After a few moments enjoying the peaceful morning, Lady Eleanor noticed the chill in the air. No fire blazed in the hearth. She couldn't even see any logs. She frowned. The servants knew of the illness, and knew the doctor’s orders that she must be kept warm. How unlike them to have forgotten, she thought.
Lady Eleanor threw back the covers and swung her legs out of bed. She fetched a robe from the armoire in the corner, and padded onto the landing outside her chamber. She winced when her bare feet met the cold stone floor.
“Elspeth? Violet? Mary?“
She called for her housemaids. Her voice echoed down the spiral staircase. Lady Eleanor listened intently, expecting to hear the clatter of the kitchen or the shouts of the stableboys in the yard. She heard nothing.
“Hello? Is there anyone around? I am much recovered now,“ called the Lady.
She ventured down the stairs, whistling for the castle hounds. No paws scampered across stone. No tails wagged, and no excited barking met her in the lower chamber.
This is a wretched awakening. Why is there no rejoicing that I am recovered? she thought.
Lady Eleanor wandered along the corridor to the entrance hall. The vast oak doors stood wide open. She rushed to the doorway and gazed out across the lawn. She expected to see the shepherd and his flock in the meadow across the ha-ha, though it lay empty.
Oh! Have brigands and thieves seized my castle as I slept? Are my servants slain? thought the Lady.
She hurried back inside and heaved the oak doors closed. The clang as she threw home the bolt echoed around the entrance hall. The sound brought no one running.
Lady Eleanor felt panic rise in her gut, and worry fluttered in her stomach like demonic moths. She broke into a run, bounding up the stairs leading up to the great hall. Again, the room was empty, the chairs and benches of her elders standing unoccupied.
A sound in the eaves caught her attention. The whirring of wings came from the corner of the room. Lady Eleanor peered up into the gloom, but saw only shadows. She shivered, noticing again the dead atmosphere of her castle. She crossed the room and crouched by the fireplace. Two logs sat in the hearth, and she contemplated how she might set them alight.
* * *
“What was that bang?“ asked Lucy.
“I expect the wind blew the door shut. Now look up. See those holes in the wall? They held floor joists. Do you know what floor joists do?“ asked Mrs Black.
Lucy shook her head, setting her ginger curls swinging. Mrs Black smiled.
“Floor joists are big beams that the floor sits on. Yes, there was once another floor above us. The great hall was up there.“
Mrs Black pointed upwards. Little Lucy leaned backwards, craning her neck to see the room above. There was a fireplace halfway up the wall, above the holes for the floor. Moss clung to the walls around the fireplace, and a small tree grew out of the brickwork at the back of the hearth.
“There was a room there?“ she asked. The fireplace was so high. It looked funny.
“Yes! The family would have received visitors there. A bit like a big version of our living room. Try to imagine it with a roof,“ replied Mrs Black.
Lucy screwed up her eyes to better see a roof over the whole space. Her brother stood in the corner, transfixed by the swifts. The birds had nests in the holes between the bricks. They heard the babies tweeting for their mothers when they came in to see the ruined castle. Theodore watched the swifts flutter near the top of the wall.
“Tell her how it’s haunted, Mum!“ shouted Theodore.
“Don’t scare your sister. Lucy, it’s not haunted,“ said Mrs Black.
Lucy stuck her tongue out at her brother and looked back at the fireplace. The harder Lucy stared, the more she thought she could see something beside it. A grey shadow, a smudge in the air. She felt sad when she looked at it.
“Mummy, mummy! What’s that?“ asked Lucy. She pointed at the shadow.
* * *
Lady Eleanor paused. She cocked her head on one side and listened. Voices. Indistinct, but voices nonetheless.
She listened hard for the reply.
“Mum, why is the lady so sad?“