by Gary Clifton
“Alas, Sir Constable Lippold.” The frantic, screeching female voice penetrated the heavy wooden door. “Open up for Heaven's sake. The madman, Ferdinand Mandek is destroying the town square.”
Hans Lippold, the appointed constable of the tiny village of Medula in the remote Alaris Mountains, at the extreme edge of the kingdom of Balpropia, struggled from his rope bed and opened the door.
The distraught face of Wimila Sandor, a woman of the village, her features twisted in fear, peered in from the cold rain. “He's beaten the priest, toppled over the statue of the Sacred Deity, and attacked several other people. In the name of the king, Sir Constable, you must help us.” She dissolved into tears.
“I'll come immediately, madam.” Hans Lippold dressed quickly, pulling on his heaviest coat against the cold. He found his cudgel; the only weapon allowed by King Claudus, supreme ruler of Balpropia, and followed the terrified woman through narrow cobblestone streets to the square.
Hans Lippold knew Ferdinand Vladimir Abod Mandek well. He was only partially recovered from injuries suffered when he attempted to arrest Mandek a few weeks before. Ferdinand Mandek had taken the cudgel away from him and inflicted serious injury. To know Ferdinand Mandek, the most evil of men, was to know fear, and this wet night in the thin, cold mountain air was no exception.
A devout, introspective man who was still quite young to hold such an important position as constable, he saw and understood the danger of dealing with Ferdinand Mandek. However, sworn by the crown to maintain the peace, Hans Lippold swallowed his apprehension and hurried toward the sound of Ferdinand Mandek bellowing like an enraged bull. The booming voice merged with the sounds of breaking glass and angry shouts of townspeople.
At the edge of the square, the village butcher confronted Hans Lippold. “Sir Constable, you must stop him. He's destroying every shop on the square and we are very afraid. You must act.”
“I need the assistance of the citizens,” Hans Lippold said. “The king and his men at arms are twenty leagues away in the capital at Goobek. Quickly, Sir Butcher, ride there now and inform the king's captain of this situation.”
“I'll do it, Sir Constable.” And with that, the butcher, anxious to avoid contact with Ferdinand Mandek, ran toward the stable.
Ferdinand Mandek had circled the square and was smashing at the front door of the Temple of the Lord of Hosts when Hans Lippold encountered the village blacksmith. Young, husky, he was standing idly in the rain amid several other village men, watching Ferdinand Mandek's destructive rant. Many voiced complaint, but none raised a hand.
“Sir Blacksmith, I deputize you to help me subdue Ferdinand Mandek.”
The blacksmith shirked away. “Ferdinand Mandek is your problem, Sir Constable. You are appointed by the king with the authority to deal with this evil man. It is not my place.”
Hans Lippold queried several other of the men standing about. None accepted his request for help. Aware of the deadly peril, he stifled his fear and approached Ferdinand Mandek, still kicking at the temple door.
Holding his cudgel at his side, he said in a clear voice, “Ho! Stand down, Ferdinand Mandek, or face the retribution of the Crown.”
Ferdinand Mandek, a huge man a head taller than any other in the village, was fat, dirty, and carried the odor of dead flesh. The only son of an old, rich family in the domain, he had squandered his inheritance through drink and sloth. His history of violence was legend across the surrounding countryside. It was reputed that he had slain at least ten men.
Through a twisted leer, he snarled, “Damn the Crown. Damn that fool King Claudus. Damn you, Constable. Are you here for me to take that puny baton away from you and use it on your stupid head again? I am Ferdinand Vladimir Abod Mandek, rightful heir to the Barony of Mandek. You have no authority over me. I'll hurt you worse this time.”
In the dim light of the square, Ferdinand Mandek lowered his head and charged Hans Lippold.
Hans Lippold struck the huge man a solid blow on his head, expecting to die in the next instant. To his surprise and the astonishment of the villagers who stood by watching, Ferdinand Mandek went down, his body twitching.
The blacksmith said, “Great God, Constable, you've killed him.”
“I think not,” replied Hans Lippold. “He's only unconscious. Help me drag him to the village dungeon, and I'll chain him to the punishment post.”
And thereupon, Ferdinand Mandek was confined to a heavy timber in the basement jail of the village headquarters. Hans Lippold knew Ferdinand Mandek was only temporarily subdued.
He peered into the distance after the route the butcher had taken and prayed the king would send men in time to prevent Ferdinand Mandek from killing him and many others, destroying the village, and engaging in horrific mayhem. In desperation, looking skyward, Hans Lippold further prayed that some act of the gods intercede to subdue Ferdinand Mandek.
Hans Lippold climbed wearily back into his rope bed. With heavy heart, pondering when he would die at the hand of Ferdinand Vladimir Abod Mandek, he lay awake in the darkness, interrupted only by heavy thunder and lightning rattling his walls and by the lonely thoughts of a doomed man.
* * *
It happened that the dungeon held a second prisoner, Egor Sabado Levant, a former priest in the Temple, who had fallen prey to the evil of excessive drink. Hans Lippold had jailed him earlier in the day for public inebriation.
Soon, Ferdinand Mandek stirred awake and finding himself chained to a post, again became enraged.
“Fret not, Ferdinand Mandek,” said Egor Levant from an adjacent post. “They have to let you go in the morning.”
Ferdinand Mandek peered through the dim light. “I know you, priest. I need no advice from a drunken fool who believes in that Temple business. If I could get inside that Temple, I know the altar has many gold trinkets and silk for vestments. I'll take it all, leave this stupid village, and live in style another place.”
“If you enter the temple with malevolent intent, my son, the Temple Monster will have you.” This, Egor Levant believed in all sincerity.
“Temple Monster! Great heaven's useless priest, Ferdinand Vladimir Abod Mandek has no fear of Temple Monsters... or anything else for that matter.”
“The Monster is Divine, Ferdinand Mandek. Enter and suffer the consequences.”
At that, Ferdinand Mandek used his great strength to tear free from the chains and made for the dungeon door.
“Do not enter that temple to steal the Maker's goods, Ferdinand Mandek,” the priest called as Mandek was smashing the outer door. “Go forth forewarned; I've informed Sir Constable Hans Lippold that such protectors of the faith do, in fact, exist. He knows and understands.”
Ferdinand Mandek turned back to kill this brash agitator, then stopped. “Sir Constable? Monsters? They can do no harm to Ferdinand Mandek? I'll slay them all. I let you live to tell these fools in the village that I'm invincible.” He plunged angrily out into the storm.
At the late hour, no one was about on the square in the foul weather. Amidst the crashing thunder and lightning, Ferdinand Mandek made his way to the rear door of the Temple.
“Divine Temple Monster, indeed,” he spat as he kicked down the door. But, once inside, he couldn't help noticing the unusually damp chill as he stumbled in the darkness to the altar.
A loud clap of thunder followed instantly by a brilliant lightning flash broke the dead silence. He looked about uneasily. But Ferdinand Mandek reassured himself he feared nothing and went about robbing the Temple.
He had heaped several gold treasures onto a silk cloth when he first heard a quiet shuffle from a nearby hallway. The soft glow of dim light appearing in the hall doorway would have frightened a less bold man than Ferdinand Mandek, but not him. Such a formidable man held his ground. Damn any Temple Monster that appeared.
Then, horror of horrors, the shadow appeared. Ferdinand Mandek stepped backward slightly. A tiny shard of doubt teased a corner of his mind. Then, he knew. The Temple Monster was real! Mother of Heaven, it was coming down that hall! Ten feet tall, with a huge, grotesque head, it was creeping steadily toward him.
Like drowning in a sticky ooze, panic and fear engulfed Ferdinand Mandek. As he broke for the back door, the monster was upon him. Gripping him in a vise-like monster-embrace, it tangled him in the silk. Unable to breathe, he stumbled and fell upon his stolen gold. The pain in his chest was unbearable.
Ferdinand Mandek shouted a plea to the spirits he'd mocked, “May the Gods save me.” He shrieked once, then twice. Then darkness.
* * *
“Mother Clarisa, do you recognize this man?” Constable Hans Lippold held his lantern high to better illuminate the body of Ferdinand Mandek, his face twisted in death, tangled in torn silk amidst scattered Temple treasures.
“I've seen him around the square and the church, but I don't know his name.” Mother Clarisa was the Resident Hostess and a permanent occupant of the Temple. Elderly, bent, tiny, dressed in a night robe, she was wearing a heavy sleeping cap which Hans Lippold thought resembled a tattered horse-blanket wrapped around her head.
“And Mother, you were sleeping behind the rectory, heard someone break in, and you then walked down the hallway holding a candle?”
“Yes, Sir Constable, and then I heard screams and found this man here, dead on the floor.”
“Did you see anyone or anything else, Mother?”
“No one else was present, Sir Constable... at least no one I could see.”
“Mother, that will be all for the night. Go back to bed, and I'll take your comment down in writing tomorrow. The town doctor will be here any time. We'll handle this.”
“Yes, Sir Constable.” Mother Clarisa walked back down the hallway, holding her candle high.
Hans Lippold glanced casually after her and noticed the strange, distorted shadow the wavering candle, her walking motions, and the odd pattern her sleeping cap combined to make as she made her way back to her bed.
In a brief, passing idle thought, Hans Lippold saw that the tiny Mother appeared huge in the distorted light; her sleeping cap reflecting a strange, eerie shape.
At that instant, his vagary was interrupted when the town doctor, an officious, rotund, balding little man, medical bag in hand, bustled in.
Hans Lippold looked away from the Mother's apparition and knelt with the doctor beside the body. He then glanced back thoughtfully at Mother Clarisa's rapidly disappearing shadow, before turning back to the corpse of Ferdinand Mandek. He had heard tales of spiritual avengers in the Temple, but what man of sound mind could believe...?
The doctor examined the corpse of Ferdinand Mandek and looked up. “No sign of cause of death. No wounds or other body damage. This man's heart simply stopped beating. Perhaps stress from breaking into this sacred place aggravated by the thunder and lightning were too much for a fat man's heart,” he said solemnly. “Odd, Sir Constable, notice how the terror of death remains frozen in his face.”
Hans Lippold again looked upward, face locked in question.
In the basement dungeon of village headquarters, former priest Egor Levant had dropped back to sleep after Ferdinand Mandek had escaped. He would learn only later in the day of the demise of Ferdinand Mandek.
At midafternoon, a company of the king's men, summoned by the village butcher, arrived on lathered horses.
“Hans Lippold, you are a man of great courage and wisdom and a valued asset to the king's realm,” the company captain said. “Ferdinand Mandek was a dangerous foe.”
Ferdinand Mandek was buried in an unmarked grave on a distant hillside. Only the gravedigger and Hans Lippold attended. As the grave was filled, Hans Lippold looked frequently skyward, always with the concerned face of confusion.
Egor Levant overcame his addiction to drink and returned to the Temple. The following year, he fell to his death down an abandoned mine shaft, firm in the belief that Ferdinand Mandek had been destroyed by Divine direction. He never said a word of his warning to Ferdinand Mandek. If the Divine Monsters could destroy a formidable barbarian like Ferdinand Mandek, who was he to voice his thoughts?
Hans Lippold stated repeatedly that it was not he who had ended Ferdinand Mandek's scourge. But he became known across the kingdom as a great man and would remain the Constable of the village of Medula for many years.
Hans Lippold attended Ceremony in the Temple three times weekly for the rest of his days where he vociferously and devoutly thanked the gods for their kind wisdom and benevolent mercy in all things.
In the years that followed, tales of Divine Temple Monsters, always a topic for lively discussion, circulated through the populace. When the subject was raised, Hans Lippold always smiled and said, “Who could know how the gods actually work.”
Ever after, throughout the Kingdom of Balpropia, when children misbehaved, their mothers needed only to admonish, “Be good, or the ghost of Ferdinand Vladimir Abod Mandek will return and get you.” The Kingdom was said to have raised the most obedient children of the era.
Copyright © 2015 by Gary Clifton