Something shifted in the corner of the room when Elspeth looked up from her embroidery. The afternoon light was fading, and her eyes were tired. She blinked a few times but saw nothing except the tapestries on the stone walls.
She guessed it must have been a rat or a shadow from a bird flying past the window where she sat. She perched where the setting sun warmed her side and illuminated the cloth in her lap. It was too beautiful of a day for ghosts.
Castle Creag was said to be haunted. Elspeth didn’t believe the gossip. She’d arrived a month ago after her wedding in the springtime. Since then, she hadn’t seen fairies, phantoms, or anything unusual. But she would’ve been glad for a break in the monotony. Nothing much happened here out in the countryside far from the capital.
The stone fortress sat on the border of the kingdom, but there hadn’t been a war for ages. The biggest battles lately were arguments between peasants over farmland. And the scariest haunting came from the mice that scritched inside the castle walls.
She put down the thread and cloth and stood to stretch. As she glanced out the window, she heard muffled voices behind her. She turned, but there was no one else in the room.
She closed her eyes to focus on the sound. She couldn't quite make out the words – they were muffled and distant. A man was speaking while others seemed to be mumbling and whispering. Perhaps it was an echo of a conversation outside.
She leaned out the window as far as she dared. The moat was far below, with an open field up to the edge of the forest. Only a solitary peasant was in sight, leading a donkey.
The voices moved away. Then, the breeze changed direction bringing the odor of the moat with it. Elspeth gave up and fled from the smell down the narrow, curving stairway.
She felt a wave of heat from the roaring fireplace as she entered the kitchen. The cook and her assistant were preparing potato soup and a piglet for roasting.
“Lady Elspeth, how may I help you?” Eileen curtsied as she spoke. Her teenage assistant hurriedly imitated her.
“Have you seen any of the other staff lately?”
“No, milady, no one has returned yet from the village market. But I can send Maggie here for anyone you wish to see.”
“It’s alright, Eileen. I thought I heard people talking earlier.”
Eileen glanced at Maggie, then asked, “Were you in the tower, milady?”
“That’s where Maggie heard the voices, too.”
Maggie stared at the flagstone floor while Elspeth shook her head. “No, there are no such things as ghosts or fairies. These rumors have got to stop.”
Elspeth sighed and turned back toward the tower stairs. “I left my needlework up there.”
“Maggie will fetch it,” Eileen said with a gesture to the girl.
But Elspeth held up a hand. “No, I’ll be back in a moment.”
The last rays of the sun touched the ceiling as she entered the round tower room. She gathered up her things from the window seat and looked into the distance. Her eyes widened.
She had time for one breath before the arrow pierced her. She collapsed, writhing on the floor.
A man's voice spoke as if by her ear. This time the words were clear.
“This is where Lady Elspeth was struck down by an arrow during the surprise attack.”
Murmurs accompanied the movement of shadowy feet past her body.
“They say you can still her cry out.”
Elspeth began to scream.
Thank you to the generous contributors at Pixabay and Pexels for these lovely public domain images.
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