Shroud of Shadow

Free Shroud of Shadow by Gael Baudino

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Authors: Gael Baudino
gratifying in its quickness, its eagerness.
    “Will you tell me about your associates?”
    Fredrick wept and murmured.
    “Will you tell me about the wool cooperative? About the money they intend to receive from Jacob Aldernacht?” Siegfried's fingers gripped the bars of the helmet. The wealthy Alpine Waldensians had held out even against Cattaneo's concerted crusade, had even the audacity to turn the force of civil law against their persecutors! Money for them had been a shield and a bulwark behind which they could practice their pernicious vice, and Siegfried knew that with an influx of gold into Furze, another shield would take form, one that, considering the Aldernacht millions, could hide anything, protect anything. His course was therefore clear: prosecute now, destroy now. The tares had to be uprooted immediately, for if left in the field they would themselves uproot the corn.
    But there was no murmur in reply to his impassioned questions. Fredrick's tears ceased abruptly.
    Siegfried pressed on, shaking the helmet softly in cadence with his whispered words. “About Paul Drego? About Simon the Jew. About James the furrier. About all the rest?”
    Plat .
    “So that God can show them how much He loves them, too?”
    Fredrick's eyes opened wide, stared through the metal bars. In contrast to their white terror a few minutes ago, now they were almost luminous. They met Siegfried's gaze, and, for a moment, the Dominican thought that surely Fredrick—his soul dangling as it was over an abyss of pain and certain death—was seeing beyond the walls of stone and earth, beyond the world, into what lay beyond: that he was seeing, face to face . . .
    A whimper from Fredrick, another quiver of the tongue, a sudden frantic straining against unyielding bonds. Siegfried understood, and with practiced hands, he removed the spikes, spun the clamps loose, unfastened the catches that held the helmet shut and threw it back on its brazen hinges. In a moment, Fredrick's head—seamed, lined, emaciated—was free.
    Fredrick's tongue moved, licked his parched lips, left a trail of pus and slime behind.
    “You see how much we love you,” said Siegfried.
    His eyes filled with the luminous glow of revelation, Fredrick opened his mouth. “I . . .” His voice was dusty, weak.
    Siegfried leaned closer.
    “I . . .”
    Latens deitas . “Yes, my son?”
    “I . . .” Another lick. Fredrick's eyes grew wider. “I . . . hate you.”
    Siegfried pulled back, blinked.
    Fredrick found his voice at last. “I . . . hate you. I hate your religion. I hate your Church.” His voice, raw and dusty, grew in strength, his thick tongue no impediment to the emotion and despair that rushed out of his mouth. “If this is God's love, then I hate God, too!” His voice edged into hysteria, edged into a scream. “Damn you! Damn you all, you filthy bastards! I'll go to hell before I'll share heaven with you! ”
    And, with what strength was left to him, Fredrick gathered a mouthful of spittle and blood and lymph and pus and belched it into Siegfried's face.
    “ Damn you! ” he shrieked. “ Damn you! Damn you! Damn you! ”
    The door was flung open: Giovanni and the others had heard Fredrick's blasphemous shouts. Crowding into the room, they stopped short at the sight of the mutilated, mangled figure that continued to spew abuse and blood both.
    “ Damn you! Damn you all! D— ”
    Fredrick fell silent, sagged in his bonds and chains. Shaking, Siegfried wiped blood from his eyes and peered at him. The prisoner's face was slack, his eyes glassy. Pink drool wound down his cheek, joined the fluids that had pooled on the sodden floor at the base of the chair.
    Plat. Plat.
    Siegfried wiped his face. “He is dead.”
    Giovanni crossed himself. “He didn't confess, did he?”
    “No,” said Siegfried. “But he said enough to perhaps gain him a little mercy from a greater tribunal than ours.” He hung his head, discouraged. “Take Fredrick's body out

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