The Devil of Moravia : Death is terrible, tho’ borne on angel’s wings!*

 

Edmund’s story is nearly at an end. He has lost much, but perhaps there is yet something he can hold on to.

To read the other instalments in his tale, see below.

Onetwothreefour, fivesix , seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelvethirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty one, twenty two, twenty three, twenty four, twenty five, twenty six, twenty seven, twenty eighttwenty ninethirty, thirty one, thirty two, thirty threethirty four , thirty five.

*William Blake, Kind Edward the Third.


 

‘What happened?’ I whispered.

‘I fear you are not strong enough to hear. And yet it cannot be long until the watchmen find us out. If you are to know, you must know soon.’

I felt for her hand and squeezed it. ‘Tell me, dear friend.’

And so she did.

She told me how the three of us had fed on Slatina, how that devil had shrunk beneath us, until he was little more than a husk, eyes wide and swollen in his cadaverous skull. How as we feasted she shivered under the bed, afraid to look, afraid in our blood lust she might be our next meal.

And how, when we were done and Slatina was naught but parched skin and powdery bone, she emerged from her hiding place to gaze upon the four of us.

‘I believed you dead, Sir, for there seemed little left of you to hold the spark of life. But as I stepped past, hardly knowing what was yourself, what your lady or poor Samuel, I heard a groaning. And then I saw the ash stir, rising in puffs from the floor and I knew – it was breath was doing it. You were yet alive.’

Somehow that kind soul gathered me up and helped me from that place, from the chamber where the Devil’s ashes mixed with those of my love and of my friend. Through the house were the remains of the Red Men – those soldiers of Slatina – whether true men or demons I shall never know, though all now fallen, unable to survive without the will of their master urging them on.

Peg flung about me a cloak, to shield my degenerated appearance from curious eyes and somehow we came, stumbling through the dark and twisted streets of London to a low room overlooking the docks.

The candlelight flickered on her troubled face and for a moment I felt the full weight of all that had gone before, of the passing of Frances, of all the death that had come since that stormy night when I first met the Devil of Moravia.

But something tugged at dear Peg. I tried to speak, but failed, so I squeezed her hand, urging her to finish the tale.

As if reading my thoughts, she nodded. ‘There is more and for my part in it I am humbly sorry. I only thought to help you, Sir, you must believe me.’

And so she told me of spying the locket about my neck, of fearing that if I were caught with the images of the Earth Angels upon my person, some soul might recognise them and I would dance at the gallows. And so she took the jewel, knowing she must hide it, knowing she had little time before some tradesman would call or the smell of burning alerted some passerby to the terrible sight within the house.

And as she looked about, her mind whirring, her senses alert to every noise, her eye alighted upon my old clock. With nimble fingers, she opened the case, stopped the movement and hung the chain within.

Her teeth worried her lip, gnawing at the flesh. ‘But the constables searched the house too well, too long. Word has reached the docks that the locket was found and Miss Frances’ locket also and Samuel’s too and they mean to lay all those dead souls at your door, Sir.’

That poor, sweet girl began to cry then, weeping so hard, her tears feel upon my broken skin, stinging like salt in a fresh wound.

I wished to speak, to say how grateful I was, how she had nothing to chastise herself for. That through her kind actions and her courage, she had helped save the world from the scourge of Slatina, had saved my friends from blackening their souls further, and myself – oh, yes, she had saved me too. For without her I might never have found the strength to battle the Devil without and the devil within.

But then there was a terrible shouting from outside, gulls squawking, a dozen pairs of stamping boots.

And all I could whisper was, ‘Go!’

With one last squeeze of my hand she vanished, the purest, kindest creature I have ever known. And I closed my eyes and waited for the end.

***

But as you see the end has not yet come.

I was discovered – what burned and broken flesh remained that might bear the name Edmund Spencer – and brought to Borough Compter gaol. Here I remain, the sole felon amid a sea of debtors. A bitter irony, for it seems I was always destined for goal, whether for debts or for bloodier crimes.

They have given my body time to heal and in that time I have written my account of these events so the facts may be told. I hear there are murder ballads sung about me, about the Black Hearted Lord, the Murderer of Angels and so even if none shall read it, I wished to commit my own version of the tale to paper. I have kept hidden a tinderbox and mean to burn this record once I am done.

There was a trial. I was accused of many killings. Of the Red Men, of Samuel, of the victims in the lockets, of an ‘unnamed man of slight proportion’ … of Frances. This false burden I carry willingly rather than have the world know the truth. The awful truth about my love.

I am visited often. Through the day the doctor comes to see I am well enough to hang – for what spectacle is there in a villain too sick to know his last day is upon him. And others come, those willing to bribe the goalers, who wish to be able to say they were yea close to a murderer of such stature. Most often they merely stare. Some spit curses. Some spit. But I write on.

But my cherished visitors come at night. Sometimes I turn from the page to find Peg Fair seated on my mattress and she will smile and tell me more of the Fair Folk, of her mother, of life in the rolling hills and sweet flowered dales of England. Samuel comes too – the old Samuel – a sparkle in his devilish eye – to share tales of a wench he has bedded, of a night of cards or a drunken tavern brawl.

And she comes.

Not the monster of lusts and yearning. But the girl I first met years ago, she I wish I had never let go. The girl with roses in her cheeks, with the kindest heart and a smile of summer and spring. Daisies twined through her glowing hair.

The darkness pales and my time is almost done. May God forgive me for all the evil I have brought to the world and when the time comes, I hope with all my wicked soul it is my love who comes to take my hand and lead me home.

 

Edmund William Spencer.

Finished on the eve of his execution, the 5th day of May, 1799.

 

 

 

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The Devil of Moravia : The killer within

William Blake [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


What has become of Edmund? Is he alive or passed onto the great beyond? Read on to find out and it if you’d like to catch up on his previous trials, see below.

Onetwothreefour, fivesix , seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelvethirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty one, twenty two, twenty three, twenty four, twenty five, twenty six, twenty seven, twenty eighttwenty ninethirty. and thirty one.


As more blows fell and more, I knew I was to die. As I sunk into the pain, there were but two thoughts that haunted me; that I had failed to save the girl.

And that Slatina yet lived.

Darkness took my hand.

Time passed, a kaleidoscope of light and darkness, harsh voices snatching me from unconsciouness merely for me to plunge back into that dark silence. I had a sense of movement, of the city’s streets, gables close above me, but Frances was by my side throughout, by some miracle returned to full health, her smile radiant as the sun at Midsummer. I reached for her hand but she was ever beyond my reach, dancing ahead of me, a May fly on the breeze.

You’re home, Edmund, she whispered, sliding beyond my reach, slipping away from me as my eyes slowly opened.

It took a moment to realise, I was indeed home. The same dark curtains, pulled tight across the shutters. The same scent of beeswax and dust. And a shadow beside me, straight shouldered, the waist slender and tapered, fingers working a needle into a circle of fine cloth. There she was, my girl, my Frances. God had looked upon that ghastly sickroom, at the depraved state of that house and the deeds committed there and he had seen there was one deserving of his mercy. He had plucked my love to safety.

I made so many vows in those few moments – to keep her ever safe by my side thereafter,  to always protect her, to never allow a single harm to befall her as long as I was fit to do so. And even if the Lord should take me to him first, to protect her with my spirit through the years of her ageing until we were reunited beyond.

All this I promised through fevered, grateful tears … Until the young woman beside me raised her head at my weeping and I saw with true eyes that the fair hair was of a darker hue, that the hands were roughened by work, the shoulders narrowed and hunched by poor diet. That it was not Frances at all, but Peg Fair who sat vigil over me.

Is it possible for a broken heart to break anew? If so I believe mine cracked further still in that moment, that a fissure widened inside me, threatening to tear my frame in two. I wept.

Sleep must have taken me, for when I next woke, a candle was alight on my nightstand, the shadows long and threatening across the chamber walls, the clenched fists of a storm beating the house. A figure was seated in the chair beside me, but this I could not mistake for Frances. Samuel sat, gaunt and hollow eyed, his face a mask of fear and exhaustion.

‘I did not know whether to stir you,’ he said. ‘You have been two days in a fever which I feared might take you. And all the while they beat at the door.’

Only now did I realise, the noise I heard upon waking was no storm, but fists threatening to break through the wood and crack the hinges. A mahogany clothes press and a blanket box, a heavy chair that usually remained in the far corner by the window, all furniture of weight had been placed against the door.

Samuel sunk his head into his hands. ‘I could not think where else to bring you where you might recover. Now I have doomed us all.’

‘Who is without, Samuel?’

Peg stepped from the shadows of the window into the candlelight. ‘It’s those red devils, sir.’

With some difficulty I pulled myself upright. ‘The Red Men? It is the Red Men who beat at the door?’

But of course, who else would it be but those blank, soulless creatures. Had I been lying there senseless for days, the Red Men scraping like hounds after the fox as I slept?

‘Where is Slatina? Where is their master?’

Samuel merely shook his head. ‘No sign of him. Just the interminable knocking.’

My exhausted mind struggled to make sense of everything. Slatina must know that Samuel would have brought me back to the house and if he did not I was sure the Red Men would have sent a message alerting him to our presence. Why, then, was Slatina not the one hammering at the door? How was it we were all still alive?

It was then the words of Old Noah came to my mind… Know who you are. Embrace it, no matter how dark, no matter how squalid … I had to know the full answer to a question which had battered at my mind, that I had tried to push to the darkest corners of my soul.

My fingers gripped the locket about my neck. Trembling, I opened its metal doors and gazed upon the likenesses there. Still the Earth Angels shone, bright and beautiful  as stars. ‘Tell me truthfully what the potraits in the locket signify.’

Samuel gave me a look of the utmost misery. He clutched his own locket as he said, ‘Slatina gives one to each of his subjects to remind them.’

It pained him to tell me, but I had to know. ‘Remind them of what?’

‘He says we must always remember what we are. That we must not delude ourselves that we are decent.’ He swallowed, looked me full in the eye. ‘They are likenesses of our first kill.’

Had I known it all along? On that night of the ball, the night I buried the Earth Angels, was there some part of me that remembered my part in their deaths? I felt it now. Felt my mind, intoxicated by that night of debauchery, of the shedding of civilised conduct, overwhelmed by the most horrifying needs. Had I been under Slatina’s influence when those two young women died? Yes, of that I was sure. But perhaps all he had done was reveal my true self. Set free the killer hiding within.

Then it was as if the whole house shook beneath the hammering of a giant fist. Glass shook and shattered in the casements, glittering to the floor, the furniture barricade shook, fell, wood splintering under the impact. The bed quaked beneath me, Peg stumbled, cried out, falling against the wall and to the rug. Just as I felt sure the house would break apart around us, all was still.

I heard weeping and saw Samuel was on the floor, curled tightly upon himself, body shuddering with sobs. This was the only sound, as a voice reached through the chamber door.

‘Enough of this, Edmund.’ Slatina, his voice calm. ‘You hold no high moral ground here. You are no better than Samuel, pathetic as he is. No better than I.’

The sound of movement told me he drew closer to the door as he said, ‘We are killers all.’

It was true, but still I could not succumb, would not sink beneath the black waves of the life Slatina wished for me.

He must have guessed my thoughts, for then he said, ‘Perhaps someone closer to your heart can persuade you.’

Then came another voice, familiar and yet one whose distance in recent times had plunged a dagger of yearning in my chest.

‘Edmund. Come to me.’