The torture begins.
I started with Robert, a man a little older than me... twenty-two, to my twenty. He had been the one entrusted to murder me on the road that day, but he had failed.
Then, seeing what I was about to do with that son, their threats had turned to protestations... to vehement denial of what they had done, and then changed again, to pleading. I ignored them.
Their pleas fell on deaf ears as I had beaten and stretched him on the rack. He moaned pitiably, and groaned as his muscles and ligaments tore, setting him to screaming, as his joints were slowly pulled apart.
Robert suffered that day, as I intended that they all would suffer.
He paid for his failure to kill me with his own life over the next hour. I would have liked more time, but I did not have it. His father, brothers, uncles watched--listening to his screams-- as I’d removed his fingers one by one, followed by cauterization to staunch the bleeding. It would not do for him to die too quickly. Then he lost his toes.
I scourged with whips. I branded with hot irons, crushed the most tender parts, tore, pulled, cut... and all of that time he confessed to what he had done. He screamed; he begged; he swore... but I did not stop.
I asked very little of him; only that he tell me everything.
He confessed far more than I expected as he grew weaker, but I should have known that he would. It was always this way. He constantly pleaded for the pain to stop and for me to take pity on him and kill him. That was never the way of the inquisition, and it would not be my way, either.
‘Soon it will be over’, I’d told him. ′Confess your sins first, my son, so that god can see and hear you repent. Drive out the devil, my son.’
I was mocking him, making fun of him, and of the church. I’d learned well. They always did confess, but the pain never did stop. I had no time nor patience to build a pyre for the final ordeal... by fire... or I would have done.
He told me of the plot against me... who’d got it started, and who, in the church had sanctioned it.
I stored their names away.
The rest of his family listened, knowing that there could be no denial now, and no mercy, other than the questionable mercy of a slow and pain-filled death, and then waiting in purgatory until their fate was decided by another inquisitor.
That was when they had cried, and begged loudly, even over the screams of that first one of them to suffer my anger.
They soon fell silent in their terror, soiling themselves, throwing themselves around to get free, to block their ears, to close their eyes, but without success. They cursed me then, until I threatened to cut out their tongues.
They knew that I would. I could still do worse. They prayed loudly, as they’d never prayed before... finding god at last. But too late. My heart had turned to ice with memory of those of my own family that I had just buried, and how little mercy had been shown to them, men, and women, and children alike.
It was warm work, so I loosened my tunic, tying it around my waist with my belt.
They saw then what I had hidden so well from my own family, though they knew it well.
It was a black wooden crucifix inlaid with silver in an intricate design that had belonged to the elder daughter of their family, Rossignol... the girl I had been in love with for many years. The woman I still loved.
I saw by their looks, that they believed that I must have murdered her to possess it, and thus had also murdered all of their womenfolk and children, as they had murdered mine.
But no, what I had done to her was much worse than that in their eyes, and I took great delight in telling them. I had made love to her.
Oh, how I had made love to her, and she had made love to me too, returning all of my affection tenfold.
I told them about us, Rossignol and me, as I rested and slaked my thirst.
It was warm work, killing men, and I had just begun.
I described to them how Rossignol and I had first met near the marketplace on her way to her aunt’s home when we had been but thirteen years old. How we had grown together, unknown to either her family or mine, and then how we’d confessed our love... had first made love just hours after that first meeting, in a warm pool, then in her bedroom in her aunt’s house, as well as in the old cave above the river, and many times after that.
They knew nothing of that cave.
I described how we had often undressed each other there—and anywhere else the mood took us—said our vows of love, and how we’d made love regularly, over the years since then.
The words had hit them almost as hard as what I had done and was doing with those instruments, to physically hurt them.
That, had been the most cruel twist of all for them, but I had more to tell them.
They did not want to believe it, but the tale I told had to be persuasive.
I described how she’d confessed that day, recently, just a few days earlier now, before she had been sent way, that she’d become pregnant with our child and how we’d made plans to marry, and leave this valley together, turning our backs on our families.
Until this, had happened.
We had married. I had made her a Vaillancourt. That was when she had given me that crucifix, as token of her love, just as I had given her that child to bear, and an old ring of my grandmother.
It was as though I had poured salt into the many wounds I’d given them as I’d rounded them up before bringing them all here.
Fortunately, she’d been sent away, days earlier, to live with distant relatives, just before her grandfather had died, so would know none of this. I’d been thankful for that. I’d not realized, and nor had she, what would be the consequences of his death.
But he’d known, and so had protected that one delight of his old age, Rossignol, by sending her away.
It had been the unfortunate death of that old patriarch that had unleashed this horror upon my family and now upon theirs. As long as he’d lived, he’d held them back.
They’d gone silent by then, knowing that I spoke the truth... the way I had described everything that we had done together in such detail out of our love for each other; her birthmark on her upper left thigh; a scar under her breast; her laughter; her soft touch upon me; her hair; her sparkling eyes... her intoxicating body. The others knew little to none of that, but her father had known some of it.
As a last step for Robert, as he’d hung upon the rack, more dead than alive, I opened up his chest and tore out his beating heart, tossing it onto the brazier.
They were all silent by then, watching me release his broken body to sit with them against the wall. Soon, they would all join him in death.
They were silent until I put each of them in turn upon the rack too. That was when it began again, the pleading, the prayers... the screams.
The father could watch his sons, then his brothers’ sons, and then his brothers, die, as he strove in turn, to make peace with his god.
It would be an empty endeavor, and he knew it. I took longer over him, than over the others, telling him more of my love for Rossignol as I’d burned him, stretched him.
I’d saved the worst for him. He’d been the ringleader.
By the time I’d completed all that I’d set out to do, leaving none of them alive, I’d been confined in that room with them for two days.
The stink of burning flesh, sweat, urine, and feces had been my constant companion; as with their screams.
For two days I had heeded nothing around me other than what I’d been doing. Now, they were all dead, and I must go; turn my back on all of this and go out into the world of sane men and women, and learn about gentleness again.
There may be a time when I could seek out my Rossignol, but after what I had done; killing her brothers, uncles, cousins, and her father, I could not think of that, just yet.
Unlike them, with my family, I had not killed their women or their children, but I had warned them to leave their homes, this village, this valley, or they would surely die at the hands of the church, and they should say none of what they knew.
The church was now the real threat to them, and they knew it. It did not like to leave witnesses to what it did, and their soldiers would soon be here to finish its work and to obliterate all evidence. Them too, if they stayed.
The Chambertins had not seen that endpoint as the aftermath of what they’d done, but I had.
There would be nothing to find. None of my own family... the Vaillancourts... nor of the Chambertins. As it turned out, there were no bodies of either family to find.
As I’d left that old wine cellar beneath the house, the door had locked behind me. There would be no opening that from the outside.
I set fire to my home to hide everything. What the fire did not hide, others would fill in behind me.
I was not sure whether I had become the devil’s loyal disciple by what I had done, or the right hand of god, as Samson Agonistes had seemed to be. He’d also slain many Philistines, so murder was not entirely anathema to god.
There were too many contradictions in those teachings.
I left my home for the last time.