A story of true love.
“The Haunting” — by Serina Melosine, bard of Qeynos Harbor. Being a tale that crosses time and knows no boundaries. For know that ghosts are merely those that once lived and that they, too, can love.
She had always been drawn to that house. The whitewash of its crumbling stone walls had worn away with the rain to streak the ground around it with a dull grey film. No one lived there or had for generations, yet in her mind’s eye, Maida could see the walls rebuilt, a basket of flowers — no, of ivy — beside the circular window that faced the street. Her mother chided her, “That is a place of haunting, Maida, and you would do well to stay away.” But Maida could not.
And so when her betrothed demanded she name the palace in which they would live, she said simply, “I would live there.” And he laughed, pushing open the remains of a heavy wooden door that still hung by crumbling leather straps. “In this? You would be queen of the dead in this forsaken tomb,” he said mockingly. “We will live in my summer palace. Make ready, for the wedding is within the year.”
Now, Maida’s heart grieved, for this tumble-down cottage of her youthful fancy was leagues from the king’s summer palace. And so to ease her homesickness for a home that was not her own, she began to work the tapestry which would hang in her new house, once she was married to the king. “You are mad,” said her mother angrily, “The king does you great honor and you stitch a hovel to decorate his palace.” Maida shook her head and continued to work.
Sometimes she would sit within the cottage’s humble walls, ignoring the jumble of broken crockery left through years of neglect. She imagined the fireplace cleared of the fallen chimney stones, its hearth bathed red and gold by firelight. Upon the hearth would lie a cat — no, a dog. As she stitched in her chair before this imaginary fire, another chair would slowly appear in the darkness across from her. And he read to her.
Maida felt she would always know that voice, though she knew it not in her waking. She could never remember what stories she heard. She only knew that she felt as though the walls of her world closed in upon her at the thought of never hearing that voice again. For she knew, even as she worked her tapestry in the still of her room, that once she was married she should never hear it again.
On the week before her wedding, Maida had nearly completed her work. Her mother berated her: “That is not what that haunted house looks like!” For Maida had carefully crafted from her dreams the thatching of the cottage roof, a tiny pane of glass centered in the front window and a line of herbs drying along the eaves. And yet, anyone who saw it knew instantly which of all the ruined houses along the lane this was.
“We marry tomorrow, the omens are better,” said the king, striding into her bower and disturbing her at her work. “Tomorrow? That is impossible!” she cried, tracing the barest of curtseys before her betrothed. “It is a week tomorrow you mean.” He laughed and pulled her roughly toward him saying, “Nothing is impossible for someone in love.”
Maida felt a great weight lifted from her at his words. Nothing was impossible? Then she would do what she must, for she was in love. In love with the voice that came from the darkened chair, beside the fireplace in the cottage of her dreams. “I must finish this tonight,” she murmured, “if we are to wed tomorrow.” And the king laughed again and left her to her work.
Through the night, Maida worked, pausing only to close her eyes and see with her heart. At last as the sun slowly rose in the east, she ran a soft hand across her completed work. Her eyelids drifted slowly shut. Then she heard him say, “I am glad you are staying, beloved.” He rose from the chair beside the fire and taking her hands into his, led her out the open door into her new world.
And so, when the king’s entourage arrived to escort Maida to the altar, they found her not. All that remained in her room was her tapestry of the cozy white cottage. Through its window, one might glimpse the shadowy form of a man and a maid seated before the fire while a dog drowsed on the hearth at their feet.