The view was in no doubt called the Ygerne Ridge. A crumbling cliff dotting the landscape with lush meadows and sweet-smelling flowers. Named after the famous goddess of serenity, Ygerne Ridge was his favorite spot to visit when he needed a refuge from his haunted past.
How did he end up here?
Stefan wondered as a shrilling sound whispered beside him. It wasn’t a call of distress but the mournful cry of the night echoing through him.
Now what did Daemeon do?
He knew what happens when the sun rises and when the clock strikes twelfth at night. The fates have called it the possession – a magickal spell which can only be broken through the witches’ congregation.
“It would turn you forever to a phantom,” Amaris once said to him when he tried to break the curse using his powers.
Powers that made him a fearsome High Lord. Formidable at day, yet powerless at night. He endured every time his skin peels off, his soul leaving his body for Daemeon to possess – the Demon Prince he wanted to kill for centuries.
Frustrated with Amaris and her attempts at consoling him, he remembered the skip of his heartbeats when he told her something he never acknowledged before.
“If you really care about Gwydion, you’ll help me find a way through this. Isa’s still naïve about it while Branwen speaks like the matron that should’ve been you!”
It was the first time Amaris gave him her murderous stare. Ready to pounce and kill him if only she had her moonshine.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Stefan,” gritted Amaris, gnashing her teeth from the provocation. “It wasn’t my fault you loved her. Even I couldn’t explain why Gwydion chose you,” the goddess snorted with vehemence as she continued. “A loyal knight to King Celeaon – your spiteful king who hated our kind. How Gwydion fell in love with you, gods forbid. Unfathomable, isn’t it? She trusted you with her heart!”
The latter slapped him like a cold bucket of water. Amaris made it clear – the fates no longer wanted to involve their selves with him.
"I cannot help you anymore, Stefan. We will look for other ways to summon the moon and we’re going to do it without you.”
From that moment on, Amaris and the fates did not visit Mudwick for many nights. Stefan knew that their coming back to the castle was not a coincidence.
The fates refused his orders undoubtedly - errands that will lead them to Gwydion and the moon. Two important things he needed to break the curse of possession.
Yet, despite knowing the motive behind his plans, the fates still rallied against him and shadowed it with lies. Marriage, prognostications – rituals that the fates were known for.
“Damn!” He cried to the wind and walked towards the tip of the cliff. Soft grass slicked his boots with the morning dew as the salty air filled his nostrils.
When the sun had slowly burned his skin, he turned to trudge the remaining steps to Mudwick. It welcomed him in a quiet embrace as he approached with a weary stare.
He raised a hand and a burst of light zapped out, coalescing and crawling from him.
No one answered.
“Where are you?” Stefan called again as dust and motes floated around him, the old butler nowhere to be seen.
He sprinted to the kitchens and found nothing but pots and jars. He went out and took the stairs to the drawing room, the doors closing with a deafening crash.
Before he could raise his hand to open another door, a shadow caught the corner of his eyes.
He turned and realization dawned on him as he said, “I know you’re there, Greta.”
Chocolate eyes shaped like a feline’s greeted him. Greta leaned herself on a column a few feet away. Dressed in a tattered blouse and rumpled skirt, her lavender musk filled his nostrils with ease – rendering him speechless and rooted to his spot.
“Where were you off to last night, Mr. Dark Pants?” Greta jeered with her brows raised and pursed lips.
“Nowhere,” he replied as he turned his back on her and traced the steps towards the foyer.
“Something fired up your pants?” Greta asked sarcastically.
Stefan dropped the mockery instead and descended the stairs in conjunction with Greta who walked beside him.
“It’s nothing that could bother you. I told you to wait before I fetch you in your quarters. And where’s Erik?”
Both of them halted when they reached the end of the staircase – the tips of their shoulders almost touching. Too near, the High Lord admitted quietly.
“I haven’t seen him since last night. He brought dinner to my room and now he’s gone. Poof!” Greta clenched and opened her palm in front of him.
A nuisance of a woman. Is she testing my temper this morning? He scoffed inwardly, ignoring Greta’s sarcastic reply.
“Did you happen to see anything unusual so far? Anyone who could have told you about Erik?”
Silence answered him. Greta pondered for seconds and confessed, “I did remember someone. He called himself Damon, er, Daemeon? Who is he, pray tell?”
The provoking word perplexed the High Lord. If he told her the truth about him and Daemeon and his marriage plans, Greta would ran away from him. He then chose the easy route.
“Did you know that Mudwick has been closed to the villagers for years? No one visits the castle because of tourists vanishing like smoke.”
Greta gasped in surprise, a startling response compared to her odd behavior before. “I don’t know, but I should get-“
“No,” Stefan grasped her wrist as he explained, “I’ll help you get to the village. You can still get out of here unscathed.”
“What are you talking about?”
Stefan let go of her wrist as Greta’s forehead scrunched in confusion. Hesitation tore him like a sharp knife. He paced the small expanse of the landing and halted in front of Greta again.
With a sigh, he shook his head and declared, “I’m talking about murder, Greta. The man you met, Daemeon, he’s an enemy. The reason why I closed Mudwick to the villagers and tourists a long time ago.”
“Well, nothing’s better than a man proclaiming himself the true master to a man in denial. If so, why did Daemeon appear to me last night? He's MIA right now so what happened to him? How about my car then?”
“Erik said the damage was irreparable. I’m afraid you’ll have to walk around Bellevedere from now on,” The High Lord said as if he was explaining how the sun came to be. “It’s a miracle you haven’t died from the accident. Erik told me that your automobile stopped a hand’s span away from the cliff’s ledge.”
Greta paced in agitated steps, ignoring her own doubts as anxiety grew in her mind. “Now what am I going to do? The ship bound for the Old World will depart in two days. I can’t stay here any longer.”
Ideas ran through Stefan’s mind. Before he could speak, Greta already took a few steps away from him.
He wouldn’t let it happen. Greta peaked him like no other female tourist who got lost in his castle before. They were juveniles - women who sought petty thrills and rejoiced with the mystery shrouding Mudwick. Little did they know that the High Lord they wanted to meet had secrets of his own too.
Stefan sighed as his sky blue eyes followed Greta’s movements. Sprinting towards her, he pleaded, “Wait! Greta, you need to know something.”
Something struck his senses, aware of the consequences if he told her truth. With no other choice about the matter, he spoke against his mind.
“I have a proposition. If you please, let me help you get to the village. You haven’t known Bellevedere for a week, and now you’re quite eager to leave?”
The air grew palpable as Greta stepped towards him and capitulated, “Fine.”
Stefan raised a corner of his lips and stared at Greta’s brown eyes, wondering where did the vexing, whiny mortal went. “Fine?”
He crossed his arms in front of his chest and smiled. Surprised with his strange response, he lowered his head and asked gently, “What can I do to persuade you?”
She didn’t finish what she was going to say. Stefan already reached out to her. He snaked his hands around her waist and hefted Greta up his shoulders.
“Hey! Put me down, you insufferable oaf!”
Stefan quaked with amusement, shoulders shaking from the tumult of persuasion and laughter. Her derogatory remarks stopped when Stefan decided not to affront her with more sarcasm. He simply carried Greta to the foyer, ornate tiles lining the floor he walked on. Greta’s paper-thin weight left him unbothered as he put her down beside the door.
“I’m offering you an opportunity Greta. I’ve never done this to a mortal before. So please, let me help.”
Silk cloth rustled as Greta straightened her long skirts. She raised her chin in a poor attempt at defiance and said, “Alright. I won’t ask anything stupid of you again. Where to, Mr. Dark Pants?”
Stefan felt something pricked him. Like a thorn to one of the roses grown by Erik in the gardens.
It was then he realized that there was something at work here and he wanted to know what.
For now, he would persuade the mortal before him.