(Still reading these? Wow, you're persistent.

OK, this one's a bit different. I wrote it as an entry to a contest in a MMORPG that I was playing called Dark Age of Camelot, set in a world after the Round Table had fallen. The words in brackets were supposed to give clues, I think. The winning entry was supposed to be made into an actual quest, but I didn't win. I liked the story, though.)

Lovers' Ghosts  -- Albion

 

 

                Cornwall can be fine on a sunny day, but when the wind comes off the sea and the fog blows in, it can chill your bones and cast a black shadow on your soul.  On such a day I was taking refuge in Cornwall Station, looking in on the merchants without much need to buy or much gold to buy with, just to wait a bit for the grayness to lift. 

A new Enchantress had set up shop there, a tall, high-browed Avalonian named Loraine who looked down over her perfectly-shaped nose at me and offered to make my sword glow pretty colors for a few gold.  I could scarcely afford her services, but I leaned back against her door and listened to her just the same.  I spoke when she let me get a word in, but that wasn’t very often.

“Love!” was how she began her tirade.  “What earthly good can it be, I should like to know?   Why in the name of the sacred cup should not Sir Gerwin become my liege lord, now that I have told him that such is my desire?  A handsome knight should desire a lovely lady, and does not my beauty far surpass that of any other woman in this wretched backwater of an outpost?  Am I not the most skilled magician in all these parts?  I should be able to [command] his love, rather than begging for it like some common kitchen wench.”

She paused as if she expected me to say something, so I hesitantly asked, “Command love?  Well, I thought…”

“Yes, you heard aright, command!  In days of old, a high-born spell-weaver would never debase herself to the level of a knight she desired for her own true love.  Look at La Beale Isolde, once Queen of this land.  Did she go groveling for her lover Tristram’s favors?  Never!  She had her servant Bragwaine brew a [love potion] and privily give it to him, and he remained her faithful servant throughout all his life.  That is how love should be, for those who wield the powers arcane!”

I tried to interject again.  “A love potion?  But…”

Her eyes suddenly narrowed thoughtfully, and she eyed me up and down in a way that made me uneasy.  “Isolde… verily now, my speaking of her gives me an idea.  It has been said that recently, the shades of those dead lovers have been seen roaming these parts on dark nights.   You seem an adventurous type … you must find her [spirit] and force her to give me the secret of that potion.  Once I have it, surely I will win Sir Gerwin’s love!”

“What spirit…where…” I began.

“Why are you still here?  Ah, I suppose you want me to promise you some great reward.  And here I had believed that you adventurers roamed the land expressly to do good turns for the needy.  Am I not needy?  Ah, it’s a selfish world.  But very well, if you bring me what I [seek] I shall reward you with a magic item that shall greatly increase your prowess in your chosen field.”

“But where should I seek them?”  I was proud of myself for finishing a sentence.

“Where seek them?  You call yourself an adventurer, am I supposed to do all your work for you?  How should I know?  I’ve heard the ghost of Isolde’s husband Mark haunts the site of his old castle Tintagel, on the cliffs along the south coast of this land.  Perhaps he’ll know where they are.  Now go!”

 

I went.  I’m not proud, and she’s right – it is a selfish world.  After much searching I found the shade of Mark, wandering the cliffs as she had said.  I approached fearfully, but he was not hostile to me.  Indeed, he seemed glad of the company.

“La Beale Isolde and her worthless lover?  Aye, I know where they are.”  His words whistled and sighed like wind through fallen towers and empty windows, and I drew my cloak tighter around me.  “I can direct you to them as well.  But I’ll wager they won’t speak to you.  They speak to no one but each other, those two.  But I’ll tell you where they are, if you’ll do me one [favor].”

“What favor do you seek, sire?”  I asked, trying to keep a tremor from my voice.

“A simple one indeed, traveler.  Merely that you give this token to my lady when you see her.  Her father, Anguish of Hibernia, gave it to her, and it was one of the only things she gave to me on our wedding day, but I have no need for it now I am a shade.  I would return it to her myself, but the shade of her lover prevents me from coming near her.  Will you do this for me?”

“Aye,” I said, and he gave me directions, fading as he spoke.  Soon he was gone.  In my hand was a ring with a green stone, as cold to the touch as bitter frost.

 

The lovers were where he had said they would be.  I could see by looking at him that Tristram was a mighty man indeed, as the old records said second only to Lancelot in his prowess.  I was glad I had brought some friends to see me through this part of the quest.  However, as Mark had truly said, the two paid no heed to any of us.

“If anyone could warm me in death’s cold pathways, it would be you, my sweet,” I heard him whisper.

“I would give up eternity for a body to press against yours, my love,” she whispered back with a soft Hibernian lilt.  “But all that is gone now, dust and ashes and memories.  Think back to the day…”

“I would give eternity for the chance to change but a few things,” he whispered.  “We took the days so lightly, who could have dreamed that each one carried so heavy a burden of regrets?”

And so they continued, back and forth, so lost with one another and with sorrow that nothing any of us could say or do could gain a glance from them.  We considered attacking them, but my quest was to talk to her, and if we attacked and slew them there would be none to talk to.

And then I remembered the ring that Mark’s shade had given me.  I held it in my hand and reached out toward her, and she suddenly seemed to become aware of me.  She reached for it, and suddenly I saw Tristram’s face contort with fury. 

“A messenger from that worthless Mark, are you?  Have at you!” he screamed, coming at us like a howling storm.  It was a terrible fight, but at last, we put his tortured soul to rest.  And then, standing where Tristram had been before, appeared the shade of King Mark.

Isolde was staring at her fallen lover. 

“Isolde,” said Mark, “do not fear for your fallen love.  Our penances are not yet done on earth, and I have no doubt but that the two of you will walk together again under the next bright moon.  Isolde, my desire to see you once more has brought me out walking from my cold grave.”

“It’s little welcome I’m having for you, husband,” she replied.

 “Isolde,” Mark went on, “You must have seen by now that those of us who walk the earth after our deaths have been kept here for a reason.  Is that not so?”

“Aye,” his queen whispered.

“And in my time on the cliffs, watching my old castle fall to ruins, I’ve come to realize what that reason must be.  So many people get hurt as we go through this business of life, do they not?  So many that it can take several lifetimes to realize it.

“I gave this adventurer my token so that I could speak with you one last time.  My reasons were threefold.  First, I wished to say that I have only recently come to realize what a coward, a bully, and a wretched caitiff I was when I was man alive.  I desired to tell you how sorry I was for making you marry me against your will, and everything else that I did to the two of you, down through the years. 

“Second, if your years of walking through midnights has shared aught with mine, then you’ve had sins of your own that you’ve been forced to ponder as well.  I wished to tell you that I forgive any wrong you and your lover might ever have done me.”

Isolde looked up.  “I, too, apologize and forgive, my lord,” she said.

“And one thing more,” Mark went on.  “I needed to tell you that, whatever I said or did, I always did truly love you.  Indeed, I still do.  Goodbye, Isolde…” and then he was gone, and we were left with her lonely shade turning to face us at last.

 “My thanks for bringing him here,” she said.  “Tristram still would not have understood, but I’m beginning to, a little.  How many nights will it take us, to learn all the lessons we should have learned by day?  Yes, I’ll explain it to him when we both rise again tomorrow night.  Know this, good friend, you have done us all [a great service] tonight.  Anyone can be merely a slayer.”

“Speaking of service,” I said, remembering my original quest.  Quickly I explained to her Lady Loraine’s problem.  At the mention of the love potion, she almost seemed to laugh.

 “Love potion?  Aye, now that I cast my mind back, there were rumors that my maid Bragwaine had brewed us such a thing.  But potions always fade, you know, and true love never does.  As you can see,” and here she laughed ruefully.

“But if it’s a recipe for brewing love she desires, such as I can, I will give to her.  And I will give you back Mark’s ring as well, for such a thing is not for us spirits to use.”  I found my hands clutching the ring once again, glowing now with might, and a sealed note as well, and then the rising sun left my friends and I entirely alone.  I slipped the ring on, and this time it brought not a chill but warmth to my spirit, with fortitude and endurance (constitution and HP) to face whatever chills might come in the cold morning air.

 

“Well, have you got it, then?” snapped Loraine, and she practically snatched the note from my hands.  “Yes, this is Queen Isolde’s handwriting indeed!”  She began to read aloud, and I saw her face fall as she read.

“RECIPE FOR LOVE, by La Beale Isolde

 

Give everything!  Don’t count the cost,

Don’t measure what is wrong or right.

Spend lifetimes full of bitter frost

For one brief hour of golden light.

 

Give everything!  Hold nothing back.

The least breaths of your love are worth

All other sweets your life may lack,

All other joys you lose on earth.

 

“BAH!  You call this a recipe?  Get out of my sight, you wretched creature!  I’ll win my Gerwin some other way, then!”  She threw a handful of silver at me, and then, pointing her haughty nose up above my head once again, she went on her way.