian. He has absolute say over my future…until I take a husband.”

“Maybe...maybe your lady in waiting misunderstood. Maybe the lieutenant was fed erroneous information.” Matthias shook his head. It was all happening too fast for him to think straight. “For what purpose would she target you for vengeance?” he directly asked Kayge. “You did as you were ordered to do by the king. The king is dead.”

“For what purpose?” Kayge snapped. “She cannot control me. Hence, I am a threat to her. So she seeks a way to make me bow in obeisance to her.”

In the dim candlelight his dull gray suit of armor seemed as black and as impenetrable as the night sky. He took a small step forward, as if to take the priest by the throat, when a slender hand grabbed him by the arm and stopped him. Emers turned back to the priest.

“Father, Kayge and I had planned on taking our vows next spring. But with this news it appears we have no other choice but to flee Noranye and seek sanctuary elsewhere.”

“Where would you go, my child?”

“Anywhere. My sword would be welcome in any kingdom,” the soldier answered for her. “I can provide for her. I can make her happy. And she would be safe from the witch.”

As if anyone could be safe from the witch.

“And your families. What about them? Would you have them worry about your absence? Would you leave them to face the witch’s anger?” Matthias tried to argue.

Kayge stiffened. “The witch will not challenge my family. Our lineage goes back to the Pope himself. Seeking to punish me is one thing. But should she try to bring harm down upon my bloodline, she will bring a worse retribution down upon herself, the likes of which she could never imagine. Much less be prepared for.”

Matthias could not deny his reasoning.

“Kayge has made arrangements for our travels,” Emers noted. “But before we go, we want you to marry us. Please, Father. The road before us is dangerous. The journey we are about to take will be a long one. Sanctuary may be farther away than we anticipate.”

“For Emers’s sake, I don’t want her to be compromised. Nor do I wish her name to be sullied because of our indiscretions,” Kayge added in his low, gravelly voice. He gave her a quick look, one which was intended to ease her fears. Somehow Emers managed to answer with a small smile.

The hour was too late to argue further. Besides, Matthias could not dismiss their concern. The witch had become a very, very dangerous entity, and there was no telling to what lengths she would go to when crossed. If the couple felt their best option was to flee Noranye, the priest would be able to serve them best by granting their request.

A short time later, before the altar of Christ, amid the soft glow of candles, Matthias married the lovers while Fathers Eustice and Tiberium witnessed. For his own piece of mind, he blessed them twice before bidding them safe journey.

As the couple rode away from the church, away from Noranye, a heavy mantle of guilt slowly descended over his head and shoulders, and a small voice whispered in his ear.

You betrayed them. It was you. You told the witch about them. You...you told...you....

“Father, how can I ever atone for my sin?”

Just as he was still adjusting to the turn of events which had happened less than an hour before, Matthias was thrown into deeper turmoil by the arrival of the guards at the rectory. The men bore looks on their faces that Matthias had never seen. They moved like soulless creatures, as if someone else was manipulating them from afar.

“Where did they go?” the one in charge demanded darkly.

“I-I don’t know. Away from Noranye is all I know.”

“And he is with her, isn’t he?”

Rather than try to delay the inevitable by acting confused, Matthias found the courage to be truthful. “Yes.”

“Why did they come here? Why this hour of the night?”

Matthias shuddered and continued to pray for strength. “They came to warn me,” he said.

“Warn you? About what?”

“About the witch.”

“The witch?” The knowledge bent the corners of the soldier’s mouth into a sickly smile. “For what purpose? Again, I ask, why would they warn you?”

“Because I am their friend and confessor. Emers felt I needed to know...for my own protection, I guess.”

Incredibly, the soldier let out a screech of laughter. The ground beneath his feet began to whirl like a small windstorm, gradually growing stronger, larger, and more forceful, until it enveloped the soldier from head to toe.

And then it was gone. Vanished. Leaving a familiar figure where the soldier had been.

Matthias stared in shock at the witch. He had heard of her ability to take on other forms. Although he had never seen her perform such a trick with his own eyes, he hadn’t disbelieved those claims. Still, witnessing it for himself filled him with disgust and fear.

The witch paced the floor, digesting the confession, testing to see if held honesty or treachery. A hideous blackness seemed to dog the hems of her garments with an evil shadow.

“How long? How long ago did they leave?”

“An hour, no more.” The words were like bile spilling from his lips. The priest nearly gagged.

Shoving her face into his, the witch stared at the cowering man with dead eyes. “If you think you can trick me, you had better reconsider your options,” she threatened.

“I have no other options,” Matthias admitted, realizing the implications. “I have no life other than the church.”

I no longer have a life in the church.

“Nevertheless, you have betrayed me. For that you will be punished.”

It took monumental effort for Matthias not to tell the woman that he’d married the couple before they’d left. He prayed she would not find out.

“Do with me as you will,” he responded. “I don’t serve you, and never will. I serve the Lord.” The words came automatically, as if he’d spoken them countless times before.

“Nevertheless…” The witch paused to whisper something in one of her guard’s ear. The soldier nodded and left the room. “Which way did you say they went?”

“North. They were headed north when they left here. That is all I can tell you.”

Gola jumped on the wordage. “That is all you can tell me? Or all you will tell me?”

“I have answered your questions truthfully.”

The witch studied him. “And it was just the two of them? No one else?”

“No one else,” Matthias confirmed.

“Very well. Listen to my judgment. You will be taken to the castle and cast into the dungeon. There you will be given plenty of time to contemplate your guilt and deception. Do you hear me?”


“If Kayge, Emers, or anyone else should try to contact you, you will notify me immediately. Immediately. Am I clear?”


Gathering her robes about her, the witch headed for the door. Her actions sparked further fear in the priest’s heart.

“Where are you going?”

“After them, you fool. They need to be taught a lesson.”

Dread seeped into the very marrow of his bones as Matthias watched the woman mount the horse brought to her by the guard she’d dismissed earlier. She left on her own, without the small cadre of armed men who’d accompanied her earlier.

The priest stood at the doorway until he could no longer hear the sound of her steed’s hooves pounding through the darkness. Only when she was gone from sight did the soldiers place him in chains and escort him back to the castle.

That had been three days ago. Three days. In three days, Jesus had died and been resurrected. But for a lowly man such as Matthias, it was three days of self-sacrifice and self-abasement wherein he could not find peace or restitution from his guilt.

The hour of Lauds came and went. As the night grew darker and colder, the old man remained stretched out on the stone floor before the makeshift altar.

Perhaps one day God would take pity on him and give him absolution. Perhaps, but Matthias seriously doubted it.

“Heavenly Father, hear my prayer.”



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