Mr. Stevens said his goodbyes and left me alone in the ancient manor house. This would be my first night in my ancestral home, and, unfortunately, I’d be spending it alone since Margret was stuck in New York for at least another week.
Father had told me of the existence of the manor, but I had never really thought of it as a real place or ever dreamed I would be the last of my breed and so inherit the place.
Actually, for the most part, Father, didn’t mention his old homeland, but I had once asked him about the manor, being a bit more persistent than usual. He only said that it was owned by Hugh, as was any occupant. He had hated his visits to the ancient house and called his uncle cruel. “Though related by blood, he was no relation to me or my parents.”
I also discovered Father had spent a lot of time there as a child, though he grew up in in distant London. Beyond that cryptic remark about Hugh, he said absolutely nothing about the visits. He had moved to America as a young man and never returned. He hinted that the Alntic Ocean was barely big enough to separate him from his uncle.
Sso this was not only my first night in the old castle, but my first trip over the pond.
I poked my head into a few corners that I had missed while Mr. Stevens was still there. I was surprised at the valuables still on open display.
What would life be like as the Lord of the Manor? Seemed odd to my strictly American mind.
The land was royal land for time out of mind and was listed in Domesday as an ancient holding of Edward the Confessor. After the last family, the Lesombre’s, had become extinct in the early-sixteenth century, the king had given my family the tenancy of the manor and surrounding land and later gave the family the land out right, taking it off of the royal rolls.
Mr. Stevens had given me a quick tour of the vast structure, but I admit that I was lost in its web of rooms within minutes of his leaving. The echoes of my footfalls were like the last clock ticking off the hours till Doomsday. I was chilled to the bone, although it was a warm evening.
Something was wrong with the old manor.
The land was granted to John le Sombre by the Conqueror for his service in the invasion of England, but it was John’s grandson, Richard, who had built the first castle during the anarchy of Steven. Dark rumors still circulated around the village from that time. John acted as many of the castle lords of the day did, terrorizing the village and surrounding countryside, robbing anyone and everyone. He took hostages and held them for ransom, torturing them until their release. Those who were not able to pay his fees died in his dungeons. The people said Richard drank the blood of his victims and served their flesh at his table.
Richard had acknowledged Henry II almost immediately and so was able to keep his castle.
Over the years the castle was rebuilt many times, as was the manor house next to it. At some point in time they became one, a huge fortified building with a maze of rooms built over the span of many hundreds of years.
This was my inheritance.
Half remembering the location of the master bedroom where Mr. Stevens had left my luggage, I took a familiar corridor. I was almost immediately confronted with a handsome suit of armor.
Looking closer I thought it was more sinister than handsome. And wasn’t it at the other end of the building? I remembered Mr. Steven’s talking about it.
Hugh Lesombre was the last of his line. His reputation was even darker than the Richard who had terrorized the area during Steven’s reign. People, from the lowest peasant to the clergy and knights, would disappear without a trace. Stories of their screams coming out of the Lesombre manor were hushed up as the powerful baron stormed around the villages and towns of his holdings.
The terror spread from the manor so people were disappearing 20 and even 30 miles away. Some from even farther away. It was said that Hugh could travel faster than the wind and appear in full armor before his victims.
And yet Hugh remained in good graces with the King. He was a brilliant warrior and constant fixture at tournaments, having won every battled, both real and in the games, that he joined. He was said to be the greatest jouster in history and never showed fear. His cruelty, though, was legendary, even in his day. It was a trait highly valued by the King in his never ending wars.
It was said every person in Europe was terrified of Hugh, and just the rumor of his coming would cause entire armies to retreat.
It all came to an end with his third wife, Eleanor, named after the former queen.
His first two wives had died in childbirth, some say murdered by Hugh himself.
But he died in bed just months after taking Eleanor as a wife, a weak man, not able to lift his arms.
People said Eleanor had poisoned him. It was never proven, but she became a local hero as the disappearances stopped.
I stepped around the menacing armor and found the bedroom.
The master bedroom was as large as my house back in the States. I wasn’t sure if I could sleep in the cavernous space on a bed larger than my old bedroom.
But I did. I slept soundly.
For a while.
I was woken by a noise.
Not knowing where I got the bravery, I got up and walked to the enormous closet.
As I approached, the door opened, revealing Hugh’s armor. It came out, dragging cobwebs.
“Welcome.” A voice said in my brain. “You are a poor excuse of a specimen, but will have to do.”
I turned to run, but was stuck in my spot, as if in a giant spider web.
I heard Hugh’s laughter in my brain, a searing sound that made mt blood curdle.
Turning to face the armor, I understood where the victims went. I understood what my dad meant. I understood it all.
The armor nodded, knowing that I knew.
I would soon be him and my body would belong only to Hugh. And then Margret would be his next victim. And there would be others. Many others. And the little left of the real me would be forced to observe.
“No!” I shouted, but it was too late, I had already been caught in his web.
This little Halloween story was written for Sue Vincent’s writephoto prompt.