Chapter 15

I

The following day, Raziel brought us to the other side of the garden where he guided us through a most confusing maze. In the middle of that maze was a cave entrance. It was flanked on each side by statues of women and men, captured in moments of despair. Some of them were in the act of gouging out their eyes. Others were racking the flesh from their cheeks, or were swallowing poison.

"Where are you leading us?" Ophelia asked, glancing at a statue of suicidal Cato, who was tearing apart the sutures of his belly wound to pull out his intestines.

"I am bringing you to your next trial." Raziel replied. We followed him and entered a dark, ancient looking tunnel that descended over a flight of countless stairs down deep into the earth. When the walls started to weep ground water, and tangles of roots broke through the ceiling, the most frightening screams could be heard from the far end of the underground passageway. "I believe our hosts may have already sensed our presence." Raziel commented. "You better prepare yourselves. The sisters are known to have most volatile tempers."

The mad cries intensified till it was echoing all around us. We entered a vast hollow space, a hidden cave with right in the middle of it, a deep dark pit. It was as if the ground there had been swallowed up by the earth itself.

On the edge sat three female figures, each hunched down on overhanging rocks.

They were the most hideous creatures I had ever seen.

Down below, in the very bottom of the crater was a man huddled down in an animal-like posture. He looked miserable, emaciated, and deranged, weeping constantly while uttering beastlike howls. Deep bloody trenches ran across his cheeks as he continuously clawed with his long dirty fingernails at his own flesh. He wore a thick metal dog collar around his neck. It was attached to three long chains, each of them running through a separate ring that was secured to the filth-covered floor.

Each end of the three rattling chains was held by the frightful creatures.

The woman whose bare skin was covered in green scales gawked at me with cold reptilian eyes, and when she pulled on the chain and screamed down at the prisoner down below, her tongue slithered out. It was thin and forked like that of a serpent.

"Look sisters!" She hissed, exposing her fangs. "Look who have finally come to visit us! It's the girly made of angel feathers and the glowing rock who someday hopes of becoming a real boy!"

The others laughed and screeched hysterically. The second witch, her body covered in red brown fur, her hair a mad red mane of tangles, with two curved ram horns growing out of it, yanked harshly on her end of the chain, choking the mad man down in the pit till his cries died down to a pitiful whimper.

"Who are these vile creatures?" I asked, gazing at Raziel and Ophelia.

"They are the furies, the guardians of honor." The blind angel replied.

A flame ignited in the palm of her hand and grew into a long burning spear. Baring her row of sharp lion-like teeth, she hurled it down with a mad hateful scream. The spear buried itself deep in the man's leg, sending him howling like a mindless injured beast.

"Please let them stop." Ophelia asked, finding it all very hard to watch.

"I can't. You know I can't. It is their duty." Raziel replied. "The sisters are the enforcers of devine punishment. They follow no rules and are bound to no-one. Their task is to castigate traitors and murderers. To them, their work is sacred."

"Who is down there in the pit?" I asked, staring at the man who was hardly recognizable as a human being.

"Orestes." Ophelia said, keeping her eyes fixed on the furies.

"Correct." Raziel stated. "The poor wretch has been their prisoner for over thousands of years. It's been a long while since the sisters had anyone else worthwhile to torment. I figured they must be bored by now, but no."

"He has completely lost his mind." I whispered, noticing how the tortured prisoner was not even trying to pull the spear out, but in stead was twisting it deeper into the wound.

"His reason has eroded away like a mountain might be grinded down by time into the smallest, most insignificant grains of sand." The blind angel said, with a sly, almost knowing smile. "Believe me Plantagenet, no one is strong enough to stand against the avenging sisters."

Plantagenet! Plantagenet! Plantagenet!" The sisters screeched in a loud scornful chorus. "We know why the dead York king is here! The worthless angel Clementia has ordered you to take our chains."

"Yes." Ophelia spoke. "It was my father who sent us here to retrieve the relic. I beseech you, righteous sisters, please help us."

The third sister, covered in grey feathers, with claws for hands and feet and a hooked beak like nose cackled madly. "Why would we help you, feather girl? The quarrels and matters of the hosts are none of our concern."

"But we need those chains to bind Lucifer to his prison." Ophelia further explained. "We act in the name of honor and justice, just like you."

"We have nothing in common with you. We do not see good, we do not see evil." The serpent-like fury said.

"We do not see justice in the way of the hosts." Revealed her beast-like sister.

"We only seek retribution for those who we find guilty." Finished the bird-like fury. "The chains are bound to Orestes, his rightful punishment for breaking the sacred oath between mother and child."

"Matricide." Whispered the other two sisters. "Truly the most atrocious of crimes."

"It cannot be given away to any other cause." Said the bird-like fury.

"Not while the chains are still bound to Orestes." Repeated the other sisters.

"If you don't want to give it. I will go down there and take it myself." Ophelia replied determinedly.

"You may try and you will fail." The beastly fury hissed dangerously, forming in her palm, another flaming spear.

"Stop!" I yelled, just when Ophelia was about to descend down into the pit. "Stop it! Don't go in there." I pulled her back from the edge.

"We need those chains!" Ophelia replied with a stubborn look on her face.

"Yes, but we are not going to get it by getting you killed." I turned to the furies. "You, bunch of vengeful women, what kind of villain would you seek out if you were not so occupied with torturing this poor sod?"

"Anyone who has broken a sacred oath."

"Anyone who has made a pledge on his honor and has forsaken it."

"Anyone who has murdered his own kin."

I stepped forward. "I have done all that." I admitted, lowering my head and glaring up at these vile creatures. "And I have done much more."

"Oh but we know, Richard of York. We know."

"We are aware of how much you have sinned against your own blood."

"But alas."

"Alas."

"Alas?" I repeated. "Really? Why do you even hesitate? Take that collar off your old charge and put it around my neck." I told them, shaking my head at Ophelia, who was about to interrupt me. "Seriously, his crimes pales in comparison to mine. You're wasting your talents on this minor villain."

"Richard please." Ophelia begged. "Don't do this."

"I got this. Trust me." I whispered, but inside I was screaming and scared out of my wits to lose control of this dangerous situation. "I am right here." I proclaimed as loudly and bravely to the furies as I could. "Waiting for you to take me on. Release Orestes, and take me as your prisoner in his place."

"Very tempting indeed, but we will not." The serpent woman replied.

"We unfortunately cannot." Lamented the beast-like fury.

"But why?" I asked.

"We need to be summoned."

"We need someone who trusted you and who you have wronged to speak out a curse against you."

"I've been cursed many times. Even my own mother cursed me." I replied to the furies. It was true. She did it when she found out that I have murdered my brother George and her grandsons. "She told me to despair and die." I added, and as I said it, found that the memory of that day still could open old wounds. "That should be enough, wouldn't it?"

"She didn't summon us."

"She prayed to your God."

"Your victim needs to name us."

"The kindly ones."

"She needs to summon the kindly ones."

"The balm of the long suffering, the avengers of wrongs."

"But even then, we wouldn't go after you."

"We are bound to Orestes."

"The chains are still attached to Orestes."

The serpent woman opened her mouth wide and her fangs spit out a spurt of acid down in the pit. It landed on the back of the doomed man where started to melt away his flesh, causing him to twist his body in horrible agony. His cries of suffering rose up from the pit, and for a moment, I was back inside the fighting pit, and remembered exactly how horrible it was, with my heartless human masters yanking on my chains.

The furies could not let go of Orestes, because the chains were still attached to him. They will only leave their charge if he was removed.

It was all coming back to me, The memories of the bloody fights with the ferocious hounds, the horrific bite wounds, and the daily cruelties that I was made to suffer by Greybeard's and Audemar's hands, it all came crashing into me, like a shameful, dreadful tide. I looked down at the suffering man below. What sort of life had this poor wretch left? Who would not wish, in the face of an eternity being tortured by these vicious heartless harpies, to be released by the finality of death?

The beastlike fury screeched when I grabbed the spear out of her hands. As hot steel burnt onto the skin of my palm and fingers, I hardly even notice it, so much relief I felt to find out that I could indeed yield it. With one well-aimed throw, I cast the spear down into pit where it pierced right through Orestes heart. He rolled his eyes up to heaven, uttered a harsh heartbreaking cry, then sank through his knees and slumped forward. A slow trickle of blood ran down the corner of his gaping mouth. The tormented prisoner was no more.

The furies erupted into a frenzy of hysterical cries.

"You killed him!" The bird-like fury raged.

"You took him from us!" Her beast-like sister yelled out.

"You vile, oath breaking crook back!" The reptilian fury cried out, and slithered her tongue over her black sneering lips.

"You disgusting, spiteful, murderous toad!" The three sisters exclaimed and came for me, all three of them, slithering like a serpent and stalking like a beast while the third jumped into the air with her talons raised.

With my heart drumming inside my ears, I stood my ground. "Orestes is dead." I proclaimed. "Your bond with him is no more. The chains are now free to be used again."

As if time was trying to catch up with the dead man, the body of Orestes started to disintegrate at a most frightening speed. His skin turned grey before our eyes, then blackened, his eyes liquefied into two dark pools swimming with maggots, while his hollow cheeks burst open and then collapsed to reveal the white of the bone underneath.

"Oh Richard. What have you doneā€¦" Ophelia muttered, pulling me back from the furious sisters in a vain effort to protect me from their fury.

All three sisters pulled on the chains simultaneously and with a disgusting snapping sound, the neck broke in two and the collar was released.

"We will hunt you down!"

"We will haunt you in your dreams!"

"We will punish you for your insolence!"

They came closer, hissing and jangling with the chains, their mouths wide open to show me their fangs and teeth.

"Curse him!" They sneered at Ophelia. "Curse him for us feather girl!"

Ophelia gave me a long lingering gaze. There was look on her face that I had never seen before. "I will not do a such thing." She finally replied.

"Oh, don't be such a disappointment to your daddy now." The feathered fury commented, raising her upper lip.

"I will not condemn this man." Ophelia said. "You want me to name you and bind you to your next target. Fine by me. Kindly ones, hear me speak my curse. I curse Lucifer, the fallen angel, the serpent of paradise, the lord of the flies, bind him for me and bring me justice. Bind him and restore my father's honor."

The howling furies transformed into a most terrifying screeching mass of shadows, swirling around us, like we were standing right in the eye of a violent storm.

"Is that what you want?"

"Are you sure, little feather girl?"

"Is this truly what you wish for?!" The mad sisters whispered.

"Yes! Help us. Help us bind Lucifer." Ophelia replied.

"Find him then, and we shall do our duty." The furies replied, and laughed, as if they all knew a most delicious and cruel jest that was at her expense. The whirl of shadows ascended, rising up to the cave ceiling, and all the way, the sisters continued their mad laugher, till the shadows dissipated like a dark cloud of smoke into thin air.

Down in the pit, next to the crumbling pile of human bones and rotting flesh that had once been Orestes, the furies had left behind the collar and the tangle of chains. I climbed down to retrieve it. When I came back with the relic, I noticed the paleness on Ophelia's face.

"We had no other choice." I tried to explain to her, knowing what she must think.

She did not say anything to me, before turning away.

TBC