The solid darkness of the spires stood in subtle contrast against the moon light. Our hearts lifted slightly at the knowledge of the place, so, wearily we put forth what energy we could to reach the gates.
We escaped the Plague, but no one left the gruesome scene unscathed; nearly half our city had fallen to the disease. Yet, for some time, it seemed we had stolen away only to die in the wilderness. Cutting through the face-high weeds and grass, we entered the clearing in front of the castle mote.
Our eyes, first illumined with torchlight, were greeted with still more horrors – corpses littered the small yard, the slope of the mote, and the filthy water. Yet, strangely, the castle felt warm, even from where we stood. Light beamed from inside; the sounds of laughter and singing greeted our ears, long used to the screams of death. And bread. The faint smell of bread wafted to us, flying from the windows, crossing the mote, and sweeping through our weary band. The stench of death was quickly replaced with the scent and our hunger pangs expectantly revived. We smiled at one another, a skill nearly forgotten, and stepped towards the castle.
The heavy creak of the drawbridge drowned our chatter and the din from the castle. It lowered slowly, coming to rest with a heavy thud. From the other side called the voice of a lady, “Come. Enter through this door and leave the death behind. Cross the bridge and come home.” She stood in a simple, bright dress, and extended a small lantern in one hand.
We began to walk slowly, the bridge complaining with every step. “My Lady,” I called, assuming the uncomfortable role of the group’s leader, “we have never seen this castle. We come from another place quite far from here. Why do you say we are coming home?”
Smiling, she replied, “Ah, my friends, this is a castle your people and mine left long ago. I only invite you to return. Come and stand with me.”
Looking down at my feet, my eyes were drawn to the bodies that littered the mote. “Look not to them,” the lady’s sweet voice called. “Their story is too long for you to hear now.”
“Pray, tell me, my Lady, but who are they?” I asked with a shudder I hoped she wouldn’t see.
She sighed, not a sigh of frustration but of compassion, and spoke once more, “They are many. Some fled from this castle, believing they would find new worlds without the graces found here. Some are those who tried to batter down this castle’s old walls. They have done damage, but still we are here. Still more fell just short of here, never able to bring themselves across the bridge.”
Our pace slowed, uncertain of each step, drawn further only by the sweetness of her voice and the warmth and smells of the castle. We stepped gratefully from the drawbridge and looked to our gracious and mysterious hostess. She held her empty hand to us and said, “You may call me Dorothy.”