#writephoto Flash fiction: The crypt

For Sue Vincent’s Thursday photo prompt.


Late night. Moonlight streams through the tall, slender lancet windows and silvers the cold stone of the nave floor. No light falls in the crypt below, but the air moves nonetheless, restless and cold. Tombs fill the vaults, row upon row of silent clerics and seigneurs, their palms together in prayer, stone eyes fixed on eternal light. For centuries the church has stood on the hill, upon ground once pagan and impure. Centuries ago the first monks led soldiers against the heathens and cleansed the impurity from the earth in a torrent of blood. The earth soaked up the blood, fire cleaned the heathen bones, and prayers chased the old pagan magic from the air.
Centuries ago, monks and warlords watched over the building of the church on the hill that they had taken from the pagans. They dug deep foundations, disturbing the blackened bones. Their masons laid dressed stone upon stone, craftsmen carved and sculpted demons, angels and monsters. One carved the master mason, another his wife, and some carved the faces of the old gods in corners not visible from the ground.
For centuries the illustrious dead were buried in the crypt; the seigneurs and the princes of the church laid side by side in death on the ground stained with violent death. The air was dark. Candlelight shed only a pale glow. The stones shrugged it off, and the rare offices held in the crypt were rapid and fearful. The officiants heard the muttering of voices, the clash of arms and, now and then, the screams of the dying. Ghosts, they said. The evil magic lingers.
From the Otherworld, the ancient people return when the wintering sun invites them and opens its doors to let them through. The people of the hill return to visit homes long since razed to the ground. They come sadly, but they come all the same and touch the spring where the water bubbles clear and bright, the oak and the yew, and the stones that had been there before their birth and would be there still when the last man of all died.
The people of the hill will not enter the invaders’ sacred place. It reeks of blood, their blood, and all they had know died with them. No grass grows, only smooth stone slabs. And they leave the dead ghosts to their angry mutterings, their raging against the injustice of death. For the Otherworld will not have them with their bloodstained hands and their bloodstained hearts. They would not pay a blood price or admit their wrongs. They left widows and orphans, mothers without children, men without wives and they said that it was good.
When the sun rises again, the ancient people will return to the fields and the islands, the waves and the scented air of the Otherworld. They will leave behind the dark crypt full of black hatred and unrepentance, and let the singing of the larks chase the invaders’ black mutterings from their ears.