Another day passed as the ship sailed for Mont Saint Michel. The morning watch reported seeing smoke on the horizon as the sun rose the next morning. One of the men shook Baltazar out of his bunk to wake him.
Baltazar rubbed his eyes as he looked up, “What is it man?”
“Sorry Captain,” the young scout replied, “but we’ve sighted smoke coming from the direction of the abbey.”
Baltazar shot out of his bunk and stood up, “Where away?”
“Two points off the starboard bow.” He replied.
Baltazar grabbed his spyglass and peered out on the horizon. He couldn’t see what was causing the smoke in the distance, but feared the worst. After lowering the spyglass, Baltazar looked at the coastline they were passing, “That’s coming from Mont Saint Michel… no doubt about it…”
The scout turned to him, “Sir would someone be so… ruthless as to attack an abbey?”
“Why not?” Baltazar replied. “It wouldn’t be the first time… Plus it’s a very defenisble fortress, even with low numbers. Still, let’s not jump to conclusions; we don’t know that’s what happened.”
“It looks like an attack to me.” The scout insisted. “Why else would it be smoking so much?”
Baltazar thought about it for a few moments and nodded, “Okay… all hands on deck, man the guns.”
The scout nodded, “Aye aye sir.”
He quickly ran to the ships bell, and started ringing it loudly, “All hands, on deck, everyone to the guns!”
The sound of the bell roused the crew and they rushed to get on deck. Baltazar took the helm, “Gilles, go get Melisande.”
Gilles released the wheel and saluted, “Aye sir.”
The rest of the crew got on deck quickly as Baltazar began issuing orders, “All hands, run up the guns! Five minutes, I want them ready to fire!”
Gilles disappeared below deck and made it to the galley where Melisande was finishing up her duties. She looked up to see Gilles rush through the door, “Gilles, what’s wrong?”
Gilles looked at her seriously, “You need to come with me right now.”
“Why what is it?” She asked nervously. “Are we under attack?”
“Our scouts sighted smoke over Mont Saint Michel.” Gilles replied. “It looks like there may have been a fight there.”
Melisande gasped, “What, who would attack an abbey?”
“I don’t know,” Gilles replied, “but we be going to find out, let’s go.”
Melisande nodded and followed Gilles up to the main deck. The morning sun brightened her eyes as she finished climbing the steps. Gilles pointed out to the horizon, indicating where Melisande should look.
Melisande squinted to see what was going on. Sure enough, she saw smoke coming from the coastline on the horizon, “No…”
Gilles watched her eyes as she peered into the horizon, “Is it…?”
“Yes,” she nodded, “it’s the abbey.”
Within minutes the ship was battle-ready as the burning abbey grew larger on the horizon. It took them another hour to get close enough, but it was evident long before they were close enough to go ashore that this had been the site of a vicious battle.
As the ship neared the massive castle, they could see large burn marks, blast holes, and flames spewing from the stone. An ominous feeling came over the crew as they beheld what should not have been possible. Mont Saint Michel was high enough to be protected from a sea attack, and easily defensible from land.
When they reached the bay Baltazar turned to his men, “Drop anchor here, we’ll have to take the longboat in.”
“That’s a little far, Captain.” Gilles replied. “It’ll take us a while to reach the abbey.”
“What other choice do we have?” Baltazar asked.
“We can keep going.” Melisande interrupted. “The tide is in, the water should be deep enough.”
Baltazar went wide eyed as he looked at her, “Are you insane? We have no way of knowing if it is deep enough. We could wind up running aground.”
She turned to him with a pleading look in her eyes, “Please, you have to trust me!”
Baltazar paused for a moment and looked at his men as they worked. Finally, he shrugged, “Steady as she goes, helm.”
Gilles nodded, “Aye sir.”
Baltazar then turned to Morgan, “Get the longboat ready and standby to lower away.”
“Aye.” Morgan replied.
“Pull in the sails.” Baltazar yelled. “Let the tide bring us in.”
The crew did as they were told and slowly, the Black Vengeance moved in closer to Mont Saint Michel. The ship glided through the water as the castle got bigger. Suddenly, there was a loud scraping noise that rocked the deck slightly. It gave everyone a jump and then stopped.
Melisande turned to Morgan, “What happened?”
“Figure we scrapped a reef.” He replied. “Don’t think it be a good idea to take this much further.”
Melisande nodded, “Just a little more…”
She noticed Baltazar looking at her with concern and glared at him, “Trust me!”
Baltazar turned away, “Helm, five more minutes, then bring us about, hard to starboard and drop anchor.”
“Aye sir,” Gilles responded.
At hearing his orders, Melisande smiled at him before turning and watching the shore. Gilles counted five minutes before pulling the helm over to starboard. Once he did, the ship slowly turned. Gilles held the Black Vengeance at starboard until the bow faced out to sea. The moment that he was certain she was in the right position, he called to the men at the bow, “Drop anchor!”
The anchors on both sides of the ship fell beneath the waves. Within moments, a loud thud indicated that the anchors had impacted on the seabed. The crewmen locked the ropes in place and turned back to Baltazar, “The ship be secure Captain, but I don’t think she can stay here long. We didn’t have to let off much slack!”
“Any idea how much space we have?” Baltazar asked.
The crewman shrugged, “A few feet between us, maybe?”
Baltazar nodded, “We’ll need to make this quick then, lower the longboat.”
Three men worked on getting the launch into the water. Morgan sat in the boat and kept her steady as she touched the water. Papi came up on the deck just as the crew was preparing the longboat.
Baltazar turned to him, “Ah, Mr. Clement, I was about to come and get you. We’re going ashore and I need you to accompany me. With the exception Mel, you know more about the abbey then the rest of us.”
“Understood.” Papi replied.
One by one Papi, Baltazar, and Melisande joined Morgan in the longboat. Baltazar was the last one to climb down. As he made his way over the side, he called out to the men on deck, “Gilles, you’re in command until I get back. Keep her battle ready, I don’t want whatever did this getting a jump on us.”
“You got it, Captain,” Gilles replied, “no problem.”
Melisande took the front of the boat with Papi astern. Morgan and Baltazar manned the ores and rowed towards the small beach located off to the side of the massive walls. As they drew closer, Papi looked up at the high towers, “My God, they took a lot of hits…”
“Aye.” Baltazar replied. “What’s odd is that any weapon that could reach those towers would be slow moving. It should still be in the area… but theres nothing.”
Morgan shook his head, “That be because there ain’t one. Everyone be thinking it, I’m just saying it; no human weapon did this.”
“Then what could it have been,” Melisande asked, “and why?”
Baltazar sucked in a deep breath, he didn’t want to say it, but he had a feeling that he knew what they were after. It’s you they were looking for, Mel. It’s the only explanation.
As the boat pulled up on the rocks, Morgan pulled a box out from under one of the seating positions and opened it. Inside was a pair of pistols, loaded, and ready for use. Baltazar grabbed one while Morgan grabbed the other. They also drew their swords as they jumped out of the boat. The two men’s boots hit the water as Melisande’s feet touched dry land. Papi followed his shipmates out of the boat as they made their way to Mont Saint Michel.
The group made their way up the side of the hill where there was no wall. It was a steep incline and they had to help each other climb at different points to prevent a fall, but eventually, they made it to the abbey walls. From there, they made their way around to the entrance. Walking along the walls, they could see the extent of the damage and some of the rubble that had fallen as a result.
Once they reached the entrance to the main sanctuary the group saw a guard still alive, but only barely. He was shaking in terror and continuously repeated the same words over and over again, “Guards, remain at your posts… hold your ground, hold your ground!”
Baltazar knelt down next to him, “Soldier, it’s okay, the fighting is over.”
The man stopped shaking and looked over at Baltazar. There was a sense of lifelessness in his eyes as though whatever he had seen had ripped the soul from his body before it had a chance to die. Baltazar placed a hand on the man’s shoulder, “What happened here, who did this?”
The guard’s breathing increased and he began shaking again, “Winged beasts… Foul creatures… not human…”
The three men turned and looked at Melisande. She had a look of terror in her eyes. Baltazar stood as the guard closed his eyes and felt limp, “Melisande…”
“Before you say anything,” she interrupted, “I don’t know what he’s talking about. I’ve never seen winged creatures before!”
“We have,” Morgan chimed in, “ye…”
She turned and glared at him, “What are you saying? Do you think I had something to do with this? These people cared for me since I was a child! You think I’d hurt them?”
“Not at all,” Baltazar assured her, “but not so long ago you unleashed inhuman powers on our enemies. At that moment, white wings appeared on your back. It can’t be a coincidence that similar creatures suddenly attack your old home.”
Melisande stepped back, “My God… you’re right… could this be my fault? I am responsible for the deaths of these innocent people?”
“That’s preposterous.” Papi replied. “Put that thought out of your head. You could not have foreseen this, nor could you have prevented it. Had you been here, you’d most likely be dead now too!”
Melisande shook her head, “I only wish that weren’t so hard for me to believe.”
Tears formed in her eyes as she looked at the bodies of guards and monks littering the castle grounds. Baltazar stepped forward with a sympathetic look, “Are you ok?”
“I know most of these people.” She replied. “They were my friends and the only family I ever really had… These guards… they taught me how to fight and let me escape for a few hours every now and then.”
Baltazar hugged Melisande, trying to comfort her as much as he could, “I am sorry for you. I know this must be very difficult.”
“It’s impossible,” she replied as she buried her head in his chest, “let’s just find what we came here for and leave… I don’t know how much more of this I can stand.”
Baltazar nodded, “All right then, let’s go.”
He led the way with Melisande under one arm and his sword pointed ahead. Morgan picked up the rear as they entered the gates to the main sanctuary. It looked as though large explosions of some kind had rocked the once beautiful garden. Large craters had ripped into the flower beds and trees.
Melisande shook her head, “I used to tend to these, I was so proud of them when they came into full bloom. I was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. I even saw Sister Mary admiring them from time to time.”
Morgan looked for a moment, “They must’ve been nice. Ye be meticulous when it comes to injuries, can’t even fathom what they would have looked like.”
They continued moving until they entered the first hall. There, in the middle of the room lay small group of nuns. Papi shook his head with a sad look, “They didn’t even show mercy to the sisters… No one was spared…”
Melisande turned to Papi, “Help me, we need to see if one of these is Sister Mary.”
Suddenly, there was movement behind her and a faint whisper. She turned around to see one of the sisters was still alive. Melisande turned and dropped to her knees, “Baltazar, help me, hurry!”
Baltazar moved over to the other side of the sister and kneeled down. Gently, he turned the woman on her back and rested her head on his knee. Melisande moved the hood covering her head to see her face. She covered her mouth when she saw who it was, “Sister Mary!”
The elderly women opened her eyes slightly, “Little Melisande… you’ve returned. I feared the worst when you disappeared.”
“Please forgive me sister,” she replied, “I’m so sorry I worried you…”
Sister Mary weakly shook her head, “You had to find your own way… I watched over you for as long as I could. Your desire for adventure was too strong… I knew it was only a matter of time.”
“Sister, what happened here,” Baltazar asked.
Her eyes turned to face Baltazar, “You… are her protector now?”
Baltazar looked up at Melisande. Her glowing eyes met his and waited anxiously as though she was also curious to hear what his answer would be. Baltazar turned back to the sister and nodded, “Aye, that’s why I’m here.”
Sister Mary pushed against him a little to move her head. She looked up at him and studied his features, “You have a very kind face. You must protect her well, she is important… not just to us, but to the survival of all.”
“What are you talking about Sister?” She asked. “How can I be so important? You told me that I was just a foolish girl.”
“There is more to you then even you know.” Sister Mary responded. “You must find it… the power within yourself… or all of humanity will suffer the same fate.”
“Sister, who did this?” Papi demanded.
She looked up at him, “Demonic creatures… and the one that is many… They are looking for Melisande… but they mustn’t find her.”
Melisande backed away, scared, “Why, why are they after me?”
“Because of who you are.” Sister Mary responded, “Difficult trials lie ahead for you. If you are to survive… you must find the answers…”
Melisande shook her head, “I’m not ready for this, Sister… I don’t want to live like that!”
“You don’t have a choice.” She replied. “We all have a purpose, and this is yours. I’m sorry that such a huge burden has been placed on your shoulders… but such things are not for me to decide.”
“But where do I go from here?” Melisande asked.
Sister Mary reached under her robes and pulled out a small piece of parchment, “Take this… use the information to find the answers, only then will you be able to save us all.”
She handed the parchment to Melisande as her hand fell limp. Melisande took it, but then looked back at the sister, “Sister… Mary, please… who am I?”
The old woman coughed a few times, “You are… you… That is all I can say… you must witness the answers for yourself… for them to make any sense… only then can you decide who you are.”
Her eyes closed and she let out one final breathe. Melisande closed her eyes and placed a hand on Sister Mary’s chest, “Sister… I am so sorry…”
Baltazar placed her body carefully on the ground and crossed himself, “Rest in peace sister. Do not worry; Melisande is in my care now. In nomine Patris, ET Fili, ET Spiritus Sancti, amen.”
Melisande wept as she knelt next to Sister Mary’s body. Baltazar placed his hands on her arms and guided Melisande to her feet. She buried her face in his chest unable to hold back her grief any longer. Her heart felt as though a million needles had just simultaneously pierced it. I should never have left. She thought to herself. This is my fault…
Baltazar closed his eyes as he wrapped his arms around her, “I’m so sorry, Melisande, I wish that there were something I could do to change this…”
“She was my caretaker.” Melisande responded through tears. “She didn’t choose to take care of me, anymore then I would have chosen her… but no matter how badly I misbehaved, she never complained and never gave up on me.”
“Sometimes it be hard.” Morgan said. “Ye never understand how much ye loved someone til they be gone.”
“Truth,” Papi agreed, “as plain as any.”
“We need to get out of here.” Melisande said pleadingly. “Whatever attacked this place was looking for me, and they might still be in the area.”
“Aye,” Morgan agreed, “that be true. We best be shoving off.”
“Are you okay to walk?” Baltazar asked as he released Melisande.
She nodded, “I’m shaken up, but I can still move. I’ll be fine… physically speaking.”
The four shipmates ran out of the hall and into the sanctuary. Suddenly, they heard what sounded like a single cannon firing off in the distance. Melisande jumped at the sound, “They’re back, we’re under attack!”
“I don’t think so.” Baltazar responded in a slightly more calm tone. “That shot sounded like it was only a half charge of powder, not enough to fire at anything.”
Morgan came up behind them, “That shot came from the direction of the Black Vengeance, Captain. It most likely be a signal.”
Baltazar nodded, “To the boat!”
As they turned to leave, Melisande took one last look at Sister Mary and shook her head, “I’m sorry…”
Baltazar grabbed her arm and gave her a gentle tug, “Melisande, please… we need to go, now.”
Melisande looked back at him and nodded, “I’m coming.”
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