Book: Six Historical Tales Vol. 2 by Rayne Hallcategories: Book, Ancient Greece, Short Story Collection, Ghost Story, Dark Historical Fiction, Historical Fiction
Rayne Hallabout this book: This book contains six historical short stories penned by Rayne Hall. Please note: the book is also available as part of a two-book bundle.
The stories are set in Ancient Greece (Captive, Arete, Prophetess), in 1066 (Ten Sixty Six), in 1850 (Terre Vert and Payne's Grey) and in 1920 (The Smell of Pancakes).
Here's a sample, the beginning of the ghost story Terre Vert and Payne's Grey:
TERRE VERT AND PAYNE'S GREY
My bride's sleep-tangled tresses spill over her shoulders and chemise, titian red with hues of burnt sienna and yellow gold. She smiles at my adoring gaze and beckons. "Will you help me dress?"
I rise to lace the back of her corset, previously a maid's duty, now a husband's privilege. "Did you sleep well, my sweet?"
"Too well. Didn't the innkeep promise this was a haunted chamber?" Her torso expands in a yawn. "No rattling chains, no hollow moans, not even a spooky light or waft of creepy mist."
When no further yawn follows, I tighten the laces to fit the boned fabric snugly around her slender waist. "The ghost may oblige another night."
Else shrugs to show her disdain.
I pull the curtains, open the window and hook the wooden shutters to the wall. "Isn't this view magnificent? The half-timbered houses, the beech wood, the dark volcano cones against the sunrise, and look, there are lads driving the cattle to pasture in the meadow. Raw sienna yellow, a touch of flake white, deep cinnabar green..."
The morning sun basks Else's beauty in cool gold. "I used to think it would be exciting, being married to a painter." Her laughter tinkles like a harpsichord, tinged with the discord of disappointment.
Only a month ago, the same voice trilled with anticipation over the itinerary for our honeymoon. Guidebooks and maps of the Swiss-German border region thrilled her. But reality has not measured up to Else's hopes. Nothing I arranged to please her satisfied her appetite for thrills: not the journey on the paddle steamer, not the sublime sight of the Rhine Falls, not the joys of the marriage bed.
"We'll do something special today," I promise.
Her chin snaps up, her eyes bright and hungry. "What?"
The intended stroll along country lanes and a picnic in a summer meadow would not serve.
"It's a surprise," I improvise. Lifting her tresses, I kiss the nape of her alabaster neck. "I'll finalise arrangements now while you attend your toilette."
I trust the innkeep knows something that will thrill adventurous brides.
In the taproom, a kneeling maid is sweeping the floorboards. When I pass, she rises to dip a hasty curtsey, then resumes her toil.
From the kitchen comes the clattering of the crockery. A freckled lad of about thirteen emerges, clad in lederhosen and a short-sleeved shirt, lugging buckets of steaming water.
"Good morning, sir." He touches his brown forelock, probably glad for the excuse to set the buckets down.
"I'm looking for Herr Scheuerle."
"Pa's still in bed," the lad says as if stating the obvious. "Ma, too."
Of course. Innkeepers work late hours and get their sleep in the morning.
"Can I be of help?" He straightens, squares his shoulders and hooks his thumbs into the waistband of his lederhosen. "I'm in charge here in the mornings."
Catering to his sense of importance, I nod gravely. "I depend on your local knowledge for advice. Can you suggest something for visitors to do in the vicinity? Something exciting?"
The lad studies me with pursed lips. "Would that be for yourself, sir, or for another party?"
"Myself and my wife."
"Ladies like picnics," the lad suggests eagerly. "I can get a hamper made up for you, with wheat rolls and cold meats and lemonade and cake."
"A charming idea - but perhaps you can think of something more... rousing?"
"Boxing!" His sap green eyes beam. "Gustav the Giant versus Barnabas the Brawler, bare knuckles, at the Gasthaus zum Roten Hahn tonight. I bet that'll be a thrill. But seeing the party involves a lady..." His voice trails off.
I don't tell him I've taken Else to a boxing match, and it failed to excite her. So did the dog fight, the bear-baiting and the hanging of thieves.
"Most visitors see the ruins on the Hohentwiel or the Mägdeberg," he tries.
"We've seen both already. The Hoehenkrähen, too."
He scratches his scalp, as if digging the finger into his store of knowledge. "There's the ladies' handicraft bazaar. Ladies like pretty things. The male voice choir performs, Ma likes them a lot, but that's not until Saturday. Oh, and on Sunday there's mass with a new sermon every week."
"Is there an unusual place for a picnic? Something... thrilling? Dangerous?"
"If it was my mates, I would take them to the Hohenesgen. That's some scary place, I tell you. But with a lady..."
"What's scary about it?"
A grin spreads across his freckled face. "Count Konrad, of course. Now that's an evil ghost, not tame like the one that lives upstairs. He killed people when he was alive, you know, and now he haunts in his ruin..."
An excursion to an old ruin may appeal to Else, especially if I don't call it a picnic, but a ghost hunt.
I order a picnic hamper, including the linzertorte cake Else likes so much. "And I want to hire a local guide," I say. "Someone who knows the history of Hohenesgen Castle, and the legends of the ghost."
"Nobody knows the Hohenesgen better than Aloys Scheuerle." The boy puffs up his chest. "I'm your man. I'll tell you everything about the place and how the count locked his victims into the keep and burnt them alive. And I'll carry your hamper, and protect the lady from bandit attacks."
I can protect my wife without help from a thirteen-year-old, but refrain from saying so. His stories about the wicked count will keep Else entertained.
"If your parents can spare you for the day, you're hired. You're the man I want."
Aloys is worth every mark I pay him. He not only carries the picnic hamper, he has a wealth of knowledge about local lore and natural history. He shows us the two types of local stone - the shiny black basalt and the terre vert-tinged klingstein that rings when you strike it - and finds logs where Else can rest without ticks hooking into her skin.
The final section is a steep climb, and I'm grateful that Aloys carries the hamper so my hands are free to aid Else.
By the time we reach the top, we're breathless, and the sky has taken cobalt hues and the greens have faded. The view is magnificent, a landscape of soft hills and steep volcanic cones, hamlets with minute, indian-red roofs, conifer and beech woods in a thousand hues of green.
The castle ruins occupy a compact area, with the keep on the mountain top and crescent-shaped bailey below. The remains are impressive in a menacing way, narrow sections of masonry sticking up like black rotten teeth gnawing at the sky.
"Count Konrad lived here with his wife," Aloys tells us. "It was isolated, especially in winter, when the snow made it impossible to come up the mountain. The wife craved a social life, and made excuses to go visiting whenever she could. This displeased him greatly. One day, he invited all his wife's friends to a party. He locked them into the upper floor of the keep while he filled the lower floor with wood and set it aflame. They burnt alive." Aloys beamed. "All of them, the wife included. The spot where we now stand in the bailey? That's where Count Konrad stood to watch the fire and listen to the screams."
I lead the way climbing up into the keep. The blackened remains bear out Aloys' story of a fire.
"See the stones here? They come from the walls of the top stories. The floors were wood, of course, and that burnt away, so the revellers fell to their deaths into the fire pit. All that was left of them in the morning were bones, smashed and charred."
"Some climbed out of the windows, lowered themselves from knotted garments. Konrad throttled those with his bare hands."
Much as I enjoy the tale, I remain sceptical. "If everyone died, how is it known what happened?"
"Some people jumped from the window into the depth." He points deep down. "Horribly crippled, their bones crushed, they survived until the next day and told the truth."
"What a terrible, terrible tale!" Else breathes the words like a dog panting in excitement, and the stimulation enhances her vivid allure.
"And since then, Konrad haunts here, finding anyone who is still alive. You wouldn't want to be here at night. You wouldn't like that at all. Even in the daytime, it's dangerous. You can hear him laugh. It's a really ugly laugh, that starts like a chuckle and then goes har-har-har!"
Else shivers with delicate delight.
In the castle, I make a big show of listening, searching, probing, pressing my ear against blackened walls, running my fingers along cracks and clefts.
Else enters into the spirit with enthusiasm. "The temperature!" she cries. "It's much colder here than elsewhere. Come stand in this exact spot, and see if you feel it."
I join her in a corner of the keep, and although the temperature difference is no greater than one would expect in the shadow of stone walls, I agree that yes, there is indeed a spooky chill.
Aloys nods eagerly. "Hauntings often manifest with cold spots. Some people have a gift for perceiving the supernatural, and you are one of them." He gazes at Else with admiration. "Some particularly sensitive people say they feel the heat from the fire over there." He guides her to a sun-warmed spot in the centre of the keep.
Excited, Else pronounces it very warm indeed.
This time, I say I feel no difference. "Obviously, I'm less receptive to paranormal phenomena than you."
Else is happy at last, and I bask in the satisfaction.
Stimulated and wearied by our search, we pick a spot in the bailey in the dappled shade of beeches, and open our picnic hamper. Else sits gracefully on a low wall, the blood-red ochre of her skirt contrasting against the green-black stone, while Aloys sits with his legs dangling outwards over the abyss. I serve food and pour lemonade.
When we've eaten, I sketch Else, using my Derwent pencil to capture the new spark in her eyes. I look forward to transferring the sketch to the canvas, preserving the moment in colour.
Impressed by Aloys' performance, I take the boy to the side. "How about the ghost in our bedroom? Do you know any good stories about it?"
"She don't do nothing much," he says. "Just a bit of moaning now and then."
"Make her moan tonight." I press coins into his hands. "Make her moan good."
When he glimpses the amount, he gasps. "She will moan, sir, she will."
I eagerly anticipate the night.
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