Introduction. While the Avennorian merchant Fjorek Fjerth Snimardskun is fascinated by myths, local lore and especially eerie ghost stories, he doesn't believe that much actual truth can be found in such tales. But an unexpected letter that holds a personal invitation from the master of the far off Skanris Keep would soon prove to be a challenge for the Fjorek's conviction that curses cannot exist, because this is precisely what the villagers living nearby claim adamantly. Eventually the castle's caretaker reveals to the merchant an unnerving story about a macanti, a Gifted One - the one, as people say, that had "the Eye"... What did it see? What is the curse? And is the keep still haunted? Soon the Fjorek should find answers to all these questions.
do not believe in ghosts. I’ve always regarded tales of any kinds of apparitions or phenomenons that trick the eye or the mind with a healthy dose of skepticism. Maybe this is due to the upraising by a mother that believed strongly in the Twelve, yet was convinced that the Gods would take no interest in meddling with the lives of common mortals. I assume this was because my father left her even before she had given birth to me, and she refused to accept it as fate that the Gods imposed on her. „No, the Gods don’t decide on our destiny“, she used to say. „Destiny you have to take in your own hands.“ In the same way she thought that every witcher was nothing more than a macanti, and that neither Seyella nor Coór, nor any creature of the Void would descend on Santharia fopr any reason - not to suggest a new path, to teach or to bring fear, death or destruction as the folk tales seem to imply. Well, my mother was rather practical, and so am I. So far I can’t say that I’ve actually met a „watcher“ as the people call those things that show up from nowhere in a foggy night. I’m taking them for what they are – gnarled tree trunks, not grey-cloaked unmoving figures that try to communicate with the likes of us. No wailwoman has introduced herself to me yet – not that I am keen to hear the bone chilling, mind shattering cries for which such unfortunate beings are famed. Let those with the minds for it deal with such things, as obviously it originates from just there!
However, a certain curiosity is roused in me when I look in the gleaming eyes of a fisherman who tells me a sailor’s tale. Rest assured, he has seen this ghostship himself he’s talking about, of course, and can describe it to you in detail if you ask. He didn’t dare venture near it, no, definitely not, as that is what the lore claims so firmly – stay away, or you might lose your life as well! If one could only get on that ship, investigate and finally get some explanations... But by the Twelve, no, a poor fisherman that believes in the lore cannot. And a ghostship won’t appear to a scholar eager to investigate it. Ah, the irony... – However, as I mentioned, I can’t help but being fascinated by those tales and the people telling them. At least they guarantee some entertainment.
So it has been, until last week. Since then I don’t trust my senses anymore, or my mind, I know not which is more to be mistrusted. Yet, I am drawn towards this new experience that challenges everything I’ve known so far, and while I observe, it is almost as if something else is observing me, studying this suddenly helpless and forlorn individual. And yet, I must look it in the eye.
But I shall start at the beginning, at that very day when Gerneth, my loyal servant, brought this letter up to my tower and with it would eventually toss me into what I can only describe as a nightmare, a nightmare recurring day and day again...
Halfday, 28th of Sleeping Dreameress
„Now, this could be our season to rain gold, Gerneth!“ I said jokingly to my servant, who seemed to be as pleased as I was when he saw my broad smile upon reading the lines. The letter promised a lucrative business opportunity and was sent by the Lord of Skanris Keep in the south of the province, close to the Fens of Yanthai, west of Ciosa.
„Someone must have picked up on our special goods shipments from Deni’lou, Gerneth! You know, these exclusive spices deals I’ve made in the last months, and it seems that Veirek Liemolf Jorril helped with advocating his satisfaction to an influential figure on the Pearl Coast! Now what do you say to that?“
Admittedly, all this wasn’t exactly mentioned in the letter, but it was stated clearly that our new potential customer wished to do business with the name Snimradskun of Marduran as soon as possible. I just connected the dots and was satisfied with the conclusion that it must have been my dwarven trading relations that have brought my name to a southerner’s attention. I was delighted to read such a strongly expressed desire to establish contact, as the letter even contained an invitation to pay a visit to the Skanris keep for a week or two in order to get to know each other, all expenses covered. Well, and as a bachelor’s life like mine longs for any unusual adventure it can get, I figured I shouldn’t think too long and seize the day.
dispatched a reply to the Lord of Skanris and started packing the same evening I
had received the letter. The next morning I was off towards the Pearl Coast.
Elfday, 2nd of Fallen Leaf
My arrival in the village of Skulje on the first Elfday of Fallen Leaf was memorable to say the least. There was no direct way to the keep, so I asked my carriage driver to drop me off in the village, and I’d manage things from there in case transport wasn’t already arranged by my host. So, close to Sundrown, the carriage dropped me at the most prominent tavern in Skulje. It was off again in a minute, leaving me behind next to a small shrine of Armeros on the wayside with my luggage. A white-haired old man was busy planting some flowers there around the statue of the God holding his Truthsplitter. He looked up and nodded to me in greeting. Just as I answered a younger fellow on the other side of the road spotted me and offered to help me get my stuff inside the tavern to stretch my legs after the journey.
The man’s darker complexion, as well as his accent hinted at a line of ancestry from the fabled continent of Aeruillin. His friendliness as well:
„New, eh?“ he asked curiously. „I’m sure ye seek some accommodation then, don’t ye? Either that or a drink. At any rate I’d say ye can get directions and that drink best inside the tavern.“ And with that he had already taken some things and chivvied me towards the „Singing Willow“. The tavern was the largest house around, built in typical Avennorian style with the roof in the shape of a boat that was simply turned upside down.
„I’m Aimen, by the way,“ my new acquaintance finished. Of course I couldn’t disagree with his convincing behaviour that surely was meant to earn him a free drink.
„I’m Fjorek Fjerth,“ I told him. „Of the Snimradskuns of Marduran if you want to know exactly. And yes, I’ll offer you a drink.“ I smiled and, carrying the rest of my luggage, followed him in.
The mood inside was relaxed and the four or five farmers that sat around at a table with the landlord were happy to have company bringing news from the north. I ordered some dwarven ale for Aimen and myself, and we got into a discussion about my business. The beer helped to bring up my relations to the Iron Realm of Deni’lou, and I gained some respect with that – which clearly shows when people start referring to you as „Fjorek“ instead of the first name you have offered them to address you with.
At some point someone brought the question up: „And now where are ye headin’, Fjorek?“ And I was glad that he did, as it was indeed time to finally get going.
„I have an appointment at the keep,“ I answered. „Might someone be able to show me how to get there? I have some coins in my pocket I don’t necessarily need.“
„An appointment – at the... keep?“ one of the farmers asked disbelievingly.
„Yes, as far as I understand, there is just one keep around here, now isn’t it?“ I kept insisting. „The keep of Lord Skanris.“
All of a sudden the room turned quiet.
„What is it?“ I looked around, not knowing what so suddenly had changed the atmosphere.
„Ye must be jokin’, lad. The Lord Skanris, the despicable Margeir Kjorskum, is dead. And that for good reasons. And so are his wife and both sons. Better it stays that way.“ As if to affirm his dire revelation, the farmer hit the table with his fist. Horror was written in the faces of everyone sitting around. Even Aimen, who had been one of the most jovial before, didn’t touch his beer anymore and just stared at me.
„But I assure you that I have received an invitation to talk business with the Lord of Skanris,“ I replied, puzzled.
„Then ye must have received a letter from the dead!“ the landlord threw at me with a grim voice. „Let me tell ye somethin’: The place is cursed, my friend! It has been cursed for the last thirty years or so, and I urge ye to go back where ye came from, for it will bring death upon those who seek it out.“
„I don’t understand...“ I groped for words, seeing my hopes for big business shattered to pieces already. Curse or not, if there was no Lord Skanris, there’d be no sans to earn. Maybe these people were right and I actually had fallen for someone’s foolish prank, or perhaps someone had needed to get me out of Marduran for some reason. „But try to explain to me why...“ I stuttered.
„Go now, friend, while ye still can,“ the landlord insisted and stood up to leave the table. „We don’t talk about the curse here. It brings back memories, and the gruesome death might just be sleepin’ in Skulje. It must not be awakened, mark my words! None of us will show you how to get to the keep, so please, leave for ye own good.“ With that he disappeared behind the counter, refusing to continue any discussion.
I remained there for a while, bewildered. Silence fell on us, just like the sun was slowly engulfed outside by the falling darkness, drowning below the horizon. What had been a room filled with vivid talk just a few moments ago, now seemed to harbour just strangers. Only the sound of the landlord wiping one glass after the other could be heard. I looked around, but none of the people I had talked to wanted to contradict these last words that still hung in the air, menacing like gigantic cobwebs, hinting at a lurking presence in the dark.
I took my luggage and left. I had no idea how to progress from there, but I knew I was no longer welcome here.
As I was standing there in front of the tavern, thinking, I suddenly noticed movement at the edge of my sight.
„Fjorek Snimradskun?“ someone asked with a soft, slightly lisping voice.
I turned around, not knowing whom to expect. „Yes?“
It was the old man
I had seen earlier when I had left the carriage, who had been tending the shrine
of Armeros. „May we go now?“ He pointed to a horse a few peds away that was
yoked to a cart. „Sorry to have kept you waiting, but I figured you’d get out
there anyway soon. I’m here to take you to the keep.“
„Thank you, Udvig, thank you very much! It is my pleasure.“ I took another slice of the still warm bread she the woman offered me and placed it on my plate. The fresh butter and the rimmilched cheese tasted exquisite. And neither had I drank such an extraordinarily flavourful kind of cha’ah tea in quite a while.
„Only the best for our visitor,“ old Jovdur confirmed my thoughts with a reassuring nod and poured in some more tea.
When I looked in his eyes I felt at home in a way, despite the vast emptiness in the dining hall. In the bright daylight the man’s wrinkled face showed his grandfatherly appearance even more clearly. As did his white shiny hair, the kind, obliging voice, the occasional knowing smile when I brought something up in discussion. I must say I enjoyed Jovdur’s company right from the start. Besides he was the only person I could rely on in Skanris. Yet, there seemed to be something brooding behind those tick eyebrows, an unspoken sorrow in his look once the smile vanished.
„Speaking about visitors...“ I started, picking up his last comment. „You don’t get many people up here these days, don’t you? I didn’t meet a soul except you and your wife since yesterday evening, nor did I see any lights in the towers. Why is this?“ I thought it best to get to the bottom of these rumours immediately. „The villagers even told me that the keep is cursed and that I shouldn’t venture here at all.“
„Ah, who can blame them. But one got to keep the toads in the bucket,“ Jovdur replied. „What do they know anyway? It is not easy living with the curse, but then again I have been caretaker of this keep for more than forty cycles now along with my dear Udvig. We’ve promised to care for it, and we’re still here after all these years, as is the keep.“ He cleared his throat then continued with his lisping voice. „I only wish that the whole story about the curse were finally over and that this place can find its deserved rest. But because of the curse the keep is shunned, and many people who have stayed here overnight claim to have seen ghosts and heard strange noises where there aren’t any. The few that have come here in the past years only did so to satisfy their curiosity, nothing more, but the coins they left aren’t enough to keep this place in shape. The castle crumbles, but its legacy still hangs over Skulje, even more so today than years ago when it all began.“
„So you two live all alone here in Skanris?“
„Yes we do, always have done since the old Lord’s death,“ Udvig said from the other end of the table.
„But... Who wrote the invitation then? Where is your master?“ I inquired impatiently. „I’ve come here to do business with the Lord of Skanris, only to learn that he had died dozens of years ago and that you two live here alone ever since. – Would you explain that to me? I don’t care much about this place being haunted, actually I slept quite well last night – but it is time for answers, nevertheless.“
„Oh, I have invited you of course, Fjorek Snimradskun,“ Jovdur explained in a reassuring tone. „Just as I picked you up from the tavern and brought you here. But only on behalf of my master, of course.“ He smiled, obviously proud to be able to present this information to me.
„There is a new Lord then...“ I concluded, relieved.
Jovdur laughed out aloud. „Either that or the old one still knows how to instruct me to do business from his grave...“ His laughter acquired a sarcastic edge. Then he continued, whispering. „But I suggest we let his soul rest in peace, as he was the cause for the ‚curse’ in the first place. I’d be ill advised to listen to the wishes of a dead person whose main achievement was to get the keep cursed.“ Jovdur put his hand on my shoulder. „My master prefers to invite business partners without his consent, Fjorek, I can assure you of that.“
I had to admit that I was glad to hear some common sense speaking here, as well as the prospect of eventually getting to that business for which I had come.
„The villagers don’t think that selling the keep and getting business back here brings any good to Skulje, but what do they know,“ Jovdur continued and shook his head disappointedly.
„You said yesterday that my host isn’t around to welcome me,“ I interjected. „That’s fine, as I see you took great care of me, so my thanks for that. You’ve been very kind. But from the looks of it, not everything is prepared yet for the Lord’s arrival.“ I let my eyes wander around in the dining hall to state my point. Some coat of arms that were attached to the walls were still covered with sheets, a bunch of trunks and crates stood still untouched in the far end corner, obviously waiting to be unpacked.
„So when do you think that we can expect his appearance, Jovdur?“
The caretaker made a halting gesture with his hand. „I hope you aren’t too impatient with it, as admittedly, I cannot say for sure. You have, after all, arrived here quite promptly. I’ve sent word out that you have already come, but it might take at least another day or two I fear, until you can settle your business. – I hope this doesn’t interfere with any of your plans.“
„No, don’t worry,“ I answered, staying polite. „I need a few days off anyway from the dull bookkeeping lately. And besides, there might be a chance now that I get to hear that story about the curse people seem to refer to so often around here.“
„You just might, Fjorek,“ Jovdur agreed with a grin. „How be it if you unpack Let’s say you unpack properly now and after lunch I’ll take you to the spot where it all began. Can’t say fairer than that now, can you?“
„No,“ I responded, smilingly. „After all, once I spy a ghost, I must need to know how to address it properly, don’t I?“
Right after Sunblaze my host guided me outside the keep. I accompanied him down the gravel road which we had traveled up on his cart the other day. It was cold, windy and the air was damp as is common in this region during Fallen Leaf, but I enjoyed the stroll nevertheless.
It was the first time that I actually had the chance to enjoy the Manthrian landscape without having to worry that I might have ended up where I didn’t belong. To the north I had a good view on Skulje, which lay a few strals away from the foot of the hill on which Skanris Keep was built. That little village which had endowed me with such frusttration upon arriving, still evoked a sense of unease in me, that I could hardly shake off. The hills surrounding the village rolled out in all directions, a pleasant sight to the eye, and in the distance one could even spot the Yanth river. Far to the west the murky waters of the Fens of Yanthai were hard to miss, and despite the fact that it was in the midday, the fog seemed to have crept from the Fens all the way up to Skulje and the crashing sea below the keep. Only a few rays of the Injčrá managed to penetrate the the grey sky, but I was thankful for each of them.
„Here we are, Fjorek,“ Jovdur said, and stopped.
I looked around. We still stood very high up the gravel road, a good distance away from the keep’s entrance. Only a few peds further from the road, the hill ended abruptly, forming a cliff when it met the seaside far below. I took a step closer to the cliff and looked downwards, noticing that the height was at least a dizzying fifty peds to say the least. Below the sea was full of large protruding rocks.
„Here, Fjorek!“ Jovdur called me to the other side of the road and pointed to a pile of rocks that had been accumulated there. A slate of stone was placed behind it wtih an engraving of a raven on top of it. Then Jovdur began to recount the tale:
„It was the seventh day of Rising Sun, by now 27 years ago. I know it so well, because it was the Lord’s birthday, the Jorn Margeir Kjorskum’s great feast. And as was the case each year, a simple feast wasn’t enough to celebrate the Jorn, no, only the best was good enough for him. Only the wealthiest merchants and most beautiful ladies were allowed to join the grand festival, this great show of vanity for all those who deemed vanity a virtue themselves.
On that very day the Jorn returned to the keep in his carriage from busniess he had in Ciosa, eager to observe the final preparations for the feast. But as the carriage pulled up the hill, he saw someone sitting there on the side of the road in rugged clothes, with a raven perched on the shoulder. The figure looked up desperately as the coach approached. Instantly the Jorn ordered the coachman to halt the horses and got out of the carriage.
‚By the nine-tailed cat of Minich! How dare you to be here, you miserable scum?’ he shouted, infuriated. ‚Isn’t there enough room anymore in Marcogg for the likes of you? And must you be here just on the day when all my guests arrive for today’s feast? You did that on purpose now, didn’t you, you pitiful creature! But do you think that all the wealthy people I have invited care a damn about you? – Away!’
He grabbed the beggar by the arm and pulled him up. The raven that was sitting on the shoulder croaked agitatedly and flew off.
‚Irkar! The time has come... Don’t leave me alone now!’ a light voice called for the bird.
‚What time are you speaking of, beggar? And you think your feathery companion can help you? Wake up, fool!’ the Jorn sneered and shook the beggar to bring him to his senses.
The hood that had covered the stranger’s face fell back, revealing to Jorn Kjorskum the terrifed eyes of a young woman. Long unkempt hair streamed down around her face, over her shoulders and her breasts. She was trembling at every word the Jorn uttered, as each was vile and violent.
‚Let me go, please let me go!’ the woman gasped, but the grip of the Jorn grew even stronger.
‚Wait...’ he suddenly snarled. ‚Don’t I know you?’ He looked at her again. ‚Yes, it must be – even that Coór-ridden raven is with you! Say, aren’t you the one that the villagers call the ‚Gifted’, the one who can see things that haven’t happened yet, and thus know about people’s deaths by just looking them in the eye? – Now have you found out by now whether it was Seyella or the Thirteenth himself who gave you that gift? Or might I say curse...’ He snorted with laughter. ‚Aren’t you that Gifted One?’
‚Yes, I am gifted,’ the trembling woman replied, still trying to elude the grip of Jorn Kjorskum.
‚Well, what a coincidence then, my dear!’ the Jorn said, his mood changing to amusement. ‚Then your visit surely was for a reason. As it is my birthing day, why don’t you exert your gift as a present, and tell me something about my death? An appropriate ‚gift’, don’t you think? Tell now, when is it my turn to die, and how will it happen, oh Gifted One?’ he said in a mocking tone.
‚I... I...’ the woman stammered. ‚I cannot. I... have seen... that I will... die... today... if I’ll... look into your eye.’ Utter fear suddenly took hold of the woman, she could barely speak and averted her eyes from his.
‚Is that so, my dear? Well, the Goddess of the Scythe harvests every one of us one day, I’ve heard. But I guess you’ve misunderstood what I tried to imply: When I order you to look me in the eye and give me an answer, you must obey me.’ With that Jorn Kjorskum grabbed her with both hands and stared into the woman’s eyes... ‚Now I dare you: Tell me!’
The woman helplessly stared back into the menacing eyes that held her prisoner. For a long moment everything was quiet. Only the wind howled, loud and fierce. And with its whine of melancholy it brought the certainty of death. A raven could be heard croaking twice in the distance.
‚Soon...’ the woman whispered. She was quiet all of a sudden. ‚Soon you will die... Very soon. And you will die because it will be me who will give you your gift of death.’ She was calm now.
‚You fool and wretched macanti! May the Netherworlds devour you!’ Jorn Kjorskum snapped at her, enraged. ‚What do you wish to achieve by lying in my face? You beg in front of my castle and then you are trying to scare me with such a taunting prophecy? – Away, I say, you demon!’
The woman quickly picked up the things she had dropped and moved away from the Jorn now that he had let her go. ‚Forgive me, Jorn, she said, but I am just telling the truth.’
‚The truth you say, you lying wench?’ the Jorn exclaimed, even more furious by her insistence. ‚Then may this truth be your very last one!’ And with that he thrust the woman away from him with all his might.
The wind carried her last chilling scream far, far away when she fell down that cliff. For a brief moment it was as if it had turned into an otherworldly sigh before it vanished altogether. And with her death her first prophecy was fulfilled.
Yet the day was not over, and the Jorn went on to celebrate.“
As Jovdur finished his narration I squatted down to read what was written on the slate he had shown me before. The letters were barely recognizable, but as I removed the dust with my hand it read:
In Memory of The Eye,
„How do you know how all this happened in such detail, Jovdur?“ I asked.
The old man took a step closer. „I was also the Jorn’s coachman at that time, Fjorek.“ His face showed also anger against the Jorn, but also bitterness and self-hatred. „I didn’t help that woman. For a long time I didn’t dare to tell anybody what had happened. I was a coward, obeying my Lord despite I knew about his wrongdoings.“ He shook his head. „So I am guilty as well, and it has gnawed on me ever since. Once the time comes when I will meet the Armourlord, I know that he needs to do justice.“
I looked at Jovdur again and saw the deep sorrow reflecting in his eyes, and in the midst of his helplessness a glint of wrath against the past that he couldn’t change anymore. At the moment he mentioned the Armourlord I remembered where I first had met him the other day in the village – at the shrine of Armeros, where he had tended the flowers. Suddenly I saw the old man in another light and felt sympathy for him. He must have had a heavy load to carry all those years.
„But this is only half of the story, Fjorek,“ Jovdur said, lisping as he always did.
I got up. „Yes, I thought so. What about the curse? And how did your Lord meet his fate?“
„We had best return to the keep for that part,“ Jovdur said. „I sense a storm nearing, and I’d like to show you the ball room, where many of us became witnesses of unexpected revenge from the grave, the same day the Jorn had murdered that woman.“
I looked at him with a mixture of fascination and repulsion, as for a brief instance I felt as if what he was going to tell me in the ball room would change my life forever. Everything Jovdur had told me so far seemed so real, as if I could grab it with my own hands – he had all experienced it himself and had related it to me so vividly. But I quickly discarded my thoughts and followed the caretaker inside. The sky was indeed getting darker, and on the horizon I could see first lightnings flaring up.
„Here the birthday banquet was held,“ Jovdur explained leading me in a vast hall, filled with pompous chandeliers, oil paintings and statues set into the numerous alcoves in the walls. Today most of it was covered with sheets though, as in other rooms of the abandoned keep. „The hall was also used for dancing and amusement,“ the old man continued. „While the guests had their meals, peformers presented their shows for the enjoyment of the visitors. There were jugglers, jesters and dancers here that day.
The musicians played, everybody was merry and the fat nobility devoured course after course as if there were no tomorrow. Most of the men were seriously drunk by now and the jokes that they cracked became more obscene every minute. The young girls that danced to entertain the crowd fled already during their performance as the lustful eyes and grasping hands demanded more. There was a lot of shouting when a maid bumped into an escaping dancer who was chased by a groping hand. A tray went down. Dishes smashed on the floor. A lot of commotion was going on. And then...
As if out of nowhere, there was someone standing in the middle of the room. A light, inhuman voice could be heard: „I too, have a gift for the Jorn.“
The rowdy strains of music died away and with them the noise from the tables. Everyone stared at the strange figure that was waiting like a statue in the middle of the room, completely unmoving, apparently watching the Jorn. The figure wore a wide grey cloak, the face concealed by a hood. As it stood there, bent slightly forward, the long shiny hair dropped nearly to the ground. A staff was resting in one of the bony hands, and on top of it one could see the depiction of a wide open eye.
„I’ve got a present for the Jorn,“ the soft voice repeated calmly as the hall went completely quiet.
„Well, then let’s see it!“ someone shouted to break the awkwardness. The rest of the guests joined the request heatedly, and soon the whole room was aflame with shouts.
But four knocks
with the staff were enough to silence the unruly crowd. One, two, three, four...
Each knock felt like a shovel full of earth thrown on a coffin that already
rested in its grave. It was as quiet as in a tomb again. The Jorn stared with
open eyes at the new visitor, unable to move.
„I took the long voyage back to fulfill my word, Margeir Kjorskum“, the hooded figure said. The voice echoed strangely from the walls, repeating every single word again and again, emphasizing them in a disturbingly irritating way. Then the figure lifted the staff and pointed its end to the Jorn. „Now, thou shalt receive the Eye!“
A sharp gust of wind suddenly blew out of nowhere. The figure’s cloak could briefly be seen bulging menacingly, then the chandeliers and the candles on the tables were extinguished altogether. Only the eye on the end of the staff could be seen, pulsating one last time before it vanished also into nothingness. Darkness reigned.
„Cursed art thou, Margeir Kjorskum!“ the voice rose again in an earth shattering tone. „Cursed art thou, thee and all thy progeny! And cursed be Skanris Keep until it has taken all of thee. Mayst the Eye summon thee and thy own again and again, haunt and entice thee to follow its unrelenting promise, nevermore to let thee go! Mayst thy life be fear and fear once more, until that day thou shalt end thine own life! Thus I curse thee!“
Then it was as if the figure’s robe was taken by the wind and with it the figure itself, as if it had never existed. All that could be seen was something that burst through the windows and the full moon outside briefly revealed the cloak flying off into the night, carried by the wind. It seemed like the sound of heavy wings that could be heard outside and a raven’s repeated croaking, then it all was gone. The visitor from beyond the grave had departed.“
Heavy thunder rolled outside when Jovdur fell silent.
My heart was beating, unnerved by the images the old man had called into my head. My mind, however, rebelled against everything I had heard, pushed it back, far, far away into a dark corner where I wanted it to have it hidden from my awareness. Yet as soon as I thought the threat forgotten, suddenly it was there again, right beside me, here in this room: an unexplainable presence that breathed calmly, but deeply and heavy, a scant step from me – on that very spot the apparition had stood, watching the Jorn... I tried to gather myself and say something, and then...
Shutters banged... once, twice... like a knock from an unknown force... glass splintered... three... four... Curtains blew angrily in the room as if finally freed from their endless role of waiting. The wind howled furiously, screeching like an enraged dragon, leaping rampantly in every corner of the room, savagely tearing covers from the furniture. The sheets that veiled the paintings and statues bulged as if alive, possessed by the unknown. Heavy rain pounded mercilessly into the room.
Surprised by the gust I couldn’t help but to stagger back, feeling lightheaded and helpless all of a sudden, torn by the uncontrolled elemental rage. Lightning struck again and again, revealing windswept trees in the keep’s gardens, and it seemed... a figure or perchance I only thought it to be one. It vanished with the lightning, leaving me aghast and horrfied. I gasped.
„Udvig, quick!“ I heard a shout, and I could see Jovdur’s wife rushing to the window, closing the shutters. She seized a nearby plank and hastily barricaded them.
„I...“ I wanted to say something, to offer my aid, but my knees grew weak and I sunk down, stricken.
„Fjorek Snimradskun!“ I heard Jovdur’s familar lisping voice, first very near, then again, but further away. „Fjorek Snimradskun...“ Then it was gone, and I was engulfed by the eternity of darkness.
When I awoke, I found myself lying in my bed up in one of the keep’s towers. The full moon was shining through the window and a single candle burned on the nightstand, with a bowl next to it. Outside, I noticed, it was quiet again and the storm was now over. Still dizzy, I lifted my head and looked around when I heard something creaking nearby. A face appeared from out of nowhere.
„Fjorek Snimradskun!“ a quiet voice repeated twice, like an echo of the last words I remembered hearing before everything had turned black.
„Udvig...“ I saw the face of Jorduk’s wife and smiled faintly. She was sitting in a rocking chair, and, seeing that I was awake, took my hand.
„For a moment we thought that you were gone...“ she said. „You were covered with the veil of the Kiivosh awhile, but the storm blew it away again. You are a fortunate man, Fjorek. – Do you remember at all what happened?“
„I... I...“ I tried to collect my thoughts. „I don’t know. I saw the window smashing and then I felt something, something odd I have never felt before.“ I paused. I hated to admit it that I might have seen something I had never experienced in my life, so instead I asked the servant. Maybe she could help me with answers. „Udvig, have you ever seen a ghost here in Skanris Keep?“
just dropped my hand and stood up as if she hadn’t heard my question.
„Fjorek Snimradskun, you are still feverish and you need some rest. I
advise you to drink the herb soup I’ve put on your nightstand, this will
help you to get well again. Now sleep well, Fjorek, maybe your host will
arrive tomorrow already, then you need to be in good shape!“ She turned
and walked towards the door.
„Udvig...“ I didn’t want to let her go. I had to know. Too near, too strongly I had sensed a presence, it seemed real in an unexplainable shocking way. „Have you? Have you ever seen a ghost here in Skanris Keep?“ I asked with a hoarse voice.
„No, Fjorek!“ she replied. „No, I have seen no ghost in Skanris Keep. Not since the Jorn’s birthday, and neither has my husband.“ With that she disappeared and left me alone.
I still felt very weak and delirious and didn’t know what to make of Udvig’s answer. So she had seen a ghost on the Jorn’s birthday, she believed in it. Yet, if the place was haunted, why did she say that she hadn’t seen a ghost ever since? But my head started to hurt and I thought that she was right in this measure at least: I needed a good night’s sleep. So I ate Udivg’s soup and then blew out the candle. Little did I know that the night wasn’t meant to be over yet for me.
It must have been around midnight when I startled from my sleep by a harsh cry.
I was drenched in sweat, I was thirsty and it took a while until it dawned on me where I actually was. Images of the past day had swept through my mind incessantly when I was half dozing, half sleeping: the ball room scene, the keep itself, the deadly cliff, the tombstone, the image of the raven on it...
The raven’s cry that had waked me sounded again. I sprang up and there, it was yet repeated a third time. Driven by a sense of forboding I opened the window and looked outside.
A cold breeze enveloped me, and the full moon was still there hanging over the horizon, watching me silently. Far down below the tower I was in, above the cliff, I saw the dark black mass of the sea, sending waves over and over again to the shore. In the moonlight the fog was creeping around the rocks, swirling slowly and gently as if it were performing an elegant dance. It was quiet, though if I listened intently I could hear the crashing of the waves, the rhythmical lulling breath of the sea.
And then I heard it.
It was nearly inaudible at first, but I noticed something that was not only the crashing of the waves. I thought it to be the call of an animal first, but then I knew it: It was a scream. And it came from the sea below, far out there.
My eyes darted about to see the source, but in the fog I could see nothing. For an eyeblink I doubted my hearing when the crashing of the waves seemed to have reconquered the night. But there it was again, a cry from the open sea. The longer I tried to focus on it, the louder the screams became, the more desperate it seemed. Yet, I felt paralyzed by the shock of hearing it, I could neither move nor speak.
Then I saw it.
someone out there, fighting with the sea, waving, shrieking, alive,
struggling for survival. Somewhere in the mist, I glimpsed a hand,
desperately grasping out for rescue, but there was nothing there. There
was only the endless sea, the moon and a silent watcher high up there in
the keep’s tower. It seemed that a hundred thoughts assaulted my mind
simultaneously: It’s too late to help... Do you
really see it?... Is it her?... It is just an illusion, an illusion...
You’re delirious... Is it her?... You’re dreaming... delirious... it’s
her... too late... too late... It’s her... It’s her...
The next morning my head hurt, my bones were aching and my memory was lacking. I awoke huddled against my nightstand with no recollection whatsoever at first what had transpired the night before. Then I slowly began to remember bits and pieces. Did I really see someone shouting for help out at sea? Was it a ghost or a real person? Or was it just a feverish hallucination, a nightmare caused by the images with which the caretaker had confronted me? I had seen that scene so lucidly in the moonlight, everything had seemed so real that I found it impossible now to deny it... I felt confused and frustrated, utterly helpless as I hadn’t been able to save that swimmer – if it had existed at all outside of my mind. A life might have depended on me. I shivered. But concerning the woman from Jovdur’s narration I didn’t know the difference anymore between life and death, between spook and fact. At the same time I tried to convince myself that it could just have been my drowsiness that had brought up those thoughts and my vague fear. Or I was going insane...
As I sat on my bed, I heard voices from the outdoors that grew louder. I peeked out of the window, thinking that my host might finally have arrived, but all I could see were two of the villagers I had encountered at the tavern. They were engaged in a conversation with Jovdur. It didn’t appear to be a pleasant visit, as there was quite an argument going on, and finally both men left, obviously infuriated.
Well, it was just another thing I couldn’t understand right now, but there be a reasonable explanation for it. However, I got a chilling sensation running down my spine at the thought that these men might have found a stranded body this morning. And what I still doubted at the moment could suddenly be revealed to be a shocking truth... Would such a death, similar to the woman who died here, be a coincidence? Or fate?
Feeling healthy enough and ready to get some questions answered I got dressed and descended the staircase from my tower.
„Good morning, Fjorek!“ Jovdur welcomed me down at the hall. „Feeling better already? Did Udvig’s soup help?“
I affirmed this and thanked him for their care. In return I asked about the arrival of my host, and cautiously added a question whether something extraordinary had happened of which I should perhaps be aware of.
„I fear no news yet from the master’s arrival,“ Jovdur said, „but I’m confident that it can only last another day or two. And don’t you concern yourself with the villagers, who you might just have seen. It is nothing that should bother you, believe me. – Come, don’t worry too much, let’s have some breakfast.“ And with that he shoved me into the dining hall.
It appeared to me that the caretaker was purposefully avoiding answering my questions for some reason, but nevertheless I followed him. I still had many things to learn, and today would be the day, I vowed.
While we ate I told Jovdur what I had seen – or dreamed – during the night. He listened intently to my odd narration, and then agreed to accompany me down to the docks to help me investigate. I was expectant, yet scared that there was indeed something to be found there. The purpose of my journey, the arrival of my host and my business I had already forgotten.
Nearly an hour later I had searched the coast as good as thoroughly as I could, but I finally was forced – and somehow relieved – to agree with Jovdur. He had been convinced all along that I wouldn’t find anything. A vast area below the cliff was covered with rocks and difficult to reach, yet there was nothing suspicious to be noticed at all. Jovdur and I both ended up at the only small landing dock at the foot of the keep’s hill, a rowing boat moored to it. I squatted down and looked out at the sea, the fog coming in from the Fens still swirling around spookily.
„No person and no ghost we will find today, I fear, Fjorek,“ the old man remarked, stating the obvious.
„I suppose you are right,“ I answered. „Yet, ghosts probably wouldn’t show up in daylight, or would they? If I have seen the woman who cursed the Jorn, then...“
„You didn’t see the woman who had cursed the Jorn,“ Jovdur objected resolutely. „She didn’t die drowning in the sea, you must know. I found her myself smashed at the rocks below the cliff, and it was I who layed her in a coffin in the keep’s crypt, unbeknownst to the Jorn back then. She rests now next to her murderer, and his dead wife and children. The curse felled them, sacrificed them to her, until the keep had extinguished the former master himself and everything became abandoned here. Nobody wanted to live in a cursed castle anymore.“
„You still haven’t told me how they died, Jovdur. Did the woman’s ghost appear again to those she killed?“
„No, there was not need to. She had given her gift to the Jorn and his family and had cursed the keep. And so the keep took them. The Eye took them, guided them to their own death.“
„What do you mean by that? How did it all happen exactly?“ I wanted to know.
„Days after the Jorn’s celebration and the visit of the unwelcome visitor I noticed a considerable change in him. While he had been dominant, short-tempered, selfish and vile before, he now was anxious, cautious, caring and even sympathetic – or he attempted to be.
He told me one day why: Because he somehow knew in his mind how he would die, just as the woman that had cursed him had known the circumstances of her own death. Yet she hadn’t been able to escape it. And so from time to time the Jorn had a vision as well where he could watch through his own eyes how he was tying the knot on a rope to form a sling, which he then put around his neck. He recounted to me in horrifying detail how he would hang himself from a beam right outside his bedroom’s window up in the tower, how he would look down on the people gathering below before everything became dark.
I must add that he laughed these thoughts and visions off initially. He also didn’t particularly feel remorse or guilt about what he had done. The Twelve and their teachings regarding how men should treat each other were mere inconveniences for him and so he simply avoided them. When asked what he thought about the gift of the Eye and his visions he brushed it away. He seemed determined to see the ghost’s appearance as a scare of whatever macanti had managed to pull off such a bad joke, and he said that it worked in a way, as his mind was always thinking about the gift of the Eye. Thus he explained why the thought about his own death and that he would be his own executioner was always present. – Yet he was not the only one who had received the gift.“
Jovdur sighed and took a deep breath. „Not too long after the Jorn’s infamous birthing day he planned to go on a long promised hunting trip with his two sons. They were twins in their seventeenth cycle and he loved them both dearly.
But only a few days before that trip I remember that Anvin said to his brother that he had had a dream in which he shot a stag. When he pulled the beast out of the undergrowth on its antlers, he startled, as he saw that it was actually his brother Thorrans. Thorrans laughed when he heard that story, as he said that his brother had recounted his own dream, in which the beast turned out to be Anvin. He then accused his brother of having overheard him telling the dream to someone else and, not liking its outcome, twisted the ending and claimed the dream for himself.
The Jorn, as far as I know, didn’t hear about these dreams. Off he went, hunting with his sons. But back he brought two dead bodies. I can see this disastrous image right before my eye: An arrow was protruding from Thorran’s chest and another one had pierced Anvin’s neck. Brother had shot brother, thinking the other to be game. The Lord Kjorskum was shocked as was Lady Hranre, whose hair turned white that very night when she received the news of the fatal accident. The villagers of course started to talk about the curse that had hit Skanris Keep, and very soon it would strike again.
One day in Sleeping Dreameress, Lady Hranre was walking with me along the battlements of the keep. We inspected the gardens from above in order to talk about the arrangements of the plants that were to be prepared for the next season. It was Lighttrive and a wonderful day, yet the Lady was still grieving about the loss of her sons, and her thoughts were often elsewhere. I remember that she didn’t talk much and mostly agreed to my proposals. When we went up the southern tower, she suddenly broke out in tears when she looked down. One of the maids tried to comfort her, thinking that the memory of her lost sons had hit Lady Hranre all of a sudden. But the Lady said that she was beyond help, and that it wasn’t about her sons. Then she pointed downwards and made a terrified scream:
‚Can’t you see?’ she said hysterically.
The maid and I looked down, but we didn’t know what she was talking about. We looked at each other questioningly.
‚That woman there... That woman which is lying there... She is dead!’ Lady Hranre seemed to be confused. We looked down again, but we couldn’t make out any woman in the courtyard. ‚It is me...’ she shrieked.
And the third time we looked... – by the Twelve!“
Jovdur paused and shook his head. „Yes, Fjorek,” he lisped. „Whether she jumped to her death on purpose or it was the vision of the Eye that drew her to her fate – well, it matters not as the outcome was the same. But another part of the prophecy had come true.
The Jorn at least, he finally accepted the curse. As at the hour of Lastflame on that same day that his wife had fallen to her death, the Jorn was hanging on that beam outside his bedroom window. Below the servants gathered running around nervously, pointing and shouting – and it was just the way he had seen it through the gift he had received.“
Jovdur looked at me thoughtfully. „And now you know why ever since people have avoided the keep. Many still believe in a curse on the keep, even though the Jorn and his wife and sons are all gone now.“
„You and your wife believe that the deaths were all the curse’s doing?“ I asked.
„Why wouldn’t we believe in it? I’ve seen the woman before and after her death, I’ve made her gravestone. I’ve accompanied every single one of her victims to the family crypt. This I owe her.“
„And what about the spook I saw last night? Do you think the castle’s still haunted in a way despite the Jorn is dead already? How and why could that be? Are the spirits of the dead still haunting the living?“
„I’m sorry, Fjorek,“ Jovdur replied dryly. „But you said yourself that you felt delirious yesterday and I know for sure that you had a high fever in the evening when I brought you up to your bed. Also those people who once in a while visit the keep bring the ghosts themselves, I tell you. If you expect to live in a haunted castle, you might also think to see a proof that the ghost really exists...“
„I hear you, Jovdur,“ I said. „Thanks for being so direct with me. Others might have called me outright crazy upon listening to my story.“
„Ah, you mustn’t believe that, Fjorek,“ Jovdur lisped and turned around. „But excuse me now, I need to get back to making further preparations for my new master’s arrival. I’ll see you later then.“ He bowed and left me back with my thoughts, watching the waves of the sea rolling to the shore, again and again.
Later that day I started writing these pages. I thought that the wait for the arrival of the new Lord provided me with ample time to put together that story about the curse of Skanris Keep. And above all, reflect on it somewhat objectively. The whole tale has its interesting, yet unsettling moments which a ghost story needs and will catch the attention of an audience if recounted properly, of that I’m sure. I have a few friends, among them a storyteller and also a respected scholar of the Starcharts Astrendum, maybe they know better of what to make of that curse than I did in my feverish delirium.
But yes, I’ve come to the conclusion that this was all that there was to it when I saw the apparition out there at night – a hallucination caused by my own sickness. My mind just was too occupied with what I had heard. So even I, a born skeptic, for a moment fell for that curse story. Unlike the old Jovdur, who actually claims to have seen it all, I still don’t believe in the make-believe „facts“ of what was going on. The Jorn might have been right that a macanti played a trick on him on that birthday feast. And the deaths of the whole Kjorskum family? Well, these could have been accidents, coincidences that were taken for fate and led to other devastating consequences. Folk tales draw their superstitions from the weirdest sources, and this is what ghost stories are basically made of. Maybe the dreams Jovdur told me about were fabricated afterwards, or Jovdur interpreted them that way later. It is interesting to know however that this particular tale dates back no more than a few decades, so the memory of the people should be still fresh...
I admit, there are some questions that remain unanswered. But anyway, I’m looking forward to discuss these fascinating happenings maybe with the new Lord soon, and of course with my friends while having dwarven ale sometime later.
This night something entirely unexpected happened.
Having spent most of the day writing, I went to bed at Dark Reign, the 18th hour of the day. After dinner Jovdur and his wife had withdrawn early to their quarters, so I continued working on my notes a while up in my room. Unfortunately there still was no sign of the Lord’s arrival yet, nor had we received a message from him, so I finally went to bed in hopes that tomorrow would be the day.
Not long after I had blown out the candles on my nightstand, I heard a strange, scratching noise. It clearly came from the outside and was repeated after a while, again and again. Then it appeared to me as if I heard blankets being beat by the wind, and then... – there were four loud knocks. It was at that moment that I sprang up and rushed to the window, opening it.
A gust of wind hit my face, but more shocking was what I saw: Just a few peds in front of me, standing on the roof of the building facing my tower there was that figure. While halfway hidden by shadows, the moonlight nevertheless illuminated enough of it, so that I could recognize the grey cloak, the long flowing hair and the staff it was holding. It stood there, unmoving, staring at me. I gasped. The cold night’s air convinced me that I was not dreaming.
„What...“ I stared at the figure disbelievingly.
„Come to me...“ a hoarse voice croaked. „Come... I’ll be waiting...“ And then the figure disappeared from my view, melting with the shadows.
Quick-wittedly I threw a jacket over my shoulders and dashed out the room, running down the stairs. When I tried to get out of the tower I noticed that the door was locked from the inside. However, the key was hanging right beside it, so I grabbed it immediately, unlocked the door and was already on my way towards the abandoned building where I had seen the haunting figure on the roof. But it wasn’t necessary to go in.
The figure was already standing in the doorway.
„I commend you, Fjorek... I am pleased to meet you.“ And with that the figure lifted the hood from its face...
„Aimen!“ I shouted.
It was the youth from the village. It was he who had led me into the tavern a couple of days ago before Jovdur had picked me up. And now he... I had no words, just stared at him and the ridiculous costume he was wearing. „What –...? How –...? Why?“ I desperately tried to find ways to express myself and failed miserably.
„Ssssh...“ Aimen whispered. „I hope we didn’t make too much noise. Come, we need to talk!“ He led me inside the building from which he had appeared. „It’s safe to talk here, we must avoid bein’ heard by the caretaker at all costs.“
Reluctantly I followed him in. I looked around first, as I wasn’t sure what to expect from an uninvited midnight visitor in a ghost’s robe. He seemed to be alone, however, and appeared sincere in his desire to speak with me. And as the shock wore off, I was angry – very angry.
„What are you trying to pull off here?“ I inquired furiously once we were inside.
„I needed to get ye out of the tower, Fjorek. Ye need to understand. The caretaker wouldn’t let us in this mornin’ to talk to ye, and he has locked the door at night so that I couldn’t sneak in either. But by breaking the lock to this buildin’ I managed to get up right before ye window and draw ye attention to me.“ Aimen recounted his story as if it were the most usual thing in the world he could have done to get in contact with me.
„So? Even if this might be the case that Jovdur doesn’t want you around here, I still do not see why you saw fit to dress like this,“ I argued doubtfully, still angry for the fright he had given me.
„To scare ye if ye wanted it that way,“ Aimen added mysteriously. Then he explained it further. „See, I thought, either ye don’t believe in the curse – then ye would try to hunt that person down. I am glad ye did, as that’s why I can talk to ye now. I lured you out, lad. On the other hand I thought: If you believe in it, then the apparition of the Lady with the Eye gives ye a good argument to leave this place. – Either way, that’s what I’ve come to tell ye, Fjorek: Go, while you still can!“
I raised an eyebrow. „I remember you told me this already back in the tavern, haven’t you? So why risk getting in here? What more should I fear that you haven’t told me yet?“
„That we believe that the caretaker is a murderer.“
„Jovdur? You must be joking!“ I exclaimed, waving the allegation off instantly. I didn’t know the man that well after these few days, but it seemed impossible to me to picture him strangling or stabbing someone. „Who do you say he has murdered?“
„The Jorn Margeir Kjorskum. And his wife and perhaps even his children, over a score of years ago now.“ Aimen seemed certain.
„How could that be?“ I asked perplexed.
„I’m sure he has told ye the whole story about the curse, it’s all he is talkin’ about, isn’t it? But many villagers think that the tale is just fabricated and that a macanti actually helped him to make things appear as if that woman had actually returned from the dead.
I wasn’t even born back then when it happened, Fjorek, but this is what the elders related to me: That Jovdur spoke of the dreams of the Jorn’s sons only once they were dead to make it appear as if the curse were the reason for the accident. And he might have pushed the Jorn’s wife down that tower himself, just as the Jorn supposedly shoved this unfortunate woman down the cliff. Afterwards it was easy to claim that Lady Hranre had seen her dead self down there before she died, and people would see it as a proof of the machinations of the Eye. – And the Jorn? Well, he wasn’t liked very much, and whether he really had these visions about his own death, only Jovdur knows, as it was him he trusted the most...“
„That is quite a speculation you have put together...But what would he have gained by committing such hideous crimes?“ I wanted to know.
„I can’t say, Fjorek, if it is true, then it is still his secret. Nobody could prove the things I told ye about, mind ye, but the rumours haven’t ceased since he lives in this keep. The people shun him. I thought ye ought to know, as ye have been his only visitor in years.“ Aimen looked at me pleadingly. „Please, ye must flee! We tell the people who want to go up there that the castle is cursed, this keeps them away usually, but ye wouldn’t hear us. The caretaker is a madman and a liar.“
„Well, thanks for your concerns, though I consider them unfounded and as murky as that curse story. I’m not here on a vacation nor to visit the caretaker, Aimen, I’m here to do business with the new Lord of the keep, who should arrive any moment.“
„See, this is why I finally did come,“ Aimen retorted. „Has this Lord ye speak of arrived yet?“
„Not yet, but in the letter I received he suggested to come as quickly as possible. Apparently, I was too early, or else the Lord is delayed.”
„Fjorek, there is nobody in the village who knows of a new Lord of Skanris Keep. And rest assured, we would know if someone were to arrive soon. The head of Skulje would need to be informed, ye’d see people makin’ arrangements and transportin’ stuff. None of these things have happened. The caretaker is lyin’. And while I don’t know why he brought ye here, I would be very careful in his presence.“
Aimen opened the door of the building we were hiding in and peeked out. Then he pointed to my tower window.
„See?“ Above the window a beam was protruding.
„What about that beam?“
„Ye’ve got the Jorn’s chamber, Fjorek...“
Aimen had left and my head was spinning. All this guesswork made me insecure, doubtful and challenged me how to progress after everything I had experienced.
Could it really be that the curse was just an invention and that Jovdur hid an even darker secret? If he had just made up the curse in order to pursue a certain goal, then why would he drag me here to do business with a Lord that didn’t exist, years and years after it all happened? It didn’t make sense to me. If the curse was fake, then did that woman who the Jorn supposedly killed exist at all? Jovdur was the only one who had witnessed her death... Or did she die in another way than the caretaker made everyone believe and there is more to the curse’s fabrication than meets the eye...
I was still standing outside, lost in thought. At the very moment I started to return to my chamber again, I heard the scream.
I spun around and ended up looking towards the archway in the keep’s outer wall. There a passage led down to the docks where I had searched for a stranded body in the morning, but had found none. It was spookily foggy again out at sea, and I shivered. The screams came from the sea, unintelligible, yet loud, and there were also these unmistakable noises of someone fighting with the water, drowning, just like the night before. It must have been around the same time as well, it realized.
I ran down the stairs to the docks, where I knew a rowing boat was moored. I jumped in, untied it, and frenetically started to row towards the screams. I clearly saw a person out there when I started rowing, but I didn’t get very far. The screams had suddenly ceased.
I paused and
listened with bated breath for a hint as to in which direction I should
continue rowing, dipping the oars just slightly into the water to be able
to turn the boat immediately. Nothing. All was quiet again, dead quiet.
Maybe I was too late this time. Then I heard croaking out of nowhere, the
croaking of a raven, and heavy wings beating. I looked up, but whatever
had been there a moment ago was now swallowed by the night.
I have not given up, but I’m close to it. The incidents last night at first made me dubious about my host, but then I began to believe for sure that the place is haunted when I saw that drowning person for a second time. I cannot quite explain it, but there is a secret lingering here I have yet to unveil. I appreciate Aimen’s concern, and there are some indicators that Jovdur has not told me everything he knows. But is he mad? No, he seems to be a dutiful, correct, even pious man who cares for the Armourlord’s shrine. Would he do me harm? I don’t think so. There is no reason for it, and he has treated me well. Why should he call me to this place if he knew that there is no Lord to arrive? I doubt it.
The villagers have their own point of view on the matter of course. Superstition is a good source for these people as it helps to come up with a good tale in order to simply deny what one cannot explain. Like a ghost story, which we seem to have here. Ha, I’m already sounding like a defender of something I cannot explain myself! Yes, I admit, it is strange. But no, despite all bad omens, I won’t leave Skanris Keep today. I’ve taken precautions to defend myself for today, and tomorrow I’ll be gone should my business partner still not arrive. And it does not seem that way.
Certainly I spoke with Jovdur today, and I looked at him in another light, but I couldn’t see a murderer. I tried to keep the conversation brief, however, didn’t mention anything that might have hinted the villagers’ suspicions, and withdrew at the first opportunity to my room. I needed time anyway to get all those things down on paper which I had experienced these days. It was a calm day, the calmest day so far.
After dinner Jovdur visited my room and we had a short talk. I tried to ask him again about that ghost I had seen in the sea.
„You really don’t believe that the keep is haunted?“ I wanted to know again.
„Believe what you want. Go out there and meet that ghost yourself if you’re so sure,“ he said, but I got the impression he knew more than he wanted to admit. Maybe the key lay out there at sea.
„Perhaps I will,“ I said. „Yet I cannot stay much longer here in Skanris, Jovdur, as much as I would like to,“ I said. „You say your master will arrive anytime, but if he cannot keep his promises, I’ll have to go back to Marduran.“
„My master will keep promises,“ Jovdur replied. I must admit that his certainty was somewhat irritating.
„But if I leave, you will tell your master that he has to seek me out himself?“
Jovdur agreed. „But you won’t leave,“ he stated in the lisping voice I got so used to by now. “You won’t leave…” That was all he said, and it helped to utterly confuse me. Then he left.
A few hours have passed since then and my things are packed now. First thing in the morning I will leave. I do not trust anyone around here anymore, not Aimen, not Jovdur, nor this mysterious Lord that never appears. And that gifted woman and her curse? Ghost or not, pushed from the cliffs or drowned at sea, I have no answers. Maybe I’m not supposed to and am just a pawn in a game I do not understand. I will have to go. I have no choice – maybe I risk too much already by staying here, not knowing my chances. I won’t, no I cannot stay a day longer. There only remains one more thing to do in order to satisfy my thirst for knowledge and it lies out there, at sea.
Yes, tonight is the night. Before I leave, this one thing I need to do. There’s a storm approaching, but I am set to meet whatever awaits out there. Two times I’ve seen this mysterious figure screaming desperately for help, two times it escaped my investigation, but it will not a third time. I’ll get to the bottom of it, no matter what – be it the spirit of a haunted dead or someone trying to fool me, or maybe I’ll discover that it’s really just my mind playing tricks on me. So be it, I’ll take the challenge! – I’ll be at the dock tonight and will get out in time to face the mystery and confront it. Skanris Keep has fooled me long enough...
And despite the wind whipping the waves, lightning striking and thunder rolling, he set out in his boat, determination showing with every stroke of his oars. An eerie scene it was to behold indeed. The crescent moon bathed the silhouette of the desolate midnight traveler in a magical light, the fierce wind was gusting wildly through his hair. Did he find what he was looking for? Yes, my friend, he did, eventually he did. – Ah, I can almost hear a good storyteller pick up the tale and recount it with a sonorous voice to the audience’s delight!
Yes, finally! My business is done here and I am glad and relieved it is over now. Admittedly, it took its time, a lot of patience of course and necessary research until I could be sure, very sure. But all this time I have not given up to pursue why I’ve stayed here. However, the occurrences of tonight have confirmed my suspicions and my hopes to finally put an end to it. A dark chapter is now sealed. I’m making preparations to leave this place this very moment, and with it I’ll leave behind these pages as a testament so that you can judge my soul, as the Armourlord will do one day.
So yes, I’ve heard them. It was difficult but it is a humble servant’s duty to remain silent while the storm swept over his boat, burying him in his wet tomb. Yes, I’ve heard them – the final screams of that unfortunate bastard of our Jorn, drowning out there in the Skanris sea. Brought home finally to meet his fate.
Long forgotten was the Jorn’s rape of that poor girl down there on his trip to Klinsor. But old Jovdur never forgets, old Jovdur knows where his loyalty lies. Yes, that poor girl had given birth to a son. As innocent as the child appeared, the blood of the barbarous Jorn was in him. Oh, how it hurt all those years seeing him destroy a life in an instant... And then another one: I can never forget that image of the cruel murder when he lashed out at one more defenseless woman and tossed her down the cliffs. As if her life was just a nuisance, an inconvenience that needed to be pushed out of the way, not worth mentioning. I was paralyzed with fear as I watched an existence being extinguished while the Jorn continued to enjoy to party.
Yet how thankful I was when the Gifted One returned that same night! With her bony hand she reached out from the grave to bring an end to the Jorn’s name through her curse, and with each body I laid in the crypt I felt pleased and thankful that this root of evil was being eradicated from Caelereth. Each one of them saw their deaths through their own eyes first, just like my new Mistress had wished – and thus they lived the last days of their lives in pain and horror. Though I knew that my Mistress still wasn’t utterly pleased when the Jorn hung himself and it became quiet in Skanris. I understood that it would be my task to fulfill finding the very last of the cursed progeny, as only I knew the whole truth. And I vowed that I would rest not until I brought him home to where he belonged.
Years have passed since then, many, many years, but the time has eventually come and my efforts have paid off. As innocent and unknowingly as his unscrupulous father’s victims, I have lured the Fjorek here to face the Eye and pay for his father’s unforgetable misdeeds. And pay he did. Indeed, the Mistress recognized him and endowed him with the gift to finish what she has began a long, long time ago. However, he was blind to see his doom knocking again and again as the staff of my Mistress struck the floor at the Jorn’s feast. – But was there ever a choice?
Fjorek’s soul rest in peace now that he has lifted the curse from Skanris
Keep. Old Jovdur will pray for
Ghost story written by by Artimidor Federkiel