Under a Crimson Moon
The fire crackled and sparked in the stone fireplace and lit up the dim room; the ornate grandfather clock ticked. Claire stood by the casement window as the sun glittered over the valley beyond the grounds. The castle lay atop a hillock and the gleam of the setting sun gave the shimmering landscape an air of magnificence. Xavier read his book.
As the sun dipped into the jagged horizon and cast one last ray of light, Claire distinguished the three crosses silhouetted in the distance, their long shadows like ghostly fingers reaching for the castle.
The clock chimes mingled with the seven peals of the church towers beyond the gates.
“Xavier, do you know the story behind those three crosses?”
Xavier, taciturn, rather than ask which crosses she meant, closed his book and joined her at the window.
“Hmm,” he grumbled, “I don’t remember, but I believe they were three merciless bandits.”
“Strange someone would bury them and mark their graves,” Claire commented; Xavier shrugged.
She glanced at her husband, his handsome features eerie in the dim firelight. Claire didn’t resent their move to this place. It wasn’t Xavier’s fault he’d inherited it from an estranged uncle. She would have preferred her modest old house, in her old village, yet they must take the golden opportunity.
The castle needed much repair and Xavier had inherited the property and everything in it, but not the means to restore it. Now, they lived with parts of the majestic home closed. They meant to inhabit the castle, repair it little by little and turn it into a fancy hotel. Yet their savings were all but gone and the project not advanced enough to generate an income.
Claire pulled up a chair by the casement. Darkness cast itself over the land and Xavier retired for the night. The full moon rose crimson and cast copper beams over the landscape. The stars poked through the inky black one by one.
Charlemagne, their German shepherd, sat at Claire’s her feet. Claire’s eyelids drooped and her head nodded forward, then jerked back. She resolved to go to bed and cast one last glance at the glistening valley; the fire glowed dim.
Charlemagne rose and gazed out the window, his ears perked and alert, listening. Claire followed his gaze. Under the rusty moonlight, three hooded figures rose from the three graves. Claire could not distinguish their features in the dusky night, but felt no fear, as if the figures meant no harm. Gliding, they approached the castle and faint moonbeams caught the crucifixes twinkling on their chests.
“Monks, not bandits,” Claire murmured. Charlemagne gave a low whimper.
The figures entered the grounds and stopped by the large weeping willow whose leaves drooped over the murky moat. The figures glanced around, then disappeared under the dangling boughs.
Hoofbeats trampled the moonlit silence; the monks emerged from beneath the willow. Horsemen appeared and stormed the castle. Claire, with a hand over her mouth, let out a muffled shriek. The monks stood stoic as the horsemen slew them.
Charlemagne growled; a cloud covered the blood-red moon and plunged the valley into darkness. The wind swept the dusky clouds away and the moon, now white, shone upon the land. All figures had vanished, though a silver moonbeam shone on the weeping willow.
Claire grabbed a light and leashed Charlemagne. Xavier watched from the bedroom as the moonlit figures of his wife and dog crossed the grounds and approached the willow. They passed through the gnarled limbs.
Charlemagne sniffed around the massive trunk; Claire followed his movements with her light. The German shepherd, resting his front paws on the trunk, stood on his hind legs and barked. Claire shone the light upwards, and in its soft glow, saw a tree hollow several branches overhead.
Charlemagne yipped and wagged his tail as Claire climbed the willow. When she reached the tree hole, she dipped her arm in, wary of waking its tenant. An owl hooted as Claire’s fingers touched smooth metal.
“Did the monks hide something?” Xavier called from the ground.
“You saw them too?” Claire answered.
She sat precariously on the branch, and hesitating, stuck her other arm in the hole. She pulled something from the tree hollow.
She dropped a box into Xavier’s extended arms. Surprised by the weight of the box and the cold metal, he dropped it. It clanged onto the tree root and flew open. Claire clambered down from the tree.
“What is it?” Claire asked when she noticed Xavier’s gawking expression.
Scattered over the twisted tree roots, sparkles of ruby, emerald, sapphire, gold, and silver glimmered in the thin rays of moonlight that passed through the heavy leaves.
“It’s our financial salvation,” Xavier exclaimed.
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