It was not until dusk when she woke up. In fact, that had become the routine now. She found it difficult if not downright impossible to wake up in the morning. The day and all the happiness that comes with a pleasant sunrise just did not appeal to her anymore.
On this day, or rather evening, the moon was already in the sky. The pale white disk was hardly noticeable in the bright blue where the sun’s light was still present but not intense. With great care, the woman rose from her cot and stepped outside to look at the sky. Rogue strands of her pitch-black hair had to be swept away from her field of view. Only briefly did she stand on the wooden porch looking up at the moon, or Twalang as an old friend used to call it.
Her thoughts shifted to her husband and her promise to him. Daily, she fulfilled the promise, and she was not going to let the darkening sky stop her now. She could eat when she returned, but for now, she needed to start walking.
Without even putting proper shoes on her delicate feet, she stepped off the porch and walked the few yards to the garden she started before the war. As she walked, the fringes of her once-fine nightgown dragged along the dirt and kicked up a small billow of dust that trailed behind her hidden steps.
The garden she was walking to had been blessed- or cursed depending on how your closed your mind is. Roses, the only thing still growing in the garden, would always be in bloom, but the brilliant red of their petals would be darkened to near-black. Some faint burgundy could still be found if one looked close enough, but at first glance the petals would appear solid black.
The woman knelt down and plucked a rose stem from the bush. She muttered a quiet “thank you” to the bush for not pricking her. For the seventh night in a row, not a single thorn hurt her hand. She then carefully scanned the rest of the bush to make sure the other flowers were doing fine. A few stems appeared to be wilting so she resolved to water them when she returned. But she needed to fulfill her promise first.
A feeling of resolution rose in her chest as she got up. She turned to face across the dusty flatland and began walking. While she had chores that she was putting off and although the sky had already turned a burning orange, the woman walked with a slow, casual pace as if she had all the time in the world.
Her name was Moracca Lother, beloved wife and, unfortunately, child of none. Like her chores, things such as continuing the family bloodline were delayed until after important promises. However, these promises were her husbands, not her own. He was a soldier, born and raised. When the call came for the armies to march against the goblins, he left her. But they promised each other something so that their love could always bloom.
Moracca’s heart was laden with despair at her memories of the antebellum times she spent with her husband, and it would not do to have such a heavy heart for this journey. So she actively attempted to control the meandering thoughts of her mind. She tried to think about the weather, but could not remember if the day before was bright or dreary. She tried to think about her friends, but every one of them turned to times with her husband. Finally, she gave in to the cries of her heart and let her mind dwell on such morbid thoughts as the past.
Moracca’s husband, the brave Captain Wintmond Lother, was a noble man as chivalrous as any knight. He was from a military family, actually. The rigid structure of his upbringing could explain why he was as honorable as he was. When Moracca and Wint- which is what she called him- first met, Moracca had not seen any man like him. From her small farming town, there was not a single man worth mentioning until Wint passed through.
Over the next half a decade, Wint slowly courted Moracca. He would only see her for a day or two for a whole season as he passed through the area with the troops. In those days, the Dark Elf Rebellion had officially ended but many bands of skirmishers raided the outlying farmlands. Wint and the legion he served with were busy, but he would still make a point to visit Moracca.
One fall, just after the harvest, Wint asked Moracca to marry him. She moved with him to Rushing Bend where he would train at the fort across the river. It took her sometime to adjust herself to both city and married life, but she liked it better than working the family fields. The only bit of homesickness she felt was for gardening. In the city, she did not have much room to grow her own fruits, let alone beautiful flowers. It was something she nagged Wint about so he promised her that they would buy a small farm together.
Moracca brought herself out of her reveries to look back and attempt to see the cottage they had bought when the world saw them as a young married couple. She could not. The sinking feeling of widowhood returned, but she did not let it faze her. Instead, she continued her march across the dry plains. She gripped tighter the stem of the black rose as if it was her husband himself.
Her thoughts returned to the past. After the farmhouse had been purchased, the two lovers enjoyed each other’s company while Wint was on an extended leave. In those days, the surrounding fields were busy. They were owned and operated by other farmers so the ever-present crops offered a scenic backdrop to Moracca’s humble garden without requiring laborious attention from her.
Those were the peaceful times, and it was not just her who thought that. The peaceful days, in the years following the end of the dark elf skirmishes, was brutally interrupted with what has since been called the Calamity. Between the Dark Elf Civil War, Third Goblin War, Pelt Plot, and Flaming of Mount Drugg, the world appeared to be ending.
For Moracca, it might as well have. Wint sacrificed his life in the Goblin War. Now a captain, he was in charge of a whole legion. A total of six battalions, each made of three legions, were present at the Battle of Bethsimi. For most people, the battle has become a romanticized conflict where the armies of the free races met and defeated the goblin hordes. Many warriors that fought in the battle became heroes. Moracca was lucky enough to know a few of them and counted many of those among her friends.
But Time proves to be the master of all, and its ally Death the master of life. Moracca tried to think how many of those heroes are dead and she thought, for some reason, that all of them were. Each warrior, while undefeated on the battlefield against any human, elf, dwarf, or goblin, was murdered by Death in their good time. Wint, on the other hand, was murdered by a goblin.
Just then a horrible sound, similar to the wind blasting through the mouth of a cave, tore Moracca from her memories. She frantically looked around the dusty old farmland straining to see the source of the cry. She knew what it was: a wailing specter. Phantoms haunt these flatlands. That was just common fact. Restless spirits, unable to pass on to the next realm, wander the area as forms of energy. They take the shape of their human selves because that is the form most comfortable for them. And at dusk, when the light is still present but the sun has already left, the living can see them. They wail a hollow sound that chills the bones more than the growing night. They wail because of their lost lives. Something meaningful or fateful went unfulfilled in their lifetime, and now they mourn the loss of opportunity. They float over the plains trying, straining to hear the knocking of opportunity. Unfortunately, they cannot hear anything above their own wailing.
That is how the legends go, at least.
Moracca did not see anyone or thing so she returned to her memories. She remembered the day she heard the news. She was tending her flowers, as became her custom, when an elf courier sprinted up the path to her. The young courier did not say anything as he reached into his bag and withdrew a scroll. Silently, the writing was exchanged. Before he left, and she remembers this distinctly, he turned to look at the roses which were already black by magic. Moracca could see for a split second a grimace mar his otherwise fine face. Then he turned and sprinted away.
She knew why he had grimaced. The roses gave off a dark energy that forced immortality emanates. She temporarily let her mind stray to racist thoughts about elves and their notorious egos, but then she read the message. It said her husband had died at Bethsimi. It said he died bravely leading an attacking flank. It said he died a hero and many will remember him. Moracca looked up and down at the text, penned so neatly to the page. She knew such condolences were written by magic. Most widows would receive similar letters with only the name and maybe cause of death changed. The line about the hero, while initially a hopeful thought, was a hollow message from a pen without a writer.
Moracca still had the letter. It been years since she actually looked at it, but she did not throw it away. Because she never knew where her husband was buried, that letter is the closest thing she has to a grave.
After her husband’s death, she tried to stay positive. She stayed busy with her gardening and visiting old friends. She thought, one afternoon, about dating again and finding someone else. Ultimately, she still felt close to her husband and abandoned such notions. As she was alone most of the time, the days passed away slowly. After half a decade, she could not stay strong any longer. She felt herself give in to despair. For almost a year, she refused contact with most people. She barely went outside. The neighboring farmers brought her food for she had stopped caring for her own gardens. Soon, only the roses remained. Their black bulbs bloomed by magic but their stems wilted without water.
Moracca thought that she was going to die. She swore that she felt her life energy slowly seeping away, until she remembered a picnic she had with Wint. It was shortly after the pair had moved to the cottage. For the most part, the day was unspectacular. It had faded away with most other memories. But something drew it to the front of Moracca’s mind. On that day, the young couple walked across the farmlands to a creek. Wild ferns grew along its bank, and the stream meandered between the properties with a pleasing melody of running water. Wint found a spot on the bank that was clear of ferns and laid a blanket down for them. While eating, they agreed that this would be where they would meet if something happened to the cottage or them that forced the two apart. At the time Wint was thinking of a fire or a thief, but Moracca applied the promise to the war.
It was with the hope that somehow Wint had survived the battle- had been captured by goblins but finally escaped- that Moracca stirred herself out of her self-pity. She told her neighbors about this good news so they would no longer have to care for her like the local old hag. Then she started visiting the site every day. She never saw her husband, but she wanted to give him a sign to let him know that she was there: still waiting, still faithful. That was when she started leaving the blackened blooms.
Years have since past. They were too many for Moracca to count. The owners of the farms moved away, and their land began to decay. The path that Moracca now walked was once a fertile farmland with lively crops, but now it is nothing but a dusty wasteland. The heroes that Wint had befriended and fought alongside have since perished. The Calamity has faded into history. So many years have passed since that legionnaire talked to the farm girl. So much has changed.
Once her memories of Wint had caught up with the present, Moracca felt a strange sensation of peace. She still remembered him. She still knew their story. The tradition of walking to the creek with the cursed flower was not in vain. She still loved him.
Then she noticed a line of green on the horizon. She kept her same methodic pace, but her heartbeat quickened to the point where she could almost hear it in her chest. When she came upon the emerald line, she looked left and right at all the ferns still growing on the creek’s bank. The creek itself had also changed. It was smaller than it was before, but it still trickled behind the leaves.
Pleased that her promise for the day was almost fulfilled, Moracca quickly scanned the plants in the growing dusk looking for Wint’s favorite picnic spot. She found his bare patch and walked over slowly over to it. Instead of billowing dust clouds, the ferns shook as she walked to it. As methodically as she walked, she bent down and carefully placed the black rose on the grass.
As she was about to stand up, she noticed that this particular rose had an abnormally large thorn sticking straight up. If her memory was correct, the thorn should have been where her palm was. Faster than she moved all evening, she looked down at her hand. It was smooth and without a blemish. She looked back at the thorn. Then she reached for the stem, careful that her palm would meet the thorn. Her hands grasped the stem, the thorn disappeared behind her skin, and she did not feel a thing.
Her mind raced. There was no way that a thorn as large as that one could not hurt her. In fact, she was surprised it did not cut clear through her hand. Then she tried to remember the last time that the thorns actually hurt her. At least a week has passed, but she could not recall a time when the roses pricked her. After some mental debate, she decided to blame the phenomenon on the roses’ curse. Not only will they not wilt, but apparently they will not prick either.
Standing up, she looked around the creek. A dead brown blanketed the landscape as far into the horizon as the distant mountains, but the stream offered a place where verdant life could grow. She appreciated the ferns. While none of them were blooming, she found them to be enjoyable to look at. As she was letting the green sink into her eyes, Moracca noticed a bit of grey that was not there the evening before.
She meandered over to the new object. As she got closer, she saw it was a gravestone. As she approached closer still, she read the name carved into the face: “Moracca Lother”.
She blinked once, and then again, and then a third time. The name did not change.
Suddenly exhausted, Moracca fell to her knees before the headstone. With great effort, as if pushing against a powerful current, she looked up. She could not remember when she died. Did she die before her heroic friends and her spirit just heard the rumors? Did the neighboring farmers move or did several generations pass away? She had been so focus on keeping her promise she did not even notice her own death! But her promise drove her spirit to continue returning to the creek. This promise to her husband, who must surely, beyond a shadow of a doubt, be dead, was her unfinished business.
Her death was news her heart could not bear. It sank from her chest and she felt sick as it pushed other organs out of the way. Worse, however, was the situation of her afterlife. She was a spirit whose energy was bound to this realm, destined forever to be a myth that continues this wretched journey twilight after twilight. The promise she had once made would be her eternal undoing. Tears flooded her eyes and she felt like wailing.
No! She saw her own grave and a thought began to turn in her head. A feeling of resolution rose in her chest as she got up. For what must have been generations she has waited for her husband. She was faithful in coming to the creek with the message of a black rose, but it was unnecessary. Her gravestone was a message, and her body will remain faithful until the end of days. No! If her spirit is bound to this realm, it must have some other purpose than to wait.
She looked out to the mountains on the horizon. Behind them was a bright orange light of the missing sun. The rest of the sky had blackened, like her cursed rose. With as much determination as she had when she set out from her cottage to the creek, Moracca- or the ghost of Moracca- began to walk. The ferns shook and then the dust billowed. If her husband was not going to come find her waiting, then she would go to Bethsimi and find him, body or spirit. That was her promise.