Witchbound – Chapter 8

Karl Heinrich Sparagmos prided himself on having steel nerves. It was a necessary quality on the battlefield, and what allowed him to excel – and to save the Emperor’s life two year prior.

And yet, this visit to Eridania had managed to shake him. Not just because of the Princess.

He could write off the way she had liquidated him to her inexperience, the foolishness of youth or, simply, the usual hysterics of a woman, but that last line about legends…

He slowed the horse down, turning to look at the road in the afternoon light, the course of the river encroaching the ancient city, from the smallest suburb to the bitter and proud peak of the Cittadella with its garden.

He had vowed to take all this under his wing before the end of summer. He would surely not stop now.

But the Princess’ words meant that she might have found a certain unlikely ally. And he needed to visit someone who could provide help.

He looked up at the pair of ravens circling above.

Huginn, Muninn. I will pay a visit to uncle Hermes. You stay here and keep patrolling. One of you fly immediately to me if anything weird happens.

The ravens replied with a shrill cry and turned back towards the city.

As for Sparagmos, he headed south. Wien and the Court could wait.

He’d need to spend a few more days in Venice.


Andronikos finished reading through the Brazen Book, placing it back against the table with a tinny echo. He sighed.

“What does this mean?”

“I hoped that would be self-evident,” Alba replied with a frown.

“Princess… every trace of the Witches of Eridania disappeared with the War of Cambrai. There is not a song, a rhyme, a painting or a piece of bone… cloth, whatever you might ask for that points to them surviving past that date. They are all dead or lost. Faith in one miraculously surviving is… questionable at best.”

“So Father’s notes are not enough. You are a bit like Saint Thomas, aren’t you? You need to put your hand in the wound in order to believe.”

“I do believe you actually believe this. And this is of concern. I would not have you follow the phantasms and figments that Prince Alexios imagined in his illness.”

Alba shook her head. Just as she had imagined, but at this point it was too late to just try and ease him into the matter. She’d have to show him.

“Very well. If you do not want to believe my notes, or those of my Father’s, I trust you will still believe your own eyes.” She stood up and walked to the farthest wall, moving the mirror that was in the way and starting to push at certain spots in the painted masonry.

Andronikos watched her with a crooked eyebrow. As she turned to him and the wall behind her unfurled like the petals of a bloom, grinding open and revealing a staircase that descended into the darkness, she felt a jolt of pleasure at his dumbfounded expression.

“I have finally understood how Father managed to come and go so quickly. Now pick up one of the lamps and follow me. I have much to show you.” She went to do exactly that, putting the Brazen Book into a travel bag. “I hope you like spiders.”


Andronikos, for all his faults, was an inquisitive man. He walked behind her, keeping his lamp held high. The light cast wavering shadows between the spiderwebs and the thin, wide steps that slowly circled down to the heart of the Cittadella.

“Astounding,” he whispered. “I thought every other access had been long-since walled-in.”

“Most of them,” Alba conceded, looking at the many ghosts of doors and passageways surrounding the staircase. Her voice reverberated weirdly in the tight passage. She was not used to hearing it as she went back and forth from the Witch’s resting place. “Father’s theory is that they were closed by Prince Mancuso right after he came back to Eridania. And that’s also the reason why we hear no more about Witches. Past 1509, every record has been thoroughly scrubbed.”

“I spent thirty years looking at records, Princess. I picked up on a few loose ends, which allowed me to find the location of the Archives.” Alba thought back to the many rooms that were now replete with books. “But to think I missed the forest for the trees…”

“This is nothing. We are still in the first narrow passages. There is much more, below.”

They kept walking. After a while, muffled voices and tinny noises reached them. They must be passing under the kitchens and the servants’ quarters, which meant they were now level with the ground.

“I have read about this place,” Andronikos whispered, lifting his lamp higher, brightening a series of bas-reliefs carved now in naked, seamless stone and not in masonry. “The foundations of the Square Tower. Legends have it a monster of some kind was hidden there.”

“I am not here to show you any kind of monster,” Alba replied, though she inwardly shivered. The first time she went down these steps, the stories about the monster had indeed filled her thoughts with freezing dread. The echo of her own steps seemed to form weird noises, like there was someone always behind her. Now that she walked down with her Chancellor, she knew the noise of someone actually walking with her was far different, but it was only when she felt the first breath of wind that she felt her heart grow lighter.

“What is this breeze?”

“Ah, we are almost there.”

They passed under a tall arch of white stone. It had been shut with heavy iron bars once, but they had been blasted apart by some incredible force. As if something had tried to reach the Catacombs in area fret.

Andronikos stopped for a while, appraising the bent metal. It had no rust, which by itself was odd enough. But the way it had been twisted, shaped as if by some searing heat…

“Curiouser and curiouser.” He followed her under the arch, leading into a short tunnel and another door, blasted asunder like the first one. The walls of the tunnel showed two rows of bas-reliefs, similar to the ones she found in the nethermost chamber. He stopped a while to look at them, passing his old hands over the creases.

On the left, it showed a series of female figures, carved in Medieval style.

“These are most likely from the Fourteenth Century,” he muttered under his breath. “The Seven, from the first to the last…” his eyes peered from the image of an old woman holding a staff atop a series of dunes, to another walking amidst low trees that might have been oaks, to another one dancing amidst skeletons, until they reached a tall figure carrying a spear and surrounded by ravens.

And on the right side, where Alba placed her hand, there was just one Witch depicted. She stood at the edge of a cliff, her wide arms open as she floated over the grass. From beneath her shadow thin tendrils of darkness shot at the retreating horde of enemies: footmen and carriages and archers and horses. All of them tumbling forgotten into the abyss of some cliff at the borders of the Principality.

Behind her, Andronikos frowned.

“Quite the ominous depiction, don’t you think Your Highness?”

“I would not say ominous,” she rebutted. Her hands reached for the eighth Witch. “In fact, I hope that what worked for knights in full armor will work just as well for rifles and bayonets.”

Author’s Notes: a brief historical note… the War of Cambrai spanned from 1508 to 1516 between the powers of Europe, mainly fought as a coalition to limit the power of the Venetian Republic. Originally, the story was supposed to be set there, but in the end I decided to move the setting a few centuries closer to the present. At any rate, thanks for reading.


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