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|For anyone who has ever heard of the Glamis Castle, you probably know that it is reputed to be the most haunted place in the world. There are tonnes off cool ghost stories told about that place. One ghost story that particularly interested me was one about the ghostly figure of a young woman dressed all in gray who appeared in the castle's chapel, walked down the aisle, knelt by the altar then disappeared. In keeping with the idea that ghosts died terrible, tragic deaths, here is my 'history' of the Gray Lady.||
Elenora awoke just as the early morning sun was beginning to spread it’s rosy light over the dew-covered land. She rose quietly so as not to disturb her young sister, Clarissa, who shared her bed. She dressed quickly, then tiptoed out to the kitchen. Her mother, Marya, greeted her there with a warm smile and a covered basket, which smelled deliciously of food and fresh baked bred.
They exchanged no words, for Elenora was not allowed to speak or break her fast until the bishop permitted it. But she was not bothered, she knew she was very fortunate. She was the first woman to have ever been given a position of the church. She was only a scribe, and would never have obtained such a position had it not been for her fiancé, Nathaniel, who was well loved and respected by all.
Elenora exchanged a kiss with her mother, then hurried away. She dare not be late. The air outside was damp and cold, and Elenora pulled her cloak close about her, shivering despite its warmth. She began along the road, following the fresh wagon tracks left by her eldest brother, Joseph, and her father, Jonathon on their way to work. Her youngest brother, Liam was scarcely older than Clarissa, and had likely run off to play with some of his little friends.
Elenora thought of her family and the warm memories helped to keep the chill away. They were not rich or well known, but she wouldn’t give them up for anything in the world. Soon, she found herself practically at the castle gates. The many spires and great stone walls of Glamis castle towered overhead. She could just make out red-thatched roof of the chapel, dwarfed by the surrounding buildings.
She had to stop over many a muddy gouge and stone on the ground to get through the main gate. Sir John Lynon was having a new wall built around the castle perimeter to better the castle’s defenses. But at last she made her way into a small side door.
The stone halls within could hardly be called pleasantly warm, but it was still much better than the seeping chill outside. The hall she entered into led to many places, all of which only a few people were permitted. Her footsteps seemed to echo forever through the lonely hall.
At last she arrived at the chapel. She went immediately to the back room where she would do her work. There were already a few letters the bishop wanted her to write, so she set to work right away. She was busy scratching away with her feather-quill pen, when a sudden movement caused her to jump, smudging the page badly and upsetting the ink. She whirled, her eyes flashing, and looked into the sparkling blue eyes of Nathaniel Williams, her lover.
She started to speak, but suddenly recalled her vow of silence, and simply gave him the fiercest glare she could muster while trying to conceal her laughter and delight at seeing him.
"Forgive me, my dear," he said no more, but swept her into his embrace and kissed her lovingly. She would have stayed for all the day in his arms, but she heard footsteps approaching. Only the bishop walked like that, with his funny limp, and she must not be caught at such play in the chapel itself!
The bishop set eyes on the scene for but a moment, then turned to Eleanora with anger written on his aging face. But Nathaniel saved her.
"Forgive me, Father Jensen. This is no fault of the lady’s. I startled her and caused her to upset the ink. Do not be harsh with her, I beg of you." He bowed again before the bishop. Jensen dared not go against the word of Nathaniel, who was one of the close friends of Sir Lynon himself. Instead, he gestured distractedly and Nathaniel left. The bishop sent a baleful glance at Eleanora and told her curtly that she would not eat or speak until she had finished writing the entire letter over again. She sighed in compliance, deciding it was worth it to have seen her Nathan.
Several hours later, she found herself outside, sitting under he favorite willow tree and gratefully eating her lunch. The day had warmed considerably. She smiled as Nathaniel approached, but he seemed troubled.
"Dearest," he said as he sat down beside her. I had hoped you would attend me last night after you had dined." She looked at him for a moment, surprised, then remembered.
"Oh! I’m so sorry Nathan, but Liam sprained his ankle badly. You know how little boys are! Mama was concerned for him, and you know I am well learned in such things…"
He interrupted. "Are you saying that your brother’s ankle means more to you than I?" Eleanora could only stare at him for a moment, then she sighed slightly.
"Nathaniel, you know my family’s welfare is the most important thing in the world to me…I would not trade them for anything. I’ve told you…" but he interrupted her again.
"I’ll not have it." His voice was suddenly tinged with anger. "When I ask you to come to my home, I expect you to come! I do not care what the circumstances. If everyone in the kingdom comes when I tell them, then so too must you!"
"What are you saying?" Her head whirled in confusion. She had never seen him so distraught.
"I am saying that I will not have you put your family before me. If we are to be married, I’ll not have you give me any half-hearted love! I would have your heart as whole to me…" he reached for her hands, but she jerked away.
"Nathaniel, how can you say that? You know…"
"I know only that I will not have it!" He stood abruptly and said just before he left, "You know how I love you. I cannot give my life to one who will love another over me save God himself!" Then he was gone, disappearing into the shadows of the towering castle.
Eleanora sat still a moment, shocked and hurt. How could she marry him if he forced her to leave her family for his sake? But she loved him, and there was no honorable way she could cancel this marriage without destroying her family as well. She felt tears coming to her eyes. She loved her family more than life itself and would miss them as such, but she knew she could not do such a thing to them. Standing, she shoved the remainder of the food into her basket, no longer hungry. So then, she resolved, she would give all of her heart to Nathaniel. But she would save at least the smallest, secret portion for her beloved family.
That night when she arrived home, she told her family of the news, and Nathaniel’s behavior.
"My dear, do not worry! We will always love you, no matter what," her mother told her, and her father and brother agreed. Clarissa and Liam did as well, but likely they did not in the least understand what they were agreeing to. But still, something weighed down on her.
She spent the rest of the night playing with Clarissa and helping her with her weaving. Eleanora adored her youngest sibling. One day, the girl would be a fine weaver. Eleanora felt a pang as she realized that she likely would not be around to see her accomplish it. Once they were married, they would move to live in Nathaniel’s castle far away…
She pushed the thoughts away as best as she could, forcing herself to be brave for her family’s sake. She slept fitfully, her dreams haunted with disturbing visions of loss and tragedy, and of Nathaniel. She did not know how she could possibly face him…
In the morning, she felt considerably better about her predicament however, and she felt quite prepared to face anything. At least her family was behind her in support, and that was all she needed. Little did she realize just how wrong she was.
The day was a long one, with many a letter to write and document to copy. She was surprised that she did not see Nathaniel even once. She was strangely anxious at this, she had hoped to talk to him before the afternoon was out. She had just finished a particularly difficult assignment and was resting under her usual willow tree, watching the wane over the hills, when Nathan appeared at last.
"Nathan. What has kept you this day, love?" she called, standing. He seemed unusually melancholy, but her embraced with love as always and looked at her with sad eyes.
"Dearest, you know how my heart beats only for you, and I am loath to hurt you. It has taken me all this day to gather enough courage to face you with the grave news I bear." Elenora started at the heavy tone of his voice.
"Why, what could possibly be so wrong?" she asked, not entirely sure she wanted to hear the answer. Did he love another? Was someone hurt? Would she be forced to give up her job so someone else, someone of a higher status? A million thoughts rushed through her head at once so that she almost didn’t hear what Nathaniel said.
"Your family has left this day and moved far off. They did not say where they were destined." Elenora stared at him, confusion and fear written on her face as she processed what he was saying.
"Left? I do not understand…" she had gone quite pale and Nathaniel embraced her. She stiffened and pulled away.
"Elenora," he said to her, brushing her reddish hair from her face. "Forgive me for hurting you, but you must know. They told me that they left because of you, that you had gone beyond them now. Your father spoke to me. He told me that you should be free of them, to do your own will…"
"No!" she cried, slapping his hand away. "I do not believe you!" She turned and ran, forgetting her duty to the church, and raced desperately down the path toward her home. IT was a long way, but her panic fueled her and she did not slow her pace even once. At last she arrived at her little cottage. She rushed through the door, red faced and breathing hard.
"Mama?" she called. Then she saw the interior of the house and paled even more. It was almost completely empty. The table was gone, the wall hangings and cloaks were gone; it was abandoned. Her cry seemed to echo hollowly in her ears as she ran into her parent’s bedroom. Their clothing chests were gone and the bed sheets as well. She felt tears well up in her soft gray eyes. She refused to believe what her eyes told her. It could not be! How could her family do this to her, and without even saying a word about it!
The loft her brothers shared was also cleaned out of every possession and her own room was emptied of all Clarissa’s things. Her own chest of clothes and treasures still remained, but that only seemed to add to the loss she felt. In one corner, near the bed, she found the doll she had made for Clarissa just a few days before. The child had loved it and played with it day and night, but now it was without an owner. She clutched it to her chest, and at last tears began to stream down her cheeks as the terrible realization sank in. Her family had gone. They would lose everything they had gained, their home, their jobs, everything. And it was no one’s fault but her own. She had driven them away.
Nathaniel found her kneeling on the wooden floor, the doll clutched desperately in one hand her delicate face smeared with countless tears. He spoke to her, but when she looked at him, it was as if she did not see him and instead looked past him at nothing. He gently picked her up and put her on his horse. He would take her to his own quarters in the castle to recover. He hoped he had not broken her precious heart beyond repair.
Her next awareness was of voices. People were talking. One of them was Nathaniel. She wasn’t sure about the other. She could hear the, but she did not understand the words. At last reality began to sink in and she remembered.
Hearing her groan, one of them said, "Hush, she’s coming to." Then Nathan was leaning over her, his dark face obscuring her view.
"Dearest?" he asked gently.
She could only shake her head. It was all her fault. Her family was gone and it was all her fault. She sat up slowly and saw the source of the other voice. The bishop. He smiled wearily at her.
"Father, I have sinned…" she began, tears welling up again.
"You have done nothing, my dear," he said. "Your family left willingly, by no action of your own. As for your job, you will no longer be needed here. You must prepare, for in one week’s time, you shall travel with Nathaniel to his home to be wedded." It was all too much for Elenora. She lay back down and wept.
She remembered very little of the following weeks. She would find herself at intervals in the chapel, kneeling at the altar and counting her rosary or simply praying. She knew not what words she used, only that she asked forgiveness; that her family forgive her, that God forgive her for thinking herself above them. Of course she had done no such thing, but she felt somehow that it had been all her fault. That if only she’d been happy with a lesser position her loved ones would not have left. They would not have lost everything and they would be happily together for always.
Each and every day with the rising sun and then again as it set, Elenora made her way to the chapel and knelt in prayer. She was oblivious to all those around her, even Nathaniel. Nathaniel himself had decided to delay their marriage until Elenora recovered, but she only got worse. She now refused even to wear the clothes set out for her and wore only the gray and white colors of mourning, so that her dress seemed sometimes to meld with her sad, gray eyes. Once soft and laughing, they now seemed distant and lost.
One early morning, after she had finished her prayer, she found herself walking out of doors. She knew not where she was going, only that she was not so depressed as she had been of late, and even found herself cheering a bit in the warm, sunny weather. Although one would not have called her bright and happy, but it was an improvement.
She found herself in a little forest glade outside of the market place. She had come here often with her family in summers past, and that was likely why she had made her way there unknowingly. Used to it being silent and empty (it was not a widely known area and only a few besides herself and her family had ever gone there) she was surprised to find people there.
There was a carriage and several men. With dismay, she saw the carriage was black and the men were digging a large hole. Someone had died then; someone not well cared for, but a person just the same. Her mood turned dark once again. She watched in silence as the men put several canvas bags with corpses inside into the grave. She knew she should leave, but some strange fascination kept her rooted to the spot. So she watched on as the men piled bodies into the hole. An entire family it seemed, how sad…
And then something caught her eye. A lock of red hair much like her own…a fragment of blue dress…she paled and felt herself swoon with horror. Then, by some fluke, the canvas covering slid aside to reveal the face of the deceased child. Clarissa.
"No," Elenora gasped under her breath, feeling her mind lip from her control. But it was unmistakably her. Her sweet green eyes were glazed over and lifeless. She now recognized the shapes of the rest of her family. Her mother, her father, Liam and Joseph. The family was hers.
By some incredible act of will, she turned to the men. She could overhear their conversation.
"Shame, really," one of them was saying. He was now throwing chest and objects into the grave, objects she recognized with mounting horror. "They weren’t a bad family, those DeLanys. ‘Specially those two young ones. It makes my blood boil to think that he can get away with such…such murder. It ain’t right."
"Yeah, well quit with your squabbling," the other man interrupted. "He’s Nathaniel Williams, he can do whatever he wants. Now shut your trap ‘afore he kills us off too." The men continued on in silence, but Elenora’s mind was yammering away, she couldn’t think, could barely even see. She felt nauseated and weak. Nathan had done this. She thought she had driven her family away, but this was far worse. He had killed them. He had lied to her and committed the worst sin possible. He had killed them in cold blood. And she had loved him. Retching, she ran off madly toward the castle…the bishop! She must tell the bishop!
The men looked up at the sound of her sudden departure and shook their heads. No woman should have to see such things, they thought, and went back to work, covering the grave forever.
Elenora had no idea how she ever made it to the castle. Sobbing desperately and choking as she ran, she at last found her way into the chapel.
"Father?" she called, over and over. "Father? Where are you? Father Jensen!" Her cries became more and more fervent. She could hardly speak she was sobbing so, and she thought she might die for lack of oxygen. Then she heard voices in the hall.
"Father?" she gasped, lurching and stumbling toward the door. The bishop’s face appeared, his eyes widening as he caught site of her bedraggled form. Her face was pale as death, her gray gown torn and covered in mud, brambles and blood, her face smeared and soaked with tears. She started to run toward him, then recoiled in terror as Nathaniel stepped through the door.
"Dearest?" he said tentatively. She could not believe the calmness of his voice, the kind tone. This is no human! She thought angrily.
"Keep away you demon!" she cried, holding her cross before her.
"Child, you are delirious! Let me help you," the bishop spoke softly, coming toward her, but she was far beyond help.
"You do not know him! You have not seen…" she screamed as he stepped near, then broke off, whirling and running away. She did not care where he wild footsteps took her, as long as she was gone from the murderer’s sight.
"You will not have me, you creature of purest evil!" she yelled. They were chasing her now. She could not let them catch her! She could not bear the thought of his touch.
She was running up stairs now, then she was on the balcony where the organ was kept. They were coming! They were right behind her now, calling, saying something. Their words were lost on her; she could not understand them. She knew only that she had to get away.
Suddenly she was climbing a ladder. A trap door was above her. She tried to push it open, but it wold not budge. Screaming hysterically now, she pounded and shoved with all of her might, and at last it flew open. She did not even notice her raw hands and bloodied knees as she stepped out into the air.
Her amber hair had fallen loose and blew wildly about her face in the stiff wind. She whirled to see the…the demon emerge from the trap door. She could not bear to call him by his name anymore, only humans had names, and he was anything but human. The bishop was too old to keep up with him, but in her whirling mind Elenora imagined he had killed the father as well.
She said something to him, but by now she could not even understand herself and stumbled to the edge of the roof. Looking down, the world seemed to spread before her, and a sort of calm swept over her. She looked back to see him approaching, calling her name, reaching for her. He would not have her. Not ever.
She turned back to the edge and stepped onto the low wall that surrounded it. Taking off her rosary, she clutched it to her chest. She would see her family again. She would be at peace. Whispering a word of forgiveness and hope, she flung herself into the wind. By the time her reached the edge, Nathaniel was far too late.
No one ever found out about Nathaniel’s crime. He was killed in a minor war several years later. Most said Elenora had never been quite right in her mind, others thought she’d killed herself because she’d been with another man and could not live with her guilt.
Elenora herself had flown away when she jumped, leaving her terrible memories behind. Those memories remained trapped in the castle walls, floating and whirling unseen and unfelt for an eternity through the cold stone corridors. Some days, perhaps because of something in the air, perhaps because of some magic within, or perhaps just to serve as a reminder, the memories gather in the chapel and form a more solid image, one for any caring mortal to see.
Such ends the tale of she who is now known only as the Gray Lady. If, one day, you find yourself in the ancient Glamis Castle, you would do well to bless those countless memories that travel there, for they will not be so easily forgotten…
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