Awareness tickles his focus which triggers musing thoughts. Sensations as real and physical as the heavy and cold winter’s fog which envelopes him. His footsteps on the wet cobblestones are muted by the fog. The glow of the waxing gibbous moon through the fog gives him visual acuity. He stops when there is an additional yellow glowing ahead of him. Which cue is first: physical, or visual, or emotional? He stops and gathers himself. He takes a knee, and looks down.
“Stop the wool gathering,” he says to himself, “Henri Klaus Meens, take a moment to assess yourself. Prepare for the next steps. Start from the ground and work your way up.”
He has on black mid-calf laced boots that are half hob-nail and half lugged soles. There are droplets on the glossy black leather from the puddles and fog. He is wearing midnight blue shaved wool trousers with beige piping on the outer seam cinched by a belt about his waist. His trousers are tucked into his boots. Around his hips is a wide black leather belt with a large oval buckle of brass embossed with his family crest.
Hanging on his left side is a cavalry saber. On the small of his back is a Bowie knife that lays horizontal in its scabbard, an integral part of the leather pouch which overhangs it. On his right side is a flapped holster with a 4-inch barrel stainless steel .357 Magnum revolver and two leather pouches for his four speed loaders.
“Expecting trouble, are you, or just being overly cautious?” he asks himself.
On his head is a short bill cap of black wool. He completes his overall assessment of the black kid leather gloves and black waist-length leather jacket over his white linen shirt. He wipes his clean shaven face of the accumulated moisture from the fog. Standing up quietly, his left foot begins its step forward toward the yellow glow in front of him. The glow becomes brighter and discernable as a sentinel lamp post.
No sentry is visible, only the high wet wall of stained limestone with a set of heavy wrought iron clad oaken doors. The left door is ajar. He pauses briefly to heave the doors more open for him to slip through. No challenge, for the door moves easily and quietly inward. He passes through the opening into a tunnel through the wall.
Ten feet ahead is the exit archway with a lit torch on either side. His gloved left hand rests on the pommel of the saber to keep the guard from dragging on the stone floor. The tunnel is at least sixteen feet wide and twenty feet in height, lined with murder-hole slots. The floor angles up slightly between the entry gate doors and the internal gated archway.
Thirty feet onward is another archway through the second wall, which is framed with torches. Beyond, appears to be only lit by the glow of moonlight. His five senses are searching for clues; his sixth sense is twitching at the nothingness that appears before him. His movements and physical nature are the only means to orient himself.
Thirty-two generations, second sons of second sons crowd into his thoughts. Six hundred years of history and story. Four professions dominate his forefathers lives: professional military, clergy, engineer, or physician. His has been a combination of military and engineer. Wanted to be a physician but couldn’t get past the anatomy of cadavers. A good student of the Bible but knew he did not have the pastoral calling.
‘Stay with the now,’ his internal guide spoke, ‘no quibbling and questioning of how or why you are here. There is danger ahead.’
Henri steps through the second archway. The space beyond seems to be a large courtyard space; there are no other lights or torches, save the moonlight overhead. All seems to be physically empty, yet there is an air of foreboding. The courtyard is open to the sky, but there is no indication of the winter fog that is outside. Twenty steps into the smooth stone paved courtyard Henri stops and turns slowly in a circle.
When he is facing toward the archway that he entered through, he sees a shadowy figure move across the torch light. Or is it that his pale blue eyes are deceived? His perception is that this shadow figure is seven feet tall. Broad at the shoulders with a large head atop that is hooded in its form. Yet there are no discernable legs, just the mass to the ground.
‘Both,’ he answers his earlier question.
“Whose magical spell has created this figure?” he asks.
Henri responds, his right hand grasping the saber, and his left holds the scabbard as he draws the saber quickly. The blade gives a singing ring as it clears the scabbard. Smoothly, his left hand releases and swings back to draw the Bowie. The snap clicks and the blade slides quickly from its scabbard. With no flair of excessive motion, he assumes his own developed defensive stance.
The Bowie knife in his left hand is held such that the contoured brass hilt lies against his wrist and onto his forearm. His left hand is cocked in a forty five degree angle, the glistening razor honed edge is facing outward. His right arm is up such that the elbow is slightly below his shoulder. The right hand grasping the saber’s grip, point held forward where the flat top of the blade rests ever so lightly on the Bowie. This creates an arched bladed cross in front of his body. Left foot is forward, toe pointing outward, and his right foot is slightly behind his hips on a line perpendicular to his left. His weight is balanced slightly more to his left foot with the heels of his boot barely in contract with the ground.
Defense before attack.
Observe your opponent.
Minor adjustments of foot and posture.
Account for the ground’s conditions.
Plan both, offense and defense.
Go with fierce determination.
He sees the shadow figure’s outline in the flickering torch light. There is an additional shimmer outside the misty shadow. A silvery line that has the length and glint of a broad sword that hangs in the hand before ready for battle. He makes small movements from his feet to head, preparing for what he believes is coming.
Henri gives a slight feint of attack from his knees flexing to raising his saber slightly above the Bowie. The silvery shimmering glint rises in an arc high above his head. He perceives that this motion is that of a broad sword being wielded by a single hand. The shimmering glint slashes downward. His saber takes the strike with a shower of sparks as he guides the weapon to his left. When the pressure of the forceful strike leaves the tip of his saber, he strikes.
His saber and right arm are loaded for his sweeping slash. His hand and arm trace an arc which encounters a resistance at the shadow’s edge. His slashing saber takes on a duller tone on the first six inches of his blade. When his saber reaches the approximate mid-point, his left hand begins its rising slashing movement. The Bowie blade tip also dulls when resistance is encountered, its path is low, what he thinks would be the upper thigh. His body stops its twisting and recoils back to his beginning defensive position. ‘Damn he’s tough or armored,’ Henri thinks, for his opponent has not fallen, the shadow and shimmer are still in front of him.
Henri gives a double feint of his attack; the first is to his left then a quick shift to his right. The silvery shimmering glint rises in an arc, high above his head again. His saber is again struck by a shower of sparks as he deflects the incoming strike again to his left and down. When the force releases he slashes again with his saber. This time his aim is lower on his opponent, what he estimates to be about waist high. His Bowie’s path is higher and takes a near forty-five degree angle upward. These two slashes should disembowel his opponent. His left foot lifts and plants firmly to stop his movement. His recoiling body takes a moment to recover his posture and position.
His next move is only raising his left foot and slamming back down. The sound of his boot echoes strangely from the tunnel, but the movement of his opponent is clear. Exactly the same shimmering arc, not what Henri would do but, ‘maybe there is a deeper enemy nearby’.
For the third time, he deflects the glinting and spark shower to his left. His right arm traces a vertical arcing path with a short downward slash, and then shoves his saber point deep, the dullness of his blade extends halfway of the saber blade. His left arm is held lower to allow for the Bowie to protect his side as he withdraws his saber’s deep thrust. Henri moves back two short steps to open the distance and regain his view of the torches at the tunnel exit.
‘Defense and offense, protect and attack, recognize weaknesses and adapt’, thoughts of hours of training lessons emerge in Henri’s mind. His internal voice asks softly, ‘Repetitive mindlessness is a weakness, but when and how do you defeat a spectral apparition with no physical body?’
Henri then feels the ice cold grip of pressure under his right arm, a reaching chill toward his heart to steal his life’s breath. The saber lifts from the Bowie’s edge, as his wrist and arm change position to meet this new threat. The blade tip is re-oriented and he makes a backward thrust between his own chest and right arm. The curved flattop of the blade rubs against his jacket. There is a sudden breath on his neck. He has hit a second enemy.
When half of the saber’s blade is behind him, Henri pivots on the balls of both feet. He releases and then re-grips the saber as his left arm raises the Bowie for its strike. The Bowie is driven downward in its heavy slash. The Black Magician flashes into visibility as the Bowie reaches its slashing arc’s end. The Black Magician gasps a bloody froth from his mouth onto his long and braided beard. He drops to his knees as Henri withdraws the saber.
Henri leans over and whispers, “Let these words resound in your dying ears. You are hereby bound to this spot until judgment day. Your magic spells and curses are your testimony that shall be your eternity.”
Blood drips from both blades as Henri quickly swings the saber above his head and brings it downward, arching the edge to the magician’s neck. The bearded head falls to the ground nose first as a fountain of blood spurts from the headless corpse. The corpse heaves forward in nerveless collapse.
Henri’s attention is drawn toward the torch light as the shadowy figure becomes visible. The spell is broken, energy spent, and the enemy is a dark form with its wounds from battle whitish in the brightening courtyard. His enemy releases its broad sword in a dull clatter onto the pavement stones. His vanquished enemy is desiccating, withering into smoke and ash as it collapses. In less than a minute, all that remains is a pile of dark gray ash, and the broadsword, a long line of bright steel.
Henri turns and kneels on one knee beside the dark corpse. He lays the Bowie on the wet stone paved ground as he grabs the outer cloak to use as a rag. He wipes the blood from the saber’s blade, and then he does the same with the Bowie. His left hand reaches behind him to the leather pouch at the small of his back. He removes a flask and unscrews the cap. Slowly he runs a small stream onto the saber blade then sets the flask down. He takes a linen cloth from his pouch and wipes the blade clean and dry.
Then the Bowie is wetted and wiped clean. He then pulls a bag from the pouch. It is filled with sea salt. He quietly speaks a prayer of cleansing as he sprinkles both blades with salt. Pulling the drawstrings on the bag, he sets it next to the flask. Pulling a midnight blue velvet cloth from his pouch he runs the cloth the length of the blades reverently. He sheaths the saber into its scabbard and the blade gives off a gentle ringing sound as it seats fully. He sheaths the Bowie into its leather scabbard and snaps it in.
Taking the linen cloth, he sprinkles a small amount of water on it before standing. He wipes his gloves and jacket of any blood splatter. He folds it loosely and returns it to the pouch. Henri then crouches down and picks up the bag of salt, he pours a very small amount into the palm of his gloved right hand. He rubs his hands together and then his jacket. The salt bag goes back into the pouch. He wipes the salt residue with the velvet cloth from his gloves and jacket. Folding it into a three point cocked hat shape, it also is returned to the pouch.
A deep breath of relief shutters through him, “One last thing to do. No. There are two things to do,” he speaks softly out loud.
He picks up the head and places it on the magician’s corpse back. Henri retrieves the broad sword; he pours oil on each side of the blade. Raising it with both hands he drives the blade downward impaling the corpse. The blade is driven into a joint of the paving stones.
Again he pulls the salt bag from the pouch and sprinkles it around the outline of the Black Magician’s corpse. Whispering a short prayer to bind and confine this evil enemy until Judgment Day before God Almighty. He takes a copper wire-bound bundle of holly with sprigs of sage inner woven along matches from the pouch. He strikes a match and touches it to the bundle. It ignites, then turns to embers that begin to smoke, the smoke is a pleasing and calming aroma.
He walks a slow circle around the pile of ashes, then the corpse before he begins his exit through the tunnel. A sprinkling of salt under the arches and on the doors as the aroma of the sage smoke wafts from his left hand.
Henri’s vision is shaken and his reality is confused. The air smells different, there are no sounds of dripping water from the fog; everything has changed in a flashing moment. There is another voice speaking.
“Sweetheart, are you okay? You weren’t breathing. I was so scared.” His wife says loudly as she shakes his shoulder.
“Yes, I’m fine. Give me a minute to catch my breath,” Henri says softly, “had a nightmare fight and . . . I’m ok, go back to sleep, it is three a.m.”