Chapter 3:

Evil in the Air

The Knight of the Golden Rose


We spent so long on the road that even today I can perfectly recall the pitter-patter of horse hooves on crisp stone and the burning rays of sun on my back. Smudges of brilliant viridian faded in and out of my vision. Occasionally we stopped at a lake to refill our pouches or nibble on some snacks. Anselm was a great aim, as expected. We fed on wild boars, deer, and small game. I looked for some mushrooms and prayed we didn't die when we ate them.Bookmark here

Anselm asked me to recite my stories. I ran out of all the popular ones, so I began to make up my own. I think he was able to tell which ones were of my own invention when he started to question all the plot twists. Sometimes he grew bored of Europe and asked for something more exotic. Tales from the East. Where they had dragons that only grew sideways and people with funny red hats. Spices and intoxicating incense, more than your mind could comprehend. He asked about Africa where sand towered above you like waves and people lived before the beginning of time. I told him everything I read and saw in the monastery library.Bookmark here

Eventually, we reached a village, just in time because our food supply was getting low and Anselm was curiously running out of nearby wild game to catch. We heard the town before we saw it. It was larger than ours and had an imposing gate wrapped in menacing moss and ivy. The guards eyed us with suspicion and asked where we were from as we entered. "I am on a journey," Anselm said as he unveiled his golden brooch, so shiny and pristine next to our dirty clothes, thin with use. "To find my birthright."Bookmark here

They fumbled with their weapons, saluted, and wished us luck.Bookmark here

"What are we doing here?"Bookmark here

"To gather information," Anselm said.Bookmark here

No one in our village actually knew where the king lived. They only knew a general direction. "North," the grandmother said. She remembered coming down from a northern town where people had seen the king before. Someone else recalled an old map where the palace was located northeast from a nearby lake. We compromised and decided to go to the first northern village we visited and see if they had any information.Bookmark here

"There's more people here, so they should have more information about where the king lives."Bookmark here

"Think about how many books they have at the monastery!"Bookmark here

"Let's ask around first."Bookmark here

This village was far less friendly than our own. The merchants shied away from our inquiries, and the women avoided us as we walked. Finally, a peasant gave us some information: the weather was bad, the crops were failing, and the animals were dying. The inhabitants were uneasy. Some people thought it was a sign that God was dissatisfied with their behavior. Outsiders might bring plague and blasphemy.Bookmark here

After a couple of weeks spent helping with the harvest and praying in the church, we were able to reach some amount of trust between us and the villagers. Anselm's excellent rabbit traps no doubt added to our integrity.Bookmark here

It seems our dear old banker was correct as the general consensus for the king's castle did appear to be in the northeast. People were less certain how much farther along in the northeast it was. Some said a few days' journey while others claimed months. Finally, they told us to find Doctor Asfutus, the local theologian. He knows everything, they said. But be careful, he's been a bit unstable recently.Bookmark here

Doctor Asfutus' house was short, squat, and nestled between two imposing buildings like it was trying to disappear into nothingness. My eyes passed right over it at first glance. Its timber frame was dark and rotting, and I hoped it didn't rain too often because the house also had small holes in the roof. We knocked on the door.Bookmark here

"Doctor Asfutus? We are travellers looking for information on the king. If you have any knowledge, we would be eternally grateful for your wisdom."Bookmark here

There was a clatter of glass, a rustle of clothes, and heavy footsteps. The door creaked open, and out popped a towering figure clad in black robes. I couldn't even see his head, for the top of the doorway stopped at his neck.Bookmark here

"Ah, visitors. Come in." His voice was a serpent's hiss: raspy, cool, and tempting.Bookmark here

We stepped inside the gloomy abode. Candles illuminated small patches of the house, and I could just barely make out Doctor Asfutus' face with his darting pitch-black eyes and his beaked nose. I could feel his tireless, fretting eyes jumping from me to Anselm to my clothes to the brooch.Bookmark here

Anselm started his customary introduction about his history and his training and why he was on this journey.Bookmark here

"The king's palace, huh? Yes, yes of course I know that. I know that, but I cannot recall where it is. Why can I not remember? I've always remembered. I know everything. How can I not know such a simple little detail? The king's palace. His castle. The ruler of us all! How can I forget!"Bookmark here

Doctor Asfutus began clawing at his face. "Where is it? Where is the knowledge? The devil has lied to me! Show yourself, you coward!" Thin lines of crimson red started to dribble down his neck. Bookmark here

Anselm grabbed the doctor's flailing wrists. "Calm yourself."Bookmark here

Doctor Asfutus immediately became limp and fell down. "I forget myself. I am sorry."Bookmark here

"We can ask elsewhere. Thank you for your help," Anselm said.Bookmark here

"No no don't go! Please don't leave me like this!" Doctor Asfutus grabbed the edges of Anselm's tunic to which Anselm instinctively stopped and turned his nose up in repulsion.Bookmark here

"Hear me out. It's all my fault! I've ruined this town. The wheat is failing because of me! I was an arrogant man. I thought I no longer needed the Holy Scriptures, but now I've doomed my eternal salvation! Listen! Three months ago I made a pact with a devil. Yes, the devil! I saw him with my own eyes right there in that corner. See that black scar? That's where the devil came to me and seduced me. I traded away my soul for earthly knowledge, and now I am lost."Bookmark here

The poor theologian threw up his hands and sobbed.Bookmark here

"Got any holy books you can consult?" Anselm asked me.Bookmark here

"Unfortunately, Lawrence didn't get that far," I replied with a frown.Bookmark here

He turned to address Asfutus. "Can the priest undo your pact?"Bookmark here

"Ha! He knows less than me! And even he said I was damned!" The doctor started a fresh round of tears. "Oh my memory has been fading lately. At the start, I held so much information, but the knowledge disappears day by day. My heavenly body for nothing!"Bookmark here

He glanced at the golden rose on Anselm's belt. "You are related to the king of England. Surely you can help me!"Bookmark here

"We should leave," Anselm said.Bookmark here

"We'll help you," I said.Bookmark here

Anselm stared at me. "We'll do no such thing. Let's just go to the next village. We've exhausted all our options here."Bookmark here

"Come on, we can't just let this poor guy go to hell," I said. "Besides, he seems like he used to be a smart guy before this whole devil thing happened. Maybe he can teach me a thing or two about magic."Bookmark here

Anselm let out a long, thin stream of air. "Have it your way. If we can't figure anything out in two weeks' time, we're leaving."Bookmark here

"My my, the little lady here is more of a knight than you are!" Doctor Asfutus chuckled in a wispy squeal. "Thank you young lady!"Bookmark here

"Will you teach me magic in return?"Bookmark here

"Of course! When I am cured of my diabolic affliction, I will go back to my learned endeavors and show you all the magic I've encountered in my studies."Bookmark here

"Well first things first, we should probably figure out what kind of ritual you performed."Bookmark here

"What I did? I uttered some blasphemous words and the devil simply appeared! My heart was rotten to the core at that point. I signed my name in blood."Bookmark here

"Maybe your heart needs to become pure again."Bookmark here

"How can I become pure when I've fallen into despair? No, no, the only person who can cure my suffering is an angel! Charlotte, my angel, I need you!"Bookmark here

Doctor Asfutus' cries degenerated into indecipherable moans. He clutched his chest and rocked back and forth. It was a scene rather unbecoming of such a learned man.Bookmark here

"Looks like we need Charlotte's help," I said. "Doctor Asfutus, do you know where Charlotte is now?"Bookmark here

"Up in heaven, up in heaven," he said through hiccups.Bookmark here

"You mean to say she's dead?"Bookmark here

"I am dead to her, that is what I mean!" Asfutus bolted up. "Will Charlotte be able to save me anymore? She saved me once before, but we were both different people back then. She is married now. A local lord, perhaps. I do not know the details."Bookmark here

"We'll bring Charlotte back so she can talk to you," I said.Bookmark here

"If you are able to produce such a miracle, you are truly worthy to be called a sorceress."Bookmark here

When Asfutus was no longer hysterical, we left that dark room. "Honestly Cecilia, what have you gotten us into?" Anselm scratched his head.Bookmark here

"A quest, that's what. See, this is the kind of stuff they write books about. Trust me on this." I ruffled his hair.Bookmark here

He groaned then put on a slight smile. "It has been amusing, I'll give you that."Bookmark here

Our reputation seemed to have preceded us, for the peasants almost expected us to ask questions that night as we gnawed on stale bread and feasted on the bubbly berries that a group of children had collected earlier. They were shocked at the state of the esteemed theologian, a man who once dared to challenge the Pope in Biblical authority. Sure, he had been a little high-strung and nonsensical recently, but was he really that far gone? Bookmark here

We retold our meeting so many times that I was certain I introduced embellishments as facts. The description of Doctor Asfutus in a fetal position sent our listeners roaring with laughter, and the Devil's pact drew whispers of fear amongst the older folk, who questioned how a man of God could do something like this.Bookmark here

Although some dismissed us as superstitious, most people agreed that it sounded like a good idea to get the doctor out of his situation if it really were causing the rains to choke and diseases to attack.Bookmark here

We learned that there were three possible Charlottes, all married to important men. The first two made no special reaction out of "Asfutus," but we knew we found the right one when her eyes widened and her skin paled and she stood like a rock in the middle of the bustling road, forbidding us to say that name again.Bookmark here

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