The Monster of the Belfry

by Franc


Omar Benamir, a once renowned violinist must live as the monster of the belfry, due to his hideous scars that he obtained in a fire.

'I have liv'd long enough: my way of life

Is fall'n into the sere, the yellow leaf;

And that which should accompany old age,

As honour, love, obedience, troops of friends,

I must not look to have; but, in their stead,

Curses, not loud but deep, mouth-honour, breath,

Which the poor heart would fain deny, and dare not'.- William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act V, Scene III

I am Omar Benamir, a tortuous soul, who had feared the long caliginous nights that overshadowed the fond days of yore I fancied anew. But, it was the night that was my refuge and the life that I had come to experience, since my ineffable curse. I had not always been the hideous monster that had been converted then, because I was once a fain and handsome man, who was a renowned violinist and compositor. My home you wonder was a village in the remote and mountainous area of Aragón, Spain.

It all began in the year of 1600, when I met the woman, who condemned me to the eternal nights of darkness. Her name was Magdalena Guimet, a very alluring young countess, who would conquer my heart, and sentence my soul to a very disconsolate and solitary belfry. It was precisely upon one merry occasion of a festive night in Teruel that I encountered the arresting countess, after a performance in the courtyard of a nobleman. I had met in this world, fascinating persons from the sundry areas of the country and Europe, including many attractive women, but none such as Magdalena Guimet. She was so particular and unique, and her charm was bewitching. The lively contours of her splendid physique had personified her beauty, and the symmetry of her high cheekbones and a defined nose exuded the lineaments of her countenance that were noticeable. Her mien was impeccable and irresistible. Her presence imposed, with great prestige and dominion that I had not known in a lady before. Her fashionable dress, accessories were befitting of a noblewoman of her stature. She was the absolute cynosure of the nightlife in Teruel, and had been courted, by numerous refined men of Aragón. She was escorted to the hall afterwards, by a certain gentleman, whose name was Lorent Fonz.

He was a dapper connoisseur of the arts, and regarded to possess a debonair disposition, by his admirers. He flaunted his perfection every instant that could denote his grand superiority. Our austere acquaintance was by the mere coincidence of our patrimony. We were orgulous Aragonese first, then Spaniards. The Benamir surname as well, as the Fonz surname were each excellently embedded in Aragón ever since, the Moorish Conquest of Spain and the time of the Moriscos. There was a contention, betwixt our families that dated from the 15th century. We competed in every aspect and event in the high society of Aragón, until one day he challenged me to a daring duel. It was a duel I could not so easily dismiss-for his hauteur had exceeded my tolerance. I could not allow his effrontery to not be redressed, without a just acknowledgement. Our courtship of the vivacious countess had converted us into ruthless foes.

Thus, upon one average day of spring, we stood before the open meadow of the countryside, outside of Teruel. His stare was profound and stern, but mine was as equally convincing. His conviction was passionate, but mine was more. We stared at each other with disdain and slowly, we halted, as our rapiers were ready. Thenceforth, we both then began the duel at the same time, and with our pointed swords colliding, we went back and forth. His rapier reached my shirt several times, leaving striking marks upon my body, but, I struck a mortal blow to his heart. The blow pierced his heart, killing him instantly, as he fell to the ground dead and listless. The duel had abated abruptly, and I was the victor in the end; and genuine commensuration was felt, with the death of my irksome foe Lorent Fonz. I was rid of the one individual, who had been my impetuous rival, since the beginning. If I thought by killing Lorent Fonz would win the love of the countess, I was sorely mistaken.

The unscrupulous whims of seduction and carousing with her blinded me, with ceaseless madness. We indulged ourselves in fancy wine and immoral orgies. We had continued to falter to temptation and the peccant ways of lascivity. We were lovers in ecstasy and had gotten engaged. But, the stigma of having killed the son of the wealthy Don Artur Fonz of the Catalonian Fonç would haunt me and have severe repercussions. I had continuous nightmares of that memorable day of the duel. I could not escape the ghastly look of his eyes wide open, as he lay in the ground like a grisly apparition.

One day in Huesca, as I was in the company of the countess in the manor, I was confronted by the younger brother of the deceased Lorent Fonz. He had apparently come to exact revenge for the death of his beloved brother. He had challenged me to a duel. I had enough blood stained on my conscience that I did not want any more to tarnish my name. Thus, I did not accept his challenge, and that rejection would ultimately cost me his unkind retribution. He felt scorned and had questioned my honour. I threw him out of the manor, as he swore that I would pay for my blatant presumption. At first, I dismissed his bold warning and thought nothing of the incident.

That night I had drank too much liquor that I was not aware of the cravenly plot of the brother of Lorent Fonz. Whilst I was inside the manor with the countess again, he had lit the manor on fire. The blazing fire rapidly extended to the chamber I was in. I was impervious about the peril that was nigh, as I sat in the chair of my table. When I realised that the manor was on fire, the smoke had begun to impede my vision and reach my lungs. The door was locked as well, from outside. Someone unknown to me at the moment had locked the door. I struggled mightily to open the door-kicking the door handle, but to no avail. The smoke intensified, and the fire was relentless. It all overwhelmed me, as the fire had started to cover my body. I attempted to reach the window before, but the flames and smoke had prevented me. I coughed and inhaled the smoke. Miraculously, I was able to escape the fire, through the window. I had passed out beside the grove, and when I awoke, I heard the chirping sounds of the birds of nature. But, a terrible thing had occurred to me, I was completely covered in burns from top to bottom, and worse, I was dying. My burns were unbearable and abundant that I was restricted in my movement, and I was dishabille. I do not know how I managed to survive, except that I was saved, by the benevolence of a monk of the monastery outside of Teruel. He had wrapped me in thick cloths and put me in his waggon.

Then he took me to the monastery, where I was tended to. The quaint monastery was an idyllic home for the monks, and it would be my patronage as well afterwards. For years I spent my life accompanied by the generous monks, who allowed me to stay. I became the bell-ringer of the belfry and lived amidst the bells I rang daily. I had shunned the outside world, and remained within the monastery, except during the sempiternal nights occasionally. I was extremely fearful and shameful of being seen by the villagers, who would quiver in absolute horror if they saw my horrendous appearance in person. Thus, I was forced to accept my lamentable and repulsive condition. I was still a young and robust man, but I was trapped in the shell of a body with scars and lesions. The scabby tissues on my skin were too untreatable and manifest. My life was an infandous Hades of which, its misery precluded a salvageable fate I desired. I weakened in the depth of an inimitable sequence of such unmitigated circumstances that appeared invariable. Therefore, my days of leisure were reduced to winsome memories before my despair.

Upon a gloomy eventide, I heard the distressing tidings of the engagement, between the brother of the man I killed in a senseless duel, Vitor Fonz and my dear Magdalena Guimet. It broke my heart, and an immediate rage had entered in me uncontrollably. I could not accept the only woman I once loved to marry another man. The fact that he was a Fonz was irrelevant and trivial. What was more pertinent was the betrayal of Magdalena Guimet. I waited for the darkness of the night to shield me from the possible onlookers. I had disguised my face, with a vizard and top hat, as I walked anonymously onto the Guimet Estate. I knew in my heart despite my inexplicable disappearance that she did not stop loving me at all-or so I thought. The sound of the barking hounds was heard, as they guarded the estate. Since I knew the estate well, I headed towards the hall of the house, through the window that was usually left partially open. It was not my intention to affright her, with my presence.

'Magdalena, it is me Omar, my dear', I said.

She was surprised by my presence, 'Omar, where have you been, and why are you wearing a vizard and dressed so dishevelled?' She asked me.

'Oh, do not be frightened my darling. Now, tell me that it is not true. You are not going to marry Vitor Fonz?'

She paused, before she replied, 'Yes! I thought you were dead or had gone off, with another woman'.

'Yes I understand that, but I am not dead. I am alive!'

Then, she told me to take off the vizard, and I did. I had feared that anyone who saw my face would scream in horror, but not my intimate Magdalena I believed. I was incorrect, and when I removed the vizard, she screamed out loud, as she was aghast, by my horrid countenance. She shouted over and over "a monster", before she fainted. I wanted to carry her off in my arms to help her, but I scurried away, as the screams had alerted one of the servants. I fled the house and estate and had returned to the safety of the monastery distraught. I never saw or spoke again to Magdalena Guimet. She married Vitor Fonz and left to live in France. I had heard from one of the few villagers that visited the monastery, Vitor Fonz had inherited an estate and had established a successful business in Perpignan.

The year was then 1610, and most of the country was under the vigilant watch of the Spanish Inquisition. Vitor Fonz had preferred to leave the country and travel to France than be subservient to the strict adherence of the inquisitors. I on the other hand had no choice in the matter. Where would I go, since I was presumed dead? My heart had been broken, by the revelation of the departure of Magdalena Guimet, but she had decided even though she knew I was alive to marry another man. Her love, for me, was it seemed conditional. In Vitor Fonz, she was able to carouse and continue her lechery with him. I was but a distant and vague memory to her. Yet, I could not forget her, and her vivid memory haunted me, and drove me mad. I rang the bells of the belfry every night with full force, so that the sound would deafen the awful reminiscent thoughts of her laughter and voice that recurred unwantedly. I could not repress the faithful memory of Magdalena Guimet. Her renunciation of our love had cast me into the seclusion of the belfry and the life of a morose recluse. I was being punished by God, for my manifold sins committed. Although the monastery was a welcomed sanctuary, it was also, an isolated prison. I became bitter and did not wish to see another woman afresh.

Soon, that would all change, and I would fall in love, with another comely woman. Upon one normal day of the week I heard a familiar sound that halted my steps. I was passing the colonnades of the abbey, when I heard the sound of an instrument being played. The notes of the chords had stirred a powerful rhapsody in me, and sounded like a violin. The cloister was a place for vibrant sounds of nature to echo, when my soul drifted aimlessly. It was nightfall, and the doves had rested placidly for the night, in the niches of the walls of the abbey. I was marvelled by the musical sounds in unison. Therefore, I was compelled to seek the origin of that sound. I left the confines of the monastery and searched for the harmonious sound. I was aware of the curfew imposed by the observant eyes of the inquisitors, but I did not care. When I located its origin, I had stood before the window of a lone manor. I saw a young woman, who was playing the violin impressively. Her back was facing towards me, and I was not able to see her face clearly.

A sudden storm was forming as the drops of rain began to drip on my hat, as I took shelter under the roof nearby. I could not help but be attracted to the rendition of the magnificent piece she played. Her tender fingers were masterful, and her slender figure was divine, as a delightful cherub. Her long flowing locks of hair covered the nightgown she wore. The reflection of the violin permeated the variegated colours of her chambre. The storm that was approaching did not disturb or interrupt her stellar performance. Her passion was a ghostly reminder of how I once played the violin, in the sundry courtyards and homes of nobility. I contemplated the notes of the splendour of her music, and soon, I had descried the pulchritude of her hazel eyes.

It was only for a brief moment to display a token admiration. The lightning had startled her, and she stopped. A stray dove from the roof had caused a swift commotion and her notice. She rose to her feet and headed towards the window I was at. Immediately, I hid behind the trees, while she stood staring outside from the window sill. The rain intensified, and the storm was bustling. I left therewith and returned to the dreary monastery. However, as I was returning, a soldier had seen me walking and had ordered me to stop and requested my immediate identification, to see if I was a Morisco. I paused and cogitated what to do. He had seen me from behind and then ordered me to turn around to face him, as he addressed me. I had a vizard and knew he would enquire. I had to devise an effective plan or fabricate an excuse. Since I knew I was an aristocrat and had soldiered before in the continent, I was capable of expressing myself in a credible manner. I told him that I had been at a masquerade ball. I told him the name of another nobleman, hoping he would realise that I was a Spanish aristocrat. I thought he would order me to remove my mask, instead, he allowed me to continue.

Once at the abbey, I dried off in my chamber in the tower, by the bells of the belfry. The ancient church of the abbey was constructed in the brilliant architecture of the Mudéjars and preserved in the Romanesque style. The bell tower was finished in 1257, and 1538 the dome in the nave was built. And the octagonal plan on the external side with the double mullioned windows had Plateresque decorations, with tiles and a ceramic glaze to the façade. The octagonal lantern shone, beneath the ceiling of the nave and colourful coffers with Gothic figures. The small altar in my chamber was a gift from the abbots. The Escalinata could be visibly seen, from the tower.

That night I thought of the young woman and her pleasant music. I had forsaken the violin and swore to never play it again, but the need to play the violin had rekindled my interest. Every Saturday I left the abbey and went to the house of the young lady. I overheard from a soldier, who was patrolling the area and the hours of curfew that on Saturday, the curfew was uplifted. I took another road that was a secret passage that the soldiers were not aware of, and it allowed me to avoid their detection. I had listened to the liberating sound of the violin playing from outside the window of her chamber. There she was once more, playing with such grace, and the strings were tuneful as a lilt. No apparent storm was in the midst, and I heard the dulcet tones of the violin with wonderment. I was totally rapt within the joy of her melody distinctive and mellifluous. She was an uncommon goddess to be bestowed adulation and affection. I spent an hour of enjoyment by her window, listening to her play continuously. It felt like an extraordinary matinee at the courtyards in Madrid.

When I returned to the abbey, I slept dreaming of her rendition incessantly. One night I discovered that she was not in her chamber playing the violin. I did not know anything of her unusual absence and had assumed she was away or perhaps asleep in another bed chamber. A compulsive desire impelled me to investigate. Thus, I entered the chamber where she played the violin, as the candle was dim and not bright. I then saw the violin and sat down in a chair. I touched the strings and smelled the fresh scent of her perfume that was recently left in the chamber. I began to play the violin, thinking I was alone. It had been lengthy years, since I last performed.

But, I was drawn to the instrument, as a painter to a canvass or a sculptor to a sculpture. The stirring sensation of playing again had filled me, with such fantastic elation and new delight. It was too surreal to conceive after all these years elapsed that I would play the violin, with such a torrent passion. It was then that a person had heard me playing and entered. That person was the young lady of the house. I was seated in the chair, and she perceived my presence. I suspected if I was caught, I would be certainly arrested. An abrupt apprehension had caused me to be restive. I attempted to remain taciturn, amidst her presence. She asked me to identify myself at once. Naturally, there was hesitation in me, until I had noticed that she was completely blind, but she concealed her blindness very effectively. As she stood before me, I witnessed the actual beauty she possessed. Her demure expression was altered by the awkward situation. In spite of that, she did not want to appear skittish. When I had understood that, I responded afterwards.

'I am a stranger, and I shall not harm you. I too play the violin, but I am only a poor wretch, who once performed, in the greatest courtyards in Europe', I replied.

'Who are you truly? What is your name stranger?' She enquired.

'My name is not important, but know that I am an admirer of your music, my lady'.

'Then what shall I call you stranger?'

'Call me Omar!'

'Omar, it is a pleasure to meet you. My name is Isabel Salavert. How do I know you have not come to steal or worse kill me?'

'I can only demonstrate my actions and give you my word. It is for you to trust me, my lady'.

I had removed my vizard, knowing that she could not see me or be horrified by my appalling appearance. I then sat down in the chair and played the violin, as I once did before, when I was a renowned violinist. Even though the candle was depressing and dim, it did not interrupt my unbroken concentration. The flowing movement of my fingers was agile, as the electric bolts of lightning. The luminous orbs of the night scintillated wonderfully, and the calls of the nearby doves were my accompaniment. Tears of immense emotions poured down my eyes, as I played note after note, and time remained still. Hence, for a brief period of time, I was Omar Benamir once more, the famous violinist of Aragón. Life had granted me a respite, and returned me to the eminent gratification and appreciation of the elegance of music. It had thus erased momentarily, the grotesque nature of my affliction and my abhorrent malediction.

Soon the jovial effusion ended, and a tempest was approaching. It was a token reminder of my grievous reality. I stopped playing and excused myself before the young lady. I could not relish the night and its pleasures-for the cruelty of my dreaded predicament was evident everywhere, except with the violin.

'Forgive me, I must go now, before the tempest surges, my lady'.

'Wait! Are you Omar Benamir, and if so, then why did you not admit that?'

'Omar Benamir?'

'People say that you are dead'.

'Omar Benamir died years ago', I sombrely responded.

'No, I have only heard one person that plays the violin like that, and it is the Great Maestro Omar Benamir'.

'I must go!'

I instantly left her house and returned safely to the monastery, where I then languished within the desolate tower of the belfry plaintively. The sombre experience had eclipsed the enchanting encounter with the young lady, Miss Isabel Salavert. It had been so long that I felt a meaningful sign of affection and gratitude towards a woman. The only gratitude I truly had before was towards the monks who sheltered me and cared for me, despite my monstrous disfigurement. I had received nothing but indifference from the outside world. However in Isabel Salavert, I felt no unfeeling attitude expressed against me. On the contrary, she was very gentle and hospitable. I would have my old violin to play in the chamber of the tower. It was brought to me, from my estate.

The house was abandoned, but I managed to ask one of the kind monks to bring me the violin to the monastery, where in the tower, I could play beautiful notes again. It was dusty with cobwebs and the years of not playing had brought rust and mould on the rough surface of the violin and strings. I cleaned and polished the violin with cloths, and began to play. The melodies of the music had resounded passionately and reminded me of the enthusiastic applauses of my former audience. Afterwards, I rang the bells at the usual hour, with an arousing excitement.

The next morning, I thought only of the Lady Salavert. Though she was blind and an orphan, she was angelic as a luminary, or a virginal maiden. Her beauty and compassion redounded in my perception of her essence. Nevertheless, the possibility of her rejection would be foreseeable, if she knew of my gruesome guise. For that month I was a bidden visitor of her home, as we shared the violin, with superb renditions of my music and others. She was my devoted pupil, and quickly she became an excellent violinist. She had won my attention and above all, my heart.

But one day, she grew weary of not being able to touch me. She had wanted to feel my eyes, my ears, my nose, my cheeks, and my lips. I had resisted and was tactful. I did not wish to cause her to be redoubtable and to recoil in fear of my appearance. I then sought to retard that difficult inevitability, but it was futile. She was determined to touch my face, and I acquiesced. Gradually, she felt the scarred tissues of my face. She was nervous at first as she touched me, then she understood my scars. When she did, a servant had heard a noise within the chambre, and entered afterwards. She screamed, and she saw my guise, as Miss Isabel Salavert was touching my forehead.

My reaction was rash, and desperation had overcome me that I ran, from the house. The Lady Salavert fainted on the floor, when I scurried away. I ran to the secret passage I took to the abbey, but a soldier had seen my hasty flight from the estate. He ordered me to stop, and I did. I had a cowl covering my face, and wearing the garb of a monk. This simple attire I had chosen, as my disguise. He then ordered me to remove the cowl. There was reluctance in me to comply with that order, since I did not wear the vizard. I had realised that he would force me to remove the cowl, if I did not consent. Thus, I removed my cowl, and he was stunned, by my unsightly face, as he cringed in horror. He wanted to apprehend me, but my instinct made me abscond, but not before I grabbed his sword and struck him on the head, knocking him to the ground unconscious.

It was an impulsive and direct act of insolence. I was not certain, if I had killed the soldier. I reached the comfort of the monastery, whence the soldiers would not suspect to be my refuge perhaps, if I was not seen. The thought of the authorities of the Inquisition coming to the abbey and arresting me was a veritable threat to discard so facilely, since I was a Morisco. A heightened anxiety began to preoccupy me. I had remained within the belfry, as I looked below to see what was betiding. I always used the rear escape of the belfry to enter and return.

Anon, I heard the sound of soldiers approaching, because their conversation was in Castilian. From afar they came, as I stared ahead. I had a daunting premonition that they had been informed of the incidents involving me at the Salavert Estate and the occurrence with the soldier. Was he dead, and they had come for me, as the culprit? Did something serious in nature happened, and I was to be held accountable? I thought of the reliable monks, who had sheltered and treated me with noble solicitude. They were not aware at all of what had transpired. What would they think of me, if I had killed the soldier, and caused harm to the Lady Salavert as well?

There was a firm knock on the front door, and it was several soldiers and a pair of inquisitors standing outside. Harrowing panic consumed me forthwith. Indeed, they came for me, but they did not know my name. The only substantive information they had was that a supposed monk had attacked a soldier, who was enforcing the local curfew in the area. The incident at the Salavert Estate was also reported. One of the monks had answered the door, and when he was immediately informed of the whereabouts of a monk who was seen entering the abbey, he was confounded by the question. The soldiers then entered and ordered all the monks present to go to the hall, so that they could identify them. One by one they stood in line, as the soldiers pointed their sharp swords at them, and one of the soldiers had heard a noise from the tower. One of the inquisitors then asked the senior monk, who was up in the tower. The monk said that there was no one above, except the noisy pigeons. The inquisitor still not convinced had instructed the soldiers to climb up the stairway and investigate the tower. The ordeal was unsettling and unpredictable. I was either to appear or disappear before them. I had to react, since the soldiers would discover me, once upstairs. I made the impromptu decision to not hide as a dastard. I had to confront them, for the sake of the abbots, who I had esteemed highly. I knew the pigeons would startle them, if I rang the bells of the belfry.

Thereafter, I rang the bells, with a heavy clang that deafened their ears totally. The pigeons were aroused and began to flap their wings together. I was still dressed in the attire of a monk, with my cowl covering me. The clang of the metallic bells had given me the diversion I needed to escape. I had planned on reaching the stairway, but one of the soldiers below by one of the siles had heard the commotion with the bells and climbed the stairway. He saw me climbing down, and ordered me to stop, but I did not. Instead, I ran up the stairway. But as I did, he thrust his sword into my back. I managed to make it up the stairway and staggered on to the belfry. I rang the bell, as I saw below the Lady Salavert, who was standing in front of the abbey, with a servant by her arm. She called my name Omar Benamir, as she had implored the soldiers to not kill me. I was dying it seemed, from my deep wound.

Thence, my feet had gotten entangled with the rope. The entanglement and my weight had caused the massive bells of the belfry to ring obstreperously, as I was hanging unmercifully. I hang from the lone tower, as the bells of the belfry rang with my cowl removed, and my head facing downwards. I was dead consequently, and the last endearing image I had was the beautiful face of the Lady Salavert, who was standing then beside me in the tower. My body had been seen by all the onlookers, who gathered rampantly, around the monastery in amazement. The clamour of my name was shouted by the denizens vociferously, who did not forget my name, 'Omar Benamir'. I was considered a martyr by my countrymen and a monster by the inquisitors. The vibrant roars of 'Long live Aragón, and lastly long live Omar Benamir', echoed with a dauntless zeal.

At first, I was not buried in the sanctuary of the abbey-for the inquisitors did not grant me in death that exceptional privilege. Instead, I was buried within an unassuming and insignificant cemetery outside of the area. But after the unspeakable inquisition, my vestigial remains were uncovered from the original place and taken to the consecrated graveyard of the abbey. There was a vast vault created that was adjacent to the grave, where there was no disturbance perpetrated to the soil. There I was finally laid to rest and to have closure, where the sanctuary of the abbey preserved my proud appellation. What was written on my headstone you enquire, 'Here lieth the Maestro of the violin and Morisco, Omar Benamir, from the honourable lineage of the Benamir of Aragón'.

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