THE GIFT

A SANTHARIAN MYSTERY TALE

 
Lurking in the Mists   
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Introduction. The newly acquired mansion that seemed to be the perfect place for Lord Vaeos and his wife Lady Shaerena to start a family might not be what the couple bargained for. Strange haunting occurences and mysterious revelations concerning the estate's past cast a dark shadow on the picturesque place and are prone to bring the Lord's wife on the brink of madness. As the mists of the puzzle slowly dissipate one thing becomes clear: That gifts might sometimes also be a deadly curse...

 

lessed are those who are blind when facing the eye of fate, as not every gift Seyella has given is a gift meant for the mortals."
-- Words of a Voice of Seyella at the Voldarian Temple dedicated to the Goddess of Fate

"Excuse me, my Lord!" The hurried footsteps, followed by the abrupt words reverberated in the large living room, instantly killing the quiet that had been settling for a while.

The man sitting on the desk looked up from his journal and turned around. Quill still in hand he requested with audible irritation: "What is it, Aeric?"

"I fear I have unpleasant news," the servant answered.

"Yes?"

"Lady Shaerena says she wonít be able to attend dinner this evening. She complains about headaches again, andÖ" The servant hesitated. "Well, Iím not sure how to tell you."

"Say it, Aeric! Iíve stood face to face against rebels and darkfriends up north, so Iím quite confident I can cope as well with my wifeís moods, headaches and whatever else youíre not sure how to tell me." The man seemed amused by his own sense of humour, and a fleeting smirk scurried over his face. He looked still young, despite the strands of silver hair that were already mingling with the fire-red colour that once dominated as was common with people of the Proudman kind.

"Lord Vaeos Ė it is that the Lady claims to hear voices!"

"Voices?" Lord Vaeos boomed. "She must have had a nightmare, right? No wonder as she's preferring to sleep in the afternoon instead at night as one's supposed to." He chuckled to himself.

But the servant insisted. "Lady Shaerena makes a very distraught impression, I have to say, Sir. My Lord, she even accused the chambermaid of playing tricks on her. Might I suggest to see for yourself, and..."

"I will, I will!" Lord Vaeos interrupted and stood up, finally convinced. "Not the time for correspondence, and obviously not for eating either unfortunately..." He put the quill back in the ink pot and headed towards the door. "Keep the dinner warm for another half an hour, Aeric, maybe I can convince the voices to tell the Lady that she's quite hungry."

"Yes, Sir, of course!" The servant nodded, but his face remained stern.
 


The woman sobbed uncontrollably. "Iím sorry for blaming the maid," she finally managed to produce, nearly inaudibly. "She didnít do anything, Caric. IÖ IÖ was not myself when she just appeared out of nowhere. I thoughtÖ" She hesitated. "ItÖ no, it was not her fault, really, I was so terrified." The woman lay in a large, white canopy bed, eyes constantly staring at the ceiling as if searching for something of which she wasnít sure what it was.

"ShaerenaÖ" Lord Vaeos began.

"It was not a dream..." Lady Shaerena insisted, though she was still whispering as if talking to herself.
"Then tell me exactly what happened, dear. Just tell me."

Her delicate hand sought her husband's face who had knelt down beside her, and caressed it. Instantly tears began streaming down her face again "No..." She vehemently shook her head. "It was not a dream, not a dream..." she repeated again and again. "You have to believe me, even if it is difficult. I'm not mad, I didnít imagine it. It was real."

Lord Vaeos took his wife's hand and kissed it gently, then went on to stroke her raven hair that was curling down her shoulders. "Of course I believe you, just calm down, my dear."

"I know you too well," Lady Shaerena spoke again, trembling, her eyes wet with tears. "You don't believe me, Caric, and there's little I can do to make you believe. No need to hide it from me." She tried to break a smile, but it turned out forced and unconvincing. Her whole body was shaking. "And I... I don't know how to put it all into words, it's all so much. ThereísÖ this feeling ofÖ uneaseÖ and I cannot ignore it, however hard I try. Ever since we moved in this place, I sense it." Her eyes grew wide. "I didnít want to bother you with it, as I thought that it was just because it was all so new to me, so unfamiliar here in this mansion. The spacious rooms, the servants, all those gardensÖ I feel so small and insignificant at times, so forlorn."

"You neednít, Shaerena. The place will liven up once Jeyriall blesses us with our firstborn," Lord Vaeos tried to reassure her. "Youíll see."

"No itís not that, Caric. You do everything you possibly can and Iím so thankful for that, I couldnít wish for any better husband." She kissed him on the cheek. "ButÖ thatÖ feelingÖ it is getting stronger every day in me, it is as if Iím being watched somehow, as if somethingís lurking in the shadows when Iím walking around these halls, even when Iím out in the gardens. Something thatís looming over everything and never leaves. It'sÖ" Her expression became even more desperate. "I cannot explain, Iím sorry. Thereís that presence that has always been there, and itís still there. But am I the only one who has noticed it?" She wailed in a high-pitched tone, looking at her husband questioningly. "Am I? - Don't you feel it, Caric? You must have noticed something as well!" Lady Shaerena was nearly shouting the last words, demanding an answer.

But Lord Vaeos remained silent. The words had started flooding out of his wife, she just had let them loose. Her emotions had taken over, colouring every further word she said with an air of mystery, irritation, finally with plain fright and dread. The Lady's eyes had grown even wider now, looking for an anchor to hold on to.

Avoiding her question, Lord Vaeos answered: "You still didnít tell me: What happened today?"

"I heard something," Lady Shaerena suddenly said resolutely, sitting up. "It was clear as day. It happened when I walked down the corridor when I noticed that strange noise, a steady sound, somewhere in a dark corner on the other end, so I stopped. I wasn't sure what it was, and I listened. Everything was quiet for a while, then I thought I saw a shadow moving. It came nearer and then I heard it as loud as it could be for a moment: There was someone, a person I felt, right next to me: it was as if someone was crying, lamenting... And I felt as if that person walked towards me, through me, yet I couldnít see it. And then it was gone, that presence."

"A presence?" Lord Vaeos finally said flatly, raising an eyebrow, not knowing what to make of it. He was pleased that it all was out in the open, even though he didnít like what he had heard. Not at all. But he was also someone who didn't want to talk around the bush. "Are you suggesting that this place might be haunted?" he asked directly.

Lady Shaerena calmed down a bit when she heard someone else uttering a suspicion that was buried somewhere deep inside her heart. "Can it be?"

Lord Vaeos didnít answer. He got up and paced to the window. Lake Ishmarin lay still quiet there as if nothing had ever happened and the InjŤrŠ slowly but surely drowned behind the Warnaka, lending a majestic glow to the landscape. He had wished so much to make her happy when he had bought the estate.

His breath had become heavier and he sighed. "Itís getting darkÖ"

"Öalready, my dear" the blond woman yelled. She waved at the boy playing two storeys below in the garden, enjoying the last warm rays the sun had to offer for the day. "Time to tell your friend good-bye Ė dinner is waiting! And donít forget to take your sister with you!"

"His friend, my lovely Baroness?" a sonorous voice asked. A man, featuring high cheek bones and a well tended chin-beard emerged from behind the woman. While letting his beringed hand touch the softness of the woman's long flowing hair, he joined her. "How come that I only see our two children down there, then?"

The woman turned around. "Oh, Baron," she mimicked his teasing voice. "Your memory is dwindling! Iím sure Iíve told you about his invisible friend in that well already. Just let the boy have some fun, heís a mere six years old! Give him at least a few years until he wins his first Armerenda tournament."

The Baron loudly cleared his throat. "So you say that the glorious heir of the estate should prefer talking to a mermaid instead of aspiring to become another Armerson? I wonder whether we shouldnít take some other educational options into consideration at this point, so that he gets, say, at least more interested in carving a wooden sword and then use it on a scarecrow. Or explore the tactical side of warfare by learning how to position figurines within a toy army, thatís all within a six year oldís capabilities."

"Well, I donít know if heís ready for that kind of education yet, Baron," the Baroness answered snippily. "Properly educated men should know anyway that the glorious heir of the estate can hardly talk to aÖ mermaid." She stretched the last word awkwardly, rolling her eyes at her husband. "Mermaids live by the sea, and you could at the utmost find only a watersprog in our well, oh wise one!"

"Indeed, indeed," the Baron admitted, stroking his chin-beard. "Once again I have to congratulate me that Iíve married an observant and intelligent wife others can be envious of. As if everyone isnít envying me already for the apparent beauty that I have the privilege of sharing my life with, who is hardly second to the famed Jenefra. Though, see, you forget a little detail, dear, in regards of said watersprog," the Baron argued. "Our well is dry, ever since weíve bought this place. And I fear your watersprog wouldnít have much fun in it."

"Ah well," the Baroness smiled. "As she is invisible anyway, the water sheís bathing in might be as well, right?"

"And right you are againÖ" the Baron confirmed with a wink and hugged her. "I would have been surprised if the Baroness didnít have a logical answer to that one as wellÖ"

The Baroness smiled and waved to her children once more. "Oan, time for dinner!"

Her husband finally pushed her gently aside and shouted down to his son himself, as he still seemed unconcerned about his motherís order: "Donít let your mother wait, Oan! Oan!"

Finally it was the little girl who waved back to her parents in understanding. Quickly she gathered the flowers she had been picking and approached her brother.

"Mommy says dinnerís ready!" she told him excitedly.

The little boy stood next to the well and didn't seem to care much about his surroundings. He was barely as large as the well itself and had climbed on a stool to look into its pitch-black menacing throat. Absent-mindedly he was humming a song.

"Oan?" the girl asked again.

The boy finally looked up, blinking into the sun. With the round face, green eyes and blond hair he showed a great resemblance to his mother. He had a cleft upper lip, though, and a slight scar on his right cheek.

"Are you humming a lullaby to your friend?" the girl wanted to know. "Is she sleeping now? In the middle of the day?"

Oan nodded. "Yes, she isÖ Shhhh!" He finally stopped humming and got down from his stool, following his sister into the mansion.


It was three months later that the house staff was awaiting their master's return from a longer absence due to business reasons.

The day was bright and nearly cloudless when finally the sound of clapping hooves announced an arrival. The maid was working in the garden, tending to the flowers when she saw the carriage enter the driveway that displayed the Baronís emblem, a shield with a mace encircled on either side with a row of three stars. She dusted herself off and hurried back to the house to welcome her master home.

"Ho!" the driver shouted. The horses came to an instant halt.

"I hope you had a pleasant trip, Baron!" The maid greeted and curtsied as the Baron stepped out of the coach.

"Canít complain as far as the trip is concerned. The weather at least was brilliant. As for business: Same old, same old. Though I fear I'll have to leave again soon." The Baron pointed to his luggage at the back of the coach. "Would you please be so kind as to tell Jaerin to fetch my things, Amra? And if you could tell me where my wife and children are expecting me, I'd me most grateful. As I cannot see them anywhere I at least hope they did actually expect me..." He chuckled. "Let's just pretend that they are delighted to meet me."

"Yes, Baron, I will tell Jaerin. And Oan and Triżsa are playing in the backyard, Iíll see toÖ"

At that very moment the two children emerged from behind the house and the girl, Triżsa, sped towards her father. The Baron caught her and lifted her up to give her a kiss. She presented some flowers to him she had picked, which were joyously accepted by the Baron.

"I promise to find a special place for them, Triżsa!"

"Will we also get some lilies afterwards for mommy?" Oan asked suddenly.

"Lilies for mommy? Why should we get lilies for mommy now? Itís me who has arrived after a two week trip from Nyermersys," the Baron grinned. "So you should bring presents to me, actually! On the other hand I also have presents for youÖ" he continued. "Shall I get them?"

But Oan insisted. "Because lilies are her favourite, and if we put flowers on her grave, then it must be those!"

The Baron stared at his son in disbelief. "HerÖ- what? What are you talking about? I don't understand..."
"Her grave, dad," he said. "I know that the carriage broke and that mommy died in that accident. I've seen it myself."

The Baron's face seemed to have turned to stone within an instant. "You don't joke around with such things, boy, such wild stories you've just made up!"

Oan opened his mouth, but said nothing. His sister started to cry in the Baron's arms.

"Do you even know what you're talking about, Oan?" He put his daughter down and grabbed his sonís arms aggressively with both fists. "How could mommy have died when she isn't even away? How could you ever have seen it if you haven't been there? Why do you tell such mischievous, outright lies?" he threw infuriatedly back at him. "Can't you see that you made me angry and your sister cry with all that nonsense you are saying? Then why are you doing it?"

"You're hurting me," Oan wailed. "And I'm not lying, I've seen it, and I'm sure mommy wants lilies on her grave!"

"And where would you have seen that?"

"I... I don't know where exactly. Down the road, not that far away. I... I sensed it." He tried to point into the direction of the woods, but his father held his arms tightly.

"You don't know exactly? You sensed it? Who has set you up for this? Who has told you to tell me such things?" The Baron grew even further enraged. "What kind of stupid joke is this? Now tell me!" he demanded.

Oan remained silent. All of a sudden he seemed frightened.

"I guess that's what we get in return if a child like you gets spoiled beyond belief, Oan! I need to know, so tell me clearly: Who had that disturbing influence on you? Was it one of the servants? The maid? You haven't made any friends here yet, so... WaitÖ Donít tell me Ė I get the idea! Is it your invisible friend perhaps down there in the well who puts these crazy ideas in your head?" He gasped. "Iím right, I know it. Say, was it your friend down there?"

Oan stuttered, then uncontrollably burst into tears. "No, no, it wasnít her! It wasnít her! Never! Never!" he shouted. He struggled, winding himself out of his fatherís grip and darted away. "Leave her alone! Leave me alone!"

His father shook his head desperately. He had no energy to chase his son. Instead he took his daughter into his arms and caressed her. "He didn't mean what he said, Triżsa, believe me, he didn't mean it," he tried to comfort her. "He's probably sick and needs help. We'll take care of that, don't worry."

Then for an instant a doubt hit him that made him numb and dizzy. However unlikely it was, he needed proof. He groaned, struggling with a never before felt difficulty to breathe, but then he sprang up and headed back to the mansion as fast he could.

"Baron." The servant who was taking the luggage upstairs stopped and bowed as he saw his master.

"Jaerin! Where is my wife?" he yelled at him. "Tell me!"

The servant gave him a puzzled look. "Why, she must be upstairs having an afternoon nap as she does every day at this time, Sir. Should I..."

The Baron interrupted him. "No, don't worry, I'll go look myself!"

"If she's not upstairs, then the Baroness might have driven into town just recently," the maid suddenly interjected. She had heard the conversation and joined in. "She asked to send for the second coachman, Dagmar, to head into town later today. Yet she said that she'll probably wait until you have arrived, Baron."

"And none of you actually know where my wife is?" the Baron shouted, sweat dripping from his brow. "How..." He turned quiet for a moment as the coachman his wife had asked for appeared. "Dagmar... What... Where is my wife?" He trembled.

"She's just..." Dagmar pointed behind the Baron, to the stairway in the hall: There she was, the Baroness, love of his life, alive and well, descending the stairs. She looked irritated.

"What is all the commotion about?" she asked. "And then I see Triżsa crying outside and you shouting at everyone. What's with you?"

"I'm sorry, my dear," the Baron apologized, "It's just that, well, I don't know..." He hugged his wife tightly. "It's just that we need to have a serious word with our son, that's all."

The Baroness smiled. "And I already thought something had..."

"... happened, which I will never forget. There were villagers, lumberjacks to be precise, who all of a sudden stormed into my cottage. I remember that it was still early in the morning," the woman explained to Lord Vaeos, who was listening intently.

"You have to know that I'm living close to the woods, and those blokes knew my trade, so there was little other choice, I think. And believe me: Rarely had I ever seen such strong men that aghast and shouting wildly, telling me that it would be too late if I didn't hurry. So before I even knew what had happened I was on horseback, galloping with them into the woods. It didnít take long until we arrived at that sharp turn on the road about a stral or so from the village and maybe half a stral from here. Maybe youíve noticed it on the way to the mansion, as you find a rock with an inscription now on the side of that road which the villagers have put there.

Well, as I arrived I already saw that the lumberjacks that had stayed behind were standing there with their hats in hand, greeting quietly. I saw the huge root that was protruding into the road and had caused the vehicle to overturn. And as I walked behind the carriage and I spotted the injured driver crying there, my heart stopped for a moment as he was looking at a scene I will never forget in my life.

Dressed in a magnificently laced white gown, the jewelery still unharmed around her neck, she lay there on the side of the road. She was bedded on leaves and moss, and appeared as if she had just fallen into a slumber after a long exhausting walk. I knelt down and took her in my arms, brushing the long blond hair to the side. It was then that I noticed that her head was tilted back. I could only speak a last prayer for her and closed her eyes, which were still staring at me. She was beautiful as ever, the Baroness."
For a long moment Lord Vaeos remained silent, taken aback by the mental picture the account had evoked in him. The woman had spoken quietly and composedly, but the content was shocking and to Vaeos it tasted like salt in an open wound. He couldn't speak even if he had wanted to, he just lacked the words of how to utter what he was feeling and was still busy with sorting out what was going through his head.

At first he had eyed the woman with suspicion as he hadn't made the acquaintance of any of her kind yet, thinking of all of them to be nothing more than macanti, charlatans. When someone had recommended seeing the Eyashene, all he knew was that the woman worked in the name of the Goddess, but mostly kept to herself. And even though the villagers seemed to appreciate her services, Vaeos wasn't that convinced that he'd get anywhere with her. But she had succeeded in calming down his wife, and now that he had heard what the healer had to tell, he had gotten much more than he had bargained for. Luckily, Shaerena was in bed now upstairs and hadn't heard the Eyashene's bloodcurdling story.

"Lord Vaeos?"

He looked up. The woman's bright blue eyes seemed to look straight into his soul, aware of his troubling thoughts. She was small, her dark hair was held back by a hairband, revealing a high brow and a face dominated by the captivating eyes. Her grey, simple gown looked inconspicuous, yet the Eyashene's strong presence was undeniable.

"I'm sorry, Miss..."

"Wanrena," she helped him out.

"I'm sorry, Miss Wanrena," Lord Vaeos finally said, not sure exactly where to continue the conversation. "I assume that it was after this that you got to know the Baron and his son more closely. When exactly was that?"

"It all happened about twelve years ago, Lord Vaeos. The Baron invited me to the funeral, where he thanked me for trying to save his wife's life. He was a broken man. Which is not difficult to imagine taking into account what had happened to him, not only regarding his wife's death, but also being confronted with Oan's premonition coming true. So he approached me as he needed the services of a mindsmoother to learn to understand what was plagueing his son and how to deal with it."

Lord Vaeos looked at the threelobed clover symbol that hung around the woman's neck, a representation of the healing powers of Eyasha. She knew her trade, he thought, but...

"Were you able to help him?"

"Well, I think so, though there is no easy answer to that, I fear," the mindsmoother said.

"How so?"

"Well, you need to know that I stayed here at the mansion for a few weeks," Wanrena explained. She walked up and down a bit, her eyes briefly glancing at the antique furniture and brilliant paintings that adorned the room. "I called these rooms my home for a while as I tried to learn more about Oan as the Baron had proposed himself. I talked with him, I touched him, I tried to soothe his soul, but it was clear from the first instance that there was suffering in him, terrible suffering, there was something that tormented him. I couldn't heal him.

I'm sure that it wasn't his mother's death alone that left its traces. He had known about that accident for a while, he told me himself, he had taken it for granted. He didn't know when it would happen, though, but was sure that it would. And when he uttered his vision he was probably as confused as his father when he found out that his mother was still alive and well. He didn't consider himself special, he had no idea that others couldn't see things like he could sometimes." She took a deep breath.

"After that incident where Oan had revealed his vision the Baron forbade him to talk with his mother about it, and he found ways to keep him occupied. New tutors came that took over his education, and the Baron was intent on eradicating all that nonsense he thought his son had made up. Oan became more and more estranged from his father during that time, I'm sure of it. - And nevertheless: When I came to the mansion after his mother's death I felt that there was another kind of pain in him as well, even though he didn't want to explain that pain, or he found no way to articulate it. Yes, there was something in him that I sensed as... guilt."

"Guilt? About his mother's death? Did he feel responsible because he had predicted it?"

"It is hard to tell, but I didn't sense that specific emotion in him, even though this may sound confusing to you," Wanrena answered. "However, I know many a scholar that would say that the sentiment of guilt is a natural burden for those that the Ximaxians call the 'Gifted', those rare people that see things that others cannot. Those who don't have the gift can hardly understand them, even a mindsmoothers can only sense what they feel, but not why." The Eyashene shook her head vehemently. "I don't believe them, not in this case."

Lord Vaeos looked surprised. "I don't understand... You're trying to say that it was something else he felt guilty about all the time?"

Wanrena nodded. "There was more than the death of his mother in him. Though he didn't reveal it to me. He chose to pretend it never existed, but it was there, I know it."

"Tell me more about those... Gifted," Lord Vaeos wanted to know.

"Well, what is there to tell? A 'gift' is often also a curse, sometimes it is just that, Lord Vaeos. Only the Gods know why they endow someone with a gift. Gifted people also see different things, some can even perform kinds of magic, though this is even rarer than having the sight itself, or as we mindsmoothers call it, the sensing."

Miss Wanrena frowned. "There are just a few basics we know about Gifted seers: Most gifted ones see things that concern themselves or people dear to them, both was the case with Oan. Others can picture images in their mind related to certain places, they see things that haven't happened yet, or they look at someone and have visions of their past. - Oan was gifted, there is no doubt about that. He had difficulties understanding his gift, however, and needed to learn to live with it."

Lord Vaeos sighed. "But I fear even as fascinatingly mysterious and gruesome as the boy's tale is, it explains not why the mansion appears to be haunted, or at least why my wife claims that this is the case. Say, has the boy met a tragic death within these walls that he now might be haunting this place?"
"No, he hasn't. And I'm sorry that I have no simple explanation concerning your wife's condition," the mindsmoother answered. "Though it is puzzeling, I admit, it adds to the mystery of this place. And to be honest with you: The Baron left the estate for one because of the horrific memories associated with it, and on the other hand because his son deteriorated into madness the longer they stayed. It was very sad. It became unbearable for the Baron, so that he was eventually convinced that there was something here that was the cause of this. And that whatever it was, it was why his son had these visions."

"Did you know where the Baron moved?" Lord Vaeos wanted to know. "Has his son's condition improved there?"

"Yes and yes," Miss Wanrena said with her eyes lightening up. "I've received several letters fromthe Baron over the years, who lives now further south in Jernais, and in each one of them he mentions how well his son is faring now, and that he is thankful for the advice I gave him to leave the mansion."

Lord Vaeos face darkened. "So you suggest that whatever it is that plagued the boy is still here, and now troubles my wife? Is that it?"

"It is a possibility," Miss Wanrena nodded. "The fact that Lady Shaerena hears voices seems to make it likely. I'm sorry to have to say this. Unless you believe that it's all only in her head, which the servants seem to consider the most logical explanation."

"Have you experienced anything that would hint at a haunting while you lived in this house, Miss Wanrena?"

"No, I cannot say that I have."

"Neither have I," Lord Vaeos said, raising his voice. "Nor have any of the servants noticed anything out of the ordinary." He slammed his fist on the oaken table in front of him. "Say, could it be that my wife is gifted as well? That she sees things because of that? And whatever that presence might be, that it haunted the poor Oan and now my wife?"

"She could be gifted," the mindsmoother said, contemplating. "That would explain why no-one else experienced anything, just the two. But then what exactly is that presence and what would it want? Has your wife made any specific remarks on what she heard or saw?"

Vaeos shrugged. "Only that there was crying, lamenting, a moving shape perhaps, and that the presence becomes stronger day by day. She has been growing uneasier every hour, so I'm glad you could come and calm her down a bit. But at any rate, I guess the truth must lie in what happened before the Baron moved into the mansion, and we should find about that as soon as possible."

The mindsmoother nodded. "I agree, we might be on to something here and finally give that presence its name and cause."

Vaoes smiled for the first time. "I'll have a quick look on how my wife is faring upstairs, then we'll continue our conversation. - Would you like some more cha'ah tea in the meantime, Miss Wanrena?"
"Please." She smiled back. "And I guess I already have a clue where our conversation might lead. Seen in a new light one detail just came into my mind that we haven't paid enough attention to so far, I think..."


Quick... She needed to go... Now!

When she heard her husband mentioning that he'd check on her, Lady Shaerena instantly pulled up her skirts and darted away from the door she was listening at. Fast and quietly like a cat she took the back stairway that led up to the upper floor, effectively escaping anyone's eyes that would any moment make it out of the living room through the main door. Step by step she tiptoed up, disappearing eventually in the darkness of the corridor, where the bedroom just lay two doors away.

Lady Shaerena heard the door from below when she had nearly reached the bedroom. But a sudden noise close by made her turn around. She froze.

The noise came from a corner near the only window through which light shone into the corridor. What...?
But then she took her courage and steadfastly approached the shape. The wailing echoed through the corridor, reflecting again and again in her mind. There... Someone was cowering in the shadows, as unreal as it seemed, as eerie as it felt. And she wanted to know who it was.

"I'm..." Muffled, whispered words reached her ears out of the darkness.

She trembled, but she couldn't let go. She stepped closer. The figure moved towards her.

There it was, the boy's teary face, diving out of the darkness. The green eyes, the slight scar on his cheek, the cleft upper lip. And the hand reaching out to her.

"I'm sorry, Lady..."

It was then that she fainted.

"I'm sorry, Lady..."

"I'm not a Lady," the voice of a little child complained stubbornly. The girl came to a hault, hugging the doll she was carrying with her tightly. She was dressed up for travelling, a straw hat on her head and a red ribbon in the blond hair. "I'm not a Lady!" she repeated.

"I... I... didn't see you there," was the reply of the cowering boy in the corner.

"Then why are you calling me a Lady?" Triżsa asked. "You are truly mad! Mad, mad!" she shouted at him angrily.

"I'm sorry... I... I... I didn't..." Oan stuttered and wiped the tears from his eyes.

"You talking to mommy then?"

"No, mommy doesn't talk to me. She's gone. There's no-one that can hear me anyway. I'm talking to nobody." He sobbed. "But I always thought I could. But I can't. Triżsa, I can't."

"But I heard it how you talked! Why are you doing such things like talking to ghosts?"

"You wouldn't understand."

"So? But we are going now. Because of you! And that is why!" Triżsa stamped on the floor, enraged. "Dad said that I should get you, we're leaving right now. All your things are already in the carriage. And you haven't even bothered to pack your stuff yourself!" Triżsa waited a few moments for a reply, but there was none. "Just play with your ghosts if you don't want to go. I'm leaving for Jernais with daddy!" she finally concluded. "There's a huuuge heath with many, many flowers as far as the eye can see..." She stretched her little arms as far as she could. "And rolling hills, and tarepi and sheep!"

But her brother said nothing.

Finally she turned around and stormed back to where she had come from. Silence fell again over the corridor once the last jaunty noises of the little girl's steps had died away.

"Oan? We're waiting for you!" the Baron's voice boomed from below.

Finally Oan stood up, dusted himself off and started to follow his sister.

As he passed his parents' former bedroom he saw that the door was open. He felt drawn into it and so he walked in. Everything was neatly cleaned up now, and whatever reminded of someone having actually lived here was gone. There were no clothes anymore, no books, no drawings on the bedside table he had made for his mother. Not even carpets lay on the floor anymore, it was cold and lifeless.

Oan stepped out on the balcony, looking downwards. His father was there and his sister, and the carriage that stood by the well, ready for departure.

"Oan! Time to go! Come down!" his father commanded.

The young boy's eyes started wetting again as he watched the scene. He hesitated to turn around yet. Yes, again he sensed someone's reflection behind himself in the mirror. He was aware that the figure was standing right there next to him. It was late, he knew, it was late in the mirror right now. It was night.

"I'm..."

The Well
Image description. The well bears a dark secret... Picture drawn by Seeker.

"...coming," she whispered.

The wind was light and it was howling faintly, playing with her nightgown. In the distance some trees rustled in the breeze close by the lake, hidden under the cloak of the night. The evening had progressed quite a bit, but it was not too dark, as the moon was full and the stars were glittering through a cloudless sky.

For a moment Lady Shaerena felt chilly when she had that vision again, but not for long. She looked down from the balcony in the garden below, but she wasn't afraid anymore of what she saw. There was that shadowy figure at the well, staring into it, humming a soothing tune that the wind carried up to her. She knew who he was. But she didn't know his secret yet. She was determined to find out, however.

"I'm coming..." she breathed almost to herself. "I'll be with you, have no fear," she tried to console him from above. His melody sounded so sad.

Then she turned around, passing her husband's bed quietly, slipping out of the door, through the corridor. Slowly she descended the staircase. The mirror in her bedroom lost the figure it just had gotten used to reflect.

"I don't want to leave, I cannot..." the boy wept.

"Come, Oan!" the Baron commanded. "Please say good-bye to your friend one last time, as we won't come back. Ever. This place is nothing for you and your confused mind." His expression was grim. "You don't realize it yet, but you'll thank me later for taking you away, son, there is no other choice. Come now!"

"No... I can't let her alone!"

The Baron entered the carriage. "Triżsa, grab your brother's hand and get him in here! He just needs some help to make this step into a new life without the burdens of this place. Would you be so kind?"

"Yes, dad!" Triżsa said and followed. "Say good-bye, Oan!"

Shaerena moved closer to the figure, she could nearly touch it. The weeping became louder. "Why are you crying?" she asked. "Why don't you hum your song anymore?"

Triżsa squatted next to her brother, she pulled impatiently on his arm.

He finally got up, stepped on the stool next to the well, pointing into the black maw. "It was me...," he said to his sister who looked up at him, her eyes widening.

Triżsa starred at him not knowing what to reply.

"What was you?" the Baron asked, irked. He stepped out of the coach again, fed up by the constant ramblings and inexplicable moods of his son, which he had failed to harness.

"I saw her..."

"Come, boy. We know that you've seen your mother, that's why all this started. Stop talking this nonsense. We need to be off."

"It wasn't just her, dad..."

"Stop it!" the Baron shouts, steams with temper. He grabs both children, tries to pull them away forcefully from the well.

"Oan? Oan?" Shaerena whispers, but she doesn't hear him crying anymore. "Oan?" she asks again, this time louder. She bends over the well: "Oan?" she calls, but Oan is gone. "Where are you?"

"It happens because of me..." Oan shouts back at the well. He is taken away by the Baron's strong arms. He will never return to it. The well looks empty now. Forsaken.

"She will search for me, I know it. One day it will happen..."

A short piercing shriek.

Then a thud, a strange unfamiliar sound, far, far beneath the earth. The noises are quickly swallowed by the night, and a moment later quiet reigns again.

The moon isn't what it was just moments ago, I've never seen it this way. It is round... but it looks strange... it is surrounded by a stony wall... Wait... There are stars glittering in it today, something that has never happened... It must be a special day, a very special day. But... but... maybe this isn't the moon at all, the moon is bright... But today it is dark, dark as the night... Dark as the night. - And why is it that I don't feel the breeze anymore? Am I...

The wind howls over the well, the way mourners lament over a tomb. Then again, if one listens closely it might just sound like a lullaby, or an elegy. An elegy for Lady Shaerena.
 


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 Date of last edit 19th Fallen Leaf 1669 a.S.

Ghost story written by by Artimidor Federkiel View Profile