Historical Fiction Crime

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

 Manuscripts are from the devil, I’d been told, but I felt it too, evil emanating out like heat from a fire. I wrapped it in cloth to be safe, tucked it in my satchel, and now I wait.

I had a few hours, enough time I’m sure before my Master discovered my absence, and my theft. I drank my beer down to forget the past, to focus on my future, my hope brightening the walls of the dark Public House.

My eyes followed Evelyn as she moved around me, cleaning up from the night before. Her dark hair pulled back tight showed her pale beauty, and even the dull woolen uniform couldn’t diminish her lithe figure. I lifted my head in an attempt to catch her eye, but no, that candle had guttered out, only the smoke of my longing left.

When she first came to town she spoke to me, asked about my work and my Master, but her attention had drifted when I said no. Now I was no more than another chair in her way, an obstacle to sweep around. 

I did this for you Evelyn, and you won't even look at me? On my own, I see. So be it.

 Pulling out the cloth wrapped bundle from my satchel I carefully placed it on the table.

If what Evelyn said was true, this strange item could allow me to finally escape my service, with enough gold to make a new life, free from my bonds. I stared at it, hesitant to touch the elaborate box. Just parchment squeezed tight between wooden boards, how could it hurt me? 

I had seen it before on my Master’s shelf, next to an old statue, but gave it no more thought than the worn boots below it.  I have no need of such things as paper or written symbols, my only use is for work.

Evelyn said a man, Daemon, had come from Rome searching for these old manuscripts, such as one rumored to be held by my own Master.  No larger than my two hands together, this small item could be my salvation. 

The cover creaked open, dust puffed into the air, as if breathing again after ages of suffocation. First one page, then the next blank. My heart leapt into my throat, could some magic be needed to make the words appear?

But then on the third sheet, an image appeared, a man so bright and real, I touched the page to see if he lived. I understood why Daemon wanted this, needed it enough to pay gold for it. 

The man, his hands raised with blood on his palms, a cut in his ribs, stared at me, a gold circle around his head, a gold cloak over his body. Was this the man whose soul had been caught?

Half the page and and the next were filled with black marks in dense flowing lines. They seemed to move as I looked over them, as if these lines were fighting to be released from the page. A black dread flowed down my back. Have I released some demon by opening his cage?  My blunt and scarred fingers moved along each, following these strange markings.

A hand on my shoulder. “You did it.” I turned to see Evelyn behind me. "I hoped you wouldn't-"

“What?” My confusion intensified when she looked down into my eyes, deep pools of sadness.

“If this goes well, I ‘ll have gold-” My lips quivered, matching the tremor of my heart. “We can leave together-”

“Poor boy.”  Her hand touched my face, the blaze in her eyes lit a fire in me, illuminating a future better than I could dream. “I wish it could be so-” Her eyes closed. “Yes, if-”

“After, meet me outside-” I grabbed her hand, kissed her fingers. “We’ll leave this town, together, and - live free!” 

 Evelyn bent down, her lips met mine, just an instant, her warm touch an eternity of bliss, sparking lighting through to my toes, then she looked up at a sound, and stepped away.

 The door stuttered open and a man spilled in with the morning light. 

I felt Daemon before I could see his face, a cold frost flowing into the room. A narrow stick of a man, his over- large head bobbed on a narrow neck, hair fine, matted to his temples, with a few strips reaching down his jaw. He clutched his cloak to his chest with thin arms, like crooked branches. Glasses perched at the end of his long pointed nose, a sparrow hanging on for dear life. 

He moved without effort, as if he floated instead of walked. Daemon nodded to Evelyn, waved toward her with two fingers. Dark, cold spots of light peered out under heavy brows. Eyes like a wild beast with no soul, and I feared him like no other man I had ever met.

He smelled of mold and dust, an odor of death that sent the hair on my neck lurching from my body to escape. Long, thin fingers danced on the table, blackened nails clicking against the wood. I had heard of these Scribes, men who trapped words on a page, with strange magic and a feather. What mysticism did they practice, what knowledge did they deal in beyond my ken? I eyed him warily, that knowledge stuffed too tight, a too full sack, could explode, destroying him and anyone around him.

“Do’ya have the gold?” I whispered, keeping my head low

A cough, dry and hoarse escaped his lips, like a death rattle. I feared for his health, but at his crooked grin, I recognized it as his laugh.

Evelyn brought two ceramic cups of black beer, along with a metal platter laden with apples, dried meat and cheeses. Daemon’s hand brushed her leg, up to her hip, lingering. I didn’t understand how she could stand the touch, but her body stayed still, though her eyes looked away.

“Si. I have the monete.” Daemon’s face fell into a sneer. His words had a strange, foreign lilt that grated on my ears. A cloth bag landed with a heavy clink on the table, the sound of my future.

Evelyn had spoken the truth! I suddenly saw our life together, our horses in the green pasture, prancing in front of golden fields of wheat. Evelyn stood at my side, holding a draught of beer for me, and my pipe. Our young children laughing around us, I tried to count their little heads, were there eight or ten?

  “You have il manoscritto?” Daemon interrupted.

I looked around the empty room, before I placed the bundle on the table. I felt lighter having passed it on.

His hands paused in midair when the cloth fell away. The old man breathed in, his eyes bright, his back straightening up. His mouth dropped open in pure desire.

Daemon moved to open the cover. I grabbed his wrist, felt his bones in my hand, his skin cold as ice. Alive though, his pulse beat thin and fast.  

“Be careful, the man he's awake-”

Questo è il mio lavoro.” Daemon’s spoke, low and dry as a desert wind. “This is my life’s work”

I knew enough to know that these lines signified words, somehow. The Man in Gold’s voice trapped on this parchment. I sunk down further in my chair, weighed down by the pain of slavery. I knew what it meant to be under lock and key, allowed to be free only on the whim of my master. 

Daemon meant to keep these words locked away, to add to his collection of souls.

Better them than me.

“Mio Dio, Il Horae.” He said. “The Book of Hours. The rumors spoke true, we thought lost-”

“Is it what you’re looking for?” I focused on reading Daemon's blank face. He didn’t answer but continued to lift page after page, each turn showing the same, more and more black snakes, squirming under my eyes. I had no idea what thoughts these little lines captured, but I didn’t want to understand. I felt the beer roil in my stomach, threatening to come back up. The Man of Gold had been trapped onto these papers, imprisoned forever, with this foreigner to be the jailer.

"Pay me or I' ll burn the vile thing-"

 Daemon’s knife flashed, a blur of steel, and then a sharp line of heat at my neck, Daemon held me, with death at my throat. 

"I'll take this as a gift. Or will you trade with your blood?"

A swipe of his wrist and I would leave this life, damned to hell for eternity. I should have read the signs, they were as clear as day, the offer too good to be true. I’d been betrayed.


 The door flew open and my Master stood in the door, his stance unmistakable, his rage shaking him and the sword dancing in his hand.

“Boy!” My Master shouted. “How could you betray me, steal from me!” The blade lowered, pointing in accusation at me.

"Cos'è questo!" Daemon shouted to my Master. "I didn't know he stole. He will be punished.” 

I thought of Evelyn, our life together. I couldn’t go out like this. “Please, no! Help me-"

Suddenly the manuscript moved, falling to the floor, catching Daemon’s attention, loosening his grip.

I’ll never know if it was a quirk of fate, or if the Man in Gold chose to help me, but I took the chance and grabbed the knife by the blade to pull it from my neck. I escaped his grasp, though my palms were sliced to shreds.

 I turned to see Eve wielding the platter like a hammer, swinging again and again at Daemon. With Evelyn at my side I could make an escape!

Scooping up the manuscript, I grabbed an iron poker from the fire and ran at my Master, standing in front of the only portal to my future.

I had lived more of life in these few short hours than in all of my 20 years. I kissed a girl, escaped death, and now carry a priceless treasure in my hand. The stars were aligned with me today, I could not lose!

Anger at all the scars, all the pain this man caused powered my arm, I swung my war axe for a killing blow to his head.  

My master took a simple step, dodged my weapon and I felt his blade in my side. 

I’m invincible!” I screamed as I fell out the front door, the manuscript tumbling from my hand. If only I could find my love, Evelyn, then we can meet our future together.

I looked at my hands, covered in blood, my life pouring out of my side. As I fell, a flash of recognition, the Man in Gold-

 I opened my eyes to see Evelyn above me, her face more beautiful than anything I deserve.

 “Is this heaven?”

“No, not yet.” she said. “Soon enough.” She picked up the manuscript from the ground.  

“That,” I gestured to it, “the Man in Gold, he needs to be set free-” I said, out of breath. “That devil will take him-“

“Men are the devil, I learned that where I was raised in the monastery, as a servant, and then-” Her jaw clenched.

 “A Brother taught me my letters, now I work for Daemon. My world is small, and hard. But when I open this, read these words, I release the Spirit, and I escape this life, even if only for a few moments. Do you believe?”

“He saved me-“  I closed my eyes. I saw the horses in the green pasture, golden fields of wheat. The Man in Gold stood with me, as Evelyn read to us, her words flowing on a breeze. I am finally free.

 “When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears, and rescues them from all their troubles.”

May 22, 2024 18:50

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KT George
15:42 May 29, 2024

I really enjoyed this story and had to laugh a little that we both used Evelyn as a character name in our stories.


Marty B
19:15 May 29, 2024

That Evelyn gets around ;) Thanks!


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Darvico Ulmeli
17:19 May 26, 2024

Like it. Had a good read.


Marty B
20:04 May 26, 2024

Thanks Darvico!


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Helen A Smith
10:19 May 26, 2024

I loved this tale, Marty. A real feel of history about it, but it felt alive too. The characters were compelling and vivid. Gripping story. Well done.


Marty B
20:04 May 26, 2024

Ohh- High praise from a great writer! Thank you!!


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Jim LaFleur
09:56 May 25, 2024

The emotional depth of the characters added a rich layer to the story. Well done! 👏


Marty B
02:08 May 26, 2024

Oh, great comment- Thank you for those good words!


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07:24 May 24, 2024

I could see the room in the Public House so vividly. So, gripping. Such a shame it ended in a dream of the boy's future rather than the real thing. What is Evelyn's reason for rejecting him? I guess he's not her type. You know he's going to get caught. Hadn't expected Daemon to be so ruthless. The story could have been so different if Daemon had paid up and taken what he wanted. Although I'd be very worried if he got his hands on such a treasure. It screams of trouble.


Marty B
17:51 May 24, 2024



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Alexis Araneta
18:44 May 23, 2024

Oooh, such a gripping one ! Got to love the imagery ! Lovely !


Marty B
04:36 May 24, 2024

Great! I appreciate your comments Thanks!


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Trudy Jas
16:44 May 23, 2024

So detailed, and emotional, all for the love a girl.


Marty B
17:38 May 23, 2024

'All for the love of a girl' what better motivation is there ?! Thanks!


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Mary Bendickson
22:02 May 22, 2024

An intriguing mysterious adventure.


Marty B
23:05 May 22, 2024

Thanks Mary!


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