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April 15, 2024

The Power of Friendship 03

By Anna Parrish

April 21, 1662

Blackman-- age 18;

Blackman stared at the dark house on the hillside. Lord Hemispot was still alive, so was his one servant, Adle. Blackman had seen many things in his travel, done a lot, things that could not be explained away by rational explanations. Was Hemispot the warlock? Was he really involved with sorcery? Momot had said Hemispot was the greatest he had ever encountered. Had it been the truth?

He rubbed his jaw where his father had struck him that morning. Cynicism made his lips twist in sardonic pride. He had smacked his father back, sent him onto his backside. "Don't ever hit me again, " he had told his father. "And don't you ever come into my room and force me to lay with you again. I'm not a child any longer and I won't let you touch me like that, not ever again."

"I bought your clothes! I fed you! You were a parasite. Why should you live in my home without returning something?"

"I pity you." 'And,' he thought, battling the strong emotions that tried to surge upward and take over, 'I hate you. God forgive me, but I hate you more than I've ever hated anyone. You're my father but I wish you were dead.'

"Ungrateful bastard!" Blackman senior had snarled. "Get out of my house!"

"As you will ... father ... "

Blackman walked slowly to the dark house, knocked on the door. Adle opened it, peering out through a thick crack. "I wish to see Lord Hemispot; I've come for a job," Blackman said.

"Let him enter," a harsh, accented voice said from the darkness of the house. Adle opened the door and Blackman entered, spine stiff and straight. He met the thin slits of the old man's examination with a cool one of his own. Hemispot was ancient, with more wrinkles and aged flesh than anyone Blackman had ever seen. "You wish to work for me?"

"I do."

"What can you do?"

Blackman stopped playing around. "I studied in Arabia."

"Studied what?"

"The Misitorak, with Momot Babart."

The old man's eyes grew wide. There were strange flecks of gold in the brown orbs; there was a red rim around each pupil. "Have you?"

"That and other books."

"Who was your master?"

"I have no master."

"Is Momot still alive?"

"He is."

"Did he talk of me?"

"He did."

"And you came to see if what he said had any basis in truth."

"I did."

Hemispot walked around the sturdy, muscular form of Billy Blackman. "The villagers say I that I dance with the devil."

"I have heard that."

"What they say is true. Does this frighten you?"


"It should. Only a fool is unafraid of darkness." He ran his had up and down Blackman's arm, felt the muscle beneath the coat. "You are strong. Perhaps, you will do. There is one test. If you pass it, you may labor beside me; if you fail, you die. Are you willing to take this test?"

"I am."


"I want power."

"Power is quite often deceiving; Power often controls the person who tries to claim it, if the mortal is weak."

"It will not control me."

"Power is often the brother to revenge. Is this what you truly seek?"

"Part of it." His eyes grew distant. A spark of rage sparkled in their blue depths. "Part of it, " he repeated in a strange voice.

Hemispot smiled. "I see the black strands of hatred around you. Who is it?" He watched the struggle in Blackman. "Is it more than one?"

"Yes." 'My father,' he thought in torment, 'those two men on the ship ... that man in Egypt ... '

"You must learn to control that hatred, channel it. Hatred can be more powerful than love." His old eyes narrowed. "Are you willing to learn?"

"I am."

"Your desire to learn and your desire for revenge, are your masters."

"I have no masters."

"You do. Perhaps, one day, you will stand alone, but that time is not now. Come with me. Let us perform the test. If you survive, then you may move into this house with Adle and me; if you do not weather it, I shall deposit your body at your father's door."

"I understand."

"Do you accept this?"

"I do."

"Then come."

They went to the sub-basement. The stairs were damp, slippery. Adle went before them with a torch to light their way. That portion of the house smelled, not just of mildew and mold, but of other things ... a little of brimstone and sulfur.

Blackman's stomach twisted. For one brief moment, he thought about turning, about escaping. Memories returned sharply to torment and taunt him. His spine grew rigid. Turn and leave? No. He was tired of taking orders, of having to do what others demanded simply because they were stronger than he was. He wanted to have the power to make others do what he wanted. If this was the only way to lay claim to that, then so be it.

Adle opened a side door at the bottom of the stairs and stepped through the opening. Hemispot and Blackman followed him. Heat slapped them in their faces. It was a dungeon with a flame pit in the middle. The flames were bright and strong. Around the pit, a pentagram had been drawn; Around that pentagram, ancient markings had been painted onto the stone floor. Blackman read each one, recognizing them from his studies in Arabia.

This was a place of agony. Instruments of torture decorated the huge, cold room. In the corner, odd apparatuses stood, glassware, metal containers. Huge, old books graced tabletops.

"That is an eternal flame," Hemispot said. "It will never go out. Look around, Billy Blackman, what do you see?"

"I see a place of suffering and abuse."

"Is that all?"


"Close your eyes and let your soul do the seeing."

Blackman did. "I see power ... and ..." He shivered.

"Yes?" There was a gloating emotion in that old man's one word.

"And evil."

"Yes! Now, go look at the books, Billy."

Blackman did, and recognized many names Momot had given him.

"I can show you the secrets of those books ... if you pass the test ... if ... you agree to my terms."

"I have agreed to your terms. I am ready for the test."

"Then go to the blackened beams."

Blackman did.

"Raise your arms and allow Adle to fasten you into the apparatus. Adle, pull his arms tightly upward; he must not be able to work free." Adle did. Blackman grunted once or twice as the mute made extra sure the bonds were tight. "Now do his feet. Billy, spread your legs."

Blackman did and Adle secured his feet in metal bands. "Leave us, Adle." Without waiting, the mute vanished out of that dark, malodorous room. He went to the tables in the corner. He undressed and coated his body with putrid smelling oil. Streaks of red appeared on the ancient body. Chanting, he mixed several ingredients into a silver chalice. He moved slowly toward Blackman. "Close your eyes and inhale." Blackman did. His head swam, making him dizzy, disoriented. "Drink."

Foul tasting fluid was forced into Blackman's mouth. He swallowed, fighting back the nausea as he did so. Within moments, he felt as though he was flying, free of his body, free of the world around him.

"Open your eyes."

Blackman obeyed. He watched the old man limp toward the fire with the cup. When he poured it into the flames, they shot up a bright purplish-black. They writhed and altered shape. A man sprang forth from the flames. The creature looked around, spied the man hanging at the posts, and went toward him. It stopped in front of Billy Blackman. The man altered form. It became a grotesque creature, misshapen, black, scaly. Slimy saliva dripped from the huge, ugly mouth. Its odor was a scent of death and decay.

Horror shot through Blackman; it grew until it almost claimed him when the creature began to touch him.

April 28, 1662

Blackman-- age 18;

Blackman's father died when a tree he was cutting fell the wrong way and crushed his body. He had stood there, watching the demon felling the tree, doing the killing at his request, his hatred of his father consuming his reasoning. His father was too capable to mark and cut the tree incorrectly. All the villagers knew that. It did not take more than that to spread the gossip. People in the village swore up and down Blackman had placed a curse on his own father. His obvious lack of caring did little to erase that belief.

Hemispot died, crumbled by the rim in the dungeon. His heart had simply stopped. Blackman dug a grave for the old man in the back of that old mansion and dropped him in. And then, he walked away from the gravesite.

May 17, 1662

Harper-- age 17;

"Mail!" March yelled as he entered the dorm room. The other students gathered around him. One by one, the tall, lanky red-head handed envelopes out to the proper pupil. Harper took his two and went to his bed. He opened the one from George Kettle first.

"In the year of Our Lord, 1662, this Third of May,

Dear Ray ... "

There was news from the village, odds and ends and then: "... Blackman returned April 20th. Shortly after his return, he took on a position with Lord Hemispot. Three days later, Blackman's father died in a freak accident. The death did not seem to bother our Blackman. It's doubtful he's forgiven the old man for things that were done to him while he was growing up.

"I do not like the suffering in Blackman's eyes. He stays away from me. I have tried to speak to him, but he refuses to have anything to do with me. Perhaps he would like to hear from you... I know you considered yourselves blood brothers. I can remember you were the only one he trusted."

Harper dropped the letter onto his lap.

Blackman was back.

Vivid images of eleven year old Billy Blackman filled Harper's mind ... Laughter, sunshine on dark hair, impish grins right before they pulled a prank ... and the visions changed and he saw a sad Blackman, a bitter friend who desperately wanted a normal, happy life and knew he'd never get it.

Had going to sea been a good thing for him? From Kettle's words, it hadn't.

Would Blackman remember him? Would he want to hear from him?

Harper tugged his small chest from beneath his bed and opened it. He removed pencil and paper and began to write:

"Dear Billy ... "

Why was it so hard to write to a friend? There had been a time when there was not enough time in the day to speak together. Words tumbled from them both as though there would never be another day.

'We're older,' Harper pondered pensively. 'We've changed, gone in different directions. Where's the meeting point now?'

Sighing, he put words on the paper, memories, accounts of his own life now; He asked questions.

The letter was mailed, but it came back, unopened.

September 19, 1665,

Harper-- age 20;
Blackman-- age 21;

"... People shun him because they say he is insane. I confess I believe he is. Lord Hemispot died when his house burned down in June taking the life of the mute servant, Adle. I thought Blackman would be free then, return to us, but my hopes proved to be false ones; he has grown worse. The phobia the villagers had placed on Hemispot has now been transferred to Billy. They claim he is a warlock and therefore evil. Sometimes I hear the town's people muttering about taking his life, freeing themselves of the corruption he bears. I have made fun of them, talked them out of doing that wicked act, but there will come a time when they will no longer listen to me.

"Blackman lives in his father's cabin. He wanders around, not speaking, drunk most of the time. He neither bathes nor washes his clothing. His hair is lank, long, filthy. There is a look of death in his eyes.

"You must come. I fear you are the only one who can reach him. I do not know why I felt thus, but I do. Perhaps it was because you were the only one he trusted when you were young. He turned to no one else, shared with no one else. I have no right to request a change of plans on your part, but if anything of the friendship you once shared with Billy remains, you must come."

Harper reread the letter. Of course he must go. The dreams he had been having now made sense: Blackman wept in them. He cried for help. Harper had struggled in his dreams to reach his friend but there was always a thick, hideously black curtain between them.

Going to Paris to study art would have to wait.

Blackman needed him.

September 26, 1665,

Harper-- age 20;
Blackman-- age 21;

The old cottage needed repairs; the weeds choked the grounds around it; There was a hole in the roof. Harper peered inside and sighed. The place was filthy, in bad need of renovation inside as well. Furniture lay broken, scattered across the room. Mice scurried across the slovenly, unsanitary floor.

"Oh, Blackman, why?"

The dwelling was empty. Perhaps Kettle would know where Blackman was. An eerie feeling made Harper shiver. He whirled, searched the landscape around him and saw no one. Harper laughed at himself but the feeling remained. It felt as though someone was watching him. The world was too quiet; even the birds had ceased their singing.

"Blackman?" He waited but no one answered. 'Don't be such a fool,' he told himself. 'There's no one there.' Still ...

"You know me," he said aloud. "I'm Ray ... Ray Harper. We were friends once, remember?" Nothing ... not even a breeze. "I'm going into town for cleaning supplies and then I'm coming back to scour and disinfect this place. How can you live in such pollution?" The feeling that he was being watched vanished. Harper picked up his bag and began the long walk to Kettle's house.


"Would you like another wee dram, Raymond?" George Kettle held up his bottle of fine, old scotch whiskey.

"No, this is fine. I came as soon as I could, Mr. Kettle. How he is?"

"He walks around, muttering. Mrs. Cardle passed out when he walked by her yesterday. She swears he put a curse on her."

"Gin is her curse, not Billy."

"Aye, but the villagers choose to believe otherwise. Ah, well, most of them are fools who still believe there's gold at the end of the rainbow and spend most of their time looking for it instead of working and earning their living. What else can you expect from them?"

"You mean there isn't any gold?" Harper asked lightly. "All these years and I've been searching those rainbows for nothing."

"Och, you're in fine form, now aren't you?" His eyes sparkled in joy.

Harper half smiled. "I went to his cabin. I can't believe he would live in that ... mess."

"He's haunted; Anyone with half a brain can see that. They all stood back and allowed that man to beat his child. I accept blame for that as well. I could have done something but I did not want to interfere in family matters; I wish I had now."

"I remember you cowing Blackman's father."

"A bully always backs down when someone confronts him face to face. If enough of us had gotten together back then ... Och, well, we canna go back and change the past, now can we?"


Philip, Kettle's lone servant came in. "I've gathered all the cleaning items you requested, Mr. Kettle."

"Thank you. Leave them on the outer table; Ray will take them with him when he leaves."

"Yes, sir." He left.

"Will you stay for dinner?"

"That's another thing I need to borrow from you. Could you spare food until I can make it into the village?"

"Aye. I'll have Philip pack a basket. Will you be staying to sup with me?"

"No, I think I'd like to get back out to the cabin and start cleaning; I'd like to get as much done before nighttime."

"Then I'll have the basket fixed now. Go with God, Raymond, and be careful."

"I will."

To be continued.

Article © Anna Parrish. All rights reserved.
Published on 2005-07-25
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