Do They Have A Soul?

By Eleonora Shah

Young adult, Romance, Paranormal, Fantasy


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4 mins

Chapter 1

   The air of the dark twilight on the last day of August 2009 was stifled by an uneasy calm, and the ghostly moon emerging from behind the gloomy clouds looked sinister and frightening. Nothing could be heard – neither the chirp of the night crickets, nor a breath of wind – just the sound of something resembling quick flapping of a butterfly's wings, only it was slightly louder and heavier. Even leaves on trees and shrubs stood still, as if in anticipation of something mysterious.

   This old château in Provence had not hosted so many guests for a long time. They were arriving from all corners of the country at the remote castle, which was apparently abandoned, and hidden from the road by age-old trees. 

   An elderly lackey in a long dark-blue jacket, standing at the front door lit by torches, greeted the newly arrived in a quiet voice, inviting them to enter with a courteous bow. How can he remember everyone by name and title? Apparently, the lackey's main responsibility is not in opening and closing doors, but in remembering everybody by sight, name and social status. It provides an opportunity to exchange a few polite phrases:

   "Is your daughter doing well, Lord Arthur?"

   "Thank you, Bernard! She is doing quite well." 

   From the outside, the castle did not look anything special. It was small, compared to other structures of that time. A gloomy building with statues of vicious gargoyles perched along the entire perimeter of the castle roof, watching vigilantly anyone who dared to trespass on their territory. Columns along the front wall supported the terrace of the second floor. First floor windows were boarded up. Rough walls were faced with blocks of grey masonry. And only leaves of wild grapes, which for many years had covered almost all of the castle walls, lightened the air of inhospitality emanating from the building.

   Occasionally illuminated by the full moon, not far away from the house, there was an abandoned cemetery with a skewed fence forged a few centuries ago. Lone tombstones with darkened, illegible inscriptions were scattered all over it next to the neglected crypts sunken behind the sparse century-old trees, growing along the road that led to the main gates. In a word, it was a sorry sight, which depressed the connoisseurs of all things ancient and beautiful. But all the exterior modesty of the Castle of La Croix only served to conceal the incredible splendor inside! The architect appeared to have put his whole talent and craftsmanship, along with something mystical, into the building's construction. He made the interior of this seemingly small structure twice the size of what it looked like from the outside.

   The front door opened directly into a spacious hall. Opposite this door, there was another, leading to the throne room, from which it was possible to enter the other halls. Connected to one another, they took the guests deep into the heart of the castle, where they could admire the works of art collected in them. Both sides of the hall were flanked by corridors. Only here, on the first floor, did windows remain, even though they were boarded up. The other windows along the building's perimeter were covered by brickwork from the inside; now it was impossible to determine their original locations. In the corridors, there were many doors, which also led to the main halls. Antique Gobelin tapestry and paintings hung on the walls between the doors. Two winding staircases on both sides of the hall led to the second floor, where the bedrooms were located. Massive carved furniture made of redwood, at least centuries old, was placed in all rooms, with the exception of the throne hall and the dance hall. 

   The throne hall's ceiling was inlaid with mosaic images of the universe with an amazingly realistic rendering of depth and infinity of space. Magnificent crystal chandeliers were suspended from the ceiling, casting specks of light on all that could reflect it, making the thousands of stars, which covered the entire ceiling, mysteriously flicker. Columns of grey-spotted marble propped up "the dome of the sky", heightening the ceiling's grandeur. The walls were covered with thin dark-blue satin with tiny red flowers. It seemed that the flowers grew straight from the walls. As in the hallways, the portraits of notable persons were hung up between the windows. Heavy folds of dark-red drapery tightly covered the tall windows.    

   A fireplace of a man's height, one of many in the castle, was adorned with fine stucco work on which monograms with flowers and lianas were carefully drawn. Statues of gryphons stood on both sides of the fireplace; many generations of the castle dwellers posed here for their portraits, with a hand resting on the head of one of them. Heavy gold-plated candelabra and antique vases stood on the fireplace and the pedestals. Placed along the walls, chairs with laced backs and gilded legs were covered with wine-red fabric. The dark-grey, almost black, floor on which the ladies sauntered in beautiful dresses just a couple of hundred years ago, reflected like a vast mirror.

   Everything here was a testimony to the castle owner’s incredible riches and a proof that life in it had never stopped.

   The guests, dressed in old-fashioned clothes, singly or in couples, were quietly streaming into the throne hall. Old friends were exchanging courteous nods; some of them were talking in a low voice; some were furtively glancing at the other guests clothed in velvet, silk, and furs. Some ladies were wearing elegant hats adorned with decorative feathers. Carefully curled locks of hair were falling down from beneath them.

   The crackling of the logs burning in the fireplace mingled together with the guests' whispers and the rustling of the women's skirts. Candles lit in the antique candelabra along the walls gave an even cozier feeling to the room, where the elegant ladies, accompanied by the bowing gentlemen, were bobbing curtsies before the throne which stood not far from the fireplace. 

   A handsome, stately man of no more than twenty-eight was sitting on it in perfect tranquility. He looked young, however his eyes betrayed how much he had already seen in his life. He had noble facial features and beautiful sincere brown eyes. Dark, slightly curling hair covered his ears.

   Dressed in an embroidered dark-grey velvet long jacket with silver trimmings, fastened only with a few buttons, he looked like a hero of the old novels about princes and princesses. Laces of a snow-white shirt tucked into the black velvet pants were showing from under the jacket.



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