High Lord Stefan walked back to the castle as the sun slowly retired. Halting his tracks, he tilted his head to the sky and realized that something was amiss. The round figure above felt invisible last night.
Where did the moon went?
No wonder the goddesses were begging him to use marriage as the last resort. If the moon completely disappeared, the congregation would follow. If it ceased, then Bellevedere would slowly die - turned into a home for dangerous creatures, and Mudwick castle would choose its rightful master.
High Lord Stefan then needed to act quick. As he walked through Mudwick’s corridors, he felt an unnerving shadow behind his back. He turned his head then took his steps lightly as he ignored the invisible creature stalking him, ready to possess his body yet again when midnight approaches.
After a few series of knocks, he opened the door to the lady’s chamber only to have found it empty.
“Erik!” He screamed as his voice echoed through the walls like a lost whisper stuck in a seashell for years.
The old man trudged the narrow staircase before he bowed to the High Lord as he demanded, “Where did she go? I thought you said she would be waiting here for me.”
“The young lady was there where I left her earlier, master.”
Dumbfounded with Erik’s response, Stefan went to inspect the chamber when his eye caught a billowing cloth hanging outside the tall, glass windows.
“Are you sure she didn’t get away that far, Erik?”
“Her random musings earlier assured me that she would wait for you here. I was not aware that she was concealing a plan to escape.”
High Lord Stefan stepped back as he clutched his cloak tighter. He would find her and then what?
“Stay here Erik, I’ll search for her in the forest. Holy sakes, that woman is really bothering me. Can’t she just hold her ground?”
Erik’s lips twitched out of amusement. The last time he saw the High Lord talked about a woman, he was in a tragic mess.
The mystical forest of Bellevedere held a quiet ritual every night, except when the High Lord entered it. Owls hooted in their nests and fireflies began to enlighten the wide expanse of trees, as if answering the calls of his mysterious powers.
High Lord Stefan was not a stranger to this forest. In fact, more than once, the strangest things happened in its very grounds. Witches and their congregation. Enchantments and keening voices from rituals spoken could be faintly heard, even in Mudwick castle.
While listening to his boots crunching the fallen pine needles, he perked when he heard the snarls followed by a scream he knew was that of the young woman.
As he neared the clearing where the beast slowly inched itself to the lady, he drew his sword and swung the blade making a metallic noise in the air.
“Come at me, beast, she is a guest.”
The beast gathered his haunches and stared at him in the eye. When he realized that the intruder to his attack was not a mortal, he leapt towards the deepest parts of the forest and left the quivering woman lying in the ground.
High Lord Stefan approached the lady with caution and wrapped his arms around her waist. Her head lolled in his shoulder as he carried her back to the castle.
The bedchambers were more lavish than anything else in the Mudwick castle. High Lord Stefan didn’t expect that these luxuries would look more enchanting with the young woman inside it.
He leaned his back against the wall beside the bed and stared yet again at the woman. When she slowly opened her eyes and tried to speak, the High Lord spoke to her first, “Are you planning on escape again? Because the next time you do, I won’t be there to kill that beast.”
“You sound so sure, and we’re not even properly introduced-“
“The name’s Stefan. I trust that the accommodations are to your liking now, unless you want Erik to set up another table in that hideous healer’s room.”
“Lucky you, I’m not a fan of dirt and antiseptics. To ease your worry and since you’ve mentioned it, I’m Greta.”
“I told you to wait until I ask Erik about the automobile. Yet, here we are, arguing in nonsense and trying to pull each other down.”
“So what do you propose then, Mr. High Lord?” Greta arched her eyebrow as she crossed her arms around her chest.
“I will accompany you to Allafech.”
“Change of heart? Lord Stefan, from what I can tell right now, you’re just waiting for the opportunity to force me to get out of this castle. No worries, okay? I never liked this Mudwick, and I am more than willing to go to Allafech as soon as possible.”
Stefan nodded in agreement. He cannot yet tell her the plaguing question in his mind. Marry her to protect the Mudwick castle and restore the congregation? It was never that simple.