Fiction Friday: (More) Tales of the Dark Eras

Chronicles of Darkness, Hunter: The Vigil

We’re back this week with more from Tales of the Dark Eras, the tie-in fiction to Chronicles of Darkness: Dark Eras. Our Kickstarter for Dark Eras 2 is still rolling, so if you want to get involved in the selection of new eras and expansion of existing ones, this is your chance!

One of our developer triumvirate is Monica Valentinelli, who wrote Suffering of the Unchosen for Tales of the Dark Eras, covering the 1690-1695 period for Hunter: The Vigil.

I was but a simple farmer whose tender son once planted seeds in barren, rocky soil, whose sweet wife once gathered berries, herbs, and mushrooms in the forest, whose family once led a trouble-free life surrounded by our cousins and neighbors in Salem Village.

Now, that life — the life of William Mansforth — is over. Though it is by some miracle I still draw breath, the rest of my family was tragically murdered a few nights ago.

I found their smoldering remains after I had returned home, battered and bruised, for I had been robbed by petty thieves earlier that day. Upon witnessing the horrible sight of my wife and child blackened beyond all recognition, I sank to my knees in despair, for everything I owned and loved had been ripped from me in a mere day’s time. My purse had been stolen, my cabin and tiny plot of land had been sanctifed by fre, and my wife and son had been tied to the stake and burnt alive.

In truth, I had not the eyes to see the pyre for what it was — a ruse — for I was preoccupied with guilt. What could I have done to save them? My beloved wife, Mary, and my adopted son of five years, William, were unjustly murdered and judged as witches for all to see. They were no devil-worshippers! Questions plagued me; each was a pox upon my mind. If I stayed the night, would their murderers return and end me, too? Would I know the faces of the townsfolk who took two innocent lives? Or, was this the Devil’s Hand at work?

With an aching heart, I slept at the foot of that grisly sight, whispering prayers for their wayward souls, so that the spirits of my wife and son would not lose themselves in sorrow. Our cabin’s logs heaped upon the pyre still burned slow and hot; their orange embers provided warmth and kept the cold dew from settling on my skin. There I slept on the hard ground, inhaling and holding the dwindling smoke of that wretched fire in my lungs, begging for death. Who could have done such a thing? Who dared to commit murder and walk free?

At my wit’s end, I could no longer feign sleep. Instead I sat up, pulled out my hunting knife, and sliced my open palm. I was careful not to wince as I did so; the pain was sharp, but lingering. It reminded me that whilst my wife and son were dead I was, by God’s miraculous Hand, still alive. So in this fevered state, I forged a pact with Him in my own blood, to shine His light into the darkest recesses of men’s most murderous hearts, to ensure my family’s killers were justly judged — even if their capture would come at the cost of my own life.

William…

“Mary?” I knew not if her voice was inside my head, or if it was calling to me from between the trees. I yearned for her and hoped her ghost was a divine messenger. I shouted into the open air: “I am frightened, Mary. Is that you?”

Here, William. Look to the great oak!

I did as the voice bade, and saw a vision of Mary made whole, standing in front of the tree where we first met. Her naked body was shrouded in fine translucent robes, her long golden-brown hair flowed wild and free, and her kind brown eyes were just as merry as I remembered. She stood apart from me at a distance, but near enough so I could tell she was not a figment of my imagination.

“I am sorry, Mary. I was robbed, wife. Beaten and robbed!” I tried to beg her forgiveness, but my tongue was stuck. “Had I gotten home sooner…”

William, you must listen carefully to me now. I have naught but a few moments, and I must tell you a secret…

I fell into a fever-dream, half-drunk at the sight of her, wondering if I had finally gone mad. Was her spirit Heaven-sent or Devil-born? For precious few moments, I wondered if my wife truly was a witch. Then her words stuck to me like thistles, and they held fast.

…three innocent babes, stuffed with herbs and dressed in linen, buried beneath the church by my late husband. I was the only one alive who witnessed were they were buried…and who killed them…

“Who did this to you, Mary?” My voice was raspy, and I struggled to speak. I had to know. “Who slaughtered you and our dear boy for the sake of this knowledge? Who?”

They call themselves hunters.

Fearful that her apparition would vanish before she bade me farewell, I shouted out question after question, hoping that would not be the last time I saw my wife — my beautiful, murdered wife. “Mary… Is that all?”

Seek those who know the Englishmen. Those frightened lambs will bring ye before the knights of the cross. Rest well, William, and rise a man of vengeance.

I clenched my hand, sore from the shallow cut I made, until the blood dripped once more.

Avenge me, husband! Seek justice for our family!

“I will, Mary. I will!”

Now kiss me, William, and take me in your arms. Couple with me, one last time…

• • •

The next morning, I awoke with a dull headache. My conscience weighed upon my mind like a heavy stone. I had no choice but to follow the instructions of that heavenly vision, to confer with my Puritan neighbors, the Chosen, so that I might discover the nature of these hunters and their ilk and free myself of guilt. Verily, I thought to myself, my wife must have died for this reason and this alone: her eternal silence designed to ensure the children’s unlikely burials remained secret. And, her tormented spirit bequeathed this forbidden knowledge unto me, so that I might expose this treachery in the name of God.

For the remainder of the day, I took to the village, begging for charity. I broke bread with my neighbors, shared my grief, and borrowed their clothes and shelter. I partook of their wine, and engaged in many a strained conversation, until I learned what vexed the Chosen so: the Devil was alive and well in Salem Village and I did suffer for it greatly.

I thus did speak, carefully and intently, to inquire of the hunters with those such as Goody Smythe and Dame Williamson, John Masterson, and Pierre La Faux, and two Wampanoag traders, before seeking shelter with Mary’s cousin, the Widow Holt, who did welcome me with sad, open arms. They spoke of unlikely visitors who sailed from mighty England’s shores, the ever-righteous and ever-secretive Knights of St. George, and a group of night’s watchmen who bore scarlet ribbons. That was how I discovered the names of my family’s killers.

It was to my great misfortune, though, that no matter how politely I engaged the village folk, I was not only met with suspicion, I generated much scrutiny which grew, ever more intensely, until I was hushed and brought before a hunter-knight fresh off the boat from England. Her name was Lady Anne Crawford and wished to be addressed as such or, by her title, Knight Inquisitor. She was stern of face, smelled salty like the sea, and her blue eyes sparkled with curiosity.

How came I by this knowledge, she asked me. The voice that spake to me in my vision, what did it sound like? Did I believe in witchcraft, demons and devils, angry spirits and foul drinkers of blood? And, if I did not doubt such horrors, would I fight against them, holding but a candle unto the deepest, blackest of shadows until the day I died?

I held fast to my original purpose, and told the hunter-knight we had not time to discuss such serious matters, not whilst murderers lived amongst us as free men and women, unburdened by their guilt. Thus, the knight did bade me to name the accused, and describe them for her best I could. I held their names upon my tongue, and revealed each one slowly and purposefully, just as my neighbors had confessed them to me earlier that day:

Thaddeus Stone, a seasoned English hunter by trade of medium height and middle age. His hair snow-white, his shoulders broad, his voice deep in pitch. Reddish-brown skin weathered and cracked, with a deep scar above the knee. From Ipswich.

Sarah Alvey, a widow to a Frenchman, midwife, and herbalist. Mother of two, with hair as dark as night and brown skin and eyes. Believed to have poisoned her late husband, Marc, with nightshade, but was later proven innocent. Currently resides in Salem Town, but hails originally from Boston. Favors lavender and lemon balm.

Nathaniel Thorn, student of philosophy and a foreign language tutor by trade. Young in years, bright-eyed and naïve, well versed in the Algonquin languages, Latin, and Greek. A literate man, whose hands are smooth, uncalloused. Slight, but not sickly. Remains indoors, and his fair complexion proves his work. Trains familiars. A rabbit named Horatio, and a bird of prey, unknown.

When I was done with my short confession, Lady Crawford bade me farewell, and forbade me to speak further of our conversation.

“Thank you for bringing this matter to my attention,” she said, giving me hope that my wife’s spirit had set me upon the right path. “I will call upon you tomorrow at the Widow Holt’s. Be ready.”

Then, she paid me a princely sum for my service, and bade me good night.

Tales of the Dark Eras is available now from DriveThruFiction in PDF and print. The era described in this story is a chapter from Chronicles of Darkness: Dark Eras, and is available as a standalone chapter in PDF and print: Dark Eras: Doubting Souls.