Home > Curse of the Bane (Wardstone Chronicles #2)(8)

Curse of the Bane (Wardstone Chronicles #2)(8)
Author: Joseph Delaney

‘We are going to the funeral, lad,’ the Spook said, his voice very calm and patient. ‘My daft brother only worked in Horshaw, but he was a priest: when a priest dies in the County, they take his body back to Priestown and hold a funeral service in the big cathedral there before laying his bones to rest in the churchyard.

‘So we’re going there to pay our last respects. But that’s not the only reason. I’ve unfinished business in that godforsaken town. Get out your notebook, lad. Turn to a clean page and make this heading...’

I hadn’t finished my hotpot but I did what he asked right away. When he said ‘unfinished business’, I knew he meant spook’s business so I pulled the bottle of ink out of my pocket and placed it on the table next to my plate.

Something clicked in my head. ‘Do you mean that ripper I bound? Do you think it’s escaped? There just wasn’t time to dig nine feet. Do you think it’s gone to Priestown?’

‘No, lad, you did fine. There’s something far worse than that there. That town is cursed! Cursed with something that I last faced over twenty long years ago. It got the better of me then and put me in bed for almost six months. In fact I almost died. Since then I’ve never been back, but as we’ve a need to visit the place, I might as well attend to that unfinished business. No, it’s not some straightforward ripper that plagues that cursed town. It’s an ancient evil spirit called “the Bane” and it’s the only one of its kind. It’s getting stronger and stronger so something needs to be done and I can’t put it off any longer.’

I wrote ‘Bane’ at the top of a new page but then, to my disappointment, the Spook suddenly shook his head and followed that with a big yawn.

‘Come to think of it, this’ll save until tomorrow, lad. You’d better finish up your supper. We’ll be making an early start in the morning so we’d best be off to bed.’

CHAPTER 3

THE BANE

We set off soon after dawn, with me carrying the Spook’s heavy bag as usual. But within an hour I realized the journey would take us two days at least. Usually the Spook walked at a tremendous pace, making me struggle to keep up, but he was still weak and kept getting breathless and stopping to rest.

It was a nice sunny day with just a touch of autumn chill in the air. The sky was blue and the birds were singing but none of that mattered. I just couldn’t stop thinking about the Bane.

What worried me was the fact that the Spook had already nearly been killed once trying to bind it. He was older now and if he didn’t get his strength back soon, how could he possibly hope to beat it this time?

So at noon, when we stopped for a long rest, I decided to ask him all about this terrible spirit. I didn’t ask him right away because, to my surprise, as we sat down together on the trunk of a fallen tree, he pulled a loaf and a big hunk of ham from his bag and cut us a very generous portion each. Usually, when on the way to a job, we made do with a measly nibble of cheese because you have to fast before facing the dark.

Still, I was hungry, so I didn’t complain. I supposed that we’d have time to fast once the funeral was over and that the Spook needed food now to build up his strength again.

At last, when I’d finished eating, I took a deep breath, got out my notebook and finally asked him about the Bane. To my surprise he told me to put the book away.

‘You can write this up later when we’re on our way back,’ he said. ‘Besides, I’ve a lot to learn about the Bane myself so there’s no point in writing down something that you might need to change later.’

I suppose my mouth dropped open at that. I mean, I’d always thought the Spook knew almost everything there was to know about the dark.

‘Don’t look so surprised, lad,’ he said. ‘As you know, I still keep a notebook myself and so will you, if you live to my age. We never stop learning in this job, and the first step towards knowledge is to accept your own ignorance.

‘As I said before, the Bane is an ancient, malevolent spirit that has so far got the better of me, I’m ashamed to admit. But hopefully not this time. Our first problem will be to find it,’ continued the Spook.

‘It lives in the catacombs down under Priestown cathedral - there are miles and miles of tunnels.’

‘What are the catacombs for?’ I asked, wondering who would build so many tunnels.

‘They’re full of crypts, lad, underground burial chambers that hold ancient bones. Those tunnels existed long before the cathedral was built. The hill was already a holy site when the first priests came here in ships from the west.’

‘So who built the catacombs?’

‘Some call the builders the “Little People” on account of their size but their true name was the Segantii; not that much is known about them apart from the fact that the Bane was once their god.’

‘It’s a god?’

‘Aye, it was always a powerful force, and the earliest Little People recognized its strength and worshipped it. Reckon the Bane would like to be a god again. You see, it used to roam free in the County. Over the centuries it grew corrupt and evil and terrorized the Little People night and day, turning brother against brother, destroying crops, burning homes, slaughtering innocents. It liked to see people existing in fear and poverty, beaten down until life was hardly worth living. Those were dark, terrible times for the Segantii.

‘But it wasn’t just the poor people it plagued. The Segantii’s king was a good man called Heys. He’d defeated all his enemies in battle and tried to make his people strong and prosperous. But there was one enemy they couldn’t beat: the Bane. It suddenly demanded an annual tribute from King Heys. The poor man was ordered to sacrifice his seven sons, starting with the eldest. One son each year until none remained alive. It was more than any father could bear. But somehow Naze, the very last son, managed to bind the Bane to the catacombs. I don’t know how he did it - perhaps if I did it would be easier to defeat this creature. All I know is that its way was blocked by a locked silver gate: like many creatures of the dark it has a vulnerability to silver.’

‘And so it’s still trapped down there after all this time?’

‘Yes, lad. It’s bound down there until someone opens that gate and sets it free. That’s fact and it’s something that all the priests know. It’s knowledge passed down from generation to generation.’

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