The Kurse of Kain

by Billy Wong
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Sir Albright the Black, new mayor of the town of Glen, grunted and swore as he tried to remove his mail hauberk. He’d just come home from his initiation parade, and now couldn’t finish removing his armor. “Help me, will you Leonard? I can’t get this thing off. I think it shrunk in the cold.”

The freckle-faced young man replied without looking at him. “That doesn’t happen.”

“No? Explain why I can’t get it off, then.”

“Didn’t you say you haven’t gone on quest for a while?”

Was he implying that Albright was getting fat? But he’d gotten the damn thing on, hadn’t he? “It’s bitter fortune that I had to inherit an estate here. I hate Ireland and everything Irish.”

“I hear you are enamored of the Duchess Rebecca, and she’s Irish. And you loved Lord Shannon, didn’t you?”

Rebecca was the gentle duchess from southern Ireland Albright had admired since meeting her at a tournament five years ago. And Shannon was Albright’s recently deceased mentor, who had passed his manor and surrounding lands on to his old friend. “So Shannon actually talked about me, eh? He told you truth, Leonard. But I hate the Irish cold.” All the “Lands” were too cold, really. Ireland, Scotland, Iceland, Finland . . .

“You’re acting weak, milord. A real knight shouldn’t complain.”

Albright took his helmet off and sighed. “Maybe, but I’m not built for this climate.” And he certainly wasn’t, as he was African.

Nearly two decades ago, Albright, then the Black Lion Akimbu to his tribe, had rescued a questing Sir Shannon from certain death at the jaws of a two-legged African dragon. Despite a very troublesome language barrier, the two men had subsequently joined forces to defeat the man-ape cult terrorizing Akimbu’s tribe. But then, Akimbu was cast out for catching the “curse of the white devil,” more commonly known as a rash.

Having lost his home, Akimbu accompanied his new friend back to Europe, though not before trying to kill him in a fit of rage. They adventured all over Christendom as brothers in arms, until eventually the newly named Albright settled in warm Italy while Shannon returned to his homeland in Ireland.

Now Shannon was dead, and being childless had designated Albright his heir. But his early death frightened Albright. They had been about the same age, both in their early forties and apparently strong, healthy men. Was it something about the cold north which so shortened men’s lives? Sometimes, he feared that the weak European sun was making him whiter. Taking away his heritage, his strength.

He asked Leonard, who had been his friend’s butler and now his own, “How exactly did Shannon die?”

“He had, um, a cooking accident, sir.”

Albright frowned. Only a few months ago, his friend had written to tell him he’d just inherited his uncle’s estate. Now he was dead, and disturbingly enough had had the foresight to write a will at his less than ancient age. “Is there something I should know about this place, besides the fact it’s really cold?”

“It’s not that cold. Wait until winter!”

Oh, God. Maybe he was going to just freeze to death. “I mean, are there any other dangers around? Monsters? Bandits? Unstable earth? Bad things, I mean.”

Leonard hesitated. “There’s a hermit who lives nearby . . . and some rumors that the manor’s haunted.”

“What?! Why didn’t you tell me this?”

“You didn’t ask. Besides, they’re only rumors.”

He glared at the servant. “You live here. You must know if they’re actually true or not, yes?”

“There’s the occasional odd noise, but I wouldn’t put it past the wind and rats.”

Albright scowled. “You have rats, too.”

“Persistent creatures, their kind.”

Having finally finished taking off his armor, Albright threw it onto his bed. “You’ve been no help at all.”

“Should I clean your armor, sir?”

“Yes, go and clean the stupid armor. I’m going to check the house for any signs of hauntings.”

“And how will you do that?”

“I don’t know. Look, maybe?” Aggravated and unnerved, Albright set off to explore his own house. As he left the bedroom, he clutched at the cross hanging from his neck. Hopefully, it would ward off the spirits of the evil damned.

#

Albright went around looking for anything he could consider signs of ghosts, not sure what they might be, but quickly grew distracted as he admired the view from the second-floor study. One side of the room was covered with huge windows, and connected to an elegant stone balcony. Though he hadn’t planned to go out, he found himself opening the door and walking into the caress of a gentle autumn breeze.

Stepping to the edge of the balcony, Albright looked out over the calm sea and smiled. So Ireland wasn’t the best place for him physically speaking, but maybe he could learn to like it here after all. Knowing this place had been his friend’s home brought back good memories, and he began to reminisce about the adventures he and Shannon had shared.

“I’m glad you’re starting to take to this place, lad,” Shannon’s voice said.

Startled, Albright spun to look behind him and did a double take at the sight of his old friend’s translucent figure. Blood oozed from a gaping gash in Shannon’s head, covering his face. Albright trembled, having never seen a ghost before, but pushed the fear to the back of his mind. No matter that he was undead, this was his best friend and would never cause him harm. Feeling surer of himself, he said, “Shannon! You’re the ghost?! What happened to you?”

He nodded, a bitter frown on his face. “I think you can guess. I was murdered.”

Right. Ghosts generally came about because they’d died uneasy deaths. Albright’s fists clenched in anger at Shannon’s fate. “How? Who did this to you?”

“It was another ghost, who resided here before I came, and who I think might have been the death of me cousin as well. Dammit, if only he hadn’t named me his heir, I might still be alive! Please free me, Al–I hate being stuck here!”

There was another, hostile ghost?! Shit. “I’ll do my best to help. But is this why you named me the heir, so I could come and save your ass? That’s not such a nice thing to do.”

“I didn’t even know I was going to die when I wrote that will! But Leonard kept telling me I should make one, and tried to drop hints I should hand him the place. I wonder, did he know something was going to happen?”

“You said the ghost killed you and the previous owner, and he’s spared Leonard? I have to say I find that suspicious, too. But how am I supposed to get rid of this ghost?”

“I don’t know. I think you’ll have to ask a priest about that.”

That had been Albright’s first guess, but he’d been hoping his ghostly friend would have some deeper insight. “But do you have any idea of who this ghost was?”

Shannon hugged himself and shuddered, looking all too frightened for a man already dead. “Yes, he told me, before he took me life. His name is Cayne, and he is evil incarnate, a descendant of . . . Cain.”

#

Nora slammed her cudgel home on the skull of one would-be rapist bandit, then clubbed the second on the side of his knee. As he fell to one knee, she launched a roundhouse kick into the side of his head. His eyes rolled up into his head as he crumpled in a heap next to his partner. Hmph. That was what they got for messing with the new prioress of the Abbey of Glen.

Leaving her insensate attackers on the road, Nora walked into town, hoping the nunnery she would oversee wasn’t too humble. At thirty-eight years of age, twenty of them spent as a nun after killing her last man, she thought she’d earned a decent place.

With her expectations so high, she found herself rather disappointed as she laid eyes upon the building that was to be her new home. It was squat and weathered, and looked like it hadn’t been used in years. She opened the creaky door and stepped onto a carpet of dust. Brushing off a table on which to set down her pack, she filled the air around her with a storm of flying dust. Nora coughed. Ack.

She finished unpacking her things, and had begun the daunting task of cleaning up when she heard a knock at the door. Sister Kelly? She couldn’t remember if it was the first or last name of the nun she’d been told would join her. But either way, she would get some much-needed help. She opened the door, only to find herself looking up at a tall, ebony-skinned man in a surprisingly well-quilted jacket.

Shaking off her surprise, she said, “Good, looks like they were generous enough to send more help. Go clean the quarters.”

She had already turned away when the black said, “I’m not a slave.”

Nora looked back. “I know, serving boy.”

“Boy? I’m forty-two damn years old!”

“You are, eh? Hard to tell with you folks.” Realizing he wasn’t here to help, she ground her teeth in annoyance. “What, so I already have a visitor? Well, it figures you foreigners wouldn’t know what manners are. What do you want?”

The man frowned. “Lady, I’m sorry if I came at an inopportune time. But I need the nuns’ help. My dwelling has a ghost problem.”

“I suppose I could help you, for the right price.”

“I wasn’t looking for the help of a serving girl.”

Nora put her hands on her large hips and glared at the African. “That’s not funny. I’m the prioress of this abbey, and you better learn some respect before I teach you about the Lord’s wrath.”

You’re the prioress? You look more like a fat huntress to me.”

She looked down at her faded leathers and well-worn boots, and wondered at the condition of her oft-tangled blonde hair. “I was traveling. Now, you said you needed help. Where do you live?”

“The manor up the street. I inherited it from a friend.”

“What?! You’re Shannon’s friend?”

“Yes–you knew him?”

Nora smiled. “We’ve met. I’m rather surprised he would pass his estate down to a black, but I suppose you must be all right if he did. He was a good warrior, and a good man. Sorry about mistaking you for a serving boy.” She extended her hand.

He laughed as he shook it with admirable strength. A warrior’s handshake. “Your apology’s accepted. Can you help me?”

“I’m not all that experienced with ghosts. This would be me first exorcism, to tell the truth. But I’m sure the Lord’s light will protect me.”

“It’ll have to do. I’m Albright, by the way.”

Funny how Africans would have such European sounding names, when their language had to be much different. “Nora. I suppose you don’t have to call me Prioress, if I don’t have to call you Lord. Say, after I deal with this ghost, could you get someone here to help me clean up? I could use the aid.”

“I think I know just the man.”

#

“I cast thee out, in Gods name,

Go away, good man’s bane.

Flee, evil, before Christ’s light,

Run away, seek your eternal night.

Give it up, your course has ran,

So go away, Goddamn!”

“Is that really what exorcists say?” Albright asked as Nora repeated her mantra for the third room and time. “It sounds a bit silly.”

“I don’t know what exorcists say. So I choose some words of me own. All that matters is faith, yes?”

Watching the prioress brandish her cross at the air this way and that, Albright sighed. Nora didn’t seem to know what the hell she was doing, and he prayed that, somehow, things would turn out all right.

They had entered the dining hall, Nora attempting to banish a long red tapestry, when Albright felt the chill in the air. “It’s getting cold.”

“Just the healthy Irish breeze.”

Then, Nora began to choke. Albright saw a gigantic ghostly figure with dark, stringy hair materialize in the air before her, hand clamped tightly about her throat. Drawing his sword, Albright charged and slashed through the shade. Of course, there was no effect. Chiding himself for his foolishness, he thrust his necklace crucifix through the ghost’s body. A terrible biting cold numbed his hand and forced him to pull back, but the thing snarled and dropped Nora. “Are you alright?” he asked.

She coughed and gagged, trying to regain her breath. “T-this devil’s gonna pay.”

Repeating her exorcism chant, she struck at the ghost’s forehead with her cross clenched in her fist. It hissed, but seemed less affected than before. She kept at it, punching with her holy symbol though it obviously hurt her too. “Look out!” Albright cried, as a knife rose into the air and flew.

Nora screamed as one of his cooking utensils buried itself in her back. She reached sluggishly for the hilt, then sank to the floor. “Foolish woman!” said the ghost. “I am Cayne, of the line of Cain! Your puny powers are no match for the wrath of the damned!”

“God, Nora, are you alright?!” Albright asked as he scooped her up. A knife flew at his face, but he leaned aside.

“Hurts . . .”

Running with his burden for the door, the knight ducked a flying chair which shattered against the wall. He dashed out of the manor, heart pounding like a drum. Only a few steps outside he noticed Leonard walking towards the house, staring at his panicked flight. “Don’t go inside!” Albright warned as he passed.

“What’s wrong, milord?”

“Cayne of the line of Cain . . . I mean, a big nasty ghost!”

“I think you’re hallucinating, milord.”

He indicated Nora and the knife in her back. “What, are you accusing me of stabbing her?”

“Fine, milord. I suppose there is a ghost after all.”

“Come and help me with her, will you? She’s a heavy one.”

#

They took refuge in the nunnery. “I’m alright,” Nora said as Leonard stitched her wound. “I’ve had worse.”

Albright nodded, glad the woman wasn’t too hurt. Luckily, she had a lot of meat on her back, and it’d been a small knife. “Now how are we to get rid of Cayne?”

“Why not just leave the house? It’s not so important as your life.”

“My friend’s trapped here, away from the paradise he deserves, as long as that monster’s free. I won’t leave him to such a fate.”

“Shannon’s a ghost too?” Leonard asked. “Are you sure you weren’t hallucinating?”

“I didn’t stab her. And I’m thinking you know more than you’re letting on, too. Why else would you be trying so hard to deny the ghost’s presence?”

The butler’s face tensed. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Spill it,” Nora said with a frightful glare.

His voice shook as he spoke. “A-alright, alright! I didn’t tell you because I was scared. I found out about Cayne a long time ago, when the first owner died. He was a good knight, and had killed Cain’s descendant, who then lived as a hermit with his brother, when he attacked in the night. But the monster’s spirit remained, and soon took his deadly revenge. When I caught him flaying the knight alive, Cayne threatened me, and told me if I tried to warn anyone, he would kill me too . . .”

Albright sighed. “Well, why didn’t you run away?”

“I was a small child then. My parents were the servants of the house, and they wouldn’t have believed me even if I had told them. So I stayed, and grew up into the next master’s servant.”

“How long before he killed your second lord?”

“Many years, actually. My second master was a wicked man, and I think that’s why Cayne didn’t kill him. He probably only enjoys the suffering of the good. But he died of illness, and that was when your friend came. It’s a pity he had to die that way.”

“He died because you couldn’t be bothered to warn him! You could have told him outside, but instead you let him die!”

“I was scared, milord. I’ve been at his mercy since I was a child, and didn’t think I could ever escape. Besides, I didn’t know that Shannon would believe me, until it was too late. Even if he did . . . you believed me, and yet you tried to fight. Look where it’s gotten you.”

Albright credited his African heritage for his open-minded attitude towards spirits. Of course there were spirits–though the European ghosts were certainly less discreet than the ancestors of his tribe. “Better kicked out than staying there. We’d probably be dead, if not now, then soon.”

“So do you have any idea what to do about this Cayne?” Nora asked. “Me faith should’ve scared him off, but it wasn’t enough. What do we do?”

“Can we get a stronger priest over here?”

“That’s a possibility. It’d take some time, though.”

Hesitantly, Leonard said, “I’m not sure that would be enough . . .”

“Why’s that?”

“He’s a descendant of Cain. When he first threatened me, he told me that no less than a saint could banish his kind . . . part of his effort to keep me quiet, I know, but it could still be true.”

Nora nodded. “I thought I would have been able to take him, after all I’ve served the church. But he’s strong.”

“How about we get one of those relics and use it to help us out?” Albright suggested. “Feed him the body part of a saint?”

“That could work. I heard they were on sale today.”

#

Leaving Nora to rest in bed, Albright and Leonard found the local pardoner, and bought a tooth of Saint George for a discount price before returning to the manor. Cayne didn’t take long to show himself, an axe from the tool shed in his opaque hands. “Where is your holy woman, black knight? Shouldn’t she be here helping you fight the good fight? Alas, she is dead! Bwahahaha!”

“Go to hell,” Albright said, and threw George’s fingernail into Cayne’s face.

Nothing happened; it passed right through, and the evil being laughed hideously. “What is that, a remnant of some holy corpse? Your Lord hears you not, ignorant fool! Under this roof, darkness holds all sway, and the best hope you have is that of a swift death. But I don’t plan on giving you even that.”

Albright ran, dragging Leonard after him. The axe flew, and he heard metal rip flesh and crunch into bone. But he didn’t feel any pain. A great weight dragged at his arm as he cleared the doorway, and he looked back to see Leonard lying on the ground. He was dead, an axe through his spine. Leaving the corpse, Albright fled.

#

Shaken by his servant’s death, Albright returned to the nunnery to find Nora sound asleep. She was pale and clammy, and though she’d insisted on being fine, she certainly didn’t look it. He hoped she would be all right. But what was he going to do about the evil spirit in his house? Shannon’s soul was trapped on earth as long as Cayne remained, and Leonard’s now as well. Exorcism hadn’t worked, nor a saint’s relic. Frustrated, he went to sleep.

He had paid little attention to that detail, but Leonard’s assertion Cayne had lived with a brother found his attention in a dream. He saw the two monsters terrorizing the countryside together, and snapping to wakefulness began to wonder if the other brother knew something of how to defeat Cayne. Of course, he’d have to get that information in violent manner.

Not sleeping again that night, he rose early in the morning to dress and leave. Waking up, Nora asked, “Where are you going? Have another bright idea to try?”

“Yeah, I do. I’m hoping Cayne’s brother will know of some weakness that could help me bring his demise.”

“And you expect him to tell you?”

He showed an inch of his blade. “Even monsters value their lives.”

“Think you can handle him? They’re strong, these children of Cain.”

Albright nodded. “I’ll have to. I’ve faced mighty foes before.” But then, he’d had Shannon at his side.

Nora seemed to see the doubt in his eyes. “How about I come help you out?”

“You’re wounded, and a woman besides. You won’t be much help in a fight.”

She drew herself out of bed, a bit gingerly due to her injury. “I can fight. You want to test me?”

“You’re a nun.”

“I used to be a fighter, you know. As a girl, I could really make some bloodshed with a blade.”

He groaned. Not this . . . even if she had once been a warrior, he didn’t have much faith in a female’s ability to fight, especially not after so much time. But he supposed he’d rather have some company on the journey, rather than be all lonely. If anything, she could hold a crossbow to threaten Cayne’s brother–if she didn’t accidentally shoot Albright instead. “Fine, you can come. Stay behind me, alright?”

“Whatever you say.”

Catching the mischievous look in her eyes, Albright exhaled and turned away.

#

Albright borrowed some new equipment from the local blacksmith–no full plate, unfortunately, but an adequate shield and chain hauberk for him, and a crossbow, light sword, and hauberk for Nora. He’d tried to get her to take cured leather for her armor, but she insisted she could manage with the chain. He hoped she wouldn’t complain.

Moving into the forest where Cayne’s brother was said to dwell, Albright soon grew uncomfortably cold in his metal armor. As she watched him fume, Nora said, “You blacks are a bunch of wimps, aren’t you?”

“Shut it, fatty. I have bigger arms than half your puny white knights.” He paused. “Though I suppose you do, too. But you’re fat. There are a lot more of you chunkers around here than at home, that’s for sure.”

Nora smiled and hugged herself. “I’m not fat, it’s insulation. You Africans might want to learn something about it, though I suppose you wouldn’t need it with your grass huts.”

“But when our huts catch flame, we can run through the walls and escape! You whites just get trapped and die.”

“And yours would collapse under a good snow.”

“We don’t have snow.”

“And that’s why you don’t need real homes. Us Europeans had to get smart, to figure out how to survive in the cold. You folk just hide where it’s nice and warm, because you couldn’t do the same.”

Albright frowned. “Well, some of you whites like to curl your hair. Us Africans, we come with curly hair–I suppose that makes us better, then?”

“But you have big noses, like animals. We’re obviously more advanced than you.”

“We’re the original men, and know how to give nature the proper respect. You’ve lost all touch with-”

“What was that?!”

“I didn’t hear anything. Women’s intuition?”

“No, I just thought I heard-”

A howl split the air, and Albright felt a heavy mass smash into him and bear him to the ground. The gargantuan wolf went for his throat, and being stunned he was unable to ward off the bite. Powerful jaws clamped onto his neck, and he tried vainly to pry them apart. For the moment his mail collar saved his life, but he couldn’t breathe, and his consciousness was rapidly fading away. Then the wolf stiffened, and the light faded from its eyes. It went limp across his body, and Nora withdrew her blade from its ribs. “Thank you,” Albright said when he regained his breath, rubbing his bruised neck.

Nora wiped her sword on the wolf’s pelt. “Not a fighter, am I?”

“You got it from behind. Do you think that thing was his pet?”

“He must be close by, if it was.”

They continued on their way, and soon saw a cave in a short hillside. Flames glowed from deeper within. Following the light, they entered a chamber with a narrow elevated pathway to a small plateau at its back. Lying on the plateau as though asleep was the huge form of a man, dressed in filthy furs. Perhaps fifty years of age, the man was extremely hairy and large of bone in both frame and face. “Stay here,” Albright said.

He crossed the narrow path and closed with the giant, sword in hand. But the man must have heard him coming, because as Albright approached he whipped his furs up from the floor and into the knight’s face. Momentarily distracted by the flailing garments, Albright felt a punch like a hammer blast into his chest. He fell, his sword flying away. The giant began, “Who dares invade my home?! I am Caen, son of Kaine, son of-”

Nora ran over with surprising speed and struck at Caen, scoring a cut to his shoulder. He cried out and stepped back in pain, but kicked her in the stomach as she tried to follow. She doubled over, and he followed up with a backhand which sent her flying off the plateau to land with a thud on the lower level.

Albright thought to check if Nora was all right, but before he could do anything Caen grabbed him around the throat with one hand and lifted him to his feet. Then he raised him into the air, continuing, “son of Kayne, son of Cane, son of Caen, of the line of Grendel . . .”

Beating uselessly on the Cain-kin’s tree-like arm, Albright gasped as bright flashes danced in his eyes. Desperately, he reached out and raked at Caen’s eyes. The huge man dropped him, and he scrambled away to retrieve his sword. He slashed at his enemy, opening a cut on his arm. Another slice caught him over the ribs, and he fell on his side. Albright raised his sword. “No!” Nora shouted. “We need him to talk, not die!”

Oh, right. Instead of finishing the giant, he pressed the point of his sword to Caen’s throat, holding him in place. He looked at Nora. “Are you alright?”

“A little bruised, but I’ve been hurt worse in bar fights.”

He turned to Caen. “You. It’s time to talk, you ugly fiend. Why can’t we banish your brother’s shade?”

“My brother shade? You mean he die, but not go on way?”

“Yeah, that’s what I mean. What’s so special about your line?”

What he said sounded quite implausible, but Caen seemed too scared to lie. “In days of Cain, Abel given special crop by God grace. But Cain killed his brother, God withdraw crop our land, curse took line of Cain. Perhaps only crop break cycle of evil and pain.”

“What does it look like?”

“I not sure. But mother told me when I small, it a root, brown skin and irregular oval shape.”

“And where would we find it? You said God withdrew it from this land. Which land, Ireland? Cain and Abel didn’t live here.”

“All land before great sea. He take from every land before sea.”

Albright thought about it. Then maybe the holy crop still existed beyond the sea? But how would he get there? He raised his sword, intent on finishing off Caen. Nora stopped him. “What are you doing? He didn’t harm us, really. Why would you take his life?”

“He’s a monster, and he attacked us. Kill him now, and we’ll prevent him from making any more of his kind.”

“Leave me be,” Caen begged, “I do nothing not right.”

“Has he killed anyone, to your knowledge?” Nora asked.

“I’ve heard rumors of evil deeds,” Albright admitted, “but no evidence to back them up. But he’s a descendant of a cursed line. He’s bound to be inclined toward wickedness.”

“But we don’t know that he’s done anything.”

“Please let live, lord knight. I sorry for fight.”

He sighed, and withdrew his blade. “Oh, fine. Maybe when we get this crop, you can eat it and stop being a cursed brute. Until then, you’d better stay out of trouble, or I’ll feed you my blade when I come back.”

“I not make trouble, yes.”

Sheathing his sword, Albright turned and left with Nora. As they walked back through the cave, she asked, “What did you mean by getting the crop? He said God took it away.”

“From every land before the ocean, yeah. But maybe not the ones beyond it.”

“Beyond the ocean? But doesn’t the earth end past there?”

“That’s what most people would say. Not the Vikings, though. Someone named Eric’s son apparently traveled over the sea, and claimed there was a primal land beyond the horizon, untouched by the evils of civilized man.”

“Like Africa, only colder?”

He frowned. “I suppose, but Caen said God took the crop from Africa, too. So if I want to get it, I’ve only one place to look.”

“What if it doesn’t exist, if it’s only another tall tale of the Norse fireside? It’s so far away, is it really worth it for you to go and risk your life?”

“Yes, it is. My friend’s eternal rest justifies more than a small price.”

Nora smiled. “You’re pretty noble, for a savage man. I’ll pray for your good luck. You going to ask this Eric’s son for help, then?”

“I think he’s dead. But I reckon there’s some Norseman willing to follow in his footsteps and be my guide.”

#

Albright left Ireland for Scandinavia then, cursing the cold as his African blood yearned to freeze in his veins. He persisted, but was only able to find an apparently psychotic Viking crew to sail him on his way. He wondered what the hell they were talking about when they shouted something about “Valhalla” as they left, and decided it was better he didn’t know. Hopefully, he wasn’t about to die.

Long story short, the Vikings did get him to a tropical shore, where they disembarked ready to raid. A few hours later they were dead, shot down by whooping red-skinned wildmen clad in little more than Albright’s old tribe. Surrendering to the strangers, he was captured and forced to become a slave. At least it was warm around here, and they didn’t beat him too badly. But his repeated attempts to escape met with little success, and he soon fell into despair at his hopeless life.

He had almost given up all hope of returning to Europe when he saw the wildmen pick their harvests one day. He saw then that the roots they grew looked just like what Caen had described. With new resolve, he kidnapped the village chief Pal Pi Qua in the night and used him as a human shield while he rowed away–a sack of “taters” as the wildmen called them, in his canoe.

Albright had planned to let the chief go once out of bowshot, but Pal Pi Qua refused to leave, and he realized the man could not swim. Not wanting to kill him for nothing but also unwilling to go back and face the tribesmen’s wrath, he took the chief with him.

Their little canoe soon broke apart, and Albright had to drag his companion onto an island shore, where they took refuge for a time. The language barrier was a problem, but neither man wanted to live there for the rest of their lives, and together they built a raft with which to try for Europe.

It didn’t nearly hold up against the waves, but as they clung near death to wreckage in the middle of the sea, a Viking ship passed by looking for Albright’s deceased guides. Luckily, the apparent ship diplomat knew English, and the Vikings picked the two men up after Albright promised them some gold. He promised a little bit more in order to get Pal Pi Qua dropped off near his home, and gave the red man an apology not quite understood as they sent him away.

#

It was nearly a year later when Albright finally returned to Glen. His mystical taters were still intact, and he supposed it made sense; they truly were, after all, the crop of God. He saw the pardoner who had sold him Saint George’s fingernail held in the stocks with many lash marks on his back. “You know what he did to get there?” he asked a boy playing nearby.

“He was selling fake relics, Lord Mayor.”

He glared for a second at the prisoner, and his hand crept towards his sword. Then he sighed and went on his way.

“Albright!” Nora cried as he came to visit her at the abbey. It was rather clean and respectable-looking now, and housed a dozen nuns. “You’re alive!”

“What, you thought I’d die?”

“Thought you’d fallen off the end of the earth.”

He laughed. “No, the Vikings were telling the truth. There really is a primal land beyond the sea. You may make fun of my African huts, but these people sleep in tents all the time!”

“I’m glad you’re safe. Did you find the crop?”

“I did–taters, they call them. Pray for me just a little more, alright?”

She shook her head. “I can do better than that. Let me come and help you.”

Albright patted her shoulder. He had doubted her before, but she’d handled herself too well in the face of danger for him to deny her courage and strength. “You’re a worthy ally. Fine. Taters and faith together should be enough to prevail.”

“Let’s hope the third time’s the charm.”

“For Shannon!”

“For Shannon,” Nora agreed, clutching her cross.

#

“You come back again?” Cayne asked with a sneer as Albright and Nora entered the manor once more. “And it looks like I didn’t kill your nun last time. No matter–I’ll just finish it today. There is nothing either of you can do against me!”

“Recognize this?” Albright asked as he produced a tater from his bag. God, this had better work . . .

“What . . . what kind of thing is that? I’ve never seen such a plant before–is it some kind of tuber?” Cayne laughed. “What does it matter? You expect a root to defeat my power? Let me feast upon your pain!”

The ghost swooped down, gnarled hands reaching for Albright’s throat. Cayne’s mouth opened in a roar as he came, and Albright threw the tater in. The phantom stopped, twisting and writhing in the air as the root disappeared into his body, lightening his form. It was as if the evil ghost had been infused with holy power. “W-what . . . are you doing to me?” he asked, shaking with violent spasms.

“Ending you,” Albright replied. Suddenly, Cayne began to steady himself and grow darker again, as if the tater would not be enough. “Nora, now!”

“I will not go into the darkness!” Cayne cried.

Brandishing both a Bible and her cross, Nora stepped gamely forward and shouted,

“I cast thee out, in Gods name,

Go away, good man’s bane.

Flee, evil, before Christ’s light,

Run away, seek your eternal night.

Give it up, your course has ran,

So go away, Goddamn!”

Cayne shuddered, cracks appearing in his translucent skin. With the curse broken by the holy tater, he was no longer shielded from the power of Nora’s faith. “I-I . . . damn you, Black Knight! I curse you, I curse you with the wrath of Cain! For all eternity, may you-” He exploded, his form shattering into shreds of gray substance which began to settle like dust before dissipating into nothingness.

“May I what, dead man?” Albright demanded with a scowl.

“We’ve done it!” Nora beamed. “Lucky he cursed you, instead of me. Even though I finished him.”

“I’m the one who went all the way to New Africa to get the taters, remember?”

“New Africa?”

“What? You don’t approve?”

Just then, Shannon’s ghost appeared before them, and they both gasped his name. He smiled. “Thank you, me friends. I can’t believe how hard you tried just to free a poor dead soul like me. You are truly great. I’m glad to have known you.”

“Ha, Shannon, me do all this just for you? Personally, I only cared about getting my house back for myself.”

They all laughed. “And all this time,” Nora said, “you kept insisting you hate Ireland.”

Albright shrugged. “Ireland’s all right. Not the weather, but the people are fine. Shannon . . . see you again, someday.”

“Goodbye,” Nora added.

“I’ll be waiting for you two. Don’t worry, I’m sure I can save you a place!” And with that, Shannon’s spirit faded away.

Nora smiled. “He finally knows peace.”

“Yeah, but I wonder what happened to Leonard’s soul?”

“He let Shannon get killed. He’s probably roasting in hell.”

“Ah, well. What are we going to do with all these taters?”

“Eh?”

He indicated his bag. “I still have a few dozen holy roots. And fresh too, it seems.”

“Let’s plant them. Plenty of hungry Irish children who could use the food.”

Albright grinned, throwing an arm about Nora’s shoulders. “We broke the curse of Cain and got ourselves a new source of food. They look filling, too–Ireland will be well served. A job well done, wouldn’t you say?”

“You did most of the work.”

“Yeah, but I couldn’t have done it without you. Thanks for saving me all those times. Let’s stay friends, alright?”

“Sure. I’ll be down the street, whenever you want to talk.” She paused. “Say, remember that Rebecca lass you were talking about the other year?”

“What about her?”

“She’s visiting here next week.”

His eyes widened. “Next week! Damn, I better get the house and everything ready. Maybe I’ll finally do better now that we’re going to meet in person. I’ve been sending her the heads of the game I killed for years, and she’s never bothered to reply.”

Nora stared at him. “What have you been sending her?!”

“What’s wrong?”

She chuckled and grabbed his arm. “Let’s go, Albright. Looks like I have a few things to teach you yet.”

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