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The Baron's Quest

Erika is forcefully taken back to the 15th century by a time-hopping Baron.

PROLOGUE

DRAGO SAW THE two Americans from yesterday up ahead. They had their backs turned to him, as they stood at the base of a large medieval wooden gate that led into Predjama Castle. His shoes shuffled upon a smoothed-by-time gravel path that led from Predjama’s only local gostilna, the Požar, all the way to the castle's front gate. The Americans turned around almost in unison to face him. He watched them with a careful eye. Sure of his purpose, he calmly kept his hands steady.

From a distance, fifty metres away, the taller of the two Americans, a male, through his half-glasses, looked him up and down, probably assuming he was some kind of a vagabond. He knew his stocky build and broad shoulders always intimidated strangers, and would surely do the same to the two Americans. By design, he kept his heavy, long hair drooped messily down his face, shielding anyone from ascertaining his facial features or age.

The second American was female. Her teeth were chattering, and her strawberry-blonde shoulder-length hair swayed about her face as a wintry wind picked up out of the north.

Drago took a moment and looked past the two Americans, gazing upwards toward the gargantuan greyish-white medieval stone walls shooting up into a looming sky. He turned his head to the left, turning his eyes below Predjama Castle, to the base of the pine forest-covered mountainside, which was blanketed in dusty snow, to see his beloved village of Predjama sitting idyllically.

Drago looked back at the two Americans. With just a hint of a smile, the male American locked hands with the female American, someone Drago assumed was the wife. Drago watched as their fingers found each other’s, interwoven as lovers ought to, no doubt a habit they had formed throughout their many years together. He found the wife amusing as she continued to shiver under the might of a Slovenian winter. Moments later, he watched as she let go of her husband’s hand in order to rub her shoulders. The husband started to wrestle with an Ascot cap, and then unbuttoned his coat, as he draped it over his wife’s shoulders, giving her a cheeky smile and a wink.

“Thanks, Sam,” the wife replied, smiling up at her husband. “Is that the guide you ordered?” She asked, pointing down the path at a now fast approaching Drago.

He listened in, slowing down just a little, meticulously waiting for the right time to reach them. Little did they know, he had secretly watched them from across the room at the gostilna as they sat, talked, laughed, held hands, and ate breakfast together. He watched them as they slept during the night. Tourists like Sam, especially American ones, were a dime-a-dozen. To him, Sam was just another Erazem Lueger enthusiast. Everyone who came to Predjama knew or was motivated to learn, of classic tales of Erazem’s bravery, hardships, and heroism in the face of the most extreme of adversities; almost as if the stories were ripped straight from the pages of an untold Shakespearean tragedy. Erazem’s legend had grown as it became embraced by the common people he bravely fought for, a real-life version of Robin Hood. Deep in the fifteenth century, signs of his presence in Ljubljana, Vipava, Postojna, and Predjama amplified his importance, and increased his legendary status, much to the dismay of the then Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick the Third. From Frederick's throne at the Vienna Court, he issued a warrant for the siege of Predjama Castle, and for Erazem’s head to be served to him on a platter. Everyone knew that story, none more so than Drago.

And when he had overheard Sam’s plan to visit Predjama Castle this morning, he wanted to experience the thrill of a pointless murder again, for old time sake.

“Must be,” Sam answered, looking straight at him, “I don’t see anyone else coming, do you, Monica?”

Drago watched Monica shake her head.

Just as Sam reached to the left pocket of his jeans, Drago reached under his long coat, a Camisia, grabbing hold of his falchion handle stowed in a wooden scabbard at his hip. He slowed his pace, pulling back a bit when he saw Sam take out a notepad, flipping through the pages with purpose until he must have come across the page he required. Drago’s hand never left the handle.

“His name’s Viktor Bubrik. From what I gathered on the phone, his English isn’t very good.”

“Really,” Monica replied, looking up at her husband, “I knew you were going to say that.”

Sam laughed, shrugging. “That’s what happens when you let me organise things.”

Drago heard every word. Though he had never perfected his English, he knew enough words to get him by these days.

“Sorry to disappoint you, we’re just going to have to wing it then," Sam said.

“Well darling, he’s all yours. We came here for you, so you can do all the talking,” Monica replied, sounding stern. “It’s far too cold out here for my liking, even with your coat.”

“I know, I know,” Sam replied, reaching deep into his opposite jean pocket.

Drago gripped the handle of the falchion tighter, with less than ten metres to the two American’s, he started pulling back again when Sam pulled out a pocket-sized book.

“Dobro jutro,” Sam welcomed, stretching out a firm hand to greet Drago as he finally reached the couple.

Then as the wintry wind urged its might again up out of the north, from under his filthy Camisia, he drew the falchion with relish. He quickly plunged it deep into the nape of Sam’s neck. The falchion punched through skin, muscle, veins, ricocheting off bone to reach light at the other side. He planted his right foot, firmly onto Sam’s chest, and quickly yanked the sword out. Blood spilled from both entry and exit points from the moist hole in Sam’s neck, covering the sword from tip to handle.

Drago dimly heard Monica’s screams struggle against the might of the wintry wind. She tried to run away, but Drago quickly turned and easily outmatched her, cornering her against the castle’s gated entrance. He stood in front of her triumphantly, his bloodied sword ready in an attack stance. He felt a thrill in his nether regions.

Monica fell onto her knees, her hands clasped tightly together, fingers entwining like strong rope. “Have mercy,” she begged up at him.

He pushed aside Monica’s hands and firmly grabbed hold of her throat with one of his large hands. He felt his fingers burn against her cold skin. She fought, struggling to free herself, forcing him to drop his sword. He then had a go at her throat with both hands. He knew he was strong.

“Zat coat, you zake off, ” he ordered.

Monica struggled to breathe. Like a fish, her mouth gasping for air. “Take it,” she said, gurgling in between breaths, "let me go.”

“Hvala,” he said, turning her and driving her face first into the gravelled path. Holding her down he hastily removed the coat, and then he started to strangle her.

Monica clawed at his hands as she struggled. Her face had a few lengthy gashes and gravel rash. Her strawberry-blonde hair was all frazzled. Her neck became splotchy and reddened beneath his hands. But then she slowly stopped her attempts at freedom. She let go of his hands, instead reaching out for Sam. Drago had her right where he wanted. He picked up the sword, and punched it up under her ribs, then again, and again, repeatedly stabbing her.

With his masterpiece almost complete, Drago knelt down on one knee next to the woman he had just slain. He wiped the bloodied falchion with the non-soiled part of her clothes and then scabbarded it. His hand encompassed her face, as he gazed deeply into her pale, lifeless eyes. He paused in the moment. Her death replayed itself in his mind, a deathly thrill he had yearned for these last three months. He admired the absence of life in his victims. He smelt her hair. Blood trickled gently from her lips, and he scooped up a few droplets with his tongue. Tasting her blood made him feel better about his situation here in Predjama with his father. He loved a violent murder, especially one as violent as he had just committed.

The coat instantly warmed his body, and he cared little for the dominance of blood around the collar and a large patch on his chest, but he needed something extra. He reached across to Sam and lifted the black Ascot cap off, noticing his hands covered in blood. He smiled at the beautiful sight and smell of blood, putting the cap on and tucking his lengthy, messy hair under its brim. He finally felt warmer. He had never liked the cold.

Before him was the entrance to the castle. He wondered what it looked like inside these days, so he focused his eyes straight ahead. He met a simple wooden door, unlike the large wooden gate he remembered from his past. He reached out and took hold of the narrow metal handle, rattling it a few times out of frustration, but it was no use. He saw it needed a key, so he punched the door with a furious fist then headed back down the lonely path. On the way to the gostilna, he came across the real Slovenian tour guide the Americans had ordered. He stared into the tour guide’s eyes, feeling unafraid in showing off the bloodstained coat he now wore.

“Son, have you killed again?” his father asked in Slovenian, frantically looking around to see if there were any witnesses. "You need to stop,” he hissed.

Drago smiled, preferring to talk in Slovenian. "Father."

“Never mind,” his father replied, shaking his head. “Did you find the letters?”

“No.”

“Then you must keep looking,” his father insisted, “I told you we’ll never stop looking for them.”

Drago tugged at the ends of the coat.

“Stop squirming. We need you to blend in. That’s better.” His father smiled, probably feeling like a proud father. “It’s an improvement.”

Drago sighed loudly. It may be an improvement, but the fabric rubbed weirdly against his wrists. The cap made his head itch.

“When you’re finished,” his father said, sounding stern, “you know how much the letters mean to me. You do understand we still need to find them, don’t you?”

“Erika Donas.”

“Is that her name? Is that what the keeper told you?”

Drago felt the urgency in his father's voice, as his father firmly grabbed him by the shoulders. “Tell me, is that what they told you?”

“Yes,” he replied, licking his lips, the taste of fresh blood lingering the way he liked it. "I heard them back at the gostilna mention her name. She’s here."

His father smiled, patting him on the back.

“Well done, you’ve served me well." His father made his way to a ledge beside the pathway to the castle. Drago saw a tear well in his eye. He too approached the ledge, looking over it. The view of the village of Predjama also brought a tear to his eye.

“It never changes. Tell me, my loyal son, where does this Erika Donas live?”

He directed his father’s eyes to a row of four lonely double-storey cottages in the distance, about a hundred metres away, all within sight of the Požar and Predjama Castle.

“Which one?”

“Second on the left,” he answered.

“Excellent, I’ll visit shortly,” his father replied. Drago saw his father’s eyes scan the vicinity again. “They’ll be here soon to tidy up. You know the drill. Now go hide until I need you again, and no more killing.”

Drago nodded, appreciating his father’s order.

This story is protected by International Copyright Law, by the author, all rights reserved. If found posted anywhere other than storiesspace.com with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.

Copyright © This story is the intellectual and physical property of A.W. Cole. All rights reserved.

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