To My Dearest Son, in the name of God, the Almighty, whose is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory forever,
I was most pleased by your latest letter to us; this Trust that the King has placed in you imparts to me that he has found in you the same Vigor and Character that we have always known you to Possess. To be placed as Siegneur (or, as your letter Stated, as an Hidalgo) over such a reach of land creates in me the greatest Pride and Love for you that a Father's heart can produce.
As you must know, your elder brother has largely taken the reins of our Estate from my hands, and I have given them all too willingly. Soon I shall be with Our Lord, perhaps before the snows fall again. Even more than that Blessed Day, however, I am filled with Joy and Pride that both of my sons have secured for themselves such Property and Rank as they deserve.
Like you, I was a second Son, and did therefore take up arms in the service of Kings to secure myself Position. Although your brother is all I could wish for in a Son and Heir, I must confide that my Heart has always belonged to You, so much like Myself. Although my battles were in the East, and yours in Al Andalus, we both warred against the enemies of God and the Faith, and to my greatest Joy, we were both Victorious.
I have stated that I have not long before Death. There is much I would tell you, my Son, although I can see from your Success that you have little need of my Advice. One tale I would tell, however, for you are now Master of a once-heathen land, and you may Find what I have known to be of use.
In the year of our Lord One Thousand Two Hundred and Four, God did deliver the Empire of the Schismatics over into our Hands. I was there, a young man, in the service of my Lord de Brebeuf. The sack of Constantinople was a Glorious and a Terrible thing, my son, but I have spoken of it to you and shall not repeat my Lessons here.
The whole of the Land of the Empire was given to the conquerors, and my Lord entered the service of John Guillarme, King of Mystras and the Mani, in the land of the Peloponnese. It was a land of fierce and inscrutable Greeks, the Heirs of the Spartans, and the whole peninsula of the Mani was filled with Warlike and Treacherous tribes.
Mystras was very different - a city of Thousands, built on the side of a hill, a rich and prosperous place, overlooking a fertile Plain and separated from the land of the Mani by difficult mountains. These mountains do not approach the Heights of the Alps, nor even the mountians of Grenada the heathen still hold near your own new lands, but are filled with steep Defiles and rocky Cliffs, and are so close to impassable that one prefers a three day journey down the valley and around the peninsula by Boat, to crossing them.
King John, for King he now was, had set up residence in the Castro at the highest peak of Mystras, a mighty and near unassailable position. From here he did set out to take Assess of his new Lands, and did Summon the nobles and clan chiefs to make obesience and pay tribute. And they came to Mystras, and to the Castro, and before King John, and knelt and kissed his feet and gave tribute. And King John and his Knights, including my Lord de Brebeuf, took their tribute and recorded their names.
It was many years ago, and I do not recall them, one from another. They were a Heathen lot, Schismatics, and came like Eastern potentates with oiled beards and sashes and strange curved swords. They reeked of olive oil, which they used to bathe themselves in. My Lord de Brebeuf explained that, to them, we who do not risk our health by bathing must smell equally, but I was younger then and thought not of that, but only that they were Heretics and that they Stunk.
As did King John, for he treated them Discourteously, mocking them and demanding from them tribute greater than that which they had brought. Those few chieftains who refused to Abase themselves utterly he had beaten. I admitted my dismay at how King John treated his new subjects to my Lord, and he did not chastise me nor strike my face, but merely Instructed that I not repeat such things in Public. And so I knew that King John was a monarch not to be emulated.
And then came Kolos. Him I recall, for he although thought to be one of the most powerful of the Mani chieftains, he had no beard, and stood as tall as I have ever seen a man. His were the lands of the mountains, and it was said that the Mani chiefs feared him and his people, who had been there before the Mani came (I know not where From), and even before the Byzantines ruled the Land. All I can say is, even more than his great Size, he impressed me by his obvious force of Will, and by his black Eyes, which always seemed to be looking at me.
He came with no escort save two slaves, who carried a chest, and he came without fanfare or announcement. It was Night, and King John and his forty Knights were feasting in the hall of the Castro, when the Steward announced that Kolos had come. The room quieted, and even the dogs fell silent, that we could Hear his footsteps as he entered the hall.
"My Lord," he said, as King John looked at him from his high Seat, "I have brought my tribute." His slaves placed the chest in front of him, and opened it. It was filled with silver, perhaps an ell's worth, as much as the Mani chiefs had all brought together. The room gazed at it, but King John looked only at Kolos.
"In tribute to your greatness, my Lord," Kolos said, "I shall bring as much every year." The room hummed with the impression that such a Tribute made. Surely Kolos was a valuable subject. The Knights and the people waited for King John's reaction.
"You may kiss the royal feet," King John replied, extending a toe.
There was a long passage of Time, and then Kolos shook his head.
"You are Our subject, Kolos," King John stated. "And We require that you kiss Our feet, and make obesience."
"No, my Lord," Kolos replied, quietly. I gasped, and my Lord de Brebeuf cuffed me to keep me quiet.
"No? Do you think yourself My equal, then?"
"No, my Lord," he answered.
King John touched his head, and the room waited for the dam to breach. Then - "You have brought us much tribute, Kolos," he said, in a calmer voice, and the room breathed again. "This much each year, you say?"
"Yes, my Lord," the man said, warily.
"Then you must have very valuable lands. I think," King John said in a loud Voice, waving his arms, "that they will be better managed under a Loyal servant, and not a Greek Dog like you. You will learn your place - shortly before you die shrieking. Guards, flog him, and throw him in the pit!"
Kolos' slaves turned to find that the guards had Drawn their swords, and though the poor wretches threw up their hands, the guards Stabbed them through, and they fell dying onto the ground. Then the guards grabbed Kolos' arms. He had not turned from facing King John. The guards pulled him backwards, and he Went, but his eyes never left King John, who was laughing on his throne.
The hall returned to normal, once the chill Presence of the doomed Greek was gone. Those who incurred the King's Displeasure often met such fates, or worse, and the King liked a merry hall. His Knights applauded his treatment of such insolence. All the Knights, save my Lord.
"How then, de Brebeuf," King John called, seeing my Lord not tossed with laughter, "do you question Our decision?"
"Never, my Lord."
"But you seem almost displeased to see this Greek Cur whipped."
"He was insolent, my Lord. I am sure that he deserves it. Yet... he is not just another hill chief, my Lord, and I do worry about that which I do not understand."
"Then worry no more, my dear de Brebeuf, for tomorrow We shall have him put to death. We will show these Greeks who their Master is."
My Lord smiled, and raised his Cup, but I could tell he was not satisfied.
In our chambers, that evening, my Lord was pensive and worried. I knew it was because of this Kolos, but he would say nothing, and it was not my place to ask. Later that night, however, my Lord awakened me.
"Jaubert," he said, "Dress, and come with me." I hurried to do so, in silence, and in Silence we walked from our rooms through the darkened Castro. I was not surprised when we arrived at the dungeons. The guard recognized my Lord, and although it was the middle of the night, allowed us in, and directed us to the oubliette into which Kolos had been thrown.
We stood at the edge. I watched my Lord.
"Kolos," he called.
"I am here," came the voice from below.
"You are to be executed tomorrow."
"I know. Have you come to gloat?"
"No. I have come to discover if there is aught you wish told to your people. If it is your wish, I will give them a message from you. I have brought my squire, who can write."
There was laughter from the pit. "No, my good de Brebeuf, I shall not need your help. I shall not be dying tomorrow, but because you have come to help me, so shall I help you. Return to your chambers, and do not venture out tonight. Now go. I thank you for your offer, and do Decline it."
I gasped, but my Lord nodded. "Very well."
"What shall we do?" I asked, as we left the dungeons and returned to our rooms.
"Sleep," my Lord replied, and said nothing more until the morning.
It was a terrible Morning indeed.
Well before the cock crow, I was awakened by the sound of screaming. I leapt from my bed to find my Lord already dressed, and Belting on his sword. I followed as he raced from the room. We found the screaming to come from King John's chambers, and the halls were filled with Fearful servants that we ran past. The door to King John's chambers was open, and I followed my Lord as he ran in.
There was a servant girl, sobbing, in the waiting room, but my Lord only glanced at her before entering the bedchamber. I followed, and recognized the Smell as I did. The copper smell of blood.
The bed was soaked in Gore. In the center lay the body of King John, headless. Blood was forming small pools at the bottoms of the bedposts. My Lord was looking around the room - it had no Windows, and he flung open al all the chests and looked in them. The steward entered, but turned from the room, retching.
My Lord stepped outside, and took the man by the shoulder. "Fetch the Knights," he said, and propelled the miserable steward towards the door. "Jaubert," he then said to me, "help me. We must find the Head."
We could not do so. And, after some moments, we found that the steward had not returned.
"Why have the Knights not come?" asked my Lord. I chilled as I guessed at the answer, but he said "Let us fetch Villdouin," and I once more followed him as he ran through the halls.
The steward stood outside Villdouin's door, pale. My Lord did not speak to him, but entered the chamber, and then the bedchamber.
Villdoin's headless body lay on the bed, all its blood now slowly trickling through the bed to the floor.
Yes, my Son, it was all of them. Thirty-nine Knights, and all their Squires, and King John himself. All of them beheaded in their beds. It would not surprise you to learn that Kolos was gone? It surprised the guard at his door, for he had seen nothing. No one had seen anything. And yet the Frankish King of Mystras was murdered along with the flower of his chivalry.
My Lord could not let this be. We gathered what guards remained, and set out for Kolos' stronghold in the mountains. I was terrified. Kolos was obviously a powerful Warlock, in league with Satan and gifted with terrible and Dark Powers. By my Lord was not swayed by Fear, and soon twenty of us were riding as fast as we could for the rugged Cliffs and Crevasses of the Mani peninsula.
We saw no one, for the road leaves Mystras and enters the mountains directly, and the peasants do not venture there. Perhaps it was my own fear, but as we rode to the heights and the road began to drop off at every turn, I could feel the very rocks and trees threatening me. They suddenly seemed twisted and malevolently alive, and when one snapped back from a Rider ahead and hit me, I shrieked.
My Lord grabbed my elbow, and suddenly I was ashamed. Then we topped a rise, and found a small cottage, and an elderly woman in her garden in front. My Lord called a halt.
"Ask her if she has seen anything," he Demanded of one of the guards, who translated into Greek. She replied with much waving of hands.
"We must go back, she says," the guard translated. "She says that last night, a cart came by, with no driver. And it was carrying a large load, round like stones, covered in a Black cloth, and that the cart was dripping blood."
"Heads," I whispered. My Lord cuffed me, and tossed the woman a coin.
"We go on."
And we did, as the mountains became Steeper and the road more twisted. The horses balked often, and we had to spur them savagely to get them to continue. A rockslide fell behind the last of us, once, and would have killed several men had my Lord not seen it and called them onwards. I almost fell into steep defiles so often that soon I barely noticed my own imminent Death. We rode thus for hours, down one steep rocky side and up Another.
I do not know when we arrived, but of a Sudden we were faced with a great stone wall, with a metal gate set in the middle of it. My Lord asked if this was the castle of Kolos, but none of the Men had ever been there, and none knew aught who had returned. The door was carved with all manner of outlandish creatures, but the walls seemed unmanned. My Lord called out.
The doors swung open.
Beyond was a dusty courtyard, into which my Lord rode. I followed, and behind us the guards milled uncertainly. Then the gates swung shut, trapping the two of us inside.
My Son, what follows is as I remember, but it is the Memory of a Dream, shifting and seen only darkly. My actions were not my Own, and only the presence of my Lord enabled me to keep from casting myself upon the Ground and weeping.
"Welcome to my home," came a voice, and we turned to see Kolos walking towards us across the courtyard. He walked erect, and if the guards had beaten him yesterday, he gave no sign.
"My men," my Lord said, but Kolos waved a finger.
"No one comes here and returns alive," he said. "They knew that. You will not see them again."
"You killed my King," my Lord said.
"Your King killed himself," Kolos replied, "when he dared to treat me in such a fashion. Are you here to avenge him?"
"I am here for his head," my Lord answered.
Kolos smiled. "It is there," he said, turning to point at a tower. Around the tower, large black birds circled. "It is being cleaned."
We said nothing. I was struck dumb with terror, and my Lord... I can only suppose he had nothing more to say. We were wholly in the hands of this Fiend. My heart was loud in my breast.
"Come," Kolos said, "I will show you where your King John shall lie. He will be in most august company, you will find." He turned, and entered his house, under a great grey stone archway. I looked at my Lord, and he looked at me. Then he dismounted. I did the same, and was not surprised to find me knees trembling. We entered under the arch.
Kolos lead us down a passage with walls painted in a most bizarre fashion, images of bulls and strange Figures dancing on them. Somewhere along the way, he picked up a quill, and gestured at us with it.
"This is the most important part, you see," he said. "Otherwise I forget." He opened a door in one wall with a great metal key, and bade us enter. Beyond was a staircase down. Still in his power, we descended the stairs.
I cannot say how far down we went. It might have been only a few dozen steps, it might have been Leagues. But we at last came out at the top of a vast cavern, which sloped down away from us - had we fallen from the ledge on which we stood, we would have rolled a great ways before stopping atop a great Plain of small white stones.
Kolos was beside us. He smiled, and gestured with the Quill. With his other hand, he picked up a skull, which had been sitting on a shelf next to the door.
"Kiprion was a tax collector," he said, "for the Paleologi in Byzantium." Taking the quill, he wrote "Kiprion" on the brow of the skull, in Greek characters. Then he dropped it off the ledge.
It hit the dirt, and began to roll. It rolled, and rolled, bouncing several times, growing smaller, until it finally reached the white rocks and stopped. Only then, I could not tell which one it was. And I realized that they were not rocks, and that there were thousands of them, thousands and thousands, and my fear became a black lake, for I knew not how deep they were.
"I keep them all, you see," Kolos observed. "Lakadaemons, Romans, Thrakii, Byzantines. You Franks are a new tribe, but no different than the rest. I offer my tribute, and the wise ruler takes it. But such men are quite less than half. Most feel themselves above me. Your John was no worse than most. But I keep them, that they might learn that I am as far above them as the sun above the flies on the beach. No, de Brebeuf, you may not have him back. He is mine now, and forever. But you, you may go, and do not return."
My Son, I do not recall our leaving. Perhaps it is age, and memory, but I do not think so. We rode into Mystras dazed, and bleeding from a myriad of such Cuts as riding through thick trees will give a man. We had only been gone a day.
A new King came to Mystras, but my Lord and I were gone, back to France. I served him many years, until I became a Lord in my own right, but those tales you know well. I wished only for you to understand what things there are still, under the sight of God, and that, as a Man in a Land ancient and foreign to you, you should take care not to be blinded by your own light that you cannot fear the dark.
I have gone on rather long - the Lord Jumiere is leaving, and he has offered to take this letter. May God Keep you and Bless you in all things.
Your Loving Father,
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