The Balladeers of Tulwood Castle
Tulwood was grand, and one look would tell anyone that the estate had not been cared for since Sir Henri Tulwood died several years before. Now, somewhere, something heralded the return of a Tulwood to the hill where the castle lay sprawled across the fertile land.
The returning Tulwood was not as finicky as his ancestors and did not care if the legend of his new home was true. No, Thomas Henri Tulwood cared only about remodeling the family birthplace and giving it a better look.
Thomas was taller than most of his family, including his father, who stood six feet, ten inches tall. With a strong will and a powerful build, Thomas had what it took to return to Tulwood Castle to establish his last home.
Tulwood Castle lay in the southern part of Ireland near Cork. The gardens had turned to wildflowers, weeds, and grass, yet Thomas knew he could bring trained life to those unruly patches of rubble. Thomas stood at the top of the minaret-style tower that stood beside the keep overlooking the castle grounds and wondered if he should have brought his family with him to see this grand sight. Beyond, outside the castle walls, he could see the small village that he was to govern.
The sound of shuffling brought Thomas out of his thoughts. As he turned toward the stairwell, he noticed his friend standing before him.
“How do you like my ancestral home, Donegal?”
Donegal gazed out over the land. “Interesting, sir. The view is grand.”
Thomas suddenly realized that his friend was right.
Walking toward the stairwell, he reminded himself to place flowers on Henri’s grave.
The Great Hall
The grandeur of all life
Settled with bright smiles And gay jokes of the summers.
Upon the unsuspecting guests
And the minstrels’ music
Woos the lively young girls into dancing, As a gypsy is made welcome.
Donegal knew that Thomas would go through the main hall on his way to Henri’s grave. Somehow he had to warn Tranny of the possible dangers that existed in that room. Having gotten his friend this far, he could not risk losing this fight.
“Donegal, what d’ye think of that?”
Turning, Donegal saw Tranny looking him squarely in the eyes. Looking up, he saw that the dangers were no longer apparent.
“Fine, Tranny, just fine. Has Thomas passed this way?”
“Yeah.” Tranny looked puzzled. “He seemed in an awful hurry.”
Donegal was worried. Something was wrong. Thomas just was not very attentive. He must have missed something when he last spoke to Thomas. What could he have missed?
As Thomas stood by the grave of Henri, whose ancient castle he had come to call home, he vowed that he would search for the person who caused Sir Henri’s fall into ruin.
When he finally noticed the old oak tree that stood as a sentry and a shade over the grave, he saw a stranger sitting in a niche in the highest point of the tree.
“Dear fellow, come down, I pray thee, an’ tell me thy name. If you know who I be, tell me now what you do here.”
Even as the stranger came down from his high perch, Thomas started toward the large stone bench.
“Sir, turn to me that I may see your face. ’Tis rarely a visitor I get.”
“Dear fellow, if I may remind you, I am not a visitor here. I live here.”
“I do not mean to say that the castle is my home. Nay, but this tree is home for me.”
“And the walls?”
“The walls be but boundaries betwixt me and the village. I go out only for food.”
“So you’re a fugitive?”
“Nay, nay, dear friend. I am a poet of recluse. You see, my life is among those of the past.”
Thomas was confronted by two mysteries. One, what had caused Henri’s death—and two, who was the poet? He could not figure out what the link was between the two, even though he knew there was one.
As suddenly as the hunch came, it disappeared as a creature slid down the hall just ahead of him. What could it have been?
Hurrying, Thomas turned down the hall down which the supposed creature had disappeared. He found nothing but a tome, opened to a page that had the name of the castle at the top. “What bedeviled thing is this?”
Suddenly he heard the poet’s voice behind him: “Methinks it is the legend of your home. Read it and beware. Someone wants your life—not I nor the one who opened this dusty tome, but the evil one who resides beyond your gates.”
“Who opened this tome? And what be his purpose? Does he not know who I be? What’s he like?”
“Oh, yes, he knows you. Why else would he steal this tome and bring to you the legend of this forsaken place?”
“Do you know his name?”
“Nay, m’lord. I know him only by sight. A beautiful lad he is.”
Thomas looked at the page before him. Reading it, he soon became engulfed in the story it had to tell. The message was plain:
As the legend said,
Poor old Henri Thomas Tulwood fell to his ruin with hundreds of guests at banquet by the poison from Ptolemy Stacks’ purse, but Henri’s family and servants escaped with nary a scratch, but some say that a poet did stay, when others fled, for
he buried ol’ Henri with his guests— mummers, minstrels, and banquet honorers. There he rests in honored presence and wanders the halls of the castle so grand, only to hear the comforting music of the minstrel’s lute.
Blood be spilt but once. It shall happen again. The plot went ever so good, but it will be changed to be the end of all the Stacks.
For the lust of power did Ptolemy Stack kill, and for his ways shall a bloody feud rise. Alas, alas, for Ptolemy’s crew did fall; Alas, alas, for sly ol’ Stack, his mistake be paid by the descendants. Sly ol’ Stack’s great-great-grandson shall be confronted by Henri’s own great-great-grandson. Be wary, oh, black-leg Stack, for thy great-great-grandson will fall, and thy father’s debt will be paid with the ruin of thy family so noble, and the destruction of thy family so proud.
Be wary, dear Durango, for thy son shall die, and a legacy shall fade to a nonexistent color.
Oh, Telleri, your ancestor’s mistake will be paid when your life is through. Then the governing rod of Tulwood returns to Tellerigan. Be kind to the poet who makes the oak tree his home, for he is the heir of a million treasures. He is the descendant of the man who buried the once-festive leader and guests.
Listen, and be not proud, for the end of the legend is nigh, yet unfinished.
Thomas looked up from the tome into the blue eyes of the poet. “Have you seen these weary phantoms?”
“Aye, many times.”
“Where to they hide?”
“That now I cannot tell—but I can recite a poem that I wrote after I heard them and saw them.”
“Will you, please?” “Certainly. It goes like this:
The music of a lute fills the halls
Of a long abandoned castle
That time has let fall, crumbling into ruin Along the eerie passageways appears a phantom of ages past. Casting shadows of make-believe Upon the walls of reality.
As the phantom floats down the hall,
The music gets louder,
And you’re lured into following,
Yet you know there are none more, but you are the only one.
Something holds you in its power
As the phantom drifts through the door just ahead, And when you open the door,
You find you have been lured into a room so grand,
To witness the strangest concert of ghostly balladeers.”
“Are you telling me that they are in the great hall?”
“Nay, they are anywhere. The great hall is the place where I first saw them. Now I can see them anywhere.”
Thomas returned to his reading. The line he finished held the clue as to where the sword of Tulwood Castle was hidden.
Lennox and Catina
Lady Tulwood stood in the market of Tellerigan, looking at the goods the merchants had to offer. All she had hoped for had come to pass. That included the birth of her twins twenty years ago, and now it included the reestablishment of Tulwood governorship to Tellerigan.
At the same instant in the open countryside near Tulwood Castle, Lennox and Catina, the Tulwood twins, rode their horses and enjoyed the warmth of the sun on the emerald isle they called home.
Lennox was slightly shorter than his father’s seven-feet-one, and of a slighter build. Catina, on the other hand, was more the size of her mother, who stood six feet, one inch. Both of the twins were better-looking than their mother, because they looked like their father and were also most generally in good humor.
Lennox was talkative and always active, but today he was having more fun than he ever had in London or Dublin, where his father had taken refuge for thirteen years.
Catina was quiet and shy when she was around people she did not know. She was as pretty as a day of spring that brought forth the blossoming flowers. She loved poetry and had always had a knack for writing beautiful stories of love, happiness, and honesty even if no one would read them. She also loved art and painted incredible pictures portraying love and harmony.
The twins were excellent riders, and both loved music, but as they rode, they thought nothing of their talents; yet as they rode close to the castle, a young man the same age as they ran toward the castle in fear. Upon entering the gates, the twins were met by Collin, the stable servant.
“Anyone come through the gate, Collin?” Lennox asked. “No, sir, not that I saw.”
“Thanks, Collins,” Catina’s sweet voice said. “Thanks anyway.”
“You’re welcome, m’lady. You too, lad.”
The Room in the Tower
Catina remembered that her grandfather had told a story of a room in the tower where no one went, and she wondered why it had never been opened. As she explored, she found a golden key lying on the last step in front of the door to that ancient chamber. She slipped the key into the lock and opened the door.
Looking inside, Catina saw the boy who had run for the castle crouched in the corner in a frightened posture.
“You have no need to be frightened of me,” she said. “I don’t bite. I just want to know what I may call you. I’m Catina.”
She saw that her smooth voice was bringing ease to the boy’s composure.
“Do you live in this room?” she asked.
“Yes. So do Rathe, Jan, and Braun.”
“Who might they be?”
“Orphans. I’m their overlord.”
“Come, I want…”
“I must wait for the others.”
Suddenly a hand appeared on the window ledge. Tellon crossed to the window and pulled each of the boys into the room.
He quickly turned to Catina and said, “This is Jan, Braun, and Rathe.” He turned to the boys. “This fair lass is Catina.”
Ghosts in the Hall
Duncan had been with Thomas ever since they were in Orleans. He could never have believed the stories of Thomas’s grandfather’s escape from Tulwood Castle. For some odd reason he knew that Henri Tulwood II had told the unglorified truth, but the only route of escape would be the castle gate…or would it be?
Duncan was brought out of his thoughts when Lennox put a hand on his shoulder.
“Duncan? You alright?”
“Yes, Lennox. I was just thinking.”
“Nothing much. Just how someone would be able to escape through the gates without being seen.”
“Never mind that. Come. Father is getting impatient. We mustn’t keep him waiting.”
Suddenly the two men stopped to a dead halt as a phantom floated in front of them and went through the door to their right.
The Golden Lute
As the weeks passed, Catina and Tellon became friends, and the orphans had been made part of the Tulwood family. Lennox had made all feel welcome, despite his mother’s objections. Thomas made sure that none had been left out of the summer festivities.
It was mid July when Tellon and Catina met in the meadow alone. Tellon was carrying an awkward-looking package.
Catina looked over at him. “What’s that?”
“This is a present for you. It was left to me by my great-greatgrandfather. He died in this castle the night as Ptolemy Stack poisoned Henri and the banquet guests. That included him.”
“Why give it to me?”
“I like you—and most of all, I want you to have it.”
“What could it be?”
“Open it and find out.”
Catina struggled with the package until the bow at the top came loose. Opening it, she gasped in surprise as she pulled a golden lute from the cloth wrapping.
“It’s beautiful! Thank you!”
“Now you can play music anytime you feel it’s right.”
The Music Starts
Thomas woke up sometime during the night to the eerie sound of bagpipes and lutes. He got up, went into the hall, and started toward Catina’s room. In the hall he met Duncan.
“You heard it too?”
“Yes. I thought I was the only one.”
“No, I heard it too. Where’s the poet?”
“He went to the village.”
“I’ve got to check on Catina. She might have been…”
“I doubt it. I just passed her room, and she was sound asleep.” “Good.”
As they walked down the hall toward the great hall, Tellon stopped in front of them.
“What is it, Tellon?”
“Don’t interfere. It’s the phantoms of this castle.”
“This dreadful music is their doing?”
“Aye, but don’t let them know what you think.”
“I’ll remember that. Thank you, Tellon. I’ll remember that.”
Late Summer, 1659
When Tellon had met Catina in the meadow, it was an exceptionally good day, yet Tellon could tell that a storm would soon come, as would the bloody feud between the Stacks and the Tulwoods.
That feeling came true in the late summer of 1659. It happened while Tellon and Catina were lying among the pimpernel, when he noticed the mounting clouds filling the sky and the closing of the pimpernel blossoms.
“Hurry! We must get back to the castle. It’s about to storm.” “How can you tell?”
“I’ll tell you when we get inside. Now hurry! It’s going to be bad!”
Catina and Tellon glanced back and saw Randlie Stack looking at them.
“Hurry, Catina,” he whispered. “We’re being watched by Randlie Stack.”
“Yes, Catina. He’s the one who wants to kill your father.”
The Feud Begins
Randlie had been told to go and see if Thomas had arrived at the castle, but he did not expect to see a girl with Tellon. Who was she?
As Randlie turned to go, he felt a sharp pain and looked down to see what had caused it. Seeing blood, he looked up and saw the merciless face of the man whom he had tried to kill earlier.
“How did you survive the torture I put you through?”
“How do you think?”
“That could have been Thomas or Lennox Tulwood’s blade. You ought to be glad it wasn’t.”
Randlie dropped to his knees and started to beg for his life, but when he looked at the stranger’s eyes, he saw no mercy there. Randlie’s dying thoughts were fogged with realization and regret. The stranger had made sure that Randlie would be where Telleri could find him.
Only then did it start to rain.
Midnight heralded the coming of the three strangers, one of whom bore the news of the coming feud.
Thomas paced back and forth in the large study that he had chosen as a place to think out his problems. Suddenly a guard walked in.
“What is the problem?”
“Some strangers were caught entering the castle gates.”
“Bring them in.”
“No buts! Bring them in. Make it quick!”
The strangers were brought before Thomas so that he could see their faces. When McOrdany was brought forward, Thomas turned pale.
“What’s the matter wit ye, Tom? Have ye seen a ghost?”
“What the bloody hell are you doing here, McOrdany?”
“Came to help ye fight a battle. Thought you’d need some help. I’ve brought the whole clan.”
The Bloody Execution
Tempriane had been gone when his brother attacked Mcordany. According to a legend he had read, there was to be a split in the family, and he was determined to do just that.
Tempriane was peaceful, kind, and always abided by the law. He was different from the rest. He knew what he must do, and he should do it now.
Kory was stronger and more disciplined than Tempriane, yet they had never known what kind of a friendship would grow from their meeting. Kory was stronger than Randlie and could have killed him if need be, but at this time Tempriane had something to ask him.
“Do you think you could go and ask Sir Tulwood if I could form an alliance with him?”
“Yes, sir. By the way, your brother Sanders is to be hanged by the public today.”
“He deserved it, don’t you think?”
The Ghost of Ptolemy Stack
A year had passed since Sanders was executed, and nothing had come out of the Stacks. When it all did, it was bloodier than anything ever seen by mankind. The eerie silence between the two warring clans was broken by a strange incident that would eventually destroy all traces of the existence of the Stacks.
This strange event was heralded by the return of the ghost of Ptolemy Stack. It was a bright, warm autumn morn when Thomas had seen the apparition, stooped and apparently writing something on the floor. As sudden as lightning it had moved and seen Thomas.
Then it spoke. “I am what’s left of Ptolemy Stack. I have been told by the nemesis that punishes my spirit, tearing me apart by day and by night, that my descendants will soon perish as I did long ago.”
“Do not disturb my spirit with your questions. Just hearken unto my words. One of my grandson’s illegitimate offspring is in your service. His name is Tempriane. He is shunned by the other Stacks, because he has Tulwood blood flowing in his veins. You’re his uncle. That’s why he sided with you in this. Tonight when they strike, most of their allies shall die first. This will be the only time anyone has seen or heard from me since my death one hundred years ago. Farewell, Thomas, and good luck to you. You have my blessing.”
After the phantom had left, Thomas puzzled over its last words. Why must he have the blessing of a dead man? Why?
The Silver Talisman
The night of the attack, several people including peasants were killed. All deaths totaled one hundred ninety-nine—Stackian mercenaries and only one Tulwood defender.
Duncan had turned in time to see the noble Donegal fall from his perch on the ramparts, screaming in pained anguish. At the time several of the attackers screamed as boiling oil was poured down the portals on top of them.
Donegal was carried from the wall to the great hall by a couple of young boys.
Tatus McOrdany was killed instantly when he was knocked from the wall by a rock, shot by a catapult. At the same time Lou McOrdany killed the operatives of the catapult below.
After the remaining Stackian fighters abandoned the conflict, Lou went below, where he found a body with a silver talisman around its neck. As he took it off the body, he glanced up and saw a felt sack full of golden coins.
In the months following the battle, short skirmishes were taken in stride as they came. Each battle came closer to the home ground of the Stack warriors.
After the battles ended, no Stack stood alive. The phantoms disappeared and were never seen again, because they were laid to rest when Telleri fell.
As the years passed, Catina married Tellon, and Lennox married into the royal family. When Catina played upon the strings of the golden lute, it was always beautiful, and when she played ballads that Tellon had taught her, she remembered her grandfather and smiled.
Thomas governed with an unfaltering hand and handed the governorship to Lennox in the time after an illness took its toll on him. Lennox passed it on to his son, and Tellerigan had the best governorship since Henri Tulwood governed hundreds of years before.