The Tale of Robert Elm (Part II)

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I awoke in a small, sparsely furnished room with white walls and dark brown hardwood floor. Based on what I saw around me, I was able to estimate that the building was built in the late 19th century. I attempted to pull my head from the pillow but was met with a crippling pain in my forehead where the knife handle had struck me at the ceremony in the woods. My legs were sore and felt as though they were filled with cement. It made me shiver that I could not figure out what prevented me from standing at the ceremony. Muffled speech resonated from outside my room as the door opened. A goat-headed Lombard strolled into the room and closed the door behind him.

"Good morning, my guest!" he bellowed. "I assume you enjoyed your nap."

"Yeah, I did..." I answered, "Right after that friend of yours almost broke my nose!"

"You needn't worry about him, my friend. His foolish actions have cost him his place in the order," he said with a reassuring tone.

Lombard sat down on the bed next to me, and I instinctively wrenched my legs backward.

"Calm thyself, friend. I am indeed human and this is just a mask, nothing more."

"What about everything else!? The mumbo jumbo you guys were talking about, the goat head, the 'Black Circle'!? I want answers. Now."

"Ah, you have a right to be frightened. All will be explained to you. Let me start from the beginning..." He readjusted himself on the bed to face me. "In the late 1800's, two cousins founded a town not far from here. It was a small farming community, very prosperous, a thriving community until the fever hit. Many died, including the mayor's daughter. In a last ditch effort the community banded together and stood united against the disease. They burned the village to the ground and moved into the mayor's farmhouse, the house you are sitting in right now. The plan was a success. With all the medical personnel gathered in one area, it was much easier to treat the sick, and soon the fever was eradicated. Out of habit, the community stayed in this house as a single family to this day, of which I am the patriarch.

"The goat headdress symbolizes the single species of beast that provided us with food and drink during the dark times and for your information it is permanently adhered to my head. We dubbed ourselves the Black Circle in name of the black table in the dining hall we would gather around to tell stories of hope to inspire one another. The event you were the center of was known as a Neophyte's Sacrament; we give the newcomer a small dose of a hallucinogenic and provoke you to reveal your true feelings to us in order to tell if we can trust you. I was strongly opposed to the Sacrament, but I was pressured by the others and had no choice. The words we used were simply to disguise our discussion due to the Circle's lack of trust. As for the actions of Alabaster... I sincerely apologize." Lombard pulled up his massive form and spoke directly to me, "Here I am, Valentine Ambrose Lombard the Second, with nothing to hide, at your service."

Needless to say I was awestruck at the volume of information that was imparted onto me.

Before I could respond, Lombard asked, "Any questions?"

I shook my head just as a woman wearing simple brown robes came into the room, dropped to one knee, and said flatly, "You are needed in the infirmary, my lord."

Lombard turned to her and stated, "I will be there as soon as I can, Alice. Did Stephan have a run in with the thresher again?"

"No," she laughed with a smile, eyes still trained on the floor, "Pier was picking on Silvia again; she snapped and let him have it with her little fists! I have them both down there waiting for you."

The leader gave a hearty laugh. "That Pier! Almost as mischievous as I was when I was a little boy!" He turned to me, "I will be back to speak with you later, friend, but now I must deal with this matter first. Get some rest."

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