THE SMALL TOWN of Eaeyndale was always bustling with new people. Even though it had a small percentage of people who actually lived within the town borders, there was always new faces to see and people to meet. Eaeyndale was built upon tourism.
Situated close to the cold waters of the sea, most of the town bordered large limestone cliffs. The buildings were mainly made of rough, grey stones, and old enough that moss grew on the walls. The streets were still lined with cobblestones, the street lights more akin to lanterns.
About two miles west of the town, there were the old ruins of a medieval castle. The name had long been forgotten and was justly called the ‘Ruins of Beauty’. It had once been beautiful, that much was clear. But no more so.
This was just one of the many things people came to see when they travelled to Eaeyndale. They would come to visit the quaint town, rich with history and beautiful in scenery. Many looked for adventure. Some came for the world-renowned food found at Cafe de Eaeyndale, which had almost caused a feud between the inhabitants of Eaeyendale when it started, decades ago. How could one start a French cafe in an old Gaelic town?
(Later on, many would wryly point out that the town was hardly Gaelic, and the cafe was decidedly not French. But back then, families were more hotblooded than they were today.)
The summers in Eaeyndale was when the town was at its busiest; those were gloriously sunny, happy days. The winters were not as busy, with heavy rains beating against walls and windows. The wind would whip the waves into a frenzy, crashing them against the cliffs.
It was on a wintery day that Lilly-Ann Martz found herself walking down Main Street. She had come into town, walking the mile from the cabin her family owned. The wind would forcefully slap raindrops against her face, and her eyelashes were frantically trying to keep water from hitting her eyes.
But she cared not for the weather, as harsh as it was. She cared not for the chill seeping into her bones, nor the strange looks she received from the people she passed along the street. Her mind was on what had happened on her walk to town.
When she left home, it had been a peaceful day. But by the time she reached the Ruins of Beauty, she was almost soaked through. Back then she’d cared about the weather, and sought shelter in the broken castle.
It had been empty as usual until whispers echoed throughout the halls. They weren’t clear, but the sound had sent chills racing across Lilly-Ann’s skin. She had been tempted to run away, had her logical brain not told her to stay put.
And then she’d seen her.
Lilly-Ann had stood in the middle of a partially covered room, watching the rain and ignoring the whispers. But then she’d experienced the sudden feeling of being watched. Slowly turning around, she found herself face to face with a girl. A red-headed girl about Lilly-Ann’s own age, beautiful and regal, but with no expression on her face.
After staring at one another, the red-headed girl slightly cocked her head to the side as she said; “I have not seen anyone here on a day such as this since a hundred years before.”
Lilly-Ann stared at her for a few seconds more, before she stammered an answer. “E-excuse me?”
The girl looked past Lilly to the rain. “It’s always busy here, full of people. But no one comes the day I am allowed to roam the halls.” She abruptly looked back at Lilly.-Ann “I am no ghost, nor an evil spirit, Lilly-Ann.”
Lilly-Ann shook her head. “No, of course not. But who are you?”
The girl sighed, gaze travelling down to the floor. “I was a princess long ago, with a people and a crown. But now, I am just the Keeper of Beauty.”
Lilly-Ann frowned. “How did... how...?” She trailed off, unsure of what to say. She sincerely doubted this girl was over a hundred years old, and as far as Lilly knew, there were no ‘keepers’ of any human virtue or attribute.
“Your thoughts betray you, Lilly-Ann.” The girl took a step closer. “You are no beauty, but you are definitely pretty. Do you have someone you love?”
The question seemed rather abrupt and Lilly-Ann took a second to think about it before replying.
“Not in a romantic way,” Lilly-Ann replied, watching the girl warily. She did not trust her, but she did not think her harmful.
“That is not what I asked,” the girl replied. And then snapped. “Oh for heaven sakes! My name is Ceana! Stop calling me ‘the girl’ in your thoughts.” Ceana smoothed her skirts as she controlled her temper, schooling her expression to one of placidity. “I am sorry. That was entirely uncalled for.”
“N-no,” Lilly-Ann stammered, unexpectedly smiling. “It’s understandable if you can hear my thoughts...?”
“Yes, I can. But, Lilly-Ann, do you love someone?” Ceana asked again, eyes flickering back and forth across Lilly-Ann’s face.
“No. I don’t think anyone could love me, with my homely self and awkward personality.” Lilly-Ann replied, honestly and sincerely. Thoughts like these had been bound up in her mind for a long time, kept hidden from most people. But she felt that the words had been pulled out of her mind.
“Beauty has nothing to do with love,” came Ceana’s prompt reply. “And you do love someone- your sister. Your mother. Your father. Your friend.”
Lilly-Ann nodded slowly. “Yes, I do. But-”
“Lilly-Ann,” Ceana interrupted. “I sincerely like you, but I need to go soon. If the rain lets up and I don’t, then there will be trouble. But before I can go, I need to grant you something.”
“Grant... like a wish?” asked Lilly-Ann, frowning slightly. “I have no need of anything.”
“You have need of wisdom,” Ceana replied wryly. She closed her eyes and gripped her white skirt, gently toying with it. “Let me see.”
Lilly-Ann stood and watched her, slightly uncertain as to what was going on. She hoped that whatever would happen, she would stay the Lilly-Ann she was, and not become a Keeper of Trust, or some such silly thing.
“I have it,” Ceana exclaimed, eyes flying open as she smiled. “By this adventure, I’m about to give you, you will learn that beauty is a matter of perspective. It is subjective to each human. And,” she added nodding her head side to side. “I want you to find True Love-”
“There is no such thing.”
“-so the... blessing will end when you do.” Ceana ignored Lilly-Ann’s remark. She slid off one of her silver bracelets and offered it to Lilly-Ann. “Take this and slide it onto your arm.”
Lilly-Ann gently took the bracelet. She hesitated before sliding it onto her arm. It was big enough to fit around her forearm, so she slid it up to there. It sat on her arm gently, almost feeling like the bracelet had tightened its grip.
When Lilly-Ann looked up, Ceana was nowhere to be found.
So now, she was hurrying through Main Street, wishing that she had worn more than a t-shirt, but not necessarily caring about it. She had just experienced something bizarre, and she wanted to ask someone about a ‘Ceana’.
LILLY-ANN STUMBLED into the inn, the light slightly blinding her as she forced the door closed. She was immediately greeted by the occupants of the room- all older men and women who lived in Eaeyndale and had known her since birth.
Myrtle, the women she had wanted to talk to, was the one to greet her. Enveloping her in the warmth of a blanket, Myrtle led her towards the back of the inn. “I saw you coming and I’ve asked the cook to hurry up with his pastries. You should have them soon with a cup of hot cocoa. What do you say?”
“Thank you,” Lilly-Ann replied quietly. Her teeth started to chatter as heat warmed her from being numb to a state of painful coolness. “W-will you s-s-sit with m-me?”
Myrtle’s eyes shone. “Like old times, Lilly-Ann? WIth you asking me curious questions and me answering them with legend and lore?”
Lilly-Ann nodded. She gently plopped onto the leather couch Myrtle had led her to. They were now in the back room of the inn, away from the public. A warm fire was burning brightly in the fireplace, sending waves of heat to expel the cold that had seeped into Lilly-Ann’s skin and bones.
“Do you know of a Ceana?” asked Lilly-Ann, not waiting a moment more for answers. “Who had she been?”
Myrtle laughed, her tight, grey curls bouncing as she tilted her head back. She wasn’t a small woman, and her laugh was loud. “She caught you, did she?”
Lilly-Ann nodded but didn’t answer. She knew Myrtle would explain everything, most likely in the form of a story.
“So, you see, my dear,” Myrtle began. “Ceana had been a girl like you, loving and losing like most of us have. Or will.” She added, sensing Lilly-Ann’s mockery. “But she had a special destiny to fulfil...”
And so Myrtle told Lilly-Ann the true story of the ruins, and how beauty became something to teach and learn.