Facts, Fantasy, & Fascinations is delighted to welcome fellow writer, M. E. Lebron this week. “The Curse of Candlekeep” is a super spooky read that will keep you on your toes and rushing to read more. It will be a two part feature. Next week will be the final installment. Did I mention there were pirates???
Captain Rylan Hale took one look around Candlekeep and decided he hated the town and everyone in it.
Maybe the pirate wouldn’t be so touchy if his ship was in good repair and he was standing on the deck of said ship with the salt breeze caressing his face. But as it was, Queen Hera’s Revenge had barely limped its way into port, and now Captain Hale found himself stranded.
Really, the storm he could have handled. The damage to the Revenge wasn’t the worst of it either. His bad mood had actually started with the Harbormaster.
“Welcome to Candlekeep, my good man!”
Captain Hale barely had one toe on the pier before a foppish man in a tri-corner hat accosted him.
“My name is Simon Culpepper. I’m the Harbormaster here in Candlekeep. Are you here on merchant business, or simply passing through?”
Good lord, even his name offends the senses, Hale thought. The Captain blinked at the harbormaster, then turned and glanced back at his ship. There on the mainmast, snapping in the breeze, flew a black flag – the mark of a pirate vessel. Hale fixed Simon Culpepper with a pointed stare; the harbormaster’s eyes slowly traveled up to the flag and his mouth formed an “o” of surprise.
Yes, that’s it. Scuttle away from the fearsome pirate and leave me and my crew alone.
“I see,” said the harbormaster.
Captain Hale smirked in satisfaction.
“Well, Captain. I hope you enjoy your stay in Candlekeep. But try not to have too much fun, eh?” Simon Culpepper gently elbowed Hale in the ribs, winked conspiratorially, then turned and went on his merry way, whistling as he went.
Captain Hale had stood rooted to the pier, trying to decide if he wanted to shoot at Culpepper’s retreating back, or throw up. In the end, he settled for being grumpier than usual.
Now, sitting at the bar in the disgustingly picturesque Albatross Inn, Hale could feel his mood going from sour to rancid. Everyone in Candlekeep was so nice. The men tipped their hats to him in the streets. The women smiled and bobbed their heads. The barkeeper even tried to make small talk.
“It’s not natural,” Hale muttered into his tankard of beer.
The door to the inn squeaked open and two women shuffled inside. A young woman with dark hair gently ushered the oldest woman Hale had ever seen into the inn; the young woman was clearly distressed – and clearly attractive, Hale noticed – but the old woman held his attention. Though the crone looked quite frail, she put up a valiant struggle to get away, the entire time weeping and muttering to herself.
Captain Hale sat up a little straighter in his chair. Something interesting might happen in this sleepy little town after all.
The bartender hurried out from behind the bar and took the old woman by the hand, steering her gently toward a table.
“I’m so sorry, Ned. I don’t know what’s come over Gran. She’s been like this ever since we spotted a ship in the harbor while we were walking the pier.”
“It’s alright, Sabra dear. Let’s get Neela to a table and I’ll make a cup of tea.” The old woman lifted her head and fixed her eyes on Captain Hale.
“My Corsan,” she said, her voice trembling. “You’ve come home to me at last.” Every head in the bar swiveled in his direction.
Just great, he thought sourly.
The young woman – Sabra, apparently – made her way over to him. As Captain Hale took in her velvet black hair and sea-gray eyes, he decided his bad mood might be improving slightly.
“I’m sorry about my grandmother.” Sabra’s voice was sweet, almost melodic. “Her mind is… not what it used to be. She gets confused.”
Alright Hale, just tell the girl there’s no harm done and go back to your beer.
“Who exactly does your grandmother think I am?”
Drat it, man!
“Corsan, my grandfather. He… was a pirate. Like you.”
Interesting. “ And what happened to him?”
“He sailed away seventy years ago and never returned. I guess my Gran just saw your ship and thought…”
Captain Hale adjusted his hat to a more rakish angle and gave Sabra what he hoped was a roguish smile. “Well, no harm done. Tell your Gran –”
The door flew open and hit the wall behind it with a teeth-jarring bang. Henry
Bosan, Hale’s first mate, tore into the inn yelling and waving his arms. “Captain! Come quick!”
Hale rolled his eyes to the ceiling and stood from his stool. “Henry, this had better be good because if not –”
“Captain sir, I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. But I swear on my mother’s grave, sir. There’s a ghost on our ship.”
“Henry Bosan, if you dragged me away from a perfectly good mug of beer for nothing, I’m going to tie you to the prow and let the gulls eat you.”
Captain Hale had been standing in the belly of his ship for nearly twenty minutes, impatiently tapping his boot against the deck boards. A solitary oil lantern pierced the gloom, swinging gently with the slight rocking of the ship.
“Sir, there was a ghost. I swear on –”
“Your mother’s grave, yes I know,” Hale snapped. “I also know your mother is alive and well and living in Raven’s Hollow. She’s quite flexible for her age.” Hale tapped his boot a few more times, then turned toward the ladder leading to the upper deck. “I’m leaving, Henry. Don’t bother me again unless something is sinking or on fire.”
He placed his boot on the bottom rung when the air went suddenly frigid. Hale’s breath came out of his mouth in a puff of white vapor, and he clenched his jaw to keep his teeth from chattering.
“It’s the ghost, Captain! I told you!”
Hale slowly turned, his hand reaching for the pistol tucked into his belt.
A figure, pale and translucent, materialized from out of the shadows. Dressed in pirate’s clothes, the phantom held a bloody dagger in one hand, and tucked underneath the opposite elbow was a severed head.
The phantom turned and fixed its milky-white eyes on Captain Hale.
“Corsan,” the phantom hissed.
The hairs on Hale’s neck and arms stood up and goosebumps prickled along his back.
“I knew you would come for me in the end, Corsan! I should have tossed your bones into the sea.” The phantom raised the knife and lunged for Hale. Hale drew his pistol and fired off a shot – the lead ball passed straight through the ghost and punched a hole through the wall behind it. The ghost bore down on Hale, then passed through him. Hale shuddered, feeling as if he’d been dropped into ice water. With a howl that nearly turned Hale’s blood to ice, the phantom disappeared.
Hale stood for a moment, staring at the spot where the ghost vanished. Then he stuffed the pistol back in his belt and turned to Henry.
“Bosan, my apologies.” Then the Captain swept up the ladder, across the deck, and down the gangplank.
That was the second time he’d been mistaken for Corsan in one day. But Captain Hale wasn’t the type to investigate. All he cared about was that there was a ghost on his ship, and if he couldn’t blast it to pieces, he needed some other method to get rid of it.
Pirates are superstitious creatures. They have to be when dealing with something as wild and unpredictable as the ocean. Superstitions gave a man the illusion of control over his circumstances. But Captain Hale knew of another profession where one needed to be more superstitious than a pirate. And lucky for him, Candlelkeep employed just such a person.
Captain Hale made his way through the neat little town graveyard to the small church and cottage on top of the hill. The ever-so-helpful barkeep assured him Father Basil Barnes, resident cleric, would be at his cottage this time of evening. Hale rapped on the door and waited.
A few muffled thumps followed by a “Just a minute!” preceded the opening of the door to reveal a squat, balding man wearing brown robes. Father Basil blinked owlishly at Captain Hale. “Can I help you?”
“Yes, Father, I believe you can. See, I’m having a bit of a problem with a ghost and I –”
The cleric rolled his eyes heavenward and shoved his head out the door to peek around the cottage.
“Dolores, you hateful old hag! I told you last week if I had to banish you one more time, I’d dig up your miserable bones and bury you next to your ex-husband!” The cleric turned to look at Hale. “Give me just a minute. I’ll get the herbs and candles. Tell the townsfolk I’ll fix Dolores real good this time.”
Hale grabbed the cleric by the back of the robes as the little man tried to retreat back into his cottage.
“Uh, Father, as interesting as Dolores sounds, she’s not the ghost in question.”
The cleric whirled around, his eyebrows shooting up. “Not Dolores? Oh, thank the gods. She’s really mean, you know.”
“No, not Dolores. A different ghost. A pirate. He’s taken up residence on my ship and I want him gone.”
The cleric scratched his chin and frowned. “A pirate, you say? Interesting. And he didn’t appear until you came here to Candlekeep?” Hale nodded.
“I see. Well, considering this ghost just appeared, I don’t think the spirit is bound to your ship. I’d say your arrival here triggered the ghost somehow. Considering it’s the ghost of a pirate, maybe you activated a curse of some sort.”
Hale resisted the urge to sigh in exasperation. “Fascinating. Truly. That still doesn’t tell me how to get the thing off my ship.”
“Oh, well, you’d need to break the curse, obviously.”
The cleric waved his hand dismissively. “Just find out who put the curse on your ghost and they can tell you how to lift it. Should be simple.”
Captain Hale turned and stalked back down the hill. Looks like he’d have to do some investigating after all.
Read more by M. E. Lebron here!