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This Week’s Prompt: 115. Ancient castle within sound of weird waterfall—sound ceases for a time under strange conditions.
The Prior Research: Waterfalls
Castle Rurneck abuts a great cliff-side. From its towers, Sernae could see both rivers that flanked the castle, like loyal lions at the throne of a god. The twin waterfalls roared, clouding the base of the castle in perpetual mist and fog. Sernae had never ventured into the fields of the island—she had crossed the bridges in a carriage before, but the mist shrouded shores were unknown to her.
They were moss covered, her friend Ahura told her. Perpetually muddy and full of life. Ahura would go down to fetch water, wash clothes, and gather herbs. Not that Sernae had seen even a scarp of mud beneath her nails or on her fingers. She appeared always immaculate, no matter when Sernae found her.
Sernae today sat and stared out the window, listening to the roaring crash of the waters, watching the trees and wind sway away from the impact. It had a calming effect—when she was abroad, she missed the gentle thunder of the water. It was an old friend, always there and ready. Like a kindly lion, eyeing any who approached her.
And then it stopped.
Sernae didn’t notice for a moment. Like a fish who finds itself in a boat, still trying to swim but struggling, the vanishing of the ever present sound seemed too impossible to register completely. She frowned, felt her head, a sudden panic starting to grow in her throat. The world still swayed but the music was silent. She began to her shouts of confusion, unsure if they were hers as she leaned over—and saw the water fall still crashing against the river, silent as the grave.
“No, my lady, nothing peculiar.” Ahura said, as she helped brush Sernae’s hair. “The river perhaps had more frogs than average, but it is the season for such creatures to multiply.”
“Hm…perhaps I’m in need of a doctor. I swore, the falls went silent for a time.” Sernae said, her face scrunching up. She knew others heard it—how had Ahura missed it?
“Perhaps my lady. I’m sure you’ll get to the bottom of whatever it is you heard.” Ahura nodded. “Or, perhaps, didn’t hear.”
It was as she combed that Sernae got a sight of Ahura’s hands—and saw thin lines along her fingers. She snatched her wrist and pulled the surprised girl’s hand in front for a better look.
“And what are these! Don’t tell me you tried and catch some spiney fish in the river? You shouldn’t be fishing with such sharp lines either!” Sernae said, examining the thin lines that ran across Ahura’s fingers. They were sharp lines, crisper than claw marks.
“It was a fishing net, my lady, that got caught in wash. “ She said, rubbing her fingertip against her thumb. “It will heal, do not worry.”
Sernae…frowned at the net marks. They were thin, straight lines but didn’t nets curve and bend and wrap in the water? She had never known Ahura to hide things from her, not since she was a girl. Still, perhaps it was a surprise. Maybe Ahura had taken up weaving with more diligence than Sernae suspected, or had been focused on practicing the harp—the lines were straight across, like harp chords would be.
But after Ahura left, curtsying in her plain red dress, Sernae’s mind wandered as it was want to. On days like today, when thunder’s rolling sound joined the roar of the waterfall in a symphony, her mind could not sit still. Something about rain and wind and thunder aroused the darkest suspicions in her mind. Perhaps, she thought, perhaps Ahura was practicing some of the Old Faith. Perhaps she was weaving a web to capture something deep in the falls.
But it was done and gone. Whatever art it was, it had reached is conclusion, and the falls were restored.
Sernae busied herself the next day with her own weaving, by the windowside. The clouds were thick and dark, the mists a shadow cast by them. The rain pattered on the glass relentlessly, making the details of the land even more difficult to perceive—dissolving the image of the island into a muddy shape. The rivers would flood, but the castle was built on deep stone foundations laid long ago. The fields, she was sure, had their own ways of surviving storms.
She was inspired by the weather to work on a cloak—one to be worn by someone venturing into the cold and damp weather outside the castles walls. With threads chosen, tightly knitted—ah how that word sounded so close to knighted—to keep out water, to swell when wet and form a barrier against the downpour.
The weaving and knitting was so consuming, she almost missed it—but again, a subtle silence. The cacophony of wind and thunder and rain had lost its fourth voice. The roar of the waterfall vanished—and the elements felt hollow and unreal without it. Like they floated above and apart from the world.
Sernae gripped her needles and went to the window of the tower, thrusting it open—she had to be sure it was no fluke of madness. She stared out onto the island, the silence heavy as the clouds. The mists was disturbed and whirling—the rain made it hard to see the edges of the river. But the absence cut deep. And in the dark, muddy wash of the world, she made out a single bright and clear streak—a red cloak, running along the edge of the water. Could it be?
She tried to call out, but her voice seemed to catch in her throat. That bright red, seen in the flashes of thunder—darting now, to avoid being seen, towards the deepest of the mists and fogs. That bright red seemed oh so familiar. Ahura, perhaps? But what was she doing in such dread weather—what was she doing, when the most unnatural of silences fell on the land?
And closing the window, Sernae made up her mind. She would learn all she could about her servants dark deeds—and her mind wandered, as it was want to on such days, to all manner of bargains and rites that might be preformed in complete silence.
Ahura had been surprised by the gift—a cloak, with an elaborate crest on the back. A glimmering sun set on the back of a red field. Sernae had insisted she wear it.
“You are always out and about near the river and fogs. It must get cold, especially with the rain as it is.” Sernae said, holding the cloak out. “I cannot bear to think my friend, with her common constitution, will become ill.”
Ahura could not refuse such an offer of compassion, especially from one in such a high station. Sernae knew this. She had stitched it with that very intention. She had woven it carefully, to shimmer just so against the lightning and in the mists. Even from afar, she could make out the pattern on the cloak.
She had herself woven a second cloak—one that was dark as night, with streaks of blue and purple. While a pure darkness may be recognized, a shadow cast by no one, her cloak was woven to resemble cloud cover and inky shapes in the mist—the sort that might be forgotten or ignored by those in a hurry.
And so, her gift given and her cloak prepared, she set out to witness the schemes that silenced the water fall.
Sernae found both useful as she followed Ahura outside. She had little for her defense but a heavier than average distaff and a knife she stole from the kitchen. The air outside the castle was cold and heavy, but not as sharp as Sernae had feared. She could feel the ground greedily gripping to her shoes—shoes not meant to walk such paths.
Still, she had to know. Ahura’s attempts at playing dumb did not fool her. She had to know for certain what was going on. She moved in the mists, along the muddy road and past fields unfamiliar despite their closeness. Most of the common people were sensible—they either had taken shelter from the still roaring winds, or they had the sense not to draw attention to a noblewoman trying to hide herself.
She followed the light of Ahura’s cloak, hiding herself among the reads as Ahura whistled. The basket rattled, as she approached the roar falls. Never before had Sernae been so close to the vast, bellowing falls. The mist were thickest here, around the pools that were the beating heart of the rivers. Where the storm above ended and the mists and fog began was unclear—everything was unsure and uncertain, the edge between muddy shore and marshy pool.
But the sun she wove of such shining silk, that she could see clearly in the fog. She followed it quickly , her own cloak heavy and wet. She stayed near the tall reeds as she approached, following the furtive Ahura—closer and closer to the falls.
Ahura stood stalk still, on a large rock leaning out to the pool. She sang a song—barely audible over the roar. And then there was that dread moment of silence—As Sernae had thought. And through the silent waves and rushing waters, two thin, sharp lines appeared. They swelled, slowly growing outward into long, segmented limbs. Out of the parted water, a head as big as the castle windows emerged, framed by long flowing white hair, and with glittering eyes. It sang back softly to Ahura, the same song. With spider like grace, the creature revealed itself—a great spider atop a web of harp strings, plucking and pulling each to make the most delicate music.
And it was then that Ahura realized she had been followed. For she turned and Sernae felt her eyes on her dark cloak.
I’m afraid this story ends at the start. I had a bit of sickness this week, and was having trouble getting into the groove of the story. I think the concept, of investigating the silence and the image of a castle flanked by waterfalls is good—but I think it might have been better to reverse the rolls, or move away from the more isolated nobility. Next time we will be returning to strange castles and the family lineages they imply.
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