The Curse of The Keep
And the secret inside the castle walls
It's been a millennium since that night, the first time I died. Perched high in the turret I had fair warning. A storm was approaching, its thunderclouds loomed in the distant sky. As it neared, the black cloud ate the moonlight as its mass dominated the horizon. The rain began, at first a drizzle, then fell in haphazard drops. In mere seconds the rainfall pooled on the roof, then poured down the walls of the castle to the parched earth. This past summer had been miserable, the heat, the humidity. The crumbling dirt had cracked under my boots, and sweat fell from my brow as I commanded the soldiers on the training fields of Ecatur, known as the keep by the river. That river had provided for my people. Long, hot summer days depleted our resources and did not ease the fear of the ill-tempered villagers.
The sound of the rain was welcome that night. The autumn equinox had been anticipated for a fortnight. Even though the peasant whisperings of a prophecy were rumored to begin when the burn of the sun faded. They needed relief from the heat, curse or not. The people feared an ancient legend or perhaps a myth: Heat bleeds, the royal demon feeds, darkness overhead, you’re left alive or dead.
Lunacy I thought it was. In the dark of the night it would come, they said. Suck the blood from your body while you slept, as it knew it was royal blood only by tasting it first. My people tried to conceal information from me, but alas, I knew enough on the matter. Which was why I was keeping watch in the turret.
The winds found me anyway, howling as though it was a pack of wolves feasting on raw meat, another commodity in that wasteland. The gales hammered the remaining leaves from their branches as the storm organized overhead. I needed to take shelter. I made my way to my bedchamber, one level below. Every step I took was accompanied by a clap of thunder followed by a bolt of lightning. It was intoxicating, I felt alive, powerful even. It was as though my very footsteps awakened the elements and predicted their movements.
The stairway was abandoned, as the midnight hour approached. My heart beat loud in my chest, my sword clutched at my side. I am a warrior still. My father, the King - the King's only daughter.
The King was the bravest warrior of them all. And I am Jasmine, his only heir. I tugged the wooded door to my room open as relief washed over me. Salome, my royal servant, had done her duty. My bed was unturned and the candle lit on the washstand. I discarded my wet attire in the middle of the floor. My damp undergarments would do to slumber tonight as I was too tired to search for my nightdress. I trod to the washstand and made use of the murky water to wash my face, undo the grime of the day. Another clap of thunder, this one so fierce the castle walls shook. I swallowed the lump in my throat.
The candle on my washstand flickered although no influence of a rogue breeze. Flicker, flicker, flicker, goes the flame. Fighting for life, sucking the oxygen from the room into its tiny fire. Flicker, flutter, the flame won’t last. I used a careful touch to pick up the candleholder. My other hand instinctively clutched the hilt of my sword. I tiptoed towards the bed, the contact with the cold floor made my bones ache. I intended to hide in the warm fur covers and ride out the storm. I was eager to crawl into bed before the room was awash in darkness. I managed a tiny step between each flutter of the candlelight.
There was a rustle in the air. I heard the high-pitched squawk as a winged feather grazed my forehead. The dim light handicapped my vision. I jerked my head from side to side, focused on the details of my small room, trying to locate the invader. Our castle had three windows. On the windowsill of the one in my room a black owl sat, watching me. Why had Salome not shut the wooden window panel to seal the room? Especially on this night! How strange, I remember thinking.
A black owl is rare. Its chest pumped as though in distress but its blue eyes held mine. “Caa-caa!” The bird of the night made an unusual noise. I set the candleholder on the table beside the bed. I had one chance to get rid of the thing. I didn’t need the burden of the flame to hinder my efforts. I swung my braided hair over my back, holding my sword in front of my body. I had to use both hands to raise the blade high over my head.
Steady now, I approached the open window. “Caa-caa,” the bird warned again, its blue eyes feral now. As beautiful the creature was, none-the-less, it was uninvited. My mind set, I proceeded towards the fowl, concerned it may be injured or worse, diseased.
The candle flame grew mighty and illuminated a cozy glow now placed on the bedtable. Outside the storm raged on, demonstrating so with a jolt of thunder every few seconds. I inched closer to the window but the light behind me narrowed, causing me to pause. The owl began flapping its wings, but it did not flee!
“Caa-caa, caa-caa,” it howled, over and over. My eyes lifted upwards to my sword. Flickering in the steel blade, a dark shadow moved behind me. Something else was in the room. I squeezed my eyes shut and inhaled a deep breath. I turned to face the darkness. My feet moved quick, a result of my efforts on the training fields with the men.
Hovering over my bed was thick red smoke, twisting and twirling, knotting into itself, growing thicker and thicker, as though it was feeding itself. The candle flame, nearer now, was much larger. My eyes bulged at the sight. I feared no man. No beast. But this... this was neither man nor beast.
I charged the bed with my raised weapon, an unfamiliar battle cry screaming from my lips. I began chopping the air, splitting the red smoke in half with each strike of my sword. My vantage point was not ideal. Each targeted strike was too low. The smoke would split for just a moment and reassemble higher and higher every time, just out of my reach. I jumped on the bed but kept swinging. My lungs began to burn from breathing the toxic enemy. I was fighting a losing battle. The room was brighter now. The smoke was not extinguishing, it was drawing the candle flame towards it, gaining momentum. The flame was alive, fluttering to life to feed the smoke.
“Caa-caa,” the black owl repeated. I understood the bird’s fear. Once the smoke had the power of the flame, it would be strong enough to take on a larger opponent. When the smoke possessed the owl, a larger victim would be next.
I had to act fast.
I leapt from the bed, kicking the candle from the table with my foot. Hot wax spilled to the floor but the candle landed upright, and the flame continued to burn! The smoke whistled as it twisted lower towards me. I continued to strike the red smoke with my sword over and over, each strike buying less and less time.
Flicker, flutter, the girl won’t last. I was tired. Defeat was near. My sword was heavy in my bloody hands.
“Caa-caa!! Caa-caa,” said the owl as it launched itself from the windowsill, its feathers outstretched in flight. The owl flew directly at me – not the smoke. I lowered my sword in defeat as the smoke whirled together. The owl hovered in the air in front of me.
In one sudden move the owl’s beak pierced my heart. The pain was intense. The room got blurry. The red smoke did not hesitate, it entered the hole in my chest with such force it lifted me off the floor.
I floated back to the ground, but only because I wanted to. My heart wasn’t beating anymore. The smoke controlled me. I controlled the curse. And it was then that I knew it was no myth.
I’ll never forget that storm. Heat bleeds, the royal demon feeds, darkness overhead, you’re left alive or dead.
I looked over to the windowsill. The owl flew out the window at last.
About the Creator
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