Sir Quirin Wagner raped a girl once. She was barely thirteen but he’d had younger. He paid the girl’s father a single coin and laughed at the man when he demanded a trial.
Now Sir Quirin Wagner’s body was being gnawed at by dogs. The dogs were flayed but still they fought over the meatier bits of Sir Quirin.
A bald man wearing only a loin cloth lifted Sir Quirin’s sword. The man’s body was covered in tattoos depicting hell bound souls writhing in agony. He began to shout something in a language of guttural yelps. When he was done a child was pulled from amongst the line of chained slaves they had brought with them. The bald man danced around the boy. He tore off his loin cloth and shook his cock at the boy’s face. The boy sobbed. Piss trickled down the boy’s scrawny legs. The bald man grabbed the boy by his hair, pulled his head back and slit his throat. The dwarfs came then to lick at the boy’s blood.
William Blood stood at the high window and watched.
“What made him go out?” he asked Black Jonas.
The Swede shrugged and poured himself another cup of watered down ale. It had been four days since they came to the keep and for all those long days the Devil and his beasts had taunted them, screamed obscenities at them, brought forward the dead. That was the worst part, seeing the dead you had once known brought out and watching how they had become as much a beast as the devil’s servants. Friends, family, lovers were paraded and when the parading was done the devil would have one of his giants crush them into the mud. William Blood had seen his own parents, naked and rotting, dancing for the devil. It was hard for those scenes not to break a man but Sir Quirin had always refused to be moved.
“They’re dead,” he said, “the dead can’t torment me.”
Black Jonas drained his cup, the weak ale dribbling down his black beard.
“He saw his daughter,” Black Jonas said when he was finished drinking. “She was new-born when he left Heidelberg. He never knew she was dead.”
William Blood understood. He pulled himself away from the orgy of sin that was unfolding in front of the keep and left Black Jonas to his drinking.
He climbed the stairs to the very top of the keep and pushed open the hatch that led into the small room beneath the roof rafters. Within the cobweb draped darkness of the room he crawled to where they’d stowed the sack. There was nothing else in that cramped room apart from the sack and yet as William neared it he felt like the room was heavy with the very presence of the sack, like it was drawing in all the musty air, the dusty space, and feeding on it.
He opened the cheesecloth and looked down at the thing that had brought them here.
It seemed nothing really. A stone. Reddish like sandstone but just a stone. He put a finger to it and felt its warmth. He held his finger there for a while wondering if he asked it to it would the stone suck him in like it was sucking at the air in the room. Would it take from all of this?
He prayed then. He pulled his hand away from the stone and prayed for God to forgive him for being so weak.
“I shall serve you,” he whispered, “I shall be your loyal son.”
He remembered the day they found the stone. Jerusalem was ash and all the lands for miles around were scorched and ruined. They, the six of them, were riding north to Tiberias to meet with the rest of their order at the lake when the sky exploded with light.
The stone hit the sand to the east of the road and a mushroom cloud of fire erupted into the air.
He heard the voice then. Be my loyal son.
They were the same words his father had said to him when he left Stirling.
“I have sinned so very much,” the old man had confessed to him. “Do what I could never do, William. Serve God for me.”
When the six of them found the stone they knew what it was. It was Hector who wrapped it in the cheesecloth and it was Hector who first noticed how light it was becoming.
William descended the stairs to the great hall. Hector of Wales was fastening his breastplate by a smouldering fire. There was hardly enough wood left to last them another night but each night just grew colder. It was Guido who wondered why the devil brought such a chill wind with him.
“Where are you going?” William asked his old friend.
The broad chested Welshman grinned. He had no nose and only one good eye. His teeth had left his gums long before he could ride a horse. A deep scar ran down from his left ear on to his neck and down across his chest. He was the ugliest man William had ever known.
“I’m tired of this Will,” he said, picking up his Morningstar and testing the weapon’s weight. “I’m tired of the devil and all his shit. I’m going out.”
“You can’t end this,” William told him. He thought of standing in front of the door then. Stopping him. Making him stay. But he knew what a pointless task that would have been, Hector would have only grinned at him and knocked him aside.
“I’m not planning to end this,” Hector said as he hefted up his shield. The white boar’s head stared at William with its blood red eyes. “I only mean to end me. We’ve done bad things Will. You were in Jerusalem, you know what happened to us. This is hell and whatever that thing is we found it’s nothing to do with God. If you won’t give it them then I won’t make you but you saw what happened to Quirin. Maybe a man can die twice; maybe there is a way back to heaven even from this middle-hell.”
The Welshman grinned again and pulled open the oak door. Fires burned outside, flames licking towards the keep like the devil’s own hands. Someone was singing in an impossibly high pitched voice. There were screams but they sounded happy, joyous even.
William watched Hector pull the door shut and when Hector’s screams joined with the joyous screams he climbed back up to the top of the keep and took the stone from its hiding place.