The Devil's Bed
“And now, messieurs et mesdames,” the tour guide said, “we pass through the centerpiece of the most terrifying legend in all of France and one of the world's most horrifying stories.”
Brandy had been waiting for this for over an hour. And, as it had been a long time coming, she intended to enjoy it.
As for the others in the group, the guide's speech was having its effect. With the mood established by the remnants of the ruined castle, looming behind him and above them, and the additional gloom cast by the forlorn chapel on the opposite side of the courtyard, they were of a mind to be horrified.
“From this spot,” he continued, “the Templar knights set out on horseback. Rich and greedy for more, bloodthirsty, hated and feared. They raided the countryside, stealing, murdering, then returned with their captives. Oui, the Templar's sacrificed virgins to the Lord of the Flies, here, at the insanely named Château de la liberté. Castle Freedom; the castle of death.”
Finally, Brandy thought, finally some death!
Her elation was because they were well into the tour and, until that point, the guide's schtick had all the horror flourishes yet sadly lacked emotion. His flat delivery was spoiling the show. Brandy was neither weird nor ghoulish. She recognized hopping from one European graveyard to another was not the vacation most would choose. But they weren't writing a Master's degree thesis entitled 'Burial Practices Around the World and What They Mean to Life' and she was. So, despite the gorgeous autumn weather in the green, rock-strewn hills of the Languedoc-Roussillon region of the south of France, amid this group of tourists clothed in their own explosions of color, Brandy followed, notebook open, pen at the ready, eager to collect facts about… the dead.
Brandy Petracus was a compact brunette, easy on the eyes, and approachable when she wanted to be. Everywhere she went she carried her bag o' plenty (named by her fiancé), a massive purse made from an old carpetbag to which she'd added a duffle shoulder strap. In it she carried all of the accoutrement needed to exist on this hostile planet; food, First Aid and farding material. Oh, and her brain worked. More than once an intimidated male had called her 'a computer'. She could live with that.
Like a computer Brandy had been in 'sleep' mode throughout the bus trip from the village of Paradis, where she, her fiancé Ray and Ray's sister, Vicki, were staying, to the remnants of this 14th century site. She remained uninvolved throughout the cursory look at the grounds, the decaying out-buildings (a chapel kept up, a stable partially so, a guard house not so much), and the ruins of the castle.
Put away all fantasy notions. Neither white knight nor fair princess would be putting in an appearance. These were the ruins of a nine hundred-year-old fortress, subjected to two hundred years of battle, then abandoned. Seven centuries of exposure and vandalization followed. Not to mention bombardment. The chapel and stable had been occupied by the Germans during World War II and those few portions of the castle untouched by time, the elements, and ancient armies surrendered with the Nazis to several well-placed Allied cannon shells. What remained consisted of a western wall, the ground and first floor of the keep, the ground floor entrance to the main hall… and a descending staircase barred by a NE PAS ENTRER sign (DO NOT ENTER, Brandy imagined) leading to a spoken of, but unseen, dungeon.
The tour guide, Felix Bussey, droned on. In his mid-twenties, pale and blonde, Felix was so obviously uninterested in his own patter it defied logic he kept his job. His desire to be elsewhere was palpable. His only displays of interest came with repeated glances at a startling red-head on the fringe of the group.
And what a group. Besides the red-head, there were two tall Nordic men who looked sorry they'd come, and several Asians having the time of their lives. There was a French-speaking coterie led by a stick of a woman intent on proving her education, at least, was well-rounded. She conducted her own tour in spite of Felix. An Irish couple trailed the group; she annoyed with him, he with everything. When Felix said something he doubted, the Irishman muttered “Fek.” When he did, his wife jabbed his ribs and barked “Language!” There was a Don Juan look-alike who'd apparently taken the tour a thousand times. And Brandy's future sister-in-law, Vicki.
Brandy hung in, watching the stick lady lecture, watching the Irish pair spar, watching the tour guide watch the red-head. The exercise offered its amusements but was wearing thin. If the tour guide didn't get to the morbid stuff soon, she feared she would have a fit.
Felix droned on as he led the group down the stairs. “The Templars introduced the 'keep' to French military architecture.” They spilled into an open area that once had been the foyer and he moved on to the differences between a castle and a Château. Then amused himself by pointing out the Château de la liberté was in fact neither. It was a Stronghold. Pen poised, with nothing to write, Brandy bit her lip not to scream.