Earth to Earth [Part 3] Revised
By - email@example.com
published December 3, 2017
Klaus and Igor set off on their journey…
Castle Blutbad, Kingdom of Ruritania: 1848
Igor laboriously dragged the heavy trunk towards the already overladen cart and paused to mop the sweat from his brow. Although he was not sure that the bottles of brandy and vintage wine inside this latest addition to their luggage would travel very well, they were extremely valuable. Besides, he reasoned, if they were left behind for the local peasants to guzzle, it would be a criminal waste…
Klaus appeared at the entrance to the carriage house. “When do you think we will be able to make a start? I really do not want us still to be here tomorrow morning when that ridiculous blacksmith and his cronies return…”
Igor bowed stiffly. “The cart is almost fully loaded, Master…” He fished inside his waistcoat, brought out a very large silver fob-watch and looked at its face. “We still have over twelve hours remaining to us…”
“Where have you put my casket?” Klaus asked. His voice sounded peevish. “I notice that it is not in its usual place…”
Igor pointed to the cart. “It’s here, Master, cleaned, polished and packed in readiness for our journey…”
Klaus walked around to the back of the cart, located his coffin and opened it up. “I think I might lie down for a while,” he said languidly, climbing inside. “All this bustle and change has left me feeling strangely tired…”
The heavy oak lid slammed shut.
Strange indeed, Igor could not help thinking, as he manhandled the trunk of alcohol into the cart and began lashing it securely into position. It was at times like this that he really missed his first master…
Targoviste, Kingdom of Wallachia: 1476
Lord Tadese Lebna generally travelled light. Leaving most of his servants in Constantinople and taking little or no luggage, he rode with only Igor and the two Nubian bodyguards swiftly up through mountainous Macedonia, reaching Targoviste, the capital city of Wallachia, within three weeks.
Targoviste had recently been recaptured from the Turks by Vlad Dracul and the road approaching its southern gates was a veritable forest of slender wooden poles, each one bearing the remains of an impaled victim. Igor shivered as the four of them rode down the narrow, paved track between hundreds of tortured bodies. Mercifully, none of them were still alive, but the metallic smell of congealing blood made the horses nervous, skittish and difficult to control. Unable to bear the sickening sight of the silently screaming corpses, all staring heavenwards with sharpened stakes protruding from their open jaws, Igor looked fixedly down at the ground.
Lord Tadese passed a small cloth bag to each man in his retinue. “Press these pomanders against your noses,” he told them. “They are stuffed with dried herbs and flowers and will somewhat mitigate the stench of Prince Dracul’s ‘justice’…”
Although many of its citizens had been recently slaughtered, the city was crowded with the thousands of mainly Hungarian troops which constituted Vlad Dracul’s army. Despite this, the Abyssinian delegation was allocated a fairly decent room at one of the better inns. Once their horses had been led off to the stables, Lord Tadese was informed that Prince Vlad would be pleased to receive him at his victory feast that very evening.
“Make sure that you remove your headgear when we enter the Prince’s presence,” Tadese warned his companions. “A few years ago a Turkish delegation refused to take off their turbans and Vlad Dracul had them nailed to their skulls as punishment for their disrespect…”
The feast was held in the main hall of Targoviste fortress. As a sign of special favour, the Abyssinian envoy was seated at the high table, next to Vlad Dracul and his most important courtiers. Although Igor and the two Nubians were allocated less illustrious places, they were close enough to be able to hear snatches of Lord Tadese’s conversation with their host.
“I know that Sultan Mehmed marches against me,” Vlad Dracul was saying. He was in his mid-forties, with long, shoulder-length brown hair and a huge, bushy moustache which stretched from one ear to the other. His green eyes were narrow, set rather too closely together in his long face and flashed as he spoke with ruthless cruelty. “You must have passed through his forces on your way here…”
Lord Tadese took a sip of wine from his silver goblet. “Indeed, Highness, we overtook the Ottoman forces seven days ago.”
The Prince smiled unpleasantly and bit a mouthful of mutton from the chunk he was holding in his right fist. “You will have to do better than that, African… I need numbers and an estimation of exactly when you think they will arrive…”
“Of course, Highness; naturally, I did not see the entire army as I passed by, of course, but word has it that the Sultan has some twenty thousand troops with him on this particular campaign…” Lord Tadese shrugged. “I would guess that they will be here within ten days or so…”
The dark-haired woman sitting to the right of Vlad Dracul laughed. “We shall be more than ready for them, shall we not, my love?” This was Justina, the Prince’s second wife and the mother of his son; a woman who was still strikingly beautiful despite being in her late thirties.
The Prince nodded. “We shall indeed…”
To his left, Stephen Bathory, the Hungarian warlord, who was Vlad Dracul’s main ally and general, raised his cup. “Here’s to the destruction of all the Muslims and their filthy heathen horde!”
A general toast followed to that effect, with everyone jumping to their feet and drunkenly declaring death to all heretics.
Once everyone was seated again and the hubbub in the hall had died down, Lord Tadese leaned across to his host. “Talking of spiritual matters, Highness, I am, sadly, bound to convey to you the fact that King Tewodros was somewhat disappointed to hear of your recent conversion to the Roman Church…” He smiled. “His Majesty hopes that you will return to the Orthodox fold ere long…”
Vlad Dracul frowned. “Do not presume to lecture me about religion, African. I care not what your black King thinks or says. He is too far away to be of any practical use to me in any case…”
“Not the most successful diplomatic venture I have ever embarked upon,” Lord Tadese commented later, once they were safely within their chamber at the inn. “However, in my opinion, Dracul deserved a few pithy words… The man is absurdly rude; really a devil in human form…”
“You were very courageous to raise the matter of his conversion to Rome, Master,” Igor said.
Lord Tadese shrugged. “Merely following orders from above… King Tewodros is incensed that Dracul has abandoned our faith merely to please his Catholic Hungarian allies…”
“I know, Master, but he and that Justina woman of his gave you a very nasty look when you said it…”
“It matters not.” Lord Tadese turned towards the door. “Our mission here is complete. We have offered the idiot a Christian alliance and he has eschewed it. So be it. I have done my duty. We will leave this accursed place at first light. Please ensure that our horses are saddled and ready by dawn.”
Igor bowed. “Of course, Master…”
“Unfortunately, I must feed tonight, which is extremely inconvenient under the circumstances, but it cannot be helped. There is no need for you to accompany me, Igor. I will find a lone soldier in one of the outlying encampments and, hopefully, be back here within an hour or so…”
Castle Blutbad, Kingdom of Ruritania: 1848
At first light, Igor hitched the four colossal dray horses to the cart and climbed onto the seat at the front. For aesthetic reasons, the Landgraf had insisted that they take the black stallions, but Igor had already sold them knowing that they were not strong enough to pull such a heavy load. Igor looked over his shoulder at the coffin in the back. It was already daylight, so the lid was firmly closed. He smiled to himself. Sometimes, the wishes of one’s superior had to be respectfully and politely, but firmly, ignored…
They had only travelled as far as the nearest village when a young peasant dashed out into the road in front of them, blocking their passage.
“Please! Take me with you! I can’t stand living here any longer!”
Igor blinked. It was that boy Otto whom his Master had entertained the other night…
Otto came closer. “Please… I can’t put up with her constant nagging…”
Igor glanced over towards the nearest cottage. Otto’s mother had emerged from the doorway and was advancing on them clutching a broom.
“Come back here, you fucking little shit!”
Igor looked down at the forlorn young man’s piteous expression and considered the situation carefully. They might have need of some muscle at some point on their journey, he reasoned. He sighed. “Very well then… Get on…”
Once Otto had climbed up next to him, Igor shook the reins and they began moving off, but not quite quickly enough to avoid the inevitable parental encounter…
“Where are you going, you little bastard?” Otto’s mother thrust her broom towards her son’s face.
“Bastard?” Otto asked.
His mother smiled triumphantly. “I should know, shouldn’t I? Where the fuck do you think you’re going?”
Otto ripped the broom from out of her grasp, snapped it over his knee, and threw the pieces into some bushes a few yards away. “As far away from you and this fucking shit-hole as I can possibly get,” he said. “I don’t think I’ll be back, Ma, so have a nice life…”
Targoviste, Kingdom of Wallachia: 1476
Igor readied the horses as instructed, but, even by midday, his master had still not returned to their inn.
It was halfway through the afternoon that one of the Nubian bodyguards brought him the terrible news. “Our master has been arrested! They caught him feeding and they have imprisoned him up at the castle!”
Igor was surprised that they allowed him access to see Lord Tadese, but here he was, in the castle dungeon, standing over his beloved master. The Abyssinian lay bruised and bloody on the filthy straw. He had obviously been tortured…
“You are badly injured, Master…”
Lord Tadese looked up at his slave and smiled through the pain. “Fear not, my beloved Igor," he said. "Due to my special powers, these wounds will heal quite quickly. “The Impaler has promised to free me, despite the fact that I was caught in the very act of feeding from one of his men…” He looked up at the ceiling and shook his head. “How could I have been so incredibly stupid?”
“Why should they free you, Master?” Igor was sure that his master would be executed. Anyone found caught practising witchcraft or vampirism always was…
Lord Tadese smiled again. “The price Dracul demanded was high indeed. He wished to be a vampire, like me, so I granted him the gift…”
The door of the cell burst open at that moment. Prince Vlad Dracul entered, accompanied by four armed guards. His jade-coloured eyes, always glittering with evil intent, looked especially malevolent… “Take this filthy creature outside and impale him on the highest and sharpest spike,” he ordered.
Lord Tadese gasped at the treachery.
Igor fell to his knees in front of the Wallachian Prince. “Please, Your Highness… My master says you promised him his freedom…”
Vlad Dracul grinned broadly, revealing incisors that were already longer and sharper than they had been before. “Sadly, worm, I lied…”
The Franco-German border: 1848
“What do you mean, you have to search everything?” Igor asked. It was almost sunset and they had just reached the French frontier.
The customs officer opened up a silver snuffbox and dug around inside it with a tiny spoon. “You might be smuggling contraband for all I know,” he said, tapping a little pile of snuff onto the spot between his thumb and forefinger and snorting it up his nose.
“A ridiculous suggestion!” Igor protested.
The Frenchman sneezed into an extremely large handkerchief. “Orders are orders… You’d be surprised by the amount of outrageous things people try to smuggle into this country…” He walked to the back of the cart and tapped the casket with his cane. “For example, what exactly have you got in here? It looks like a bloody coffin…”
Igor nodded, his expression suddenly tragic. “My poor deceased grandmother…” He let out a small sob. “She always wanted to rest her old bones in her beloved French soil…”
The customs officer smiled and rubbed his hands together. “Then she won’t mind paying for the privilege, will she?”
Igor looked up at the heavens. Was there no end to the materialism of mankind? He opened the topmost trunk and brought out a dusty bottle. “Chateau Paris, 1804,” he said, wiping the label on his sleeve. “Yours in consideration of your great trouble, Milord…”
The officer shook his head gravely. “I can’t just let you into the country with a dead body… Who knows what horrible, infectious disease she died of? For all I know, it could have been bubonic plague…”
Otto put his meaty hands together and flexed his thick fingers so that they emitted a loud crack. “Do you want me to fuck him up?”
Igor patted the peasant’s shoulder. “Not yet, at any rate, please, Otto…” He opened a small jewellery box and, lifting out a string of pearls, brandished them in front of the customs officer’s face. “A beautiful necklace for your lady wife, perhaps?”
The man shook his head. “I’m not married yet, and you cannot so easily bribe an employee of the glorious French Republic Border Authority…”
The lid of the casket creaked open. “Leave this one to me, please, Igor,” Klaus ordered, climbing out and dusting himself down. “I’m beginning to find him rather a bore…”
The customs officer screamed and stepped backwards, but his escape was blocked by Otto. Incredibly quickly, Klaus had moved to his side, grabbed hold of him and had begun to drain a considerable quantity of blood from his body.
After a couple of minutes, Klaus ceased feeding and allowed the Frenchman to slump to the ground. “Is there an inn near here?” the Landgraf asked. “I think I could do with a spot of wine to expunge the taste…”
Otto looked down at the bureaucrat’s crumpled body and whistled appreciatively. “Now that’s what I call seriously ‘fucked up’…”
Igor glanced around nervously. Luckily, it was quite dark now and, apart from them, the road was empty. “I do not think anyone saw,” he said. “Otto, help me drag him over to the doorway of his office…”
Targoviste, Kingdom of Wallachia: 1476
Late that night, Igor stood outside the city walls looking up at his beloved master. He was dead. His bulging eyes stared sightlessly up at the uncaring stars and his skin was ice cold. They had impaled Lord Tadese on a tall stake which, entering his anus, had, as the weight of his body pressed down upon it, worked its way up through his entire torso to exit through his gaping mouth. Igor moaned softly to himself. How his poor master must have suffered!
“Help me get him down,” Igor said to the Nubian bodyguards, tears running down his cheeks. “At least we can try to give him a decent Christian burial…”
Together, the three of them carried Lord Tadese’s body to a monastery that lay nearby.
“Was your master a Christian?” the Abbot asked, looking down dubiously at Lord Tadese’s dark-skinned and exotic appearance.
Igor nodded. “Yes, Father. He was an Abyssinian nobleman and the truest Christian I have ever known…” He took out a small leather pouch and handed it to the monk. “On my late master’s behalf, please accept this donation to your holy house…”
The Abbot nodded. “Rest assured that we will wash and bury him with due ceremony in the little graveyard near our chapel, my son. Peace and blessings be upon you…”