Saturday, February 6, 2021

The Phantasm at Orly


France, during the Hundred Years War

Captain Rodrigo led a small force of mounted knights and pikemen through a forest vale, uneasy at how fast the mist had settled in. Since the English had the upper hand at the moment, his men were available for a side mission to a hamlet called Orly. The Frenchies were drawing courage from a local saint, one whose bones must be taken to England for bargaining. 

Even the horses sensed something unnatural in the gathering fog. It overhung the trees, where a watery sun kept pace through a yellow miasma. Rodrigo took solace from the rattle and clink of armor and spears. The clumping hooves of the horses could trample anything that got in the way. Anything of a physical nature, anyhow. 

Sergeant Weare, the foot leader, dashed toward Rodrigo, who signaled a halt. "Captain, the pass is blocked by a giant bed."

Some of the knights chuckled. 

"A bed?" Rodrigo scowled. "Then remove it."

"It. . . .it isn't really there. You can see right through it."

"You're fog-addled, Sergeant. Return to the point." As they neared the decrepit monastery, clinging mist began to saturate everything. Torches sputtered to life. Presently they came to the phenomenon. 

Sir Davies raised his visor. "Look there--it is a bed, with an old lady upon it!"

"The peasants had a drawing made," said the sergeant. "On her death bed. She lay covered to the chin, wearing a shawl. Tis the selfsame image!"

"A drawing come to life?" Rodrigo sneered. "Show them how little regard we have for their witchcraft."

The sergeant reluctantly trotted through and back again. He clasped arms as if frozen. "Tis the very cold of the grave in there. The horses will surely shy from it!"

"Then we'll defeat their strategy. Dismount!"

Pikemen fell back to tend the horses as the knights clattered forward. 

The old lady sat up in the phantom bed with a piercing howl, mouth stretched into an inhuman maw. Horses went mad with fear, barely restrained by the struggling pikers. 

Rodrigo  couldn't afford to be stranded here without the animals, but he had a mission. "Flank the thing! I want those bones!" Knights remounted their skittish chargers while pikemen pressed forth through trees and low shrub. 

The sergeant's experience was typical. A wispy figure arose as if hinged at the ankles. Crazily, that was more fearsome than the specter itself, a lost soul damned by some bizarre torture. It lurched at him with the same unearthly wail and distended jaws. The sergeant backed away, tripped, splashed down in a rivulet. All around, men jabbed at nothing; ghostly hands reached to curse them with numbing cold.

"I yield!" the sergeant shouted at his tormentor. 

The phantom pitched forward, face down, and melted into sodden leaf cover. Pikemen staggered back to the road, some supporting stricken comrades.

Rodrigo glared at the giant bed, whose occupant reposed once more. "The field is yours, foul spirit!" He signaled withdrawal. "I foresee we shall someday have this land. But not all of it. . . ." 

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