A black sorcerer and a foreign enchantress practise their arts in a castle on the borderlands. But when the lady locks herself in her tower, even the servants know something’s amiss in Grendl Castle.
Gretchen Tessmer writes lyric poetry, literary and genre fiction. She received her B.A. in creative writing from SUNY Potsdam in 2007. Her life is an endless parade of books, music, friends and family. For more info and original work by this author visit http://misstessmer.tumblr.com/.
By Gretchen Tessmer
In the black tower, three servant girls stood before a locked door at the top of an ancient stone staircase. An autumn wind blew with gale force against the east side of Grendl Castle and howled through the high, cracked skylight above them. The draft whistled down the walls and rocked a hanging oil lamp in the upper stairwell, threatening to topple and break the swinging fixture with its more violent blasts, yet too weak to snuff out the light. The flame flickered each time the wind groaned against the skylight.
‘My lady?’ The youngest maid knocked on the door tentatively. Two others hovered near, all with their heads bent towards the heavy oak door, listening for footsteps, ears straining for any sound of movement on the other side. Maaike Lorien had not come out of her room for a day and a half. The servants who still lived in the castle, the few that remained after Lord Craven’s unexpected and unexplained dismissals days before, found her behaviour unsettling and attempted to draw the enchantress out. Thus far, they had failed miserably.
‘My lady, won’t you eat something?’ the youngest one asked. Her soprano voice, more naturally singing high country ditties at the spinning wheel or the laundry line, barely rose above a whisper. She rapped her knuckles against the thick wood planks of the door again. ‘We’ve brought a tray from the kitchen. The harvest is the best it’s been in years and the cook has outdone himself. Even Lord Craven would say so … please, my lady?’ This plea, like the others before, was met with absolute silence.
‘What if she’s dead on the other side?’ The girl holding the tray, with steaming lamb soup, warm bread, hot cider and a bunch of plump, purple grapes upon it, wondered this aloud. Her brown, chestnut hair was pulled back from her plaintive face with a simple, knotted kerchief. The first maid shushed her.
‘She isn’t dead,’ the youngest one answered simply.
The servant girls despaired. They liked Maaike Lorien. They trusted her more than Lord Craven, their powerful, mystical master. She was less imposing and had a sweeter temperament, albeit tending towards melancholy. Admittedly, she was ever the grey lady of the black tower. Even at her happiest, an old sadness clung to her like moths to flame or flies to honey. But she never failed to greet the chambermaids on the stairs with a smile or thank the cook after dinner. Besides, her origins were not nearly as obscure as Lord Craven. Nor her magic as inscrutable. She dealt in earth and enchantments. Fields around Grendl Castle flourished; the flowers in its gardens bloomed with abandon. Her dealings with nearby villages, as of the three servant girls outside her door, favoured the least fortunate and they loved the enchantress for it.
‘Maybe she’s weaving spells?’ The second girl shifted the tray in her arms, balancing it on one steady hand, and fiddled with a loose end of her kerchief as she asked this. The last, a tall, bright-eyed, pug-nosed chamber maid nodded hopefully. Perhaps she was too focused, too intent to answer. The youngest maid shrugged but whispered that Maaike Lorien had not conjured even a single rose petal or blade of grass in weeks. Ever since Lord Craven started spending most of his days in the iron-locked room upstairs, with the raised dais and the covered glass orb. Ever since that letter arrived from the neighbouring, dark country of Roanoke.
The door suddenly and abruptly opened, causing one of the girls leaning against it to lose her balance and fall to the floor, sprawled at Maaike Lorien’s feet. The woman seemed not to notice. Her complexion was pale and tear-streaked. Her long, russet-coloured hair fell down around her shoulders, unpinned and wild like. She strode past all three girls without a single word.
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