|THE CASTLE OUROBOROS by Rob Bliss|
I needed to appeal to Cybele’s sane mind, which I felt, after the ghost’s visitation, was more the case than her mind having succumbed to dementia. I needed to inform her that I was no threat, and that I had come to help her. Doctor Freud, it was true, had had remarkable success with diverse cases, some seemingly incurable of their stress, paranoia, and fear. The physician in me could not give up hope.
And perhaps the ghost was giving me a secondary message by lighting the candelabra: I was to go to Cybele’s chamber immediately to help her, that time was of the essence, that her madness would vanish if she only had a single sympathetic ear to hear her words.
I crept to her room and found the door ajar, a light inside sending a ray through the cracked doorway to spear across the hallway.
Softly, I pushed the door inward and stepped inside. Held my rigid stance as my heart leapt in my chest, eyes agape at a vision I had not expected.
Cybele Kohl sat on the edge of her bed, the surrounding white gauze curtain acting as a backdrop to her posture as though she were about to perform on a theatrical stage. Her hair a black halo contrasting her chalk white skin.
Hands folded in her lap, gowned in her white nightdress, she smiled at me and said, “Please come in.”
I stepped in slowly, bearing the candelabra before me, my throat too thick to speak. I was still somewhat afraid of any psychosis in her—now calm, but perhaps soon to lash out. Glancing at her hands folded and at rest, I still feared she had a razor somewhere hidden on her person.
“You don’t have to be afraid anymore,” she said, opening her hands and placing them flat on either knee. “I know who you are now and why you are here. I apologize for attacking you. Granted, I could have killed you—had somewhat intended on doing so—but that would have solidified my brother’s case against me.”
I stepped closer. Candlelight flickered against her features, adding shadow contours to her beauty.
“Please sit,” she said, gesturing to a Louis XIV chair, upholstered with white fleur-de-lis on a dark blue background, which sat in a corner of the room.
As I stepped toward the chair, my eye caught a small iron fireplace grill. There were andirons, but no ash sat within the metal hollow. It was too small and I doubted that, if there had been a fire ablaze, it would throw much heat into the room. A revelation came to me that it must be the metal shield which I had encountered on my crawl through the tunnel and into this chamber.
I pulled the chair closer to the foot of her bed and attempted to relax my rigid sitting posture. Yet what she was about to confess would not allow such repose.
“The ghost of my sister informed me about your identity and purpose. She has haunted me since her tortuous demise. Even death cannot part twins. Hers is not a frightening haunt, but one of solace and joy. To daily look upon the face of a deceased loved one is a blessing so few of the living ever receive, yet all hope for. She will be by my side until I, too, pass on and join her.”
She spent a few moments looking off, her gaze drifting through the windows, painted black with the night. A few drops of rain tapped against the glass, the sound cutting through the thick silence in the room as Cybele recollected the past.
She turned her darkened gaze back to mine. “My brother is not who he says he is. He has not revealed the truth to you, nor will he. He wishes to have me committed to an asylum, but I am not mad. I have fought him, screamed at him—told him of the spectre of our sister appearing to me to tell me of his true nature. He has used all of this as ‘proof’ that my mind is lost. But it is his mental capacity that is slipping quickly away.”
“What has happened to him?” I interrupted. “He seems not the same man he was when we were studying at university. Thinner now, more emaciated … terribly old for his years.”
She inhaled deeply and nodded. “It is his lust for power that has aged him. He belongs to the Brotherhood of the Ouroboros, as had my father and grandfather. But where they belonged to a peaceful secret society, manipulating politics and law and economics for the betterment of all Mankind, my brother wishes to sway them towards his own agenda. Many members have rejected his pleas, warned him even, but he is the son of my father, who was a great and much-esteemed member, so they won’t dismiss him and eject him from the Brotherhood.”
My brow furrowed at her words, my thoughts racing. I knew so little of Kasimir and reflected back to our student days. There were times when he had disappeared from our room at midnight and didn’t return until the morning, revealing nothing to me as to his whereabouts. Though I recall once, while pretending to sleep, that I cracked open an eyelid as he changed into his night clothes and saw the most horrifying bruises and fresh cuts across his back. I never spoke of what I saw.
“Is the Brotherhood here … in the town down in the valley?”
“Their reach is extensive throughout Germany, Austria, parts of Czechoslovakia, and resides as clandestine pockets in some of Scandinavian countries. There is even a growing membership in Spain. My brother is using his heritage to sway whom he can, and he has so far collected a small cabal who are guided by his bias leanings. If he can become more powerful and rich, he will sway even more members to his side. And then I fear what he may do.”
I shook my head, confused, leaning toward her as I sat on the edge of the chair. “Rich?” I looked at the room, threw up my hands to embrace the opulence that surrounded me. “Are we not surrounded by vast wealth? What more could he lack?”
The minutest, almost imperceptible smile edged a corner of her perfect mouth and her eyes sparked with candlelight.
“None of this belongs to him. It all belongs to me. My father knew that my brother was essentially … evil. He saw traces of it when we were all children, then his lust for power grew during his youth and onward into his student years. My brother has committed great atrocities—so said my father, yet he saved my conscience and innocence by revealing none of them to me. I trusted my father as I trusted my sister. He would not lie. The inheritance went to my sister and me. Only if she and I both died would the estate go to our brother. My father gave an untold sum to the Brotherhood, but my brother would not be able to have it for himself. Yet there was a stipulation in my father’s will. A clause of foul play.”
Her face bowed to her lap as she squeezed a portion of her nightdress between her fingers. Collecting herself, she wiped a shadowed tear from her eye, let the emotion ebb from her demeanour, and continued her tale.
“If my sister or I died of natural causes, my brother would be a rich man. But if we died—either together or separately …” She halted and looked off to the rain tapping against the windows, tears rising to her eyes. She spoke not to me, but to her memory. “We were seldom separate, my sister and I. I was visiting a paramour in Denmark at the time, a man of military rank and bearing. My sister told me to join his side unaccompanied—if we two went to meet Anders, he’d become confused as to which one of us he loved.” She let loose a short laugh, remembering better days. I wanted to ask her what had happened to her beau, but did not want too much tragedy to fall upon her at once. I could only assume being here in the castle with her brother, that she had to let love slip through her fingers.
Her face fell once again. “To think, if she had come with me to meet Anders … she would not be a ghost haunting these walls … as I feel I do as well.” Another tear slipped free from her eyes. She let it slip, lifting her gaze again to me. “The fire was not seen as suspicious circumstances. My brother consulted the attorney governing my father’s will, and it was only then that he was told of the foul play clause. He read the will for the first time then. And he saw that if either my sister or I—now just myself—did not die, but was deemed incompetent in her senses—essentially, mad—then Kasimir would stand to gain the fortune of our family.”
“I see,” I uttered in a whisper, sagging back into the chair beneath the weight of the horrible truth. “That’s why he needed me. Why he needs my signature on that document.”
Now it was her turn to sit forward, to lean toward me with confusion etched on her brow. “What document?”
I revealed to her what Kasimir had asked of me during our unappetizing dinner. Panic took her as she stood and paced the room, moving in and out of the candlelight, passing before me, wringing her hands.
“But you mustn’t sign!” she pleaded. “Don’t you see? That document is part of his grasp for power. With your signature, he’ll be able to declare me mad and send me to the asylum where I will rot for the remainder of my days. Where I’ll burn with utter hatred for my brother—where I’m sure I will become mad! With the fortune in his personal coffers, he’ll be able to purchase the political and legal influence he needs. He’ll sway—or buy—more of the Brotherhood, who will in turn pressure others to put themselves under the direction of Kasimir, hoisting him into the halls of power.” She knelt now before me, hands clenched onto either arm of the chair. “He will kill those who get in his way. He is evil. Believe my father’s wisdom as I do.”
I leaned down to put soft hands on the small bones of her perfect, flushed face, but resisted the kiss I desired to take from her. All men wish not to merely gaze upon beauty when it is so close, but to also touch it, even slightly, to ensure that it is no mirage.
My eyes sank into hers. “I will not sign.”
She sank to the floor, head pressed to the carpet, a sigh of relief escaping her lips. I stood and lifted her to her feet.
“Why did you come to this castle? Why not flee to Denmark to live and be protected by your lover?”
She turned from my arms and rushed to the window, leaning against the pane and watching the rain as it slipped down the glass. She wept. “I tried. After the tragedy of my family members, I wrote Anders telling him of my horror. He wrote back that he did not wish to see me again. I was confused, my heart shattered, depression consuming my days and nights. I wept for months, refused to eat, grew as thin as a skeleton. I wrote Anders many times, asking him to explain, pleading with him to change his answer … but he never wrote again.”
She stepped away from the window, resumed her seat at the foot of the bed. I sat again on the chair and was an attentive audience to her sorrow.
“My sister’s ghost came to me, revealing that my brother had intercepted my letters. They never reached my love. He had written, wondering why he had not heard from me, but my brother confiscated all of his letters as well. It was my brother who wrote the horrific letter that broke my heart, emptied my soul of hope, made me vulnerable to his whims. He moved me into this castle and I obeyed. I did not note that the penmanship was not that of my love since its message had devastated me. Shortly after reading it, I burned it in that grate.” Her eyes moved to the tiny metal fireplace. “I wanted a fireplace large enough to throw myself into, but my brother has locked most of the castle against my passage.” Her gaze turned to me. “As the letter burned, I discovered that the fire grate was false, that there was a passage behind it. Small, but I could fit. Unfortunately, it only went into the room where you are housed. It was my personal library. I have read everything on the shelves in your room, and the tales of wonder and adventure have been my only escape from this prison. If there are tunnels throughout the castle, behind every wall, I know not of them. My brother kept your room locked from the outside, so my venturing always had too short an end.”
I thought to myself: then it must have been Kasimir who erected the canvas wall of stone as I lay unconscious, deaf to his hammer. I stood, gave myself the bearing of a man of will, of decision. Looked down at her and waited until she lifted her tear-stained visage to me.
“We must find a way of escape. For both of us. Your brother is clearly not the man I knew. Perhaps he never was.”
A heavy lump swallowed down her slender throat. Her clasped hands tightened. Desperate eyes pleaded with me, “Do you mean what you say? Escape?”
I lowered myself to a single knee as I cradled one of her hands in mine. “I do. We must delay no further. We must go tomorrow.”
“But how?” she cried in a whisper of desperation. “He watches me. Especially after I attacked you, surely some part of him must fear that I shall attack him as well. I want to—oh, how desperately I would banish myself to Hell to strike him down … as revenge for what he did to our family.”
I had no answer but a pat of her hand, maintaining my bravery to hold true to my word. I would not leave the castle in order to save myself (if Kasimir was a killer, what tortuous demise would he construct for me—one who had no bearing on his receiving the fortune? Quite the opposite, in fact. With my determination not to sign the document, I would be intentionally opposing his devices).
I would only be leaving the castle with Cybele and not without her.
We devised a plan.
CONTINUES NEXT WEEK