Twin Forts Part 8- Beginning of the End (or The Revelation)

Retreating to the safety of the library my world started to unravel. From what I could tell the book had been written by many greats granduncle Poisson (who died of dysentery long before any still living Benedick was born poor sod). He was the brother of grandaunt Beatrice who had written HNBF I and had also been an avid historian like his sister despite being less accomplished. This Benedick lacked the astute observations and wit of his sister and the exhaustive footnoting of the others. This was not a calm and comfortable historian whose work lies perfect and polished on a shelf. This was a passionate terrified historian who heard Time’s winged chariot and hurried himself to put his words down. Based on the date jotted in pen on the back page the work must have been written in the very latter years of Poisson’s life when the old man must have known his time was limited. His writing was nervous and error-riddled but important. The book only existed in this rushed form fresh from some pen that was now dust wielded by a man who was no not even a skeleton.

So much of what he wrote could bring down the name of the whole family. Like a good Benedick I skimmed over the passages about the rape of local women, the orgies, the feasts, the fits of cannibalism and madness that often gripped those first generations of Benedicks to settle this land. My hungry eyes wanted only two words: Delphi Brothers.

I found it about a third of the way through. They were only briefly mentioned, again in a footnote, but mercifully included at least some detail. The Delphi’s were two brothers who settled the valley in a date it took me a moment to read from the poor handwriting. But when I did my eyes widened. A large part of the dispute between our two families was over who had first laid claim to that precious valley. The filthy Alistairs claimed they had settled a whole month before our earliest estimate; the rats and liars that they were. But, if what this book said was true, then these Delphi’s had settled even before that outlandish estimate. If I could prove these two brothers were Benedicks and not Alistairs then that would give us outright claim to the whole valley. They Alistairs would be forced to upend and the dream of Benedick Valley would be realized.

I wanted to scramble through more of the book when suddenly the alarms went to meet in the banquet hall. I stuffed the two books under a shelf with a distinctive copy of the works of John Donne on it in the dead centre. I leapt off the ground and ran to the banquet hall. Until I knew more I would have to keep my discovery to myself.

The hall was chaos, family members flooding in whilst dad stood on a table yelling instructions to the crowd. Aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and the extensions thereof all flocked and fled down passageways to man positions and prepare rocket launchers. Dad pointed a long finger at me.

“What took you so long son? Were under siege dammit get to your post and prepare for battle!”

I ran off obediently and smiled to myself a little. As soon as I got back to that book after the battle I could rout every Alistair from the valley without another shot fired.

Twin Forts Part 7- Passage

The dragon could, with a little shaking free of the rusty rails it was planted in, be turned and moved around the wall. The piece followed other pieces and avoided yet others in labyrinthine sequences I could only guess at. I’m sure one day some entirely other poor curious Benedick could spend their entire life consumed by an obsession to understand just how all the vast hidden complexities of the wall worked. I just guessed and shoved around until, by trial and error, the wall separated in the section I was holding and the dragon became the knob of a small door maybe three feet high. Nervous and glancing over my shoulder I leant inside and waited for my eyes to adjust to the gloom.

The room was packed with documents, precious stones, and archaic heirlooms. Only two bound books sat on the shelf and they lay on top of one another in a prominent position. The first was the very one I had wanted- History of the Noble Benedick Family Volume Zero. I could hardly move for a moment. The tome I had assumed no longer existed, the keystone to the entire complex network of mystery that was entangling me more and more every anxious day, had just dropped right into my lap. The other book had no title or indication of its contents on the outside but looked older and more frayed. I could here footsteps coming down the hall so, in a panic, I grabbed both books, hurried the door shut, and slid the little dragon around a bit so the door would lock. I stuffed the books under my belt and fled the room.

That was the last day when I had any firm grip on my life and that would all change by the afternoon by the time I had made progress into the first sturdy tome and decided to take a glance at the other one.  

Twin Fort Part 6- Conspiracy

Dad was recalcitrant when I asked him about it. He had a terrible anxiety around the intrigue and labyrinthine mysteries that a family as old and branching as our must necessary be sprinkled with. Too many sturdy capable Benedicks had been consumed by mysteries that led nowhere and I’m sure their memory haunted him in his study when I came to speak to him about it.

“We need you up on the battlements boy. Sure the Alistair bastards may not care about Lance but there are probably a few decent cooks and whipping boys downstairs who they’d like to take back. Every year we have fewer decent fighters and the Alistairs are just waiting for the chance to destroy everything we’ve built! The last thing we need is one of the few non-defective one’s off chasing old wives tales!”

It was an explosive speech and my Father walked out of the room with that to go attend to the day-to-day running of the castle the morning required. He left me stunned and in that heightened state of awareness one becomes in after an unexpected lecture by a parent. Perhaps it was that state or perhaps the familiarity with my father’s office that led to notice something I otherwise may not have.

It was a small reconfiguration of the complex matrix of carvings across the back wall of the office. One symbol, a beautifully inscribed dragon covered in gold lint to stand it out from every other intricate glyph, had always stood out to me. I remember as a child seeing it first whenever I entered the room. Dad never seemed to pay much mind to the family treasure he sat in front of every morning to have his coffee and do the accounts. The dragon Glyph had been moved across the wall several feet and was pointing ninety degrees to the left.

Twin Fort Part 5-Back to Business

Tab didn’t kill Lance. He might (or rather dad insisted he might) have some value to the Alistairs we could use for leverage. We all knew though, those of us “in the trenches” so to speak, just how absurd a claim that was. If we had caught one of the Alistair children’s pet fish we would have more leverage than we had with Lance. All the top Alistairs despised him and it’s pretty clear the mission to scale the canyon walls and attack us from above was the sort of hair brained scheme some great uncle or another came up with to get poor Lance out the picture. There was something terribly funny in seeing an Alistair tortured “for information”. We did it to a few, some grim faced, some bawling, all Alistair garbage. But none were quite as funny as Lance- the bastard shit. He’d scream for mercy as feverishly malicious contraptions and devices sent excruciating pain through every fibre of him. The floors of the dungeon were soaked in blood and a few scraps of loose skin by the time we were finished with him and he sat their bawling amongst his kin, bleeding, shaking, naked, and half dead from abuse. We all found it hysterical.

The Benedick family library was vast- books lying in discarded piles gathering dust or packed to the gills on row upon rickety row. Most of this stuff was ancient medieval manuscripts and copies of Old Saxon and early Cristian texts. One or two volumes here and there on each row or pile were Shakespeare or Marlow. Paradise Lost and Dante’s Inferno loomed heavy on a couple of book cases. Oh the treasures held in that library! Oh the civilising magic! The rest, a small but not inconsiderable number, were works written by Benedicks of one branch or another. Mostly official documents and records, the histories that I was hoping to add to one day, and even one romance novel (I’d read it and, were it not for the fact a Benedick had written it, I would have been forced to call it trash). I had scoured through those spines a hundred times and read so very many of the works they bound but a zeroth edition of our families history was not amongst them. I searched and searched for hours behind cases and at the very bottom of piles of discarded tomes on gallant knights and wars and Danish princes. No sign of the elusive tome anywhere.

Twin Forts Part 4- Guests

The next day I was to attend to our Alistair guests with Rory and Tabitha, another Gunnington with beady little gleaming eyes and scars across her face from defending the main gates which had been smashed to rubble fifteen years ago and, by herself with dead Benedick’s all around her, held back the Alistair tide for an entire day with just a sword until reinforcements could be mustered. She was thirty and yet her blood lust had never slackened. She so craved savagery and destruction that even the feud could not always sate it and she would plan and carry out small raids and strikes on the Alistair castle unprovoked just for the thrill of it.

Those words from last night swirled around in my head. I wasn’t even sure if they were real. It was so late at night and they were so strange that I may have simply dreamt the whole thing. Now I was down in the dungeon with the prisoners it was too late to double check so I just quietly stewed in contemplation as we changed the prisoner’s food trays and Tab started to sharpen a cleaver on a spinning grindstone before Lance the Bastard’s terrified eyes. He started to scream as I came back into the room and without any more trays to carry. He yelled that he would tell us anything if we spared his life. Let lowly Alistairs abandon their ideals in the face of death. A Benedick cares little for death and none for danger. A Benedick is an easily-martyred soul.

Tabatha began to work on softening Lance up- mostly just for fun.

He screamed and screamed in agony and I struggled to supress a chuckle.

Twin Forts Part 3- Rabbit Hole

We had an impromptu feast that night to celebrate capturing so many Alistairs. All the wastrel Nieces and Nephews, middle children receiving neither affection like their younger siblings or inheriting responsibilities like their elder ones, where running back and forth from the kitchens. I must have stuffed myself fit to burst that evening and the grain alcohol store was run almost dry by the late evening. Of course I didn’t complete that task alone (mum and dad made no small dent in it) but rather had the help of my dear friend and second cousin Rory Gunnington Benedick. He looked like a bull, six four with a chest like a dungeon keep, and descended from perhaps the brashest, bravest, branch of the Benedick family. The Gunnington branch descended from my great granduncle Gunnington Benedick who was pretty much single-handedly responsible for the vast and unsightly crater that, to this day, still smoulders a little in the side of the Alistair castle. Gunnington’s portrait was one of the many that hung around the vast banquet hall- beady eyes staring down at me from a physique that matched my friend. By the time food was prepared he had crashed down beside me and slapped me on the back almost sending the banquet table flying.

“Bloody hell mate I saw you up on those fucking battlements!” He cried out. “Christ I was almost scared of you ya fucking maniac… almost.”

“Oh yeah doesn’t take much for you does it Roar?” I asked with a smirk. He pounced on me and we couldn’t move with laughter.

“You mother fucker!” He yelled out, tears straining down his cheeks, as more of the great aunts and uncles poured in.

“I’m surprised you didn’t leap off the battlements yourself!” I screamed as Cousin Emily pulled him off me. We could both barely breath for big hearty chuckles and she crunched down beside us sardonic but dryly affectionate. Eventually we both turned to her and she, putting on her most snivelling Great Aunt Tauntѐ impression spat out condemnation for us both.

“You boys are making quite the fools of yourselves and should think better of-” she burst out laughing as well and, with the order between us three properly set right  after the whirlwind of a day, the feasting began.

Of course that isn’t to say everything was rosy in those days with the family as a whole. A mysterious affliction made about a fifth of the babies born in recent years turn sickly and die before their first year. Of those that survived their first year many were still not healthy. I’d estimate that only about two thirds of the babies born five years ago where still alive. If it wasn’t fixed soon we’d risk having too small a brood to keep fighting the blasted Alistairs. It was all too terrible to think about. Father stressed often about figures and resources and I would be dragged in to as the eldest son. But there in that banquet hall with those two cousins I loved most in the world everything was right and good. Dad must have sensed this general attitude in the family as a whole and skipped the usual mid dinner speech on the importance of thrift and so on. We just ate, drank, and were merry: what a beautiful saying.

By the end of eating it was perhaps twelve thirty and we all slunk off to bed our separate ways. Once I was under the covers I got back to reading History of the Noble Benedick Family Volume III. It was a charming old tome and the last in the series until more were written since one or two of the people it mentioned I remembered being alive or had died in my very formative years. My love for history and records and knowledge made me likely to be the once-in-a-generation enthusiast who, in old age with my wife asleep in the next room and a fire burning gently in the hearth, would sit down to write History of the Noble Benedick Family Volume IV for future Benedick generations to read. Every tiny detail or reference or small elision by the writer, my Great Grand Uncle Verner who’d died of a fever when my dad was five, was like a morsel for me to snap up with ravenous eagerness. And it is that night (or I suppose very early morning by then), sitting alone reading with the soft calls of a few birds in the eaves on of the Alistair spires and heavy with drink and fine food, that I came across a very bizarre passage. The book was explaining the idiosyncrasies of the Stephen’s branch, every last one of them having died three years ago, perhaps sixty years ago when the book was written. The section explored the works and accomplishments of the different members of the branch. Bathsheba Stephens Benedick had wiped out an entire generation of Alistairs. Every Alistair over the Age of fifty still living had grown up an orphan thanks to this one Benedick in one infamous battle. But the strange passage was when describing her daughter Margaret Stephens Benedick who famously died (shot to bits retaking a watchtower after ten agonizing days of it being under Alistair control) and took with her the meaning of the now long lost Stephens branch saying which went as follows:

“Such as Delphi such as I- where the embittered brothers lie- so must all one day be claimed and in doing so be made.216

Now usually a strange archaic saying like this the footnote would be exhaustive, practically a chapter in itself, but not so here. All foot note two hundred and sixteen read was: See HNBF Volume 0 for details on the Delphi brothers.

This had me sitting motionless and just staring at it for a few minutes in the lonely morning glow as the sun threatened to rise with an effusion of blue. I knew the ins and outs of the Benedick family library and knew only of HNBF volumes I, II, and III that I read there. There was no 0 that I knew of. And the riddle of the saying brought up further riddles with this mysterious “Delphi brothers”. What branch were they? Whose allegiances did they obey? I had to know. In the cold empty air of the morning my entire world was shaken by the terror of profound historical uncertainty.

Twin Forts Part 2- Honour and Glory

It was the most daring attack in the damned Alistair’s history. They began to drop down all across our battlements with old ceremonial swords and firearms. Lance Alistair the Bastard, a disgraceful disposable man with a garish handlebar mustache and large silver sheen pistols, led the charge into our ranks. He was clearly an embarrassment to the Alistair’s (although in my opinion all of them fit that description) as he led most of the rushes for our front gates the A’s would try every few months. I dropped behind a foot high stretch of battlement that jutted in so our ancient ancestors could drop burning oil on besieging Alistair knights. Bullets whizzed this way and that above me as the two families traded fire. I heard the screech of one of the second cousins thrice removed on the edges of the A’s be struck in the chest and go flying off the battlements to the no-man’s-land below. I stuck my rifle over the top and peered over as well to fire a couple of shots into the onrushing attackers only to be forced back into cover by a flurry of machine gun fire. At that moment Dad came tearing out of where he had been lying in wait and began to charge the onrushing Alistairs. He bellowed like a bull and fired like crazy and with that the counter attack began. We all leapt out from behind the bodies, rubble, and makeshift barricades that had protected us and fired. A few more Alistairs fell and a couple of ours collapsed. But more and more of us swept in from both directions and soon the entire group of fuckers was surrounded with their backs to the battlements. They kept their weapons raised as the din died down and we began to close in but they must have known they were finished.

Then, in one final ditch attempt to regain his father’s pride I must presume, Lance the Bastard pushed two of his henchmen out of the way to leap from the battlefields to his death rather than be captured. At least that’s what he was probably going for. He took one look at that a hundred foot drop and ground to a halt with a shriek. I cocked my rifle and the group surrendered on the spot.