Elsabeth’s Dance: A Shoalman Chronicles Story
The Shoalman Chronicles Series
Copyright 2020 © by Kira Decker
Death faced Rockshoalman.
Others might recoil and flee in fear, but after five hundred years, death’s ability to intimidate him had lost its power.
Darkness surrounded him, cold and unfeeling, the moon cowering behind the patchy clouds as if afraid to intrude. Only his breath leaving trails of silver vapor in the air proved life existed amongst the ruins. Nestled on the highest peak of the parish lands, the manse sat high on a cliff overlooking the local village in the valley below. Rockshoalman stepped gingerly toward the edge, careful in the lamplight not to lose his footing on the dew swept stone—although not even that fall could kill him.
Traditional wood and stone houses stretched out before him. Gas lamps lined the village streets, twinkles of light against a midnight black canvas. A hundred years ago it had been the same. The village and surrounding area—much like himself—remained ageless against time. Wisps of music floated on the air. The inhabitants celebrating in the local pub most likely; the day forgotten in drink and song. Forgotten like him.
The click of the caretaker’s gnarled wooden cane against the cobblestone paths turned Rockshoalman towards the two-story manse once more. No such life reached the stone manor house remnants before him. The multi-hued and speckled granite now dull and muddy in the tentative moonlight. Weathered and rotting boards covered the first-floor windows like haunted eyes peering across the expansive and overgrown front lawn, while withered ivy strangled the two Roman columns in a death grip. It could be the subject of one of his paintings—the kind his curse forced him to paint. The ones he despised.
Despair reached its insidious fingers around his heart, abrading the hope he clung to in desperation. Rockshoalman stared at the horse-drawn carriage, the only means of transportation to the manse he could procure, and the uncertain future it offered. Could he be free to live if the shadows of his past remained?
“This is a mistake,” he whispered to the icy wind tugging at his navy blue, wool overcoat. “I should not have returned.”
With a heavy sigh, he resigned himself to a half-life. Before he took more than a step towards the carriage, the moon escaped past the clouds to cast a pale moonbeam on a splash of color. His breath caught.
A single pink bloom graced the otherwise barren flower garden that edged the cobblestone path leading towards the front entrance. Life challenged death.
She is here.
Kneeling, Rockshoalman picked the peony. Cradled within his palm, the floral scent swelled around him, edging the darkness away with happier thoughts. The layers of petals reminded him of the lace and ruffles of a time a hundred years past. He sighed and tucked the flower into his lapel. The kernel of hope within his heart dared to flare brighter.
“Not sure this is a good idea,” the gruff voice of the estate’s caretaker complained as the old man reached his side.
“Nothing can harm me here.” Not physically at least. Rockshoalman pushed the morose thought away. Returning here was a risk. If his demon found him, there would be nowhere to run. Provided provoking the past didn’t send him into an abomination painting frenzy first. Rockshoalman closed his eyes, fighting to control the memories and the painful guilt of loss that threatened to allow his curse to overtake him.
“Why is your Guardian not with ya?”
Rockshoalman glared. The caretaker blanched almost as pale as his silver hair.
“He has no place here tonight.” Only Ciprian Solvak had set foot on this estate, and he had died for that choice.
No more Guardian’s deaths would plague his conscience because of the manse. He had not wanted Lucien Solvak, Ciprian’s great-great-grandson and current Guardian, haunted by the memories of death Rockshoalman might experience tonight. No Guardian should have to relive their predecessor’s demise.
Only after hours of arguing had Lucien agreed to remain behind. That and a confession. This place was a scar he needed to heal by himself.
Rockshoalman stood and pointed to the entranceway. “Open the manse.”
Hobbling up the front steps, the old man unlocked the padlocked double doors but drew back the hand poised to open them. “Can this not wait ‘til morning?”
“No,” Rockshoalman stated in a flat tone, his shoulders taut. Ghosts are best faced in the darkness where they dwell.
“Suit yourself.” A weatherworn hand turned the brass doorknob on the iron-bound doors and pushed. Hinges shrieked their displeasure at being disturbed. The old man flinched and made a quick sign of the cross.
Rockshoalman ignored him. Long strides carried him to the mahogany spiral staircase, pain infusing each creaky step and crack in the plaster walls until he reached the second-floor landing of the once grand house. Blood pounded in his ears as his heart rammed against his ribs. Rockshoalman fought to control the trembling coursing through his form. The hair on the back of his neck prickled. Power lingered within these walls still—a chill air painted with memories. Echoes of long-gone children’s laughter as they ran down the main hallway to his left settled amongst the broken furniture and leaf-strewn debris, the musty scent of mold heavy in the air. The buzz of forgotten voices hovered in the smoke-stained high dome ceiling over the central curved stairway. Each sound, each smell tearing at his control.
The weight of centuries pressed in. Could he do this? Could he face a past he would rather forget? Except, part of that past, he feared to let go—a death grip that kept him from living. With a ragged breath, he forced himself to push through the gaping maw of the dilapidated grand ballroom.
Running his hands down the carved wood archway, moisture and cold coated his skin along with ageless soot. How long had it been since he last stood here? Almost a century younger at least, yet Rockshoalman’s dark Roman-Romani lineage and youthful appearance remained unchanged.
Are you here?
No answers came from the shadows, only the pulse of loss. Mist rose and swirled across the floor. A low moan rumbled, vibrating the ancient oak floors beneath his feet. The very stones of the house groaned in pain. Faces flashed. Young. Old. Remembered laughter turned to screams. Rockshoalman staggered. Heat licked the palm pressed against the old wood for support. Sucking in a breath, he gagged on the putrid scent of burnt flesh and hair. Still, he persisted. One step. Another. With each forgotten memory clawing for release from the dark recesses where he kept them chained, a suffocating need to paint death increased. If he gave in to his curse, the painting would destroy his soul and his future forever.
“Help me,” he whispered to the spirits. “I must proceed. To live. For myself and for her. Else we are both lost.”
Heart threatening to beat out of his chest, Rockshoalman slipped a smooth quartz agate from his pocket. The stone warmed as he rubbed his thumb back and forth, the healing energy infused into the worry stone by Lucien, giving him the strength to battle emotions he had only recently learned to embrace. Head bowed, the perfume of the pink peony soothed his ravaged mind. A cool breeze caressed his face, drying the beads of sweat on his brow before chasing the fog of guilt out through a crack in the wall. By the time the slow shuffle of the aged caretaker caught up to him, a temporary calm had returned.
“After a hundred years of decay, the local kommuner wants to demolish the entire place as an eyesore within the month.” Flickering lantern light cast harsh shadows upon the flame-kissed beams of the caved-in roof and rubble strewn across the expansive room.
“A century ago, the manse was the jewel of this small, quiet village,” Rockshoalman lamented.
“Aye, but no longer.”
Behind the layers of soot and dust, brass chandeliers now lay festooned with cobwebs instead of candles. The crystals adorning the many branches dirty and lifeless, yet glimmers of moonlight sneaking through cracks in the boarded-up windows set an odd bright spark dancing across the walls and floor. As though the crystals clung to the hope they might once again dance free.
“You must decide soon. Or the Councillors will choose for you.”
Rockshoalman nodded. “Go wait by the carriage. I need to be alone.”
“As you wish, Domnule.”
Domnule. A Romani title of respect and perhaps, a final plea for Rockshoalman to leave. The footsteps hesitated for a moment longer before the click of the caretaker’s cane disappeared into the distance.
Rockshoalman shivered as ghosts from the past kissed his skin in the moonlit silence. Only this time, the spirits beckoned him. Had they understood his plea? Closing his eyes, Rockshoalman let the walls of the ruined manor house fade. Lilting strains of a forgotten melody grew stronger. Only he heard it, but that was enough to transport him to another place, another time.
Back to her.
About the Author:
S. K. Gregory is an author, editor and blogger. She currently resides in Northern Ireland.
“Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.”