The Forgotten Castle
Naomi leaned back in her chair and stretched her arms above her head. She heaved an enormous yawn and glanced out her bedroom window. The ruined castle shimmered in the setting sun. Often she thought it a mirage, but she knew every nook and cranny of it. It was her favorite haunt, where she and her friends had played hide-and-seek among the ruined walls and crumbling ceilings. Her parents warned her of the dangers of playing among the ruins. Yet the warnings came with half-smiles; they too had played in the castle as children. As their own parents had done before them; a local tradition, a rite-of-passage, perhaps.
After school, Naomi went to the castle by herself. She needed time alone; it had been a strange and trying day. She walked among the ruins and took a nap on the grass of its derelict courtyard. Leaving, she paused at the crumbling arch of the castle entrance to shake out a stone that had crept its way into her shoe.
Now, she switched on the desk lamp and returned to her homework.
The sun cast its last rays over the glimmering land, and the castle faded into shadow, as its name had faded into oblivion; its decrepit turrets stood out against the indigo twilight. Naomi closed her schoolwork and switched off the desk lamp. The castle’s lonely silhouette blurred as dusky shadows fell. She stood up, crossed the bedroom and flopped down onto her bed; the ruinous gloomy mass still visible outside her window.
She loved to daydream about the castle’s heyday; the banquets, the tourneys, the dashing knights, and the fair princesses. She knew most of its legends, but loved one in particular. It drew her into the realm of imagination and defined the lonely ruins beyond the windowpane.
The legend said:
A young knight rode into the hamlet on a horse so exhausted and grimy that its head bowed low to the ground as it trudged along the countryside. The knight’s head hung on his shoulders, heavy with fatigue.
The townspeople, wary of strangers, bolted their doors and shuttered their windows as he passed through the village square. Horse and knight—that ragged bundle of bones and sinew—traipsed towards the castle, unaware of the villagers’ icy reception. Field workers turned their heads away and crossed themselves, believing he was Death itself. No one approached, no one offered assistance. Upon reaching the castle gate, the guards denied the knight entry.
He claimed to be the nobleman’s son returning home, but no one believed him. All knew the son and only heir died in Holy Land; a monk had returned the family seal ring and confirmed the heir’s death.
The young man pleaded his case.
“I have a crucifix. My mother gave it to me when I left. It bears my name.”
The nobleman asked to see it, but when the knight touched his neck to retrieve the crucifix hung up on it, he blanched. Had he dropped it?
Unable to prove his identity, the nobleman turned the young knight away.
He too vanished into oblivion; perhaps he took the castle’s name with him.
Yet, people say the knight errant still wanders the land, always heading towards the castle.
Naomi’s room was now dark, and the moon beamed upon her outstretched body on the bed. She reached into her pocket and took out the trinket that had sparkled in the soil just beyond the castle grounds. She twirled it around and scratched the dirt off it with her nail; the crucifix dangled on its tarnished chain between her fingers.
She gazed at the ruined castle.
Glowing in the moonlight, the spectral knight made his eternal and torturous journey home.