Chapter 2: The Fog
Two lines of soldiers, marching side by side, filed out of a forest and into an open pasture. A heavy fog drifted up from the riverbank, swirling about their boots as they crunched along the icy ground. The skull gray sky stretched endlessly ahead, promising more bad weather.
The commander of the troops was asleep in his horse-pulled carriage. Colonel Trudeau liked to eat and sleep, and, as such, his two greatest talents were gobbling up rations and snoring. The colonel never spent time marching with the men.
The troops marched on in sloppy formation. If the colonel had been awake, they would have been forced to walk upright and proud, like worthy soldiers. But none of the soldiers felt particularly worthy anymore. The bright blues, whites, and golds of their uniforms had dulled by constant exposure to the rain and the mud. Blue became gray, white became brown, and gold became yellow. They were defeated and depressed.
Just then, the sergeant’s voice called out from the front of the line, breaking endless hours of silence.
“Halt the line!”
All at once, the soldiers stopped. The air was filled with the shuffling of guns against the heavy wool of their uniforms. As they settled into formation, total silence descended on the company until a loud snort erupted from the horse-pulled carriage.
“What is it?” asked one soldier to another. Only the men at the front could make out what was happening. The others had to guess.
“The colonel,” a third soldier answered. “Snoring again.”
“No, not the snore,” the first soldier responded impatiently. “Why are we stopped? What is it up there?”
“It’s never anything,” answered the second soldier, annoyed that his daydreaming had been interrupted. He had managed to forget, for a spell, his miserable conditions, imagining himself before a cheerful fire with a mug of hot cider back at his cozy country cottage.
“But what if it is something?” insisted the first soldier.
“Well, aren’t you darned curious?” the daydreaming soldier retorted. “Why don’t you just march on up there and—”
“Should we wake the colonel?” the third soldier interrupted.
“Only if it’s an attack,” a fourth offered.
“How do we know if it’s an attack?” the first soldier asked, his voice filled with worry.
Before any of the soldiers could answer, the company captain pushed past the men and walked straight to the front of the line. The colonel continued to snore.
“What is it, Sergeant?” the captain demanded of a soldier whose face had turned as gray as the fog. But no answer came, and no answer was needed. A blue flame began to engulf the clearing where the soldiers stood in formation.
“What is that?” the captain asked with an unnatural note of fear in his voice. He squinted and focused on the flame.
“It looks like the moon is coming out of the ground, Sir,” the sergeant replied and started to shake.
“Load the rifles with powder, now!” the captain called to his men. “First squad, come with me!”
Two lines of soldiers came suddenly alive in their noisy preparation for battle. The rest of the troop began to load their guns and assemble their bayonets. The captain pulled his sword from its sheath and motioned for the men at his side to follow. The soldiers looked at one another nervously and drew their rifles.
Suddenly, a great snore split the air and a belchy voice called out, “What is this? Why have we stopped?!”
Colonel Trudeau spilled out of his private carriage. The bottom buttons of his shirt were undone, and his great white belly poured over his trousers. He licked the crusted pork fat from his lips and prepared to unleash a storm of insults at those lazy, good for nothing soldiers, when he saw the flame coming from the front of the line. The colonel froze, pudgy eyes bulging out of his head and jowls agape, until a fly flew into his mouth and he fell into a fit of coughing.
The captain rolled his eyes angrily and turned from the detestable colonel back to his men.
“Avancer!” he called out, and motioned toward the flame.
Weapons drawn, the soldiers advanced. With every step forward the blaze grew brighter. A thin black shadow slowly began to form in the center of the flame, taking the shape of a man. Then, all at once, the light disappeared.
“Hold fire!” the captain shouted. He took a few cautious steps toward the man who was now standing alone in the middle of the field. “What in the name of—”
“Captain Moreau!” the colonel belched from the back of the lines, having finally recovered himself after coughing up the fly.
“He’s awake,” confirmed the soldier who believed himself an expert on the colonel’s sleeping patterns.
“What do we do now?” asked the anxious soldier, unable to see what was happening at the front of the line.
“Nothing—I’m sure it’s nothing,” the dreamy soldier answered, still annoyed.
“It could be an attack,” the fourth soldier offered.
“Captain Moreau!” the colonel screamed again. “I order you to tell me what is going on!”
But the captain, with his rifle raised, couldn’t take his eyes from the strange man standing before him. His pointy face, sharp nose, and short goatee seemed familiar, but he was dressed in heavy red robes that looked like they belonged to a different time.
“Identify yourself!” the captain called out as the man took a step forward.
“Lower your weapon, friend,” a silky voice answered. “I’ve come to help.”
The captain felt a strange force pull gently down on his rifle. “What are you doing?!” he demanded. “STOP! Or I’ll give the order to—”
“To what?” sneered the man, who was now within arm’s reach of the captain. “To shoot?”
His full red lips curled in cruel amusement. He reached out with long fingers that felt strangely warm and prickly when they made contact with the captain’s face.
Captain Moreau stood transfixed, staring into the stranger’s hard black eyes.
“What you’ll do,” the man continued in a dangerously soft voice. “—is tell your colonel that the Marquis Gaspar Richelieu welcomes him and his men to the Chateau Fontaineflamme.”
“What is the Chateau Fontaineflamme?” the captain asked dumbly, feeling terribly sleepy all of a sudden and in need of a comfortable place to rest.
“The Chateau Fontaineflamme is where you’ll post today,” the marquis responded simply. “Now assemble your men.”
That evening, as the moon began its ascent into the wintry sky, the captain and the rest of the weary soldiers filled themselves up with mulled cider and roast wild boar and then spread themselves out over the chateau’s comfortable apartments. The colonel had fallen asleep face-first in the meringue and sat snoring loudly in the dining hall. The marquis was nowhere to be found.
If the soldiers had listened carefully, they might have heard the voices calling for help from the deepest and darkest chambers of the chateau. If they had ventured out into the village, they might have wondered at the emptiness of the cobblestone streets, the dark windows, and smokeless chimneys.
But the soldiers had been marching for weeks on end in the dreariest of conditions, and the last thing any of them wanted to do was explore. Instead, they lay sleeping soundly in four-poster feather beds and overstuffed chairs, keeping unconscious guard over the prisoners below.
New chapters of The Secret Corridor will be published every Friday to CorridorCounty.com. Listen at Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Buzzsprout.