The valley was eerily silent except for the pounding of my horses hooves on the broken path that lay beneath his feet. Clouds enveloped the sky, blocking off the righteous sunshine that was so common this time of year in the rest of the world. But not here. Never in this valley had the sun ever shown its face, not for thirty years.
I sighed briefly as I remembered what this place used to be, a utopia of peace and beauty. A place where all were welcome, man or beast. The winding streams, the grass sweeping across the landscape as far as the eye could see. The air filled with the sounds of laughter, bubbling water, the flutter of a butterflies wings. And always the sun, wiping away every cloud from the sky, shining down on those who dwelled in this blessed land.
Now the hills were black, as if a fire had swept through the land, but I knew no such thing had happened. The Lady had burned it with her anger, with her grief so many years ago. Not one creature nested here anymore. The air crackled with contempt, as opposed to the wonderful laughter of long ago.
I slowly made my way down the cracked path, my shoulders hunched beneath my black cloak, hood shadowing my entire face. Not that I was so naive as to think that it would help. The Lady was aware of everything in her land, every breath of air, every shadow cast in this barren wasteland. She knew I was here.
I traveled here every year, on the anniversary of her Beloved’s death. My mind flashed for the thousandth time over that fateful day, that had taken place exactly thirty years ago today. But I shied away from the memories, wanting to change it, relive it. But it was impossible.
You can not change the past.
In the distance, I see the cottage, its roof falling in, the wood supporting it rotting away. And in front of it, the only sign of life in nearly a hundred miles. A rose garden, the roses wilted and blackened with age. Twenty-nine of them in five precisely plowed lines, perfectly aligned.
The Lady does not care for them. She hates everything now. The death of her Beloved has made her heart as dead as his. Still, it seems that if she hated everything, she would not go to the effort to dig small holes in the blackened ground, plant the stem of each rose in the earth, and leave it for years. Perhaps it is a reminder for her, or a warning to me.
If it is the latter, I disregard it. I swing off my horse, who is shifting nervously. The stillness of this place causes him anxiety. Only death should cause this kind of quiet. I gently stroke his mane, reassuring him, before reaching into the saddle bags and pulling the one thing I bring with me on this journey.
I mount the steps, surprised they do not collapse under my weight. They do not even creak, as sound has been banished in this place. I approach the door, that is barely hanging from its hinges. I knock, the sound echoing loudly in this place of such silence.
The Lady is here. I sense her presence, as I always can. But she will not come. She never has, not in the thirty years I have been making this journey.
Many would wonder why I persisted in coming to this cursed place, year after year, each time hoping it would be different, perhaps she has started to forgive me, or at least begin to forget. And to a rational mind it does not make sense. The Lady’s powers were such that she could kill me the moment I stepped into her terrain.
But I knew it would not happen. There was too much between us, too many memories. And it was for that reason that I make this journey on this day every year. The memories and loyalties were too strong between us to be broken, even by something as great as her Beloved’s death.
I hesitate, hoping for a glimmer of movement inside the house, some small evidence that she is here. But it does not happen, as it never has. I bend down and place my gift on the doorstep, before returning to my horse.
As I turn and begin the journey home, I look over my shoulder to see the rose laying there, the one spot of color in this bleak picture. And I know that next year it will be added to the garden, blackened with age. But as of now, it stands out, like the beating of my heart, like the hope that continues to grow inside of me. The hope that someday, my sister will be able to forgive me. To forgive me for the wrong I did thirty years ago. To forgive me for killing her Beloved.