The room was musty with the bitter smoke of tobacco and full of drunken men's shouting
and whistling at the woman who served them. She was attractive; with her blonde hair fiercely laid over her shoulders,
her slender body and a generous view of her large cleavage. Each time she showed her fake smile brought on another
wave of winks, whistles and more importantly for the innkeeper, more beer. Except for one man who sits opposite
them, he is dressed in a lengthy black coat, splattered with dirt and what seemed congealed blood. Gunther was
taught to forsake his lust for women or any emotion of love, and so sat silent with the untouched mug of ale pondering
his next move. He wore a day's growth of facial hair and his expression was creased with exhaustion.
His trip here had been close to death, for a band of men attacked him on his path to this town of Brunswick. His plan was to come here unnoticed, but it seems that his arrival had been known and there was no more use of disguise.
There were four of them, jumping out of the bushes with slashing swords. With the element of surprise, one of the blades found its way in to Gunther's stomach, while the rest he managed to parry off. His horse Haverd managed to knock back two with his hind legs before the loyal beast fell to the mortal wounds inflicted. Gunther was thrown in the mud but quickly regained his senses and readied himself. He now faced three of them, the last one's neck was snapped by Haverd's kick as he later found out.
"You're gonna die, you pissin' witch hunter!" one of them yelled out. Gunther's eyes surveyed them all in the dim light of sunset. They were dressed in dark blue Imperial armour, so they must have been sent by Lothar, the traitor lord of Brunswick. Gunther swiftly pulled out his rapier from its holster and pointed it to the surprised soldiers.
"Your lord must be stupid, for he under estimated me."
"Well… Well you can only get one of us!" stammered one of the soldiers, "err… get him, boys!"
The three soldiers charged again towards Gunther. Gunther shot one right in the face, the spray of lead balls leaving only a mangled distortion of blood, hair and bone. Gunther hastily threw his rapier aside and parried the remaining duo's blows. Gunther's body danced like a shadow puppet around the two soldiers as the blades of steel clanged against each other in fierce conflict. Their swordsmanship was good, but not good enough thought Gunther saw a hole in one the soldier's defence and in an instant the sword cut through the soldier's throat. Quickly he withdrew the blade and turned to the last remaining soldier but the coward escaped into the shadows of the woods. Gunther held his back, regaining his breath. The third soldier gurgled and gasped, as he lay curled in a ball holding his pierced throat. Gunther casually walked in front of the dying man and asked, "Lothar sent you?" The man nodded his head, splashing it in its own blood that lay thick around him.
"What a fool…" Gunther had replied, ramming the sword through the soldier's skull. The sound of the sword grinding against the bone even made Gunther's body shiver. He walked over and stroked the still horse, then grabbed his belongings and headed to the town of Brunswick.
Now he sat in this stinking inn, regrouping his mind. The soldier will come back, along with more of his buddies. After Gunther had quickly gulped down the flat ale, he stood up, left a few gold pieces and headed for the door. As he put his black hat back on, the bar maid stepped in front of him.
"Hey stranger," she said, eyeing him, "you look awful."
Gunther left his head down and said nothing.
The people around them went silent, trying to hide their scrutiny of Gunther and the maid.
"There's a spare room upstairs, with a bath." Gunther shook his head, but she insisted. "It's on the house."
He yearned for a bath, to rid himself of the filth he accumulated along his journey but he did not have much time left.
"It's safe." Her soft-spoken words seemed to flow down to his heart and send a feeling of want that he had been taught to ignore. He lifted his head up and looked into her eyes. She was even more stunning than before, her eyes caressing his. For a moment he forgot what he was.
He reluctantly pushed the feeling away, mournfully looking away from her but he needed a shower. He finally nodded his head in agreement and she showed him upstairs and the on watchers sat silent with iron stares.
They walked into the room and the woman lit a lantern and placed it on a desk. He examined the small room. A bed, the width of a man, lay in the far corner with a small chest of drawers beside it, and in the next corner was that desk of rotting oak but no chair, layered in grey dust. The woman must have noticed Gunther's reaction and blew some of the dust away from the desk.
Then she turned to him and smiled sheepishly, "There hasn't been a person in here for a while."
"I guessed so," he grunted.
"There's a bath in that next room," she pointed at the other door, "I'll get you hot water."
The woman brushed her body against him, and Gunther drew in a breath of her sweet perfume. He muttered to himself, and pulled off the black leather gloves off his hands and threw them on to the bed. He walked around in a small circle, keeping a hand over his bleeding wound. The pain was starting to grow again like a thorned rose in spring, making his eyes strain. He grimaced, and then lay down on the hard bed. Even though it was stiff, it was more comfortable than his usual bed - the ground. His eyelids felt heavy from exhaustion. The woman seems trustworthy, he thought closing his eyes, for just a moment.
Not long after he dozed off the woman gently Gunther awake, "The water's ready."
He groaned to the pain in his gut, but quickly hid it as the bar maid stared at him.
"You're wounded, I see."
"It is nothing… How long was I out?" he muttered.
"I don't know, I few minutes I suppose," she answered him, but he could swear it felt like ages, "and this wound isn't nothing! Now let's get this off." As she started pulling off his coat, Gunther was about to withdraw, but sighed and let her finish. She went on to his bloodied shirt and Gunther wondered what she was thinking. Did she know who he was? She just showed her beautiful smile and asked, "So what's your name?"
"Gunther," he replied plainly, lifting his arms so that she could take his shirt off, "and what may be yours?"
"Mary-Anne, but folks around here just call me Mary." She took off Gunther's stained shirt and coat, "You want these washed? Yes, you do."
He was about to protest but before he could open his mouth she disappeared again from the room, leaving Gunther alone. He watched the blood slowly seeping from it. He then ripped off his boots and trousers and went in the bathroom next door.
The water was extremely hot as he slowly slid in the large bath, holding his breath. When his wound reached the water, he could not help but let out a yelp as it sizzled his inside and swollen skin. He cursed his slow reflexes that were to blame for this. Once his body got used to the pain, he relaxed.
A few minutes later Mary came in again and Gunther was a tad startled at her seeing him naked.
She placed some clothes beside him, ignoring his embarrassment, "Put these on after you're finished."
"Whose are they?"
"The inn keeper's son's."
"Well, I'd rather mine…"
"You're a stubborn one, aren't you?" Mary sighed, "But I'll wash yours later, and they'll be fresh by tomorrow. Put these on in the meanwhile."
Gunther sat on the bed with another man's trousers on as Mary fixed his wound. The nice ointment which she patted with her soft hand around the wound soothingly cooled it.
"Isn't the inn keeper going to be angry you're taking care of me, not the customers?" he asked after she finished.
She laughed. "No, the boys are long gone."
While Mary carefully placed a bandage around his body, Gunther imagined himself stroking her magnificent blonde hair, then to taste her lips.
When Mary had finished bandaging him, Gunther shook his thoughts off. She promptly whispered good night and closed the door behind her. Meanwhile Gunther puzzled his mind what was happening to him. He was bred a witch hunter, a man with a mission that lasted a lifetime - to kill the wicked men and women that corrupt the land with their satanic magic. He was one of the best, taught by the legendary Levanté himself. Gunther pulled out a dagger from his sack of belongings, a lone monument of his Mentor. Lust for a woman, Levanté told him, would bring his downfall. A brief thought entered his mind, are some dark forces at play in his mind?
Then he killed the lantern's fire.
Gunter woke up early the next morning; only the sun's red peak could be seen. His plan to get his clothes and vanish from this pub and Mary and do what he was here to do. After grabbing his sack of belongings, Gunther tiptoed down the stairs but to his surprise Mary sat childishly on the bar, as if waiting for him, biting into a green apple.
Scratching his head, Gunther greeted her, "Good morning."
"Let me guess, you were gonna grab your clothes and go without saying good bye?"
Gunther walked just a short distance from her. "I have some important business I have to attend to," he spoke quietly, his harshness evidently gone from his voice. He was afraid he was going soft. Anywhere else, any man, let alone a woman, would keep their distance from such a person such as him. He was the Inquisition, and that gave him the right to kill any man or woman without a second thought or mercy.
She crossed her legs, keeping her eyes on him, "Aren't you gonna stay here just a bit more?"
He gulped, trying to keep his sight off her bare legs. He was sure she was playing around with him, and years of killing and solidarity left him unprepared for this, a woman of such beauty that grew every moment he saw her. He gripped his mind, resisting the temptation, "I cannot."
Their gaze locked into each other's for a morning's soundless moment. He looked unblinkingly into her magnificent blue eyes. He could sense her growing nearer until he was just a brief distance from her lips.
Pulling his gaze away, Gunther at last broke the silence and asked her, "Where did you put my clothes."
Mary slumped her shoulders down and sighed, "Go around the bar and through the door. They're lying over by the fire place."
"You washed them?" he asked surprised.
"Well I said I would," she whispered glumly, throwing the half finished apple out of an open window.
He silently thanked her and went into the room where the innkeeper lay sleeping over the kitchen table. Gunther picked up his clothes and smelt them. Clean, he thought.
After he changed over to his normal attire, he walked back to the main room. Mary still sat on the bar.
"Well I have to go now," said Gunther quietly.
"Tell me one thing, Gunther," she called out before he opened the door to leave.
"What?" he asked as she hopped off the bar and then walked over to him.
"Have you ever thought of disappearing from your world?"
Gunther gave her a perplexed look, "Huh?"
"I mean," she continued, getting closer to him "ever thought of forgetting about your duties and just quieting down in life, with a woman?"
"I cannot say I have. You know who I am?"
"Yeah," she snorted, "it's pretty obvious your one of the Inquisition. All that black on you."
"So you know that I cannot quieten down while evil men still walk the earth."
She withdrew her body from him, "You know, if you step outside this door, you won't see tomorrow."
"Perhaps," he casually replied.
"Perhaps? Don't you have any feelings about life? Love?"
"I was taught to love the Inquisition," he said, then laughed at him own comment, "Pretty sad."
"You love this darned Inquisition more than life… more than me?"
His eyeshot up wide open, "I have to leave now."
She pulled out a piece of scrap paper from her pocket and offered it to him.
"What is it?" he asked, taking the paper.
"It's a map of Lothar's castle, and how to get through to his throne room. You'll have to go through the sewage system there." Mary smiled, "So you're gonna dirty your nice black coat again."
He nodded a thank you, and left.
As Gunther walked down the grey cobble stone streets, the peasants gave him cold stares, he replied with even colder ones. Gunther would sick sometimes of how normal folk saw him, as a fanatical murderer who has no second thoughts about killing a person just slightly suspected of studying the dark crafts. The peasants were a bunch of ignorant bastards, Gunther thought as he callously stared one of them in the eye, for without him or his kind they would be suffering the whims of the Dark Kind. Gunther sometimes wished he would retire and let the world see what it is without the Inquisition, where in a matter of time this increasing amount of witchery and magic would proclaim a new era, where the land would be plunged into hell, reigned by foul daemons. Gunther hid a smile, thinking of where he would retire; a nice cottage settled on Wintershere's famous vast grassland plains, perhaps with Mary. Gunther had travelled Wintershere while he was a child for a couple of days with his mentor, Levanté.
Levanté was a heartless man, obsessed with the hunting down of witches to the point where he even killed his own sister with his fanatical suspicion. Well, so it was rumoured, thought Gunther as stopped at market stall. This was something Gunther hoped he would not become, though Levanté had taught him well in the art of swordsmanship and was gracious to him.
An old woman the age of two life times stood behind the stall, her back hunched so bad it was higher than her head. Her skin, as if made of stretched leather, bagged over her deep-set features, but something about her blue eyes stirred his mind. That same stare like Mary gave him.
No, Gunther said to himself, she was just an old woman and then shook the thoughts away.
"Maybe two?" she added. Gunther scowled and pulled out another piece of gold.
"Or perhaps a hundred?" she whispered, then revealing her toothless gums she smiled, "How much are you prepared to pay for something so meaningless?"
"I do not know what you are on about but…"
"Death?" she interrupted, "Ye be willing to pay with ye life for something rotten, when instead you already have a sweet one waiting home?"
"Hag, I'll have you burnt at the stake if you keep this up. I'll give you these two pieces for this ripe apple and be off," he threw the two pieces just before her and left, biting into the shiny red apple.
"Blah!" he snorted, spitting out the bite of apple. He looked at it, the inside a worm's baffling end wriggled in the brown flesh of the fruit.
Gunther looked back at the stall, that was now empty, "Witchery!"
"It's him! Get the bastard!"
Gunther turned his head around to the direction of the shout to see a mob of soldiers, one of them being the lone survivor from two nights ago. He had no time to puzzle over the old hag. Outnumbered by too many, Gunther had no other decision but to run.
Gunther rarely ran in his life, and found the cloak to be rather restricting, but fortunately a soldier's armour is even more restricting. The peasants shuffled aside as the chase went through the market street, with stalls being crashed across it. He kept running and then saw the forest that lay thick on the outskirts of Brunswick. That is where the chase would end, he hoped.
The forest swallowed Gunther to its thick bowels, and an hour later the soldiers gave up their search. When all was silent, Gunther carefully climbed down the large pine tree, its branches annoyingly tickling his face. He looked at the scrap piece of paper Mary had given him. An entrance was situated west, just outside this side of the forest.
Gunther headed to his desired direction, when he felt something tickle his nose. Then another. He looked up through the countless arms of the trees and saw the grey sky suddenly throwing its weight down to below.
After half an hour, even the thick tress or coat did not protect him from the hard falling rain.
Another half an hour of treading through the thick wet terrain he emerged from it and stood on the riverside. Gunther again took a hard look at the piece of paper that was now dripping wet and followed its instructions. He soon came a hill where a large hole extruded out of it. Sludge seeped slowly out the rusted iron pipe and Gunther groaned. First time for everything, he thought, trying to ease the bile from rising to his throat. Gunther had to crouch to get inside and move forward, trying to ignore the stench that choked his lungs and he wondered how long this pipe was. His reflex snatched a filthy rat and the whimpering stopped after Gunther crushed its large body, "Filthy rats!" After a few minutes the light withered away to nothing and Gunther was left alone with bothersome rats, trudging in the reeking dark. He spared a thought to wonder if Mary had deceived, what if this led to a trap?
After he had long lost all sense of time, Gunther rammed his head into something. He used a hand to feel around. A ladder, he smiled. But the smile turned to a groan as Gunther stood up and his back cracked achingly.
He carefully climbed up ladder and then found his hand on the handle of what seemed to a hatch. Lifting the trapdoor slightly, he peered above and listened.
Satisfied that it was safe, he pulled himself up and smelt the air. It was still stale, but much better than the fetid stench below. It was a wine cellar surprisingly, with many dozens of large barrels lined up in aisles and a few torches lighted the whole massive room. Gunther pulled out his sword and forcefully pried open one of the wine barrels. It took him most of his already weary strength to lift it. The oozy brown sewage washed off his clothes as he freely poured the wine over himself. The sweet smell of alcohol tickling his noise reminded him the drunks that pestered him in his lifetime, but thought it was better that he smelt like an alcoholic than that of something below. He then heard a noise, and looked around. Gunther saw a man huddled beside a keg and a large empty mug in his hand, grumbling in his drunken sleep. Just hope you stay this way till morrow, Gunther thought.
Gunther carefully crept out of the cellar room and into the empty corridor, closing the large wooden door behind him. Checking the scrap piece of paper now and again, he hugged the cold walls as he sneaked down the maze of passageways. The meagre lighting of the distanced torches helped Gunther stay hidden in the shadows, but the still quietness amplified each footstep. Fortunately for now there were no guards in sight. Soon he reached an entry to a stairwell, where Mary had indicated where to go. He was now surprised to see the detail of her map. How could she have known, he thought? But nonetheless, he was here now and there was no going back. Lothar was a disease plaguing the land that had to be destroyed.
Gunther tiptoed up the steep and winding stairwell.
"Hey!" a voice above him shouted. Gunther stood still, pushing his heart down from his throat and clenching the grip of the sword harder. Gunther then heard quick footsteps approaching him from above and the man shouting.
"Jim, answer me, ye drunken bastard! Can smell that wine from 'ere!"
Gunther held his breath and then the man stumbled into his view.
"Hey, you not Jim…" the guard said in a small voice, surprised at the sight of the intruder before gasping as Gunther's sword penetrated into the man's chest.
In an empty dark room, the fresh corpse was hidden away and Gunther continued following Mary's trail.
The floors were now lined with delicate red carpet and banners with malicious runes hanging from the corridors' walls, assuring the Inquisition's claim that this land be cursed.
Gunther's suspicions flourished on him like a poisonous mushroom after rain, foreshadowing a trap, for in these higher levels where a lord resided there was not a single soldier. Something was going on and then his chest began to heave with the increase of adrenaline as the map indicated that the next door led to the lord's chambers. He could feel his knuckles whiten as his grip tightened around the sword's handle like a python. Gunther scanned the surrounding area; still no soldiers lurking around, and then gradually turned the large knob. It was unlocked, and the door's slow swing made an elongated creak. Gunther peered around into the room dimly lit by a lantern, where a grand bed nestled a figure. The bed sheets rose and then dropped with each breath. Drops of sweat trickled down his chiselled face as Gunther stepped into the grandiose bedroom adorned with statues, paintings and jewels. Gunther gasped as he spared a moment to look at the paintings. Each of the paintings depicted malevolent deaths of men, women and children. Garrotted infants, defiled and beheaded women, castrated and gutted men, all overseen by demonic beasts of perverse nature.
He turned his head over the sleeping face and stared at it for a moment to verify it was Lothar. It was, exactly as he was since his decades-long rule. This man, Gunther thought angrily, this beast, deserved a far more vicious death than a dagger to its heart. Gunther fumbled around in his sack to find the dagger Levanté had given to him all those years ago. It was not there and Gunther cursed to himself, he remembered that he had left it at the inn. The sword would have to do.
Gunther raised his sword, its shine tainted by congealed blood, and as it plunged down he expected something to happen. For Lothar's eyelids to open revealing red orbs of demonic possession, perhaps for it to swiftly counteract with a dagger in Gunther's throat or even for a soldier to burst into the room but nothing. The sword's sharp blade punctured through the bed sheets, skin, muscles and the wicked heart. The beast uttered a gasp as the body strained in vain to escape death, then slumped to a stand still. The bed sheets rose no more.
After yanking the sword out of the body with a spray of blood, Gunther dropped his head, closed his eyes and sighed a breath of relief. He wondered what to do next.
The lantern. He turned towards it where it sat on a small cabinet beside the bed. As he went to grab it he noticed a figure in the corner of his eye. His sword swiftly thrust towards the figure before his eyes did. Leaning on the opened door was Mary. For some reason still unbeknownst to him, he was mildly surprised.
"Mary, what on God's sake are you doing here?"
Mary held up his dagger, "You forgot this."
Mary's fine figure approached him. His mind's senses smelt a trap, but he stood frozen as she pushed aside the bloodied-stained sword. Mary stopped just a short breath away from him.
"You know how I feel, Gunther?" she asked him. He shook his head and Mary held up a green apple beside the Levanté's dagger. She then slid the dagger swiftly through the apple and twisted the blade, juices flowing down her arm.
"Like this," she whispered looking into his eyes, "I feel like I've been betrayed. By you. By the fact that you chose death over love and life. You got the rotten red apple, and I got the sour one, when we could have both shared a good one," Mary said in an hateful tone. Noticing his anxiety, she continued, "It could have been so different, Gunther. You want to know how it could have been? Here's just a small taste of what we could have had."
Mary's hand grasped his rough chin and pulled his mouth to hers. Never had he felt like this, as their tongues danced around each other. The sensation over came him and the sword clanged below, and used his arms to embrace her. His hands roamed her arched back, her silky hair, her curved hips and her firm bosoms, while her breathless caress held him closer to her. Then she abruptly pushed him away, catching her breath, "That's what it could have been like."
Her loving eyes turned to a hateful stare as Gunther felt a sharp pain in his chest. He looked down in horror to see the dagger driven in him.
"Look at what you wasted your life for, Gunther," she shouted at him, pointing to Lothar's dead body. What remained of his consciousness pushed his head around and saw the body. He coughed in astonishment to see that the body was now a bunch of straw pushed into a shape of a body.
"It was real…" he muttered, feeling a surge of blood in his mouth. Mary knelt beside him.
"So was our love! Well, so I thought." She paused.
"He's a puppet, created by me," she explained, her eyes flickering like crazed fire, "Who would listen to a woman in these days, let alone rule?"
"You crazy bitch!" he spat. Gunther used his remaining strength to try and pull out the dagger, but to no avail. Mary sat leaning on the wall and pulled over his head on her lap. Gunther could not do anything to resist her stroking of his face as he felt his soul giving away, his lifeblood seeping over his heaving chest and abdomen like a fast flowing river. He could hear his heart beat. It was slowing down.
"I'm sorry I had to do this," she whispered, gently kissing him on the forehead, "but now I know that you would have killed me if I lay in that exact bed."
He shook his head, his sight rapidly becoming a blur.
Then finally the world stopped spinning. The light deceased into darkness. The beat came to a complete halt and she said goodbye.
© Copyright October 2001, Daniel Kosta
A Love's Treachery