Gather close little children, come hug the fire and listen to my tale of woe. Watch the flames closely. See them twist and leap and turn, stare into the glowing embers and let your mind go blank. Listen, listen. Can you hear the church bells pealing joyfully? From out of the darkness figures start to emerge, buildings swim into being from the mist.
Our story begins many years ago at Stromgarde in the Arathi Highlands. It’s springtime and cart after cart is crossing the drawbridge into the keep. They’re loaded with flowers, piled high with liferoot, mageroyal, peacebloom and black lotus. Tendrils of grave moss and cascades of dreaming glory flow over the deep red paintwork of the wagons. Within the fortress walls, banners are being hung and every nook, cranny and available wall is being draped in vibrant blooms. Footmen in their scarlet livery carry overloaded plates towards the garden where a huge tent is being build. Every little thing has to be perfect when the Prince marries today.
Within the cold stone walls of the Keep itself, the bride to be leans her head against the wall and sobs softly. The chiming of the chapel bells seems to signal her doom. It’s as if they are playing the passing bell and not the wedding march. Checking her reflection one final time in the looking glass, she sighs. From her tiara of night dragons breath and white roses to her crystal slippers she looked every inch a Bride suitable for a Prince of Arathor. A maid hands her the bouquet, creamy peacebloom, white roses and a scarlet splash of firebloom. All the waiting women smile and tell her how beautiful she looks but all the Bride sees is fresh red blood on white linen bandages.
Leaving the bed chamber, her eyes flicked back and forth. Down the long echoing corridors, past women in brightly coloured gowns and Knights with their dark red tabards. No one speaks to her, they just smile emptily as she is pulled past them. Out of the Keep now, down into the walled gardens. Through the shrubbery and under the arches of roses, towards the old Chapel. The pealing of the bells mocks her, like a child giggling just out of reach. Inside, away from the bright sunlight, it’s dark and forbidding.
After the ceremony, feeling dizzy, she rushed to the garden. Finding a quiet spot, away from all the backslapping and congratulations to sit and dream. To dream of a man. Not the one she married, not the one in the deep red clothes with the sword at his hip. Oh no, not him. The nebulous figure which filled her dreams was that of a gardener’s boy. Quiet, humble and kind, no songs would ever be written about his prowess in battle. He would never march at the head of an army bringing death and destruction along in his wake. Instead, flowers would carpet where he trod and birds sing over head. It was there, sitting in the garden, twisting her heavy gold ring that manacled her finger, that he found her. The gardener’s boy, come to Stromgarde to help organise the thousands of blossoms brought in from the countryside. Side by side they sat, the Bride and her boy talking of love and escape and happiness over the sea.
It was near dusk when he found them, the Prince of Arathor with his sword girded on. The hand of his Bride clutched to another man’s breast. By the time his men reached them, the gardener’s boy was already dead. His rich red blood a stain on the Bride’s white dress. Ignoring them, he dragged his Bride up to the Keep, past guest and guard alike. Sword drawn, blade dripping red, he marched her through corridors and passageways, past tapestries and paintings. Always upward, staircase after staircase until they could almost touch the stars.
The Bride of Arathor she vanished that night. No body was ever found but they say if you wander the highlands late at night, when the full moon hangs low in the sky and the liferoot blooms, you’ll see her. That long white dress is black with dirt and blood. Her torn and tattered veil covers her face and the ghost of a rose holds it in place. She walks the lanes and searches the gardens, looking all the while for her long dead gardener’s boy. Where her broken crystal slippers touch the earth, you can still smell the flowers, the peacebloom, roses, dreaming glory and mageroyal that blossomed all those years ago. As long as there is a son of Arathor left to raise that standard high, she’ll wander their lands searching for her stolen love. So next time you saunter home late, beware the subtle scent of roses drifting on the air.
This story was inspired by a childhood spent reading ghost stories and by the Arathi Basin Battlemaster, the Black Bride herself. What her story really is, I’ve no idea but I love the name and decided to write her one myself.
Filed under: RP