| The Priests Of Chilon Castle
By Stanley Wilkin
Darkness quietly slides into the room
As the sun falls away
Each object covered in paralyzing gloom
By the end of the day.
Within its crumbling confines, flowers rarely bloom
And every crevice predicts unsightly doom.
Grim warrior priests here reside
Within Chilon’s high walls, glowering
Over the valleys where timorous peasants hide
Where wheat grows in contrary abundance, towering
Trees softly move from side to side
Like flotsam in a powerful tide.
Seduced by thoughts of death
The sweet call of violence
The priests would ride throughout the land’s breadth
Killing in awesome silence.
Unable, even if they wished, to quench
Their terrible lust; driven by its very stench.
The courageous Sir Lewis rode out
With a thousand men on a cold autumn day-
A thousand determined men, riding stout
Armoured horses, dappled and grey.
The enemy sighted, Sir Lewis emitted a fearful shout.
He ordered a charge, turning his snorting stead about.
Metal shrilly jarred on metal
Sword clashed loudly with sword,
The air refused to settle
Blood pumped and soared
Each warrior proved his mettle
On the field dripping with guts and gristle
As crows circled the battlefield
Seven valiant men remained
Refusing to yield
They prepared to die where they stood
Ready to spill what they themselves had spilled
As the dark priests around them milled.
The High Priest raised his hand
Throwing emerald dust into the air,
Inflicting tiredness on the warriors, they could not stand,
Falling where they were,
Their blood-soaked armour covering the rain-drenched land,
So slept the meagre band.
Looming ramparts, huge oaken gates
Behind which the black-robed priests abide
Lingering over a multitude of fates:
Chilon Castle, its seven towers with seven prisoners inside,
Waiting as time and glory abates,
Withered white hands clutching at taunting grates.
Fed on broth and bread,
Sitting madly in the shadows
Lice nestled in each head
Like eager sheep in drying meadows.
Neither really alive nor quite dead-
Mouse droppings and dirt for a bed.
Beyond the castle wall the resonating tide
Rumbles, scrambling across the beach
As ocean waves collide
Against broken cliffs. Their vast ambitious reach
Stretches near and wide
Falling where unused fishing boats ride.
In the seventh year the priests prepared
A brick-built six foot high altar on the keep’s top
By whistling winds tormented
Ravaged by sleet that would not stop
Extolling their gods to descend
And bring all life to a satisfying end.
Each night they prayed, bellowing incantations
At the drifting moon.
Lighting incense fuelled conflagrations
With pipes and cymbals playing a clamorous tune
Darkness igniting their dark imaginations
As they deeply pondered their death-ridden creations.
All gods are demons intent
On enslaving human minds
In ways subtle; apparently beneficent,
Their eloquence binds.
More beautiful than art
They rip a soul apart.
At the end of that seventh year
They led Sir Lewis into the keep
Covered in soiled rags, his fear
Concealed by his spirit. Too hungry to weep
He covered each unwrapped tear
As he drew near.
Thrown and spread-eagled
On the altar, limbs tied to its sides,
While the High Priest inveigled
His gods, and all other creeping forces besides:
Their sulphuric essence mingled
With the priest’s tortuous fate. Monotonously he demanded
They take his offering as he
Plunged a knife into Sir Lewis’s neck,
Sawing vigorously until the head was free.
With a spurt of thin blood, with a bloody jerk
The old man’s head bounced fitfully
Coming to a rest gradually.
By the morning, the whiteness of Sir Lewis’s skull
Reflected the sun-
A gleaming invite into hell
Turning whiteness into dun.
Flesh rendered, sans eyes and lips, the castle bell
Tolled darkly what it was terrible to tell.
At the beginning of each year
Storms raging across the supine land
A prisoner, draped in black, trying grimly to control his fear,
Is escorted from his cell to stand
Still shivering, before the early sky clear
On a day both cool and drear.
In a moment, winds howling, rain falling,
Mouth open in briefly felt horror
His head unloosed is tumbling
Over moss-lined rock, to burrow
Into the shadows. The High Priest fumbling
Retrieves it swiftly from the glooming
Placing it on a spike on the castle wall
Blood creeping over the stone,
To the raven’s insidious call
And the vultures repetitive moan,
The priest, his arms up in supplication, welcomes fluttering raptors all
To feast on another fool.
On the gloomy precipice, governed by angry gods,
Each year a severed head
Was displayed amongst blood-grained sods
Gratifying these priests who adored the dead.
A shrivelled servant the remaining victims teases and prods.
In his cell, in soporific dejection, Sir Geoffrey sleepily nods.
That year a famine came, thousands died.
As the trees withered, armies into the valley surged,
Women suffered, villages were razed, men cried,
Devastation as far as they could see, plaintive cries everywhere heard,
New born babies plucked and fried-
The gods make suffer whom the gods deride.
Again and again, the High Priest led out his men
With shrieking eyes and tongues, riding ferocious horses,
Returning each time with half again
Ravaged by the innumerable forces
Emerging from the sallow half-light of mountain,
Northern marsh, gloating forest and malodorous fen.
Setting up ballistae and rams the growing host
Gathered around Chilon’s crumbling walls
Surveying the hopeless scene, their leader made the boast
That they would have victory when the last falcon calls,
Well before the snow turns to frost
Before the year’s light is lost.
A month the leader waited, knowing hunger
Was more effective than arrows
Fired against the forbidding walls. The longer
His shivering men waited in the cold snow showers,
The closer came the point they could rip asunder
The huge stones, and the castle’s riches plunder.
Inside the neglected walls, the warrior priests,
At length resorted to eating their dead
Consuming ten at a time in weekly feasts
First hands, feet and lastly the head
Roasting or boiling them as if they were beasts
From the enveloping forests.
Soon only thirty remained to defend
The expansive walls. And yet, the High Priest refused
To surrender. They must fight until the very end,
Die like heroes, he raucously enthused,
Their legends to tend.
Their honour, such as it was, to defend.
The following morning, as the bleak sun rose,
Starving, he died, reduced to bone.
His remaining men, devouring his blackened toes,
As an aperitif, quietly ate his thighs, then with a sharp stone
Cracked his femurs, and with a final thunderous blow
Exposed the marrow
Whipped by the cold air, they went mad the next day
Howling like demented trolls, rolling around
Consumed by imaginary flame, tossed hypothetically every way.
All the while, uttering a hideous sound,
Urged by unseen demons to attack and slay
Neighbours and friends. In the midst of gore they pray.
“I believe we have won.” The leader dryly observed
Motioning his relieved force to advance,
Enthused to achieve the victory they deserved,
Gathering bow, sword, shield, spear, axe and lance
Creeping steadfastly forward they swerved
The assault of expected missiles-which never occurred.
Reaching the walls, shields raised, they hesitated,
Searching the parapets for life. None was there!
Not a head! Not a weapon showed on that frost saturated
Day, the mountains covered with snow, forbidding and bare.
With a howl, the army scrambled
Up the walls, while rams the splintering gates pounded.
Tossed over the walls, the priests’ ravaged corpses
Lay broken on the rocks below.
Amused, ascending to the highest tower, the leader pauses
Watching the evening sun’s mournful glow
Shedding its final daily rays on dystopias
Initiated by a thousand real and imagined causes.
Gold and jewels were gathered in gleaming piles
Luxurious tapestry stacked high
Silver and bronze cups, richly decorated tiles,
Were flung together, uneven mounds against the blackening sky,
Bundled onto carts arranged in seven files
A bountiful testimony to the gloating leaders manifold wiles.
By morning they were gone.
Flames grasped the cracked stones
Like specks caught by the sun
The land shaken by fiery moans.
Their history done
The priests in death are one.
One by one, to the earth
The towers crashed with punishing sighs
All ground up in the turf,
As when a lingering dream dies,
Or when a celestial birth
Is soiled by a divine death.
For several years undisturbed
The ruins lay, half sunken in the ground
The country long cursed
With barely a footstep heard, all sound
Into hell and beyond dispersed
The good conjoined with the worst.
One man only, a raddled, ancient priest,
Who survived half-naked in a cave
Each day scuttled around the ruin like a scavenging pest
Clambering over an untended grave.
He poked and probed without rest-
A furtive skeleton covered with skin, too driven to resist.
Often, he’d disappear into the remains
Of a tower, a sack in his hand,
In summer sunshine or winter rains
A strange, frightening shadow in the land.
At evening, as mists roll over in endless chains
Of silvery dust, he emerges, cantering back down the lanes
His sack now empty, saliva dripping from his jaw,
Gibbering and snarling, he’d crash
Through the forest taunted by jackdaw
Watching from the branches, and dash
Into the caves dark and odorous maw.
Before an altar he’d pray. His incoherent chants would soar!
At night, in deepening darkness, he’d see floating
Above him, the High Priest’s immaculate ghost,
His decaying features fearful and gloating.
Gesticulating at his awe-struck host,
Enslaved again, no longer free, slobbering.
‘Complete the prophecy.’ The ghost demanded, his gaze withering.
On the 7th month of the 7th year
He entered the dungeon where Sir Gregory still lay
Now desensitised to fear,
The old soldier acknowledging death began to pray
The priest grinning from ear to ear
From the ruin, pulled him clear.
The signs were propitious. Overhead an eagle flew,
The moon accompanied the sun
Beside the ruined keep purple vines grew
A fox was defecating where once a stream had run.
On the altar the priest threw
Sir Gregory, and from his robe a glistening knife drew.
Once more, in the flurry of leaves and rain, the ghost
Appeared, emerging from the rocky shade
He raised his skeletal hand permitting it to float
Like vapour in the air, to burn brightly then to fade.
Sir Gregory felt the spectre’s hands upon his throat
Its ghastly visage seeming to gloat.
How hard the old warrior prayed as the knife rasped
His dry, shrivelled flesh!
Holding on to what remained of his life he defeated gasped,
As around him the world began to crash,
Colours mixed with colours, all clasped
Together as time and permanence passed.
From the castle ruins each wraith strode out
Heads balanced precariously on rippled necks
Mouths agape but each spectral shout
Vanishing into the wide universes fragile specks
Of hope and horror, tossed about
In equal measure, each frame seeming to melt
And failing, returning to improbable mass
As each drew near, clutching weapons, shimmering and bright.
Dissolving like summer-dew as each went past
The prone knight overwhelmed by the ghastly sight.
The High Priest’s spectre felt fear at last
As they bore down on him like insidious gas.
His arms jolted, up, back and down
As they milled around, his agonised features crumbled.
Before the demonic ghost, the living priest’s fearful frown
Became a scream. Turning to flee, he stumbled,
Features contorted into the grimace of a dying clown
As the sacrificial knife pressed down.
As the High Priest’s ghost fled the earth
His succubus spontaneously joined him in hell,
From which they’d emerged at birth
Wrenched from the torment by a coven’s spell
Given poisonous mind and breath
And that love of death.
Sir Gregory’s bonds snapped
Beneath him the altar crumbled away
Unable to clearly see his friends, his energies sapped,
He barely survived the day.
A passing peasant on a wagon draped
His wasted form, and to the villages through the mud slid.
On Chilton Hill the ruins now lie, barely seen
Beneath a spread of trees
Skilfully camouflaged by glistening coverlets of green,
Whistling like the dead in each sudden breeze.
Avoided by villagers, its once high towers broken
And smothered by a muddy sheen.
Across the valley, on a colossal hill, was built
A castle of rough granite. It had four towers each
Two hundred feet high, with battlements covered in gilt,
And soldiers armed to their gold-filled teeth-
Who spread fear. Rivers of blood spilt
Raging like glaciers as they melt.
At night the castle was covered in bats,
Wolves howled in the forest,
Around the castle’s ramparts strolled ebony cats
Catching and gnawing on each wanton pest
Trembling mice and battling rats
For the coven in the vaults
Sprinkling gruesome, spittle-filled ointment
On the High Priest’s discoloured bones,
Bunched together in a golden fount
And pounded with stones.
The air became filled with a foul scent
As the High Priest returned, his un-sated lust to vent.
No matter how great a victory, no battle is ever truly won.
About Stanley Wilkin: Stanley Wilkin.
|About Stanley Wilkin
A college lecturer living in
Portugal. A writer of
academic books, poetry
and short stories.
|To read other short stories,
click one of the titles below.