A new collaborative with ricegoddess.
The Widow of Craxton Park.
Few ever dared to go this deep into the darkened forest after the sun had set. Only the most courageous or stupid would hire a coach to take them north of Flinders Peak. But there had been a change in the guard, and while the roads were often only used by farmers that needed to get their crops and herds to market, it would be now that a blackened coach that was pulled by a team of four jet black horse, galloped along the gravel track. Death, which was not uncommon to the down trodden, happened at the Craxton Park. Whispers from the local village had spoken of how the Late Lord’s estate had been to a left to a mysterious cousin, who had been out of the country for well over decade. The red satin curtains that lined the windows, hid the face of this newest heir to the Lord’s estate.
Would they suffer…the same fate?
And what of the young widow, that had not left Craxton since the funeral? Yet another mystery to be unraveled.
This was possibly the stupidest idea in the whole world. Well, maybe that was an exaggeration, but it made it to the top five at least. Children always joke about walking down the path heading to the north towards the “haunted” estate, even daring their friends to take the journey. Of course, no one ever went through with the dares. Except today. Ethan anxiously gripped his dark trousers, releasing it and then gripping it again. He can hear his friends howling at him, trying to “encourage” him to walk down the path and to “check things out for them”. Ethan was terrified of the forest but he never admitted it aloud. It’s just a scary story, right? It’s not really… Cursed, right? Rumors always circled Ethan’s village about murders, ghosts, curses, and deaths related to this estate in the dark forest. The story was always changing, so no one ever knew what had actually happened to the Late Lord. And a bet was made today that Ethan would be the one to find out what happened and report back. When Ethan finally gathered up enough courage, he took a timid step onto the hard road, and then another… Before he knew it, he was far into the darkened forest. A lone crow’s cry causes the young man to jump in fright, quickly looking around before continuing to walk slowly. He couldn’t hear his friends’ loud voices anymore, whether they ran away when his back was turned or he was just too far away, he didn’t know. Glancing around the forest, the setting sun’s lights only helped in creating large, intimidating shadows around Ethan. He wrapped his arms around himself, his short, dark blond hair being ruffled by a passing wind. His honey colored eyes dart at each subtle movement, darting at each sudden sound he hear. He shook because of the fact that he forgot to bring a light jacket with him, being cold in pale blue t-shirt, and also for the fact that was he was scared out of his mind.
Amazing how much the landscape changes, just by the setting of the sun. Shadows stretch on forever, and this is also the time when the night creatures come out from their burrows and knotted stumps. Under the cloak of darkness, and only bathed by the moon’s light when it peaked out from behind a grey cloud – the many small creatures went about their evening as per normal. But this place. This cursed place was not for the faint of heart. If the signage did not warn off the curious, than the narrowing of the path, and the overhanging branches that encroached upon the winding road only made the trip forward very hard going. Was someone going to dare to make it through? Children and the young at heart often egged on the weak, to test their spirit and their resolve. Tales told by travelers and merchants around the fires of the local inn – fueled by drink and bravado, were not favorable of the terrible Lord of Craxton Park. He did his farmers and workers no favors, and often kept pretty much to himself within the walls of his Manor. Only sending out his man servant to pay wages and arrange business dealings on his behalf. The more one keeps to themselves, the likelihood of gossip and innuendo spreading across the lands. He could be just a miserly recluse, but there were other events, strange and terrible that happened every time he returned from abroad. On his last trip, he did not return alone. Bringing with him a new wife. The only knowledge of her, was when she had come into town with a black veil to order a dress to be made at the seamstress. She already looked as though she was dressed for a funeral. It was not long after this time, that it was said that he passed on from this earth to the next. Though the villages were not welcome to the funeral. The hearse had passed through the town, with just the widow and the man servant following the hearse. Even then, her face was covered and it all seemed to be so strange. There was no autopsy, no word on how he died. Just a simple parchment hammered to a tree in the village square.
But back to this night, when a young lad decided to take his chances and see just how far he got, on the road to Craxton Hall.
He had long left his friends behind, and he carried no torch or light. His colorings however did illuminate in the light of the moon. Just enough to be seen by those with exceptional vision at night.
“Only the brave or foolish dare walk this path.” It was a feminine voice, that spoke as the mist enveloped the roadway. A cool breeze nipping at the boy’s neck. If he did turn, he would see the prettiest girl he had ever seen, though she had a haunting smile. Dark flowing hair that was tied back fashionably, and wearing a flowing black gown of the age.
“Which are you?” She asked.
The young man felt a sharp chill run up his spine at her voice, slowly peeking over his shoulder at her. The images of haggard, old witches quickly dispel from his mind when his eyes fall on her, put off by her beauty. The question came back to his mind again, gathering up enough confidence in that moment to reply to her, “I-I’m brave enough to walk the path!” Ethan felt mild embarrassment at his stutter, but he took the moment to examine her appearance. Despite her dress blending in so well with the shadows and being shrouded by the sudden mist, he can still see her practically perfect figure clearly under the moonlight, and… Was that a sparkle in her eyes? He shivered at the realization, unsure whether the shine was a bad sign or a good one. He tugs on the sleeve of his tunic, having become nervous when they lock eyes for a brief moment, looking away quickly after. The quiet cry of a crow seems to mock his nervousness, but Ethan stands his ground, hesitantly speaking up again, “May.. I ask why you’re out here? Are you also brave…?” Just pulling out questions that came quickly to his mind, he momentarily forgets about the cursed estate and its widow, shifting on his feet while he holds the edge of his sleeve, still trembling slightly from his nerves and the chill.
If Florina had meant to startle the young man on his trip into the forest, she did a good job. Though, he may never admit his fear it was easy to tell by the way in which he stuttered out that he was in fact brave enough to walk this way. “Mhmmm.” Was all that the strange woman said in return as though she was mocking his answer. Her crimson stained lips curved upward into a smile that was both wicked and fun. It was almost as though she enjoyed toying with the man. Funny how the moon’s soft light brought out a sparkle in her eyes. Collecting the edges of her lace and silk skirt, she circled around the young man, looking him up and down, as though he was intriguing. It may well make him all the more nervous. A crow’s call only added to the mix, making the scene even more bizarre. Ethan stood his ground however, and was bold enough to ask of her what she was doing out here. Why was she also brave? The reaction was for Florina to stop in her tracks and whip out an ornate black fan. Snapping it open with the flick of her wrist, and fluttering it about like one of those fine ladies of the royal court.
“I wouldn’t say I am brave…just I prefer to walk beneath the light of the Moon. You see I am very fair and burn easy under the heat of the Sun. Think of this as my daily stroll.”What she just said could have been taken a different way from what was offered. Perhaps there was more to the Widow of Craxton Hall then met the eye. She did have porcelain skin that seemed to be radiant underneath the starry night sky. It even heightened the colour of her eyes, and the red rouge of her cheeks. Almost like a fine china doll. Perfection. Yes that was the word you would use. Florina could see that the young man was feeling the cold, having just come out in a light tunic. It was enough to have Florina ask of him.
“Craxton is but a short walk up this road. Care for a night cap? A hot beverage?” The black haired vixen then lowered her fan closing it slowly and offering her gloved hand. Should he take it? Or did he need to know just who she really was?
Her circling did make him more nervous than he already was. It almost felt like she was a predator hunting and cornering its prey. But he did perked up at the mention of her fair skin. It did make sense with how her skin glowed under the moonlight, looking incredibly smooth and soft to the touch. The color of her lips and her cheeks complimented her appearance well, making her look very beautiful in Ethan’s eyes, but it was also a very sinister appearance. It made the young man uneasy, but he couldn’t take his eyes off of her either way. Her movements were graceful and elegant, the fan being a nice touch. Craxton? The name rang bells in Ethan’s mind, but he couldn’t quite place where he heard the name from… He looks at her small, gloved hand, tempted by her beauty to accept her offer, but his heart thumped loudly and nervously. He didn’t know who she was, but the hot beverage was very welcoming on the chilly night. “May I ask for a name at least?” Ethan looked back up at her face, “My name is Ethan…”
How delicious. Florina thought, as she watched the young man’s chest rise and fall sharply. Each breath he drew was making his heart beat faster. If it had been any louder, it would have echoed out from his chest. All this from the simple gesture of offering her hand for him to take. She noted how he appeared timid at her suggestion. Begging the question as to what her name was. This would unravel the mystery of her identity. Dare she keep him further in suspense? Curling in her bottom lip, she made out as though it was a great secret. Leaning forward to whisper her name so softly that he may barely hear it. “Lady Florina Craxton.” Only when he had said his name, did she draw back with a cat like grace. Her bottom lip released from the bite of her teeth and it appeared more plump than before.
“Ethan. Such a wise choice of name by your parents.” Her smile grew as she continued with a tit bit of trivia. “I do believe it means strong.” Florina had to be the Queen of small talk. Knowing that the young man still may be wary, she lowered her hand and then snatched up the edge of her skirt, in order for her to be able to walk on without getting the lace edge caught on the ground. “Well, I am ready for that night cap. You are welcome to follow, or return to the village. I shan’t tempt you further.”
And with that, she continued on down the path, leaving the young man to his thoughts.
“Good eve, Ethan.”
Strangely enough as she left the scene, so to did the rolling mist. It was almost as though it traveled with her.
Lady Florina Craxton… Ethan thought, the name was very fitting for her he believed. He felt his cheeks grow warm at the indirect compliment of his name, unknowingly giving a tiny smile. But when she left, his heart relaxed its beating and his shivers reduced to trembles as his body is now only trying to keep him warm. He blinked his eyes, noticing how much clearer his surroundings became as the mist left with the Lady. Ethan didn’t get a chance to wish her a good night, but he glances over his shoulder back towards his village, then looks back to where Lady Florina had walked. Would he follow her? He was tempted to, oh so very tempted to. The young man’s mind was practically screaming at him to run since he had the chance, but his heart yearned to know more about the mysterious, beautiful woman he just met. Ethan had meet many women in his life, his parents always trying to set him up and even arrange marriages for him, but none of them ever stirred emotions in his heart like how Lady Florina did. He didn’t understand what he felt, maybe it was fear, anxiousness? Or maybe even… Love? He shook his head at the silly thought, but he knew he felt something. He decided that he would go back home for the night and return the following night. Maybe fate would bring them back together, he thought hopefully. And maybe he would be smart enough to bring a small lantern with him next time, along with his leather-like vest. At that resolve, the young man nodded slightly and turned back to his village with almost a small skip in his step, the shadows and thin, gnarly trees no longer causing him fear as he walked. The lone crow that was mocking him earlier just watched Ethan this time, quietly observing before taking off into flight into the clear sky.
Did the Widow of Craxton expect the young man to follow her so easy? She tested him to some extent, only to find he was still not sure of her – refusing to take her hand and be led into the unknown. That being Craxton Park. Few dare go past the wrought iron gates and come back. Even those making deliveries know that it is best to leave the parcels and the outer perimeter and ring the large bell, that alerts the man servant of the arrival of goods. This was part of the gossip of the town. Did Ethan realize that he was one of the first to actually speak to her? The Seamstress was on a confidentiality clause, if she wanted the Widow’s business, and so she had to refrain from speaking about what they had discussed in the shop. Why would someone go to that extreme? It only adds to the mystery. And what of the new Heir? Since the late Lord’s wife did not bare him a son, his estate and holdings went directly to the next in line among his family.
There were those that spoke of a black carriage that had passed through the town not long after the funeral, but it never left the estate. Did the Widow have something to do with this?
Florina’s dress swept along behind her as she entered the grounds, the gates closing in behind her as though to lock her in. Few lights were seen in the darkened windows, but enough to light her way. Waiting at the entrance, was the former Lord’s faithful servant and now the one and only that was to care for the Widow. He bowed low as she lifted her skirt enough to climb the stairs.
“Enjoy your walk, M’lady?” Curious to know why she was out so very late. Florina stopped, as though to ponder this very question. “I had no idea that the locals were so…nice.”The way she said the last word was done with a mischievous tone. Bertie blinked. “You actually met one?” He knew that few dare venture down the dark forest road, as the gossip was enough to keep people away. Florina’s eyes sparkled as she recanted in her mind, the meeting with the young man. “A young male. Handsome too. Almost had him come back for…a drink.” There she went again. Speaking with double meanings. What she said, when mixed with that gleam, that smirk on her crimson lips was enough to make the man servant shudder. But what could he do? Did he want to end up like his Lordship?
“He turned you down, M’lady?” Bertrand was now going into dangerous territory, with his questioning – but he just had to know.
“Would you accept the offer of a night cap from a stranger, Bertie?” The Widow took out her fan, with the edge of the lace touching just under his chin, causing him to gulp.“Only if the stranger was you, M’lady” The Widow chuckled lightly at his response, and she gave his cheek a little…playful swat with her fan. “And that is why I keep you on. Now…get me a drink, and make sure its…freshly squeezed.” The man servant bowed and raced inside as the Widow glanced back over her shoulder at the darkened forest, where she had met what she hoped would be her newest friend.
“You won’t turn me down next time….Ethan.”
Smiling to herself, she started up the stairs, the doors closing when she had gone through into the majestic foyer.