Saturday, December 13

The Curse of Belhaven, Part I

Along the western coasts of the Realm of the Roses, stargazers witnessed the red night sky in the direction of the setting sun. Not a crimson plume and distant thunder as in the fall of St. Kitt, but the ominous glow of an island consumed by fire. Sailors and pirates alike murmured as the watched the horizon. They knew it was Belhaven. They would reminisce, but their fond as well as frightening stories were such that one does not tell their wives and children after returning to port.

The dense forest of the small island was a cold, windy and rainy place. Yet inexplicably flames leaped from bough to bough and consumed the ancient trees like tinderwood, until they formed glowing blisters spreading along the mountaintops.

The Countess stopped to watch the conflagration from the balcony of the old mansion after tossing her husband's trappings over the rail towards the flames. Those outlandish blades and etchings, tubes and vials, mummified grotesques and scrolls as intricate in their diagrams as they were obscene. Some eccentricities a woman had to tolerate when marrying men of power, she was told by her mother. She didn't realize Count Diablo's eccentricities included witchcraft until much too late.

She cupped a red silk scarf over her nose and mouth to block the acrid smoke. Her reddened eyes wept lines of tears down her face, leaving clean trails down a face now dusted with soot. At the change in the direction of the breeze, the rippling of the air subsided enough to make out the flotilla of boats, hastily packed with the townsfolk's belongings until they nearly submerged from the weight, sluggishly evacuating the coastal town.

She looked down, trying to focus on the carnage below, but the flames of the burning orchards made her eyes smart. One tree in particular was burning white-hot, that hurt to stare at like the sun itself. Did she see a dark figure pass under it? For a moment she thought the person came from the tree, but she steeled herself against such hysterics and withdrew to her chambers, shutting the doors behind her.

She coughed into her deep red silk that matched the wrappings of her bed she had ripped the swatch from, and lay there sobbing. Her wails were interrupted the ring of the bell at her front door. Had one of the servants stayed behind to attempt a rescue? Or was it one of the townsfolk? No, she would not leave. Belhaven was her home, and now as a Dowager it was hers, even if it would only last another hour against the inferno. She would never abandon it.

The bell rang again. "What if someone had missed the last boat and was seeking refuge?", she thought. Still clutching her silk, she hurried down the marble stairs to the front door. She pulled her hand back with a start as she grabbed the latch, then wrapped the silk around her hand to pull it without burning herself. A well-dressed man carrying a leather satchel bowed calmly. Who was the gentleman? He stood quietly, as if unaware of the wall of flames behind him, edging ever closer to the mansion. The wave of heat that rushed through the door made Eve take several steps back. The man had a tall and broad stature, with long dark hair and a handlebar mustache, accented by piercing blue eyes.

"Countess Eve? Good evening, Madam. The weather is simply dreadful tonight...may I come in?"

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