Amrita sat at the counter of the bar, nursing her drink. Though a little further away from her university campus, the quaint decor felt homely to her. This town reminded her of the rustic villages back home. And it was a relief to be away from the frantic energy and buzzing crowd of the campus pub.
It was quiet tonight at the bar, more than usual. Looked deserted too. Upon her enquiry, the bartender informed her of the festive celebrations taking place at the town centre. After finishing off her drink, she walked towards it.
A town of cotton farmers, their community was quite tight-knit but welcoming. Matriculated in the Literature Undergraduate Programme at the university, she had come to this town occasionally and been charmed by the beautiful countryside. A crowd had gathered near the huge bonfire lit at the town centre. Amrita could see people eating, dancing and singing around it, even throwing some food into the blazing fire. She tapped her foot to the rhythmic beats of the music.
“Hey! Good to see you here,” a voice greeted from her left. She saw Celia waving at her from amidst a group of middle-aged women. Bouncing towards her, she met Amrita mid-way and gave her a big hug. During her ventures into the town, Amrita had befriended this peppy young woman and together, they had spent many sunsets atop the hill, laughing and gossiping. She had always been attracted to this town, that so reminded her of home.
Amrita spent some time stuffing her mouth with delicious tarts, admiring local crafts and making small talk with some townsfolk. Suddenly, her eyes fell upon a sight she’d never seen before in her visits to this town. An enormous castle, its turrets and towers glistening in the light of the half moon. Amrita looked around to see if anyone had noticed this sudden emergence; everyone seemed busy with their celebrations.
“What’s that?” She pointed towards the towers, after snagging Celia from the stall displaying beaded bags. Her usually cheery face underwent a spasm of sorts, turning grim.
“It’s the Ludervell Castle” Celia whispered, eyes darting around the crowd. “Atleast that’s what everyone calls it. Kind of an old cautionary tale, you know. More superstitious and horror to stop children from wandering.” She shrugged. Having read enough folktales and myths as a child, Amrita knew there would be an interesting story or a moral behind this tale. The castle looked resplendid in the moonlight, right out of a fairy-tale. Like a muggle Hogwarts, she thought.
“I’ve heard this from my grandmother as a child. So, I might not remember it in detail.” Celia warned her curious friend, as they walked away from the town centre. “A long time ago, before the modern era I guess, this castle belonged to a noble. A Lord Ludervell. He was the owner of vast lands, including all that belongs to the town today. Some say he had much more than that.
“He had three traits that can be tolerated individually but together, it was unbearable. Cruel, conceited and unpredictable. God had blessed him with a good wife; kind Lady Ludervell who was said to have loved her home and husband. There were grand times, with plentiful harvest yields and grand balls at the castle.” The two friends now stood at the church terrace, a clear view of said castle. The night air was cool, bringing goosebumps to Amrita’s bare arms.
Celia continued her narration. After two seasons of crop failure, the Ludervell Castle was seen burning on a new moon night. Some say it had been a witch who had cursed the arrogant man, some attribute it to a jealous lover of the lady while others term it as the villagers’ conspiracy. After all, many of them had suffered and starved under the tyranny of Ludervell. People had gathered and tried to extinguish the flames, but to no avail. A few brave villagers managed to rescue Lady Ludervell but the castle and its master perished in that fire. She had stood all night and watched her beloved home burn, not a sound falling from her lips. Refusing the sanctuary offered by the villagers, she’d returned to live in the burnt and broken castle. Very few saw her after that and soon, she flung herself from its highest tower. The castle disappeared after a year on a half-moon night, leaving behind vast tract of green fields that could not be cultivated.
“Since then, every night of half-moon, we can glimpse this castle in all its former glory. Never before, never after; it appears like an illusion for just one night.” Celia finished, uncrossing her arms and sighing. “I’m not sure of its accuracy. But all the children of this town have heard it.”
A shiver ran down Amrita’s spine, a baby‘s wail piercing the silence of the night. “Who’s crying, Celia?” Amrita asked, looking at the lanes below. It seemed deserted, most of the townspeople still at the celebrations.
“What?” Celia frowned at her friend. “I don’t hear anything. We’re the only ones here.” But Amrita was convinced she was hearing a baby cry. Exiting the church, she decided to look for the poor child, still trying to convince her sceptical friend that she wasn’t drunk.
“Listen!” Celia snapped, stopping Amrita in her tracks. “There’s no crying baby here. But I know of only one person who heard a baby crying.”
The few times she ventured out of the ruined castle before her, Lady Ludervell had asked the villagers if they could help her find her crying child.
Poor dear suffered from madness, the village elders had sympathised. Such a young age to be widowed, homeless and childless.