Chapter 44: A Wrinkle of Truth
Titan, the pale speckled gelding, was more than pleased at the prospect of a long ride. Beaumont let the horse set its own pace as they left the capital far behind and headed south-east towards the territories that belonged to Lord General Commander Stryker Hargreve. Beaumont bypassed the main road that would lead him to the fortress-like castle of Hargreve, choosing instead to take a less-traveled road that led to a small chapel and private cemetery where many generations of Hargreve lords and ladies now rested beneath the earth.
His mother, Lady Jasmine, was not among them.
Beaumont continued past the cemetery and bowed beneath the branches of evergreens that grew tightly compressed against each other, obscuring the church’s backyard from the quiet forested field behind it.
Beaumont left Titan to graze beside a small creek as he continued through the rustling forest to where a separate gated plot of land with a single black marble sepulcher rested, surrounded by dancing jasmine flowers. The scent of the small white flowers made him pause for a long moment outside the gated grave plot. He brushed his fingers across the latch, rusted by the passing years, and felt a wave of grief and anger return.
The gate creaked as Beaumont pushed it open, but otherwise, the servants had maintained the property well enough. He focused his attention on the gravestone where the words, ‘Here lies Lady Jasmine Treowe, High Priestess of Minerva,’ were etched into the marble stone surface. Beaumont placed his hand beneath them and sighed. “Mother, your wretched son has come to visit.”
The stone hummed beneath his hand as the wind stirred in the trees around them. The scent of jasmine vanished, and Beaumont narrowed his gaze as he stepped back, loosened the strap on his long sword, and pulled the blade free.
“Is that really necessary?” The old man in a tattered black robe asked with a hint of amusement as he wandered through the trees to stand outside the iron gate. “And here I thought you came all this way to see me.”
Beaumont twirled the blade carefully and pierced it into the mossy earth beside his mother’s grave. “That depends on your answer, old man.”
The dry, cracked lips visible against the old man’s pale skin stretched into a smile. “My answer would depend on your question, my son.”
“I would choose your words with more care. I am no son to you,” Beaumont growled as he tightened his fingers around the sword’s hilt.
“You’re as much a son to me as you were to the Priestess,” the old man replied with a nod to Lady Jasmine’s sepulcher.
Beaumont inhaled slowly through his nose as the iron gate between them creaked and trembled faintly.
“You’ve begun to remember, haven’t you?” the old man pressed with a curious smile. “That’s why you came seeking me.”
“Partly,” Beaumont admitted through clenched teeth.
“This is because of Kirsi—” the old man chuckled “—that’s why your memories have returned quicker this time.”
“She seems to remember—something I do not.”
The smile on those sinister dry lips faded for a moment. “What does she remember?”
“That I killed her—in one of her past lives,” Beaumont answered with heavy frustration.
“Is it true?”
The old man crossed his arms and glanced towards Lady Jasmine’s final resting place.
“Why would I—” Beaumont broke off.
“Because your king ordered you to,” the old man replied softly.
“Impossible,” Beaumont snapped. “I would never—”
“You did not remember as quickly that time,” the old man explained patiently.
“Even if that were true—I would have recognized Vicktor’s magic.”
“Ah but—” the old man smiled triumphantly “—that is a new development.”
Beaumont sighed in exasperation. “You gods and your games.”
“You have no right to complain as I see it,” the old man replied with a hint of cynicism. “Unless—your position has changed.”
Beaumont scoffed. “Why would it.” He yanked the long blade free and turned towards the open gate.
“Because Kirsi has changed.” The old man smiled as the giant halted. “You’ve realized that too, haven’t you?”
“Does it matter?” Beaumont asked tensely as he wiped the blade clean and returned it to its sheath. “I’ll forget her and everything else again when your plans fail and you send us back to the beginning.”
“It is not that simple anymore,” the old man said wearily. “I am running out of time. We are running out of time.”
“So be it,” Beaumont whispered. “I am tired of being pulled along by the whims of such fickle fools.”
“You may be willing to remain as you are—but what if I fail to turn back time—who will stop Kritanta then?”
Beaumont shut the gate and turned towards the robed stranger. “Isn’t that the job of the Saint?”
“It seems you still don’t remember,” the old man lamented with a sigh. “Why do you imagine I have become this weak? The Saint has not returned—in any of these timelines.”
Beaumont scoffed and shrugged. “You broke the system, Veles. You should have known there would be consequences.”
The old man’s lips twisted into a sinister smile. “Remain indifferent as long as you like—things have already changed to this extent—even you, my son.”
“Leave me out of it, old man.” Beaumont turned and trudged briskly back towards the creek.
“But she has already drawn you back in.”
The old man’s cackle followed Beaumont’s heavy footsteps as he walked back towards the gelding and knelt to splash the cool, clear creek water against his face. He heaved a heavy sigh and frowned as his reflection in the rippling water changed into the familiar visage that only belonged in his nightmares.
“Arachne.” Beaumont splashed the water’s surface quickly and withdrew.
The gelding finished chewing the bundle of clovers it had discovered as Beaumont led it back towards the road. He frowned at the three horses tied up beside the chapel, their saddles adorned by scarlet trappings and the symbol of the church.
Beaumont stilled and listened to the breeze. Detecting nothing, he knelt and placed his hand upon the ground. The tremors were faint, but he could feel the presence of six individuals inside the old chapel.
‘What are they doing here?’
The knight captain double-checked that the strap on his long sword remained loose, then left the gelding beside the other horses as he strode towards the chapel. He knocked on the door loudly. Silence answered, but beneath his steady heartbeat Beaumont could feel footsteps approaching on the other side of the door then pause. Just as the knight captain contemplated breaking the door down, it opened, and the Pope’s Emissary appeared, his albino red eyes narrowing above a fiendish grin.
“Well, well,” Ripper murmured as he pushed the door open further and gestured for Beaumont to enter. “I was wondering when we’d have another chance to meet, Captain.”
“I don’t believe this chapel falls under the Pope’s jurisdiction,” Beaumont said bluntly as he stepped across the threshold. “This is the Hargreve family’s private church. You and your friends should leave.”
“Ahh haha!” Ripper chuckled as he released the door and gestured to the statue of Saint Harmonia behind him. “You are mistaken, Captain. All houses of faith belong to the Pope and the church.”
“Not this one,” Beaumont repeated with a growl.
“Oh!” Ripper raised a brow as he examined the knight before him. “And if I refuse to leave, Captain?”
“That would be regrettable—for you,” Beaumont answered with the hint of a smile.
Behind the confident witch hunter, the muffled sounds of a struggle reached him. Beaumont narrowed his gaze and stepped forward.
The chapel door slammed shut with a bang behind the knight captain as a circle of purple powder glowed upon the floor around him. Ripper’s fanged smile widened as two witch hunters appeared through the sanctuary door with blades drawn.
“That was your second mistake,” Ripper observed as he drew two sickle-like blades from his sword belt.
“And my first?” Beaumont asked calmly as he flexed his gloved hands.
“Coming here alone.”
Beaumont laughed softly. His violet eyes flashed as he pulled his long sword free. “You should have brought more,” he replied with a casual nod to the two witch hunters. “Then again—even all of you wouldn’t be enough.”
“Captain Beaumont!” A woman’s shrill voice echoed against the chapel windows as Lady Verity Hargreve stepped through the sanctuary door with a glare of disapproval. “Who gave you permission to be here?”
Beaumont blinked and tilted his head. “Do I need permission to visit my mother’s grave?”
Although pale and trembling, Lady Verity managed to look even more offended as she strode towards him. “That woman is not buried here—and for good reason. Now leave!” She pointed past him towards the door expectantly.
Beaumont clenched the sword in his hand tightly and glanced at Ripper. The witch hunter looked equally annoyed, but he lowered his weapons and, with a whisper, deactivated the magic circle.
“I said, get out!” Lady Verity repeated shrilly.
“And the two lads tied up in the back?” Beaumont asked grimly.
Her steel-blue eyes flickered with surprise as Verity’s gaze faltered for a moment towards Ripper. Then her attention snapped back to Beaumont as she straightened her spine and tried, foolishly, to look down at him. “Those slaves are my property and no concern of yours. Now leave—or do I need to use force?”
“I’ll leave,” Beaumont growled and sheathed his sword. “And I’ll report this to his Majesty. He should know which houses are selling half-witches to the church.”
“It is none of your concern—or the crown prince’s. Those boys are slaves!” Verity rebuked with evident rage. “Now get out of my sight before I have your whore mother’s remains dug up and thrown into the Serpentine River—or better yet—burned.”
Beaumont’s hand froze on the hilt of his blade and slowly lowered. His violet eyes focused dispassionately on the woman who had scorned the foreign war priestess and infant brought back from Tharyn by her husband over twenty years ago.
Ripper scoffed lightly as he brushed pale white hair over his shoulder and tapped the sickle-blades against his armor. “Best do as she says, bastard.”
Beaumont clenched his jaw and took a step back. “Don’t get comfortable, witch hunter. I don’t imagine your stay in Lafeara will continue for much longer.”
“I’ll be here as long as it takes to find the priest’s killer and the little ice witch hiding in Lafeara,” Ripper replied as Beaumont turned. “Do let me know if you’ve seen her.”
Beaumont yanked the door open and whistled sharply to the gelding, who pranced over with its ears pricked warily. The knight captain settled into the saddle and cast one look back at the chapel, where Ripper stood with a troubled frown, staring after him.
‘I’ll kill you all before I let you lay a finger on Lady Maura.’ Beaumont kicked his heels lightly against the gelding’s flank and headed back towards the palace and the troublesome ice witch hidden behind its fortress walls.
From beneath the shadows of the birch trees, the hooded old man watched the knight’s departure with a crooked smile before he vanished into the shadows, and a crow with blood-red eyes climbed above the forest towards the clear blue skies.