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Tarpeian Rock

An Annual Literary Magazine

"Hinc ad Tarpeiam sedem et Capitolia ducit
aurea nunc, olim siluestribus horrida dumis."

                    --Virgil's Aeneid, VIII, l. 347-8
Articles from
the 2007 issue...

The Curse of Borello, Part V

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The Curse of Borello, Part V

by Robert F. Kauffmann

Two monks, Solkek and Ballion continue translating St. Lonias’ account of the history of Baron Borello XIV of Borellias via correspondence. So far, a foreign stranger, known as the Vassal, has arrived in the court of Borello with a gift and promises of friendship with his powerful master, Ollock of Umbra. The gift is a platinum mandible said to have the power to lead its owner to wealth and treasure. Through this gift, and his wit and guile, the Vassal seeks to overthrow the Baron according to Ollock’s wish. The use of the Mandible leads to the discovery of gold in nearby hills, but mining the wealth has diverted vital labor from farm fields, threatening a crisis in the food supply. On the Vassal’s counsel, the Baron raids the aboriginals to the north to procure slaves. His campaign a success, the Baron turns homeward. But the Vassal was left to govern in his absence, giving him free reign to work his malice upon Borellias. Our account now turns to the consequences of the Vassal’s malfeasance.

To read the previous parts of The Curse of Borello, please request back issues of volumes 1-5 of the Tarpeian Rock. For details, please click here.

Dear Brother Ballion,
Indeed, you have me worried—not so much on account of your foreboding, but of your weariness of which your misgivings are, no doubt, a symptom. I would strongly urge you to approach your abbot with these health concerns which go hand-in-hand with being overtasked. Seeing, indeed, that you are probably overwhelmed, let me know if this is too much for you. I am willing to do double time for a few months on our project until you are recovered. Please let me know.
—Yours in the Lord, Brother Solkek

PS—It is with some trepidation that I send you this next attachment. If you are unwell, by all means, do not read until you feel recovered.


In the Baron’s chair, sat Borello’s Vassal
Basking in decadence of his own devising,
Mead flowing freely into his mug,
While sensuous dancers of exotic origins
Whom he imported from cities far to the south
Moved to music that seduced the senses,
While the sultry fumes of exotic herbs
Wafted from pipes, intoxicating dense airs.

For the hall of Borellos, longstanding in tradition,
Had fallen to decadence in a few short weeks,
Where the Vassal held tenure as the Baron’s steward.
And his counselors and servants, like wayward sons,
Reveled in misfeasance in their Baron’s absence
Following the lead of that lawless Vassal,
Proclaiming him lord in their drunken stupor.
And the Vassal led the revelry till he sensed a distant voice.

The voice was that of Ollock whispering astral warnings:
“Ware thou, my servant and loyal Vassal,
For thy liege, the Baron, presently returns!”
And fear seized the Vassal as he rose from his seat
And rushed to his chambers away from the din.
Thereupon entering his private chamber,
The regal form of Ollock, emperor of darkness,
Loomed before his face as he fell to his knees.

In obedience, he groveled, pledging subservience:
“I await your command, O my lord and liege.
I shall heed your warnings and dispel this debauchery
Lest Lord Borello, enraged, turn me out in exile
Or punish my temerity with measures more severe
To the detriment of my duty to Emperor Ollock.”
But the apparition chuckled in careless amusement
As he answered his servant in sinister tones:

“Well may ye indulge in sinful pursuits,
For thy duties pertain to woe and destruction
Upon those near about thee with ties to state.
But the Baron, on the contrary, can ill-afford
The disruptions of decadence that drive men to madness,
For he must care for his charges in clear-minded terms.
So bring on the debauchery, and the Baron will do
All that is necessary to fulfill his foul fate.”

But the Vassal, in puzzlement, raised his eyes
In utter confusion over Ollock’s pronouncements.
“But what of the wrath of an indignant Baron
Who finds in disarray all that which he entrusted
To his loyal servant as steward of his realm?
What means at hand, I pray thee, tell me,
Shall quell a lord’s wrath unto lethal vengeance?”
And Ollock, in relish, readily replied:

“Give me thy hand, and a charm I’ll chant,
That the dancers ye hath hosted may work our will:
Let any lady upon whom thou layest thy hand,
And five others to follow in even succession,
Be empowered with such beauty as none can withstand.
So becharmed with unparalleled powers of seduction,
They shall fawn upon men whom we wish to command
Beating down self-will with sensual oppression.”

As the phantom hand of Ollock clasped his living palm,
The Vassal writhed in ecstasy at the influx of dark forces
Feeling the sensual pleasures of a thousand sultry eves
Of indulgence beyond all mortals’ fancy or imaginings.
It burned in his brain, then slowly bled away,
Migrating to his palm where the power rested ready
To bestow upon the person of any demon temptress
That his will deemed ready to serve his dark purpose.

And, in lethal satisfaction, that golden death’s head grinned,
As Ollock then intoned his final admonition:
“Accomplishing these things, O my loyal Vassal
Shall incur my satisfaction unto thy rich reward.
Fail, and my wrath shall fall heavily upon thee.”
Then, shaking, the Vassal bowed deeply before him,
Saying, “Mercy, O master, for thy demands shall be met.”
But, arising, he found the apparition had vanished.

Now as the Vassal readied for his master’s return,
The Baron bellowed at the castle’s gates
In utter outrage over the Vassal’s infidelities
That rumors had borne on winds to his ears.
“Open, foul traitors, and face the just wrath
Of your Baron betrayed by disgraceful servants
Who have transformed my halls to a den of dishonor
While honor have I won upon fields of foray.”

Then Vizor, his counselor, who feared wrath indiscriminate,
Was there at the gate to greet his master
And beg his indulgence on behalf of those
Who flouted his confidence and trust to integrity.
But the Baron would hear naught as he bellowed aloud,
“Spare me your platitudes, for all shall feel wrath
Who have aroused my wroth on this day of woe,
Too cowardly to greet me at my very gate.”

Within, then, he rushed the doors of his high hall
As a gale before gates, a fierce force of nature
That blows down the bastions of mere mortal fools.
In he burst brimming, full of umbrage overflowing
To have instantly his tirade diffused from his lips
By the sight that caught hold of his unready eyes:
The seductive gestures of dancing women
Slithering to the sounds of sultry tunes.

Before Vassal and nobles danced six lovely ladies
Whose provocative leaps and serpentine gestures
Were calculated to melt the iciest of souls
Into complete subdual to their feminine charisms
As, indeed, they did, as the Baron stood stupified
All wrath toward the Vassal completely dispelled.
The Baron was benumbed as in spell-woven stupor
Along with his retinue who followed in train.

Borello Vassal
Then the Vassal, in infinite satisfaction,
Smiled and stared, seeing mewlers led away.
But while the Baron, his counselors, and captains alike
Were besotted with lust and animal appetites
Young Borello was alarmed, perceiving the danger
For he knew these hot urges burning in his breast
Were beyond his ability to quell or control
Having been so forewarned by his mentor’s instruction.
But the weakness that lay hold of his pining being
At that first feminine touch now froze his resolve.

But just as he believed he was lost beyond hope,
The fragment of a prayer he had learned from the monk
Came unbidden to mind as he uttered it aloud:
“Ora pro nobis peccatoribus Santa Dei Genitrix
Ut digni efficamor promissibus Christi.”
And supernatural strength to his limbs were imbued
So that he fled in fear from that scene of sensuousness
And took refuge in his room, barring the door behind him.

But the Baron and his cronies under the Vassal’s eye
Fared far less well than that frightened youth.
For their senses were overwhelmed in the heavy must
Of fell pheromones enfurling all sense and reason,
Entangled in webs of Delilian wiles.
And the ladies drew them off, fawning and drooling,
To dark places far removed from prying eyes
To enervate their strength through fatal feminine charms.

Then the Vassal, in infinite satisfaction,
Smiled and stared, seeing mewlers led away.
For he knew his sire’s spell had worked its way
And would subdue those fools to follow his counsels
When those wily women whispered the words
He had given them to speak when their quarry was pinned
Unable to escape their poison grip of vice.
And this seat, now, he knew, he held all but in name.

Dear Brother Solkek,
It is with deep regret that I must write to you in this manner. We have found dear Brother Ballion collapsed in his cell early this morning, and have since been tending him. He is burning with a fever, and there seems to be little we can do to ease his condition. Having spoken to his brethren with whom he worked, it would seem as though he has been unwell for awhile now. When he regains consciousness—and some of his strength—I may have to have a few words with him about the evils of neglecting one’s own health. In the meantime, I would ask you and your brethren to pray for our dear brother. I have enclosed the following translated canto with this letter—It seems Brother Ballion had completed work on it only recently. It makes for disturbing reading. I’m afraid, for the time being, you’ll have to continue your work alone, but please feel free to send us updates on your progress. We have all been following this project with a great deal of interest.
—Benedicte Omnipotens Deus, Abbot Solanus


As autumn drew on, then winter through spring,
The Baron, besotted, squandered his wealth
On sensual pleasures, fine food, and wine.
And all went well with the Baron’s undoing,
According to the Vassal’s villainous designs,
Till news came one day to freeze his marrow:
‘Twas the fall of Ollock and his Umbrian realms.
So the Vassal then vaulted recklessly to his room.

As he hurriedly crammed his bags with the things
His hard road from Borellias would surely require,
The phantom face of Ollock suddenly appeared:
A disembodied figure of his former self.
And he coldly intoned to his wayward servant:
“Where goest thou, O Vassal, with ice in thy veins,
Frozen in false fears of my early demise?
Where goest thou, leaving thy mission undone?”

The Vassal’s eyes widened as he fell to his knees,
And struggling with shock, he blurted a reply:
“My lord and emperor, forgive your servant,
For many months have passed since last you came
To gain news of our progress against our foe.
But, tell me, truly, what transpired to spawn
Ugly rumors of your demise and untimely defeat?”
And Ollock, amused, intoned a reply:

“Tidings are true of my fall in combat,
And my temporary loss of royal rulership.
But know ye not by now with whom thou speakest?
For even Death’s dark hand cannot hold me hence,
Nor retain my powers forever in check!
For already am I avenged upon those who felled me,
And my time now I’ll bide for my imminent return
To the sorrow of a world that defies rightful rule!”

Then the Vassal felt fevered with the fervor of loyalty,
And a desire laid hold to rescue his liege
From this apparent predicament that left him imprisoned,
Or lost, disenfranchised in destitute exile:
“Command me, O king, and I’ll come to your aid
To free you from what prison may hold you at bay
From arising at once to reclaim your own!”
But Ollock replied, allaying his impulses:

“Nay, my servant, thou shalt hold thy way
And bring down this barony till ripe for conquest,
That she may fall to my sword on the day of my wrath.
For spells still hold sway while present you stand
To work my way upon all whom I will woe.
Stray away but awhile, and all spells shall wither
Bringing to naught all our labors wrought till now:
An exercise in vanity that is not to be suffered.”

But the Vassal was confused by his master’s pronouncement,
And he craved reassurance and leave to act:
“But how long will spells hold sway in your weakened state
That is surely your lot after infamous defeat?
What then, orphaned, will I do here from afar
When all my influence is lost in these alien lands?”
But golden Ollock chuckled as he gave his reply
To a mere mortal fool uncomprehending divinity:

“Despair not so soon, for thy charms will hold long
Having survived already six months from my defeat,
For news travels slowly over long wild leagues!
But thy power is now stronger than ever it was.
For, hark now! I hear them approaching thy doors
Seeking ever more urgently thy counsel and wisdom!”
And a rapping, indeed, at his door did sound
With heralds crying urgently for his presence at council.

When he turned to face Ollock after glancing to the door,
He found him then vanished as was his wont:
His entries and exits escaped always mortal eyes.
Then, calling them to enter, he greeted those sentries,
And bade them, “Go inform them, Baron and all,
I’ll be shortly to council, ever loyal to summons.”
Then, pensive, he sat for a few long moments,
Wondering what these portents might ultimately mean.

To be continued ...

Robert F. Kauffmann is an artist, writer, animator, and computer programmer from Cinnaminson, New Jersey. The Curse of Borello is the sequel to his book, The Mask of Ollock, available from Arx Publishing.

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