Chapter 58 - Crux
“I didn’t think a vampire would be monogamous or believe in the institution of marriage,” the priest murmured.
“Vampires are just people who eat people,” Rowan baited him, and he stared at her a moment before his laughter rang out clear across the room.
“But you rarely eat people, do you?” It sounded like a question, but it wasn’t a question. This priest was either extremely sensitive, or he had a secret of his own.
“You weren’t so sure of that when you came to the door,” Rowan baited him again, and he smirked.
“I didn’t know you back then, but I know you now,” he countered, and there was just something about the way he said it.
“You have earned my story, and I thank you for yours. My parishioners are much as those villagers Marcus knew, may I call you Marcus?” He asked, and Marcus nodded.
“These people love deeply, they hate with a passion, they feud for generations, and they remember an offense forever. I have tried to teach them the ways of the Lord, but piousness only lasts until they find something that raises their ire,” he seemed genuinely saddened by the state of affairs.
“The town woke one morning to find someone had boarded up the castle, dismissed the servants, the tenants received eviction notices, and signs forbid trespassers upon penalty of death. That castle was the life’s blood of this community. Everyone made their living from it,” it was a story he knew well, and people probably told him a thousand times.
"The new owner left the farmers without land, the shops and stalls closed, and the servants became destitute. The townsfolk had to reinvent themselves and almost starved. They had to depend upon the fishermen, and those able to do crafts that they could take to the market in the next town. If you spoke to them today, the events of that time remain as fresh in their memory as if it happened yesterday,” it was both a remark and a warning.
“So what do you know and what do you wish to know?” He asked, and Marcus gave him the history of the castle but without a few details.
“That's an accurate account. The man appeared that night, and Duke Frederick found himself evicted from his castle. He was by all descriptions a miserly man, but he wasn’t cruel, and the town existed out of his pocket,” he confirmed.
“What went on at the castle after the party ended, no one seems to know. The book of marriages and deaths tell a story the locals keep to themselves,” he briefly searched the chaos on his desk to find an ancient tome bound in leather and brass. He opened the book to a specific page and handed it to Marcus.
They moved closer to Marcus and studied page three hundred and fifty. The first inscription read: Ferdinand Josef Faulkner, fifth Duke of Thiry, born the fifth day of December in the year nine eighty. It was proof that Ferdinand existed. Marcus turned the page.
Page three hundred and sixty-two. Ferdinand Josef Faulkner, fifth Duke of Thiry, married Isabella Durn of Thiry Village. January thirteen, the year nine ninety-nine.
Page three hundred and sixty-nine: 5 June: the year ten hundred and one, Mary Faulkner born to Duke Ferdinand and Isabella Faulkner.
Page three hundred and seventy-two. Death: Isabella Faulkner, the year eleven thirty-nine, age forty-five. Cause of death: Unknown.
Page four hundred and seventy-five. 5th day of December the year ten seventy-nine. Death: Duke Ferdinand Faulkner, ninety-nine years of age. Cause of death: old age.
There was no date of death for Mary Faulkner. Only an inscription, Mary Faulkner reported missing in the year ten hundred and seventeen.
In that same year, thirty-nine people died. Nineteen women, nineteen men, and a child. They attributed only five to natural causes, and the others were all listed as animal attacks.
Thirty more died the next year, only two of natural causes. Fifteen more by the following June and then all deaths after that were of natural causes, apart from a man butchering his wife for sleeping with another man.
“He lived here for a while and then left,” Rowan concluded, and Marcus turned the pages back.
“Three ships sank in the harbor; in the waters beneath the cliff, but only one dead man washed ashore, and there is no mention of the treasure,” Marcus murmured.
“So you’re looking for treasure?” The priest asked, and they looked at him.
“No,” they answered in one voice, and he frowned.
“No one who has ever touched that treasure has survived,” Marcus relented and shared the story of the Roman battalions.
“He would not have needed the castle if he didn’t need temporary storage,” Rowan wagered.
“What happened to it all when he left?” Alena wondered.
“Why didn’t anyone see the treasure?” Marcus asked.
“Because it took him nearly nineteen months to secret it from the castle,” Rowan answered.
“How,” Marcus asked.
“The wagons he stole from the Romans,” Rowan concluded.
“He must have shifted only a few loads at a time or the locals would have noticed. His original minions would have been long dead, and he had to make more. He stole them from the town and maybe got more along the way.”
“The Romans didn’t make it this far, too many of them washed ashore in Egypt,” Alena reasoned.
“So who carried the treasure ashore?” Rowan asked.
“The sailors,” Alena reasoned.
“Only one man was aboard that ship when it stranded. Where were the sailors?” Rowan asked.
“They already carried the loot ashore. Some of them were alive, and he allowed them to leave to get rid of the ships, but he didn’t count on them trying to return when they realized they were dying. He probably saw them return and scuttled the ships, one escaped him,” Marcus wagered.
“He made a few minions here, and transported the treasure, one or two cartloads at a time,” Alena reasoned.
“The cliffs are sandstone. There would have been many loads, according to the Romans, over eighty. He couldn’t take the chance of loading the carts heavily, because his people were too few to protect their treasure, so he would have had to make more journeys. The tracks would have left an impression in the sandstone. Wear plus weight,” Rowan reasoned. Marcus smiled as he listened to the two of them figure it out, and caught the priest watching him with a shrewd expression.
“There would be a road, and there is. Although the locals didn’t know it once carried treasure. It leads from the castle, and inland,” the priest marveled at their discovery.