This was my first paid publication.Unfortunately, I didn't follow it up officially for about three years, though the story published in 2003 was accepted rather earlier than that.

The setting the story is from has changed a bit, and I've become less enamoured of starting sentences with "And", so I considered doing some new editing to the text. In the end, decided to let it stand exactly as it was published.

I've also come up with a more "Historical" variant of this story (switching the vaguely pagan tones for Christian, and using one moon), and told it aloud as an SCA performance piece. It was a lot of fun, and I got a few compliments, too. Give me a day to practice and remind myself, and I may do it again sometime.

The Ghost of Him

Once there was a man who married a widow, and soon after, was made by her a widower. And this was an ill thing for more than her loss, for he was a wicked man, and her kindness had tempered him while she was there. But now his cruelty fell full upon the one thing she had loved beyond life - her daughter.

The widow's daughter was named Carolle, for she sang with the bright music of the bells, sweet and ringing. She was as sweet tempered as her mother, and even fairer in form. She endured being made the drudge of the house with sorrow, but with fortitude, and when he sent her to work the endless toil of the factory, she saw only that she would be able to be free of the house for a time each day, to walk the fine streets of the city, and considered the hours of aching work to be well made up for by these free moments. She fed the birds as she lunched, and smiled at those who walked by, and bid them a good day.

Now, such warmth might soften even the heart of as cruel a man as the widower, and for a time, he began to warm to her, and ease her onerous tasks at home, even found a servant now that someone brought new money in. This she noticed, and she thanked him, though she was wary of the look in his eyes, that seemed to her too much how he had looked at her mother.

One day, young Erall, whose shadow-filled hair was bound in a proud cock's crest, noticed Carolle among the pigeons she fed, admired her curling hair and her skin as dark as marten's fur, and the speed of her smile. He had the rough hands and musk-stained skin of the tanner, but she loved them the better for that; for her stepfather's hands were too soft from lack of work, and her own were strong and stained like his. He came for many days, greeting her each time by taking her hands in his own, and pressing them to his breast, that she could feel his heart beat for her. She always answered by singing what song the rhythm of his heart reminded her of that day. Soon the only songs his heartbeat let her think of were lovesongs.

He helped her feed the birds, and gave her kind words, or honest when kindness would be a lie; yet it was rare when his honest words could hurt her, for the truth as he saw it was that Carolle was the most wonderful woman he had ever seen. It was not long ere they pledged, and when they did, the servant vanished, and Carolle must work the house alone once more.

Still, she saw her Erall, each morning at her gate, where he took her hands and pressed them to his breast, and every midday, as they fed the birds and talked in murmurs, and each evening, as he watched her safely home. And even her raging stepfather could not stop them from this.

It was not much longer ere they wed, and when they did, Erall took her to his own home, and laid her gently in his own bed, no longer hands to breast, but breast to breast. On their third night of wedlock, and the night when all three moons were full, Erall left her with a thousand kisses, to meet his friends at an inn, and died in the darkness of the alleys. He was not yet three sixes, as Carolle was not.

Carolle's step-father forbade the new-made widow to live alone in her new-inherited home. He demanded that she sell the home and all of its possessions, since they were poor enough without so much that was unnecessary. She delayed him, and stalled him, but knew it would not be so much as two months before he had his way. Each night she whispered her words to the Forest she had never seen, and the God that dwelled there, that he send her the means to freedom.

On the first night that the sweet silver moon, the moon of twenty-eight days, was full, the light poured into her room, and woke her. On waking, she knew there was another presence near, though she could not hear breathing or sense any warmth. She sat up without speaking, waiting for the presence to make itself known.

At last, he stepped into the night; first a solid foot, then a strong leg, then hips and chest, and hands still stained and worn with the tanner's work. He stood in the moonbeam, and only his other foot stayed in the darkness.

"I am your husband," he said. "I am Erall. Do you know me?"

"Indeed I do," Carolle said. "But I will only be glad to see you," she added, for she was no fool, "When you raise your other foot to the light."

This he would not do, at first; but Carolle would not move to greet him, nor invite him to greet her, until he did. And so at last he did, showing the hoof of a ram by which she knew him for a daemon.

"Now," said she. "Begone. I would be content if my husband should return to me from the dead indeed. But I will take none who are false."

And he vanished. And in the morning, her step-father began to sniffle and cough with illness. Carolle gave him hot tea and kind words, then left him alone to go to her work, having done all that she could do.

Next, the moon of fire, which is rimmed in cobalt and which takes fifteen days to go from full to full, came full again for the second time since she lost her Erall. And in the strange flickering light of it, she sensed a presence, could hear him breathing, but felt only chill on the air. So she sat up, silently, and waited for him to reveal himself.

Two solid feet stepped into the moonbeam, and two strong legs, hips and body and hands still stained and worn with the tanner's work.

"I am your husband," he said. "I am Erall. Do you know me?"

"Indeed I do," Carolle said. "And knowing what you are," she added, for she was no fool, "I will sing my joy to greet you."

And she sang, the sweetest hymn to the God of the Forest, and he shrieked and shuddered and fell to the ground. His flesh smoked.

"Now," said she. "Begone. I would be content if my husband should return to me from the dead indeed. But I will take none who are false."

And he vanished; and the next morning, her stepfather began to rave with fever. She kept him home from his work, pressed cooled cloths to his forehead when he needed then, and when he was chilled, wrapped him in blankets. Then she left him alone to go to her work, having done all that she could do.

Two days after that, the golden moon, the largest moon, but she who runs through all her phases in just eight days, came full again, its fourth time since the day that Carolle was widowed.

One last time she woke, in the softened glow of its light, and she sensed a presence. There was no breath, but the world seemed warmer. She sat up, silently, and waited for him to reveal himself.

"Carolle?" said the voice, faint as mist. And he ran forward past the moonbeam, and his ghostly hands curled around her own. She felt warmth but nothing more; yet when his hands moved back as if to raise hers, her hands followed his as if she were guided by his touch, and stopped at his insubstantial breast. And there she felt a soft beat, a pulse, not the throbbing of his dead heart, but the throbbing of his love.

She sang to that soft beat, sang a song of blessing and a song of love. And as she sang, he leaned closer, until they were breast to breast, and to that, she said, "You are my true husband."

And the ghost did not vanish, though in daylight he was nothing more than a scrap of warmth and a voice faint as mist, and only in the light of the golden moon did his shape appear solid.

In the morning, her step-father's fever had broken, and he, not seeing or knowing the ghost was there, still felt shame that he had treated her so coldly, and yet she had tended him even when he was helpless, and she could have left him to his fate. He let her return to the home she had shared so briefly with Erall, and it was his own possessions he got rid of, not selling, but giving them freely to the priests of the Forest God, to repent for the death of Erall.

Still, Carolle lived as well as any could, singing every day to the ghost of him, that stood at her shoulder as she worked, and sat in her front room to greet her guests in the evenings, a blur in the firelight.

She never wed another, saying always that Erall was man enough for her. He must have been, because Carolle is my mother, and Erall my father, and he is father also to my three brothers, and no other man has ever dared the door to our home.


© 2000, Lenora Rose Heikkinen. Originally published in Jackhammer e-zine, edited by Raechel "Roach" Henderson Moon.

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