Tales of Eld
A girl stood on a balcony, her hands gripping the stone railing.
"He left me ... He promised to return," she muttered to herself. She looked down at the courtyard below her. He should have been riding through those gates.
"He hasn't come back yet ..." Her hands gripped the railing tighter. As she gazed at the courtyard, she seemed not to take notice of the crumbling walls and the plants that had overturned the stone pavers. The foliage had not only taken over the courtyard but also the rest of the castle. Majestic towers that had once reached to the heavens had tumbled down. The stained glass windows had broken and fallen out, leaving the interior exposed to the elements. Anything cloth had either rotted away or been eaten long ago. Only the bare bones of once regal castle were left. It was no enemy that had done this; time and neglect had done this damage.
The sole inhabitant had done nothing to stop it. She wandered the halls, oblivious to the decay that lay around her. Her only thoughts were of the one who was lost to her, the one she was waiting for. She does not know how long she had been waiting.
Her whispers echo across the castle ruins. "He promised to return." No one believed he would come back, but he had given her his word. He had never gone back on his word. The others had fled, leaving her behind to await his return. They had thought there was no hope but she knew better. She would wait as long as it took him to come back to her.
She had imagined his homecoming so many times. He would come galloping in on his warhorse, swinging his sword and yelling in victory. He would yell for her. She would come running out onto her balcony, see him and scream in happiness. Running back inside she would go down the stairs and out the large wooden doors to meet him in the courtyard. Jumping down from his horse, he would sheath his sword and spread his arms for her. She would run into his strong arms and never leave them again.
That is how it should have been long ago yet still she waited. With no sign of him, she often wondered if he was injured and perhaps the journey back to her was hard on him. Her knight would return for her and then they would become husband and wife. He had said that upon his return they would get married. She longed for that day.
But no, he still had not returned and so she remained in her stone prison, alone, awaiting the return for the one whom may never come.
Gereon saw a figure walking towards him on the path ahead. The figure was dressed as a soldier but the finery of his clothes bespoke his being nobility. As the figure drew closer, Gereon was able to see that the soldier's fine clothes were torn and bloodied in several places.
He especially took notice of the large dark stain marring the mysterious man's right side. The sword lay in its scabbard on the man's left side, the hilt stained dark red. The man appeared to be injured, yet he walked as if he were only out for a stroll.
"Excuse me, sir, but are you in need of some assistance?" He stopped the stranger as soon as the man was about to pass him. He didn't even seem to notice Gereon until he spoke.
The man stared at him as if he was shocked to see him. It took him a few moments to answer. "No, kind sir, I can assure you that I am quite alright. Why ever do you ask?"
Gereon motioned to the dark stain on the man's side.
"Oh, this. I received it in a skirmish with a friend. It is only a scratch, I assure you."
"Still, sir, a wound that bleeds that heavily must be tended to right away," he tried to reason with the stranger.
"I plan on having it tended to once I reach my home." As the strange man said home, he looked wistfully at the mountains that lay ahead on the path.
"Do you live near here?"
"Yes, very close. There is in fact someone expecting me home this very moment. I believe that I have kept her waiting long enough. I really must be on my way. Thank you, my good fellow, for your concern. Fare thee well," and with that the stranger waved at Gereon and continued on his way up the path. Gereon watched him as he walked away and noticed a faint line of crimson drops trailing behind the mysterious stranger.
It was not until a few moments later that Gereon realized that no one lived past his family in the mountains and that the way the man was headed there was not a living soul to be found. The only thing to be found that far up in the mountains were the ruins of Eldinberg Castle.
The stranger kept on his way. He knew the way as well as he knew the back of his hand. The pass had not changed as much as he thought it would. It had become a little more overgrown but that was to be expected. Not many ventured this way anymore. There was not reason for them to. The townspeople of Eldingrad believed the mountains were haunted. He had caught wind of the local lore on his journey.
The man sighed. The peasants' superstitions had only grown since he was gone. It seemed that without someone to watch over them, their fears multiplied until they could barely breathe without some kind of creature taking offense. This land had been long without a lord. After what had happened, no one had wanted to claim it for fear of suffering the same misfortune of the previous rulers. Many believed the land to be under a curse. He could not blame them. This land was soaked with the blood of the dead; many of whom had met their end violently. His own blood had mixed in with the those who had already fallen.
It was the land that had awoken him from his rest. Though he had rested, it had been a fitful slumber. He had found no peace. Dreams of his last few moments plagued him. There had been a moment when he had seen a bright light. Others had stood next to him walking towards it. He had tried to talk to them, grab their arms to get their attention but no one had paid him any mind.
They just kept walking forward. When he tried to walk, he found he was stuck. He could not move. He started to panic. Everyone's faces had such peaceful expressions on them and as they kept walking they disappeared into the light. Why could not he go with them?
Then a cold hand had gripped his shoulder and pulled him backwards. No he had cried, wanting to go towards the light.
Then he had found himself in the spot where it had all ended. Blood-drenched soil rumbled beneath his feet, reacting to his presence. It begged him to end its suffering. He kneeled down and gently touched the hard ground.
"Soon," he promised the soul-riddled earth. There were so many trapped in it. He could hear them, screaming for peace.
As he stood, he reassured them, "Soon. We shall all have our peace." He knew what he had to do. It was because of her that they were still here, him including. He could hear her cries on the wind. She was calling to him. All this time she had waited. He would not keep her waiting much longer. "Soon, my love," he had whispered underneath his breath as he had started his long journey back to her.
The man gazed upward as he walked up the steep path. Ahead of him, on top of the mountain peak, stood Eldinberg, or what was left of it. He barely recognized it. Since no one was around to beat it back, the forest had soon reclaimed it. It was barely visible beneath all of the foliage. As he walked through the empty gate, the wood having been eaten away by insects, he took notice of the trees growing up through the cracks in the stones beneath his feet. Trees were also invading over the crumbling ruins of the walls. If he looked above him, he should have been able to see her balcony but the many trees obstructed his view.
During midday, the trees would have provided cool shade from the blistering sun but nearing dusk the shade grew darker, colder, and more sinister. He could hear the creatures of the night beginning to stir though he had nothing to fear from any of them. They watched like silent sentries as he slowly picked his way through the large tree roots and overturned stones. As he found what he was looking for, he made sure that the stone staircase was still stable enough to hold his weight. He was careful not to stand to long on any given step, so he quickly made his way up it.
She was in here somewhere. He could feel her. Even after all these years, the connection between them was still strong. Moving slowly as to not startle her, he moved in the direction he felt her in. He wanted nothing more to run to her and put his arms around her but, since they had not seen each other in such a long time, he knew it would shock her. If he shocked her, the ruins of the castle just might come tumbling down around them. Not that it would hurt them physically but emotionally it would devastate her to see the last remnants of her life demolished.
These ruins were all that were left of what once was, everything and everyone else had disappeared with time. People died and as they lay in the earth their bodies rotted until they were nothing but bones. The elements reshaped the land, until it was almost unrecognizable. The only things that were left were her and the very stones that he walked on. Even now he knew she would go on after nature finally swallowed the stones that had once been Eldinberg Castle.
Then she would have nothing to haunt but an empty mountain top. He wondered how long it would take for the ruins to disappear. Centuries? A millennium? He did not want her to go through that heartbreak. She had already had to go through it once, if he could save her from experiencing it again, he would. He would be there for her this time.
As he got closer, he could feel the loneliness and sorrow she was feeling. They had been her companions for many years. She was alone because he had left to confront the ones who threatened his home and those he had loved. He gone down the mountain to face them before they made it up to their doorstep. She had not wanted him to go. She had begged and pleaded with him to stay but he could not. His men were dying for them and they had needed their king to give them strength even if in the end it had not mattered.
He had told her he would return and that then they would have a proper wedding but he had been killed before he could return to her. Never before had he broken a promise to her. But now, he had a chance to keep that promise he had made to her so long ago and he always stood by his word.
He rounded a corner and at the end of a the hallway, there she was. He approached her cautiously. She was just as he remembered her. She was still in the indigo blue gown she had been wearing when she had seen him off. It had been her favorite. The diadem her mother had given her rested upon her forehead. The red hair that he loved was pulled into a braid that fell down her back. She was just standing there with her hands down at her side. Her eyes were closed.
"Tristeia?" he asked as he got nearer. Her eyes suddenly opened at the sound her name. Dark blue irises looked at him.
"Could it be? Ronin?" she gasped, her hands flying up to cover her mouth.
"Yes, Tristeia. It is really me," he assured her as he slowly made his way to her. He opened his arms wide.
"Please do not let this be dream," she murmured as she ran into his arms.
He closed his arms around her and held her tightly to him. She buried her face into his chest. "If this is a dream, let it be a good dream. But be assured this is no dream."
They were silent as they enjoyed being in each other's arms once more. After a few moments, she looked up at him. "I waited for you."
"I know you did. I was unable to return until now."
"But now we can be together," Tristeia said hopefully as she once again buried her face into his chest.
"Yes, but not in the way you want." Ronin hated to ruin the precious moment with what he was about to say but she had to know. "Tristeia," he gently lifted her chin with a finger, "How much time do you believe has passed?"
"It does not matter how much time has passed. You are here now and we will never be apart again." She squeezed him. He held her by her shoulders and gently pushed her away.
"Tristeia, it does matter. It has been several centuries since we last saw each other."
"Centuries? That is not possible." Tristeia tore herself from Ronin's grasp and turned around.
"It is possible, my love. You may have not realized it, but centuries have passed." He came up behind her and put his arms around her once more.
"How does this hallway appear to you?"
Tristeia glanced around. "It looks the same way it always has."
"No, truly look. You know the truth; you need only face it. You have been denying it for so long that you actually started to believe that no time had passed."
This time Tristeia took her time looking around the hallway. As she looked, the rug on the floor began to slowly rot away and along with the tapestries on the walls. The glass in the windows started to crack and then fell out. Dust settled on everything. Vines came out of the cracks in between in the stones of the floor and crept up the walls. Then everything stopped moving. She turned around and stared aghast at Ronin.
"Do you truly see now, Tristeia?" He gestured with a wide sweep of his arm at the hallway.
"How?" She asked.
"Time and neglect. Eldinberg has been abandoned for generations."
"But you and I are here," she stammered.
"Yes we are but only in a sense. We are not truly here."
"What do you mean?"
"Tristeia, think about it. All this time, you have not aged a day and neither have I. You have not needed to sleep or eat for a long time. We are nothing more than wraiths."
"No! I do not believe you!" She shook her head vigorously. Tristeia ran into him, almost knocking him off his feet.
"How can we be nothing but phantoms? I can hear your heart beat and feel the warmth of your body." She leaned her head down to prove her point.
"Those are only the visages of our former lives. Our souls still retain the feel and appearance of when we were alive," Ronin calmly explained.
As he said those words, Tristeia felt something wet seep into the left side of bodice of her gown. Stepping back, she looked down and saw a dark stain on her gown. With her right hand, she pressed it into her side and drew it back. There was blood on her hand. She had not felt pain of any kind so it could not be from her ... that must mean it came from Ronin! Quickly looking up, she saw the same dark stain that was on her gown on his shirt and noticed the crimson pool at his feet.
"If we are not alive, then how can you be bleeding?" she asked softly.
"This is the wound that ended my life. As long as I remain on this earth, I will forever bleed. It is the mark I must bear for breaking my promise to you."
"But you kept your promise! You are here!" she exclaimed.
"I was not able to keep my promise to you in life. Only in death was I able to return to you."
"Does it hurt?" Tristeia asked meekly.
Ronin smiled weakly. "No more than it did the moment I received it."
"So you have been in constant pain ever since ..." she could not complete her question.
"This pain is nothing compared to the pain I have felt being separated from you for so long."
"I too have been in pain since the day you departed. It has been with me so long that it has almost become a part of me. I can not imagine existing without it but with you here, Ronin, I can feel it ebb with each moment that we are together."
"Yes, our pain has lessened now that we together but it will never entirely go away, I'm afraid."
"What do you mean?" Tristeia asked.
"Our pain is not just from the time we have spent apart. We also feel the pain of those who are still here. Your mother, your father, the men I commanded, and those who served you. They are all trapped; existing but not living.
"They are trapped? But how?" she asked unbelieving.
"We are the reason they are trapped. In life, they were tied to us. Their souls are tethered to the bonds they formed to us when we were alive. At the end, our grief at being separated was so great for either one of us to contain that it sought out our bonds we had in life and made them stay behind with us. So that we would not suffer alone. But they have suffered long enough for a pain that was never their's but ours to endure."
Tears had formed in her eyes. A single tear rolled down her cheek but before it got to far, Ronin's hand brushed it away.
"So all of them have been suffering this whole time, while I have been selfishly wallowing in my own grief?" she asked indignantly.
"Do not cry, my love. For though we are the cause for their suffering, we can also be their salvation. We have the power to end their needless torment."
"You must first accept that your life ended a long time ago and that it is now time to move on. Neither of us could move on while the other was still in agony. I came here to end our agony, Tristeia, along with their's. Come with me, so we may all rest in peace."
He drew her into his arms. "Let us rest, my love ... together." He rested his head gently upon hers.
"Yes," Tristeia sleepily agreed. Ronin picked her, careful not to jostle her to much. Walking to the arched doorway at the end of the hallway, he stepped into what had once been a bedroom. As he neared where the bed used to be, the wooden canopy bed frame reappeared. The heavy covers drew themselves back and he gently laid down with her still in his arms. The covers then draped themselves over the occupants. Stroking her cheek, he made sure that she was comfortable.
She stirred a little and opened her eyes blearily. "How long can we sleep?" she asked. He looked down at her and smiled. "As long as we wish."
"Hmmmm, I hope my parents do not walk in on us," she remarked as she snuggled closer to him. He remembered all the times that they had tried to sleep together when they younger only to be caught and sent to their separate rooms. He laughed softly.
"They won't. Sleep well, my darling Princess, and dream of my love for you." He tenderly kissed her forehead.
"Good night, my sweet Prince," Tristeia whispered with her last breath before she fell into the arms of sleep. He followed not soon after.
As the ones who had been apart, reunited, the land gave a sigh and from beneath it, white orbs of light drifted up into the sky to disappear. The ruins that once were returned to their former glory; the white walls of Eldinberg Castle were restored. They gleamed in the sun as the centuries of decay and neglect melted away, leaving only the alabaster stone in its wake. The castle had become their tomb, one befitting royalty. Any who come across this majestic mausoleum will find the paramours still intertwined and resting, appearing as if they could wake up at any moment.
A lone figure watched the castle's transformation. Though it was not supposed to be this way, he surmised that in the end it had worked out the best it could. He had another time that required his attention. This is one would be on its own for a while but he would be back and maybe next the time it work out the way it was supposed to.
AN: If you're confused about the last paragraph, I put it in for a reason. There's a second story that goes with this one. It'll be explained in it. Please Review!