Lilian and Oleg Viiding were traveling from their home in the capital city, Tallinn, on the Gulf of Finland, to Haapsalu on the Baltic Sea, where Oleg’s grandmother lived. Barely out the door of their flat, it began snowing and by the time they reached the outskirts of the city, the snow was quickly accumulating. Oleg suggested they turn back and start out early the next morning, but Lilian’s superstition about the bad luck they could have if they broke their journey, won out.
Oleg wasn’t superstitious, but then, the Estonians weren’t a very superstitious people compared to the Russians. Lilian’s family was primarily Russian but Oleg’s Estonian ancestry went back centuries. So, when they arrived at his grandmother’s, he was surprised to hear her talking about the “night walkers” who she feared would come once they heard she had visitors, and hurried them inside. Oleg wanted to get more wood to carry them through the night but his grandmother Juta, became agitated, begging him not to go outside. Oleg conceded for her sake and for Lilian who was obviously disturbed by the talk of malevolent spirits.
That night one could hear the wind and the wash of waves on shore as erratic snowfall continued to paint white patches on the land. Lilian was thirsty from the kielbasa at dinner but was afraid to walk downstairs to the kitchen by herself. She tried waking Oleg but he was fast asleep and couldn’t be roused. Lilian took the torch from the nightstand and went down the back stairs to the kitchen, quickly grabbed a liter of water and sprang like an antelope for the main stairs, nearly falling over Juta, who was sitting on the bottom step. She was asleep. Juta would sleep walk when she was upset. One should not wake a sleep-walker, but Lilian couldn’t leave her on the stairs.
Lilian gently woke her, yet as soon as Juta saw Lilian, she began wailing as though she had lost her faculties. Before the awakened Oleg turned on the light at the top of the stairs, Lilian felt something touch her in passing . By the time Oleg reached the bottom of the stairs, Juta was quiet and Lilian was stunned and wary of telling Oleg anything of the encounter. She told him Juta was sleep walking again and left it at that.
The following night, Lilian found Juta at the bottom of the stairs again, and again she felt something brush her. This time, however, Juta was quiet as the two women saw the spirit materialize into a human figure, hooded and in dark robes. Lilian let out a shriek and within seconds, Oleg bounded down the stairs. He switched on the light and there, stood the materialized figure. Juta was so happy to see him she gave him an enthusiastic hug. He was not the night walker, obviously.
Brother Jakob was an Estonian Orthodox monk who often visited his father on the other side of the inlet. Oleg did not recognize him, nor did he know his father, and he knew everyone in the area. Juta, however, claimed to have known him since he was an infant. Oleg was noticeably suspicious. Brother Jakob told them he followed a night walker entering their house. Oleg was unusually dismissive, which Lilian feared would escalate and suggested they all get some sleep, and the monk agreed to Juta’s plea for him to stay the night.
The next morning, sitting around the kitchen table after Lilian had fed them a hearty breakfast, they talked about what Brother Jakob had followed into the house during the night. Lilian and Juta each revealed their experiences with the spirit and Brother Jakob fascinated them with the tales of the encounters of many of the brothers at the monastery over the years. In answer to Oleg’s question about the sudden occurrences of the night walkers, the monk’s response was surprising and very troubling….
The night walkers were seeking the daughter of Kristjan Ruutel. It was she who was keeping the “truth of the curse”. Oleg asked the monk why they bothered his grandmother. Her father was Sander Kussik. Juta reluctantly spoke up at that point and told them about her real father, Kristjan Ruutel. Her mother, Saara, and Kristjan, had an affair which she ended when she discovered she was pregnant. Her husband, Sander never knew.
Juta had no idea what was meant by the “truth of the curse.” When the visitations started she had confided in Brother Jakob. He had done some research as well as consulted some of the Brothers who knew bits and pieces of the story. The monk had already told some of what he learned to Juta, however, he recently spoke with a priest who was at Kristjan’s bedside. Before he died Juta’s father made a last confession, and although the priest could not disclose any of it, the priest pointed Brother Jakob in the right direction for answers.. The monk claimed some of the information he uncovered was disturbing but held no clue to the answer to the riddle.
During the monk’s and Juta’s stories, Lilian had been unusually quiet. She was sure the monk knew the answer to the riddle but probably didn’t want to upset some spiritual balance by revealing it. It was Oleg who stated that once exposed a secret loses all its power. Oleg’s statement got Lilian thinking about secrets, truth, and curses. There was something about truth that resonated familiarly inside her head. As the monk was leaving for the monastery, Lilian asked him to return that eveining for dinner and discussion. She asked so demurely that Brother Jakob left promising to come back to Juta’s in the evening.
Brother Jakob kept his promise and arrived at the house in time for dinner. After dinner, he repeated the story of the curse as told to him. Night walkers were soulless, malevolent, creatures who once belonged to the order of knights who were instrumental in recapturing Jerusalem from the Saracens during the First Crusade. They were fearless, adept knights, cutting down the enemy. Also, they were ruthless, sadistic murderers of innocent women and children. Of the pitiable women and children, those they let live for a time were dealt with horrifically. Women were repeatedly and cruelly molested. Children were tortured before being beheaded or burned alive alongside their mothers. Word of their horrendous, lawless, barbaric activities reached the Pontiff who summarily excommunicated them and seized their lands.
That wasn’t their only punishment. A curse was put upon them by a powerful Saracen witch, condemning them all to die in battle the next full moon and walk their homeland each night as soulless spirits, without the possibility of release or redemption.. So the curse fell upon them and with the next full moon, they were ambushed and fought Saracen forces that dramatically outnumbered them. Every knight was viciously slaughtered. Since their deaths over 900 years ago, the soulless spirits of the knights walk what once were their own lands.
As they discussed the knights and the curse, Lilian finally revealed what she learned in the few hours she had available to search the Internet. She was sure the monk was lying about knowing the answer to what appeared to be a riddle. Being a religious man and scholar, he should have solved it almost instantly. She stared at the monk while she told everyone she discovered the “truth” part of the riddle was actually spoken by Jesus as written in the Gospel of John, verse 8:32,
Veritas vos Liberabit. The truth will make (set) you free.
Everyone looked at Brother Jakob, expecting a response from him. He remained silent and dispassionate. Oleg, looked towards the monk and asked what truth was Jesus talking about. Brother Jakob did not answer. Lilian, on the other hand, knew only the path to the truth: the truth would be gained by those who are first faithful and obedient. Repentance and self-denial, and abiding in Christ and God’s Kingdom would reveal the truth. Brother Jakob rose and walked out the door without saying a word.
Later that night, Lilian was awakened by the the wind blasting snow and ice against the windows. Leaving Oleg to sleep, she went downstairs and sat on the bottom step with the sleeping Juta. Lilian nodded off and nearly jumped out of her skin when she sensed there was someone else on the stairs. Brother Jakob had returned and he, too, was waiting for a night walker.
The night passed slowly. Lilian and the monk spoke little. Without warning, they were both aware that the room was filled with spirits of the knights. Lilian gently woke Juta, who was prepared to speak to the cursed knights. Quietly encouraging the older woman, Lilian whispered the first words. Finally Juta spoke, her words reaching out into the darkness:
“Veritas vos Liberabit.”
The monk then spoke to the spirits, repeating Jesus’ words in Latin, Estonian, and English, telling them how to attain the truth. Still, nothing happened. He repeated everything twice and still no response. Then Juta, Lilian and Brother Jakob felt it–evil. The spirits of the cursed Knights had 900 years to repent yet they never repented. They would remain a malignancy upon the land unless they could be stopped. The night walkers closed in around the women and the monk as they tried scrambling up the stairs but were held back. The spirits were angry, primal–stripped of everything human.
They understood the truth of the curse: they would never be set free. They had nothing to lose…
Once More With Feeling #21 @ Cognitive Reflection
Photo Prompt: Credit Kadri Sammel
Word Count: >1000
Many thanks to moi at Cognitive Reflection for hosting Once More With Feeling
Always a pleasure