Home > Curse of the Bane (Wardstone Chronicles #2)(9)

Curse of the Bane (Wardstone Chronicles #2)(9)
Author: Joseph Delaney

‘But isn’t there any other way out? How can the Silver Gate keep it in?’ I asked.

‘I don’t know, lad. All I know is that the Bane is bound in the catacombs, and is only able to leave through that gate.’

I wanted to ask what was wrong with just leaving it there if it was bound and unlikely to escape, but he answered before I could voice the question. The Spook knew me well by now and was good at guessing what I was thinking.

‘But we can’t just leave things as they are, I’m afraid, lad. You see, it’s growing stronger again now. It wasn’t always just a spirit. That only happened after it was bound. Before that, when it was very powerful, it had a physical form.’

‘What did it look like?’ I asked.

‘You’ll find out tomorrow. Before you enter the cathedral for the funeral service, look up at the stone carving directly above the main doorway. It’s as good a representation of the creature as you’re likely to see.’

‘Have you seen the real thing then?’

‘Nay, lad. Twenty years ago, when I first tried to kill the Bane, it was still a spirit. But there are rumours that its strength has grown so much that it’s now taking the shape of other creatures.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘I mean it’s started shape-shifting and it won’t be long before it’s strong enough to take on its original true form. Then it’ll be able to make almost anyone do what it wants. And the real danger is that it might force somebody to unlock the Silver Gate. That’s the most worrying thing of all!’

‘But where’s it getting its strength from?’ I wanted to know.

‘Blood mainly.’

‘Blood?’

‘Aye. The blood of animals - and humans. It has a terrible thirst. But fortunately, unlike a ripper, it can’t take the blood of a human being unless it’s given freely—’

‘Why would anyone want to give it their blood?’ I asked, astonished at the very idea.

‘Because it can get inside people’s minds. It tempts them with money, position and power - you name it. If it can’t get what it wants by persuasion, it terrorizes its victims. Sometimes it lures them down to the catacombs and threatens them with what we call “the press”.’

‘The press?’ I asked.

‘Aye, lad. It can make itself so heavy that some of its victims are found squashed flat, their bones broken and their bodies smeared into the ground - you have to scrape them up for burial. They’ve been

“pressed” and it’s not a pleasant sight. The Bane cannot rip our blood against our will, but remember we’re still vulnerable to the press.’

‘I don’t understand how it can make people do these things when it’s trapped in the catacombs,’ I said.

‘It can read thoughts, shape dreams, weaken and corrupt the minds of those above ground.

Sometimes it even sees through their eyes. Its influence extends up into the cathedral and presbytery, and it terrorizes the priests. It’s been working its mischief that way through Priestown for years.’

‘With the priests?’

‘Yes - especially those who are weak-minded. Whenever it can it gets them to spread its evil. My brother Andrew works as a locksmith in Priestown, and more than once he’s sent warnings to me about what’s happening. The Bane drains the spirit and the will. It makes people do what it wants, silencing the voices of goodness and reason: they become greedy and cruel, abuse their power, robbing the poor and sick. In Priestown tithes are now collected twice a year.’

I knew what a tithe was. A tenth of our farm’s income for the year and we had to pay it as a tax to the local church. It was the law.

‘Paying it once is bad enough,’ the Spook continued, ‘but twice and it’s hard to keep the wolf from the door. Once again, it’s beating the people down into fear and poverty, just as it did to the Segantii. It’s one of the purest and most evil manifestations of the dark I’ve ever met. But the situation can’t go on much longer. I’ve got to put a stop to it once and for all before it’s too late.’

‘How will we do that?’ I asked.

‘Well, I’m not sure I rightly know just yet. The Bane is a dangerous and clever foe; it may be able to read our minds and know just what we’re thinking before we realize it ourselves.

‘But apart from silver, it does have one other serious weakness. Women make it very nervous and it tries to avoid their company. It can’t abide being near them. Well, I can understand that easily enough, but how to use it to our advantage needs some thinking about.’

The Spook had often warned me to beware of girls, and for some reason, particularly those who wore pointy shoes. So I was used to him saying things like that. But now I knew about him and Meg I wondered if she’d played some part in making him talk the way he did.

Well, my master had certainly given me a lot to think about. And I couldn’t help wondering about all those churches in Priestown, and the priests and congregations, all believing in God. Could they all be wrong? If their God was so powerful why didn’t He do something about the Bane? Why did He allow it to corrupt the priests and spread evil out into the town?

My dad was a believer, even though he never went to church. None of our family did because farming didn’t stop on Sunday and we were always too busy milking or doing other chores. But it suddenly made me wonder what the Spook believed, especially knowing what Mam had told me - that the Spook had once been a priest himself.

‘Do you believe in God?’ I asked him.

‘I used to believe in God,’ the Spook replied, his expression very thoughtful. ‘When I was a child I never doubted the existence of God for a single moment, but eventually I changed. You see, lad, when you’ve lived as long as I have, there are things that make you wonder. So now I’m not so sure but I still keep an open mind.

‘But I’ll tell you this,’ he went on. ‘Two or three times in my life I’ve been in situations so bad that I never expected to walk away from them. I’ve faced the dark and almost, but not quite, resigned myself to death. Then, just when all’s seemed lost, I’ve been filled with new strength. Where it came from I can only guess. But with that strength came a new feeling. That someone or something was at my side. That I was no longer alone.’

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