Chapter 3 - Massacre! (part II)

News of the wine discovery spread fast among the soldiers. More and more men thumped down the cellar stairs to investigate and partake of the cache. Simon couldn't help jumping every time one of them knocked the neck of a glass wine bottle off against a beam or a keg in order to gulp down its alcoholic contents.

He was scared out of his wits. As time passed however, and his hiding place remained undiscovered, his nerves began to settle. As he had hoped, quite a lot of the men were beginning to pass out. He waited.

It had been quiet for some time when Simon finally dared to crawl out of his hidey-hole. A last guttering candle was stuck to the top of an upturned cask and by its dim light, Simon could see the dark mounds of the drunkenly snoring soldiers. He knew there were more in the rooms above. Barrel after barrel, along with armloads of bottles, had been carried up the stairs while Simon had shivered with anxiety in his hiding place. He had begun to fear that they would finally take that last big tun and discover him cowering behind it. Much to his relief, the alcohol had finally taken them before that happened.

Simon carefully picked his way around the snoring bodies, moving toward the stairs. He did not want to accidentally wake one by stepping on a hand or foot. In his innocence, Simon did not realize it would take a lot more than that to wake someone from a wine-sodden stupor.

At the top of the stairs, Simon peered cautiously around the lintel into his mother's once-tidy kitchen. A similar scene to the one in the cellar met his eyes, except it was brighter up here. Snoring bodies littered the floor, along with empty bottles and broken glass. Limbs were flung every which way and Simon wove his way carefully amongst them, finally managing to reach the open back door.

What a relief! Clear of the wine fumes and other more noxious aromas that now pervaded his family home, Simon breathed deeply of the fresh air while he considered his next steps. Anxious as he was to find his father and mother, and even his bossy, busy-body sister, he realized that he must be careful. It was likely that many soldiers still wandered about. He shivered. He had heard plenty of screaming earlier and he hoped against hope that no one had been seriously hurt.

It was time to find out.

Simon slipped to the corner of the house. Between his and the house next door, ran a narrow alley about six feet wide where dustbins were kept, along with gardening implements and other homely paraphernalia.

Simon saw no one in the alley so he moved quietly up it toward the front of the building. There was no one in the street directly in front of him but when he peeked around the corner, he saw several soldiers sitting on up-ended barrels in his father's front yard. The lawn was littered with what was becoming a familiar scene of broken wine bottles, tankards and inert bodies. Someone had hacked the white rose bush to bits. Pieces of shrubbery were mixed with the shards of broken glass.

A few men, their arms and armour set aside, were still conscious and upright, playing some sort of card game. Or trying to. They were staring blearily at the assortment of grimy, paper squares held in their rough soldiers' hands. No one seemed to be making any moves, however.

Simon glanced up and down the dusty street and saw nothing. He did not want to chance the sobriety of these few remaining soldiers. Drunk they may be but these men could still be very dangerous. He did not think their shiny weapons were all for show. In fact, the way the mid-day sun was glinting on their sharp edges, the swords and daggers looked very deadly indeed. Simon did not want to suffer the same fate as the rose bush.

Silently he withdrew and took an alternate route through a neighbour's back yard. Then through the yard next to that. He didn't really know where to look first so he just let his feet take him where they would, slipping through people's yards and down alleys, avoiding groups of carousing soldiers.

Finally, his roundabout route brought him to the main thoroughfare of the village. Cautious at first, Simon peered out and staggered, nearly falling to his knees at the sight.

Several bodies lay in the dusty street. These were not soldiers. And it was obvious that they were not drunk. Most were men, but at least two of the prostrate forms were women, their skirts torn and bloodied.

Simon recognized Dame Winslow by her brightly flowered apron, which was flapping raggedly in the slight breeze. She had sold fruit and nuts and posies in the marketplace on Saturdays. Beyond her was Mrs Anders, lying close to a battered mound that could only be Mayor Burger, his once-fine coat ripped and sodden with large patches of darkly drying blood. Underneath the coat, the Mayor's bare, skinny legs stuck out awkwardly from a slashed, striped nightshirt. Sinister stains spreading from beneath the bodies had soaked into the packed dirt of the street.

Simon stumbled forward heedless of danger. His worst fears had suddenly become cruel reality. One by one he gazed upon the inert forms. They were all people he knew. He felt his chest swell until it seemed he must burst. He tried desperately not to scream.

It was not a shriek or a scream finally came out. At the sight of his schoolmate, Tim Figgen, body savaged almost beyond recognition, Simon emptied his stomach, retching until his belly contracted even when nothing was left to come up.

After a time, the terrible spasms gradually began to subside. He was able to wipe his mouth and look up. Except for the dead, the street was deserted. He didn't want to go on but he had to know if any of these people were his father or mother. He wondered vaguely what had become of his sister. Although he didn't realize it, Simon was no longer thinking of Aretha as bossy or pushy. Right now he would give anything just to find his pain-in-the-butt sister alive and well.

As he came near to the end of the street that led to the stone chapel where the town worshipped the Light of Heaven on Sundays, Simon noticed that there seemed to be a higher concentration of bodies. People must have been running for sanctuary in the church. It was obvious that it had done no good though; the soldiers had cut them down as they ran. Bile rose in the back of his throat again and he shuffled forward, struggling to keep from retching again.

Raising dazed eyes to the chapel he caught his breath. The crumpled form of their priest lay half in and half out of the open doorway. It looked as if the man had taken a last stand and had fallen in the attempt. Numbly, Simon climbed the blood-sticky stone steps and gently turned the priest over. With a shock, he realized the old man was still alive.

"Father Jose! Stay still! I'll get help." He had no idea where he was going to go to get the help, but a word from the old priest stopped him in his tracks.

"Wait!" The whisper was barely audible but Simon heard it. "It's young Simon, isn't it? Don't go. I don't have much time."

Simon refused to look at the blood-soaked robes covering the narrow chest. Instead, he smoothed thin, grey hair back from the priest's wrinkled forehead. A purple knot the size of a hen's egg had formed at the hairline.

"Rest, Father."

"I will rest very shortly, my son."

Tears welled up in Simon's eyes. The priest drew a long, pain-filled breath and said, "Don't go into the church, young Simon." Simon rose, alarmed, with the sudden and urgent intent of doing just that, "No! No! Listen! Don't speak. Just listen."

Simon nodded, sinking reluctantly down again beside the old man.

"Don't go into the church. They were slaughtered in there like lambs in springtime. Your parents are in there. No! Don't go in there, I say!" The priest's feeble, yet commanding, admonition stopped Simon from jumping up again.

"But Father, what shall I do about--" Simon hesitated, searching for words, "About all this?"

"There's nothing you can do," the old man whispered. "Everything will be taken care of one way or another. Providence will watch over us."

Simon wanted to ask where Providence had been earlier this morning, but the old man wheezed and then went on, his voice now a mere whisper, "Listen, Simon. You must escape!" He paused again breath rattling hollowly with the effort of talking. A trickle of bright crimson ran from one corner of his mouth and Simon carefully wiped it away with a tassled end of the priest's ornate stole.

"Thank you, my son. Now listen carefully: Go to your Uncle in Oddicea-Ad-Mare. That means The-Place-By-The-Sea. Tell him what has happened here. He may not be able to do anything about it, for there are lawless times coming, but help you he must for he is your only living relative."

The priest closed his eyes.

"Yes, Father." Tears pooled in Simon's blue eyes. They spilled over to run unheeded down his cheeks. Some minutes went by as he waited for the old priest to speak again.

"Father?"

The old man didn't answer. His soul had entered the big sleep and had passed into the realm beyond.


To Be Continued...



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