2. The Past

Quincy let out a huff when he got home and plopped on his bed, he was thoroughly stuffed, and exhausted, but happy. The people of Crystal Woods had been kind to him in a way no one else had been, and for that, he was extremely grateful. He placed his head in the pillow and sobbed, he felt like a great burden had been lifted off his shoulders. Things were starting to look up, after all his years of wandering, things were finally starting to look up. He rose from his bed with tears spilling from his eyes and a smile on his face as he went to get himself a cup of hot cocoa, yes, things were getting better finally. Here he was, a roof over his head, food on his table, and a fire at his hearth. True, the cabin wasn’t exactly his, but in this moment, it really felt like it.

He slowly sipped his hot cocoa as he watched the flames dance to a song he couldn’t hear, but if he could, he thought it could be the song playing in his heart. It was a joyous one, full of hope and cheer, and peace. Quincy finished his cocoa rather quickly and let out a sigh of content, yes peace, it was so peaceful, and he was so peaceful, that Quincy nodded off.

The clock chimed midnight, startling Quincy awake. He groaned as he stretched and glanced at the clock. He rubbed his eyes and gave a great big yawn before rising from his chair to head for the bedroom. He paused as he glanced out the window and Matthew’s tale came flooding back to him. There was a green light floating around inside the church.

“Agnes,” muttered Quincy. He quickly threw on some shoes and his coat before racing out the back door. His steps slowed and his heart quickened as he neared the ruins. Was this really a good idea? What if he met the same fate as those who went in, searching for the secrets of Amethydral? He let out a puff, but he wasn’t searching to uncover the secrets, he only wanted to extend the kindness he had received from the town to the ghost. If that included finding out exactly what the ghost wanted and taking care of it for her, then he would do it. His steps slowed some more, this time to climb over piles of debris. There wasn’t a whole lot of debris, thankfully, but for a dwarf, the size of it was enough to get a good workout and be out of breath by the time he finally entered into the section with the pews still intact, for the most part. He glanced around as he panted, and his eyes fell upon a glass coffin with a green light emitting from it. He ventured closer, slowly, still breathing hard from his workout, but he continued to get closer so he could see the maiden still within.

He paused as he got a good look at her. Either the glass was so airtight that no decay could happen, or it was by some miracle, but the maiden who laid within only looked like she had been sleeping. She was lovely, though he couldn’t see her eyes, her light brown hair was arrayed around her like a flower, a serene look was upon her face, and her hands were clasped over a crucifix and a Rosary. Quincy let out a breath he hadn’t realized he had been holding. But, then again, what had he been expecting, a decaying corpse? A slight smirk appeared on his face, yes, that was exactly what he had been expecting, but this maiden looked far from death, merely sleeping. Perhaps there was really a curse on her, which would account for everything? The green light, the sinister secret, and that she lay in the coffin as if merely sleeping.

“What do you want?” whispered Quincy as he touched the glass.

“Someone to break the curse,” came a voice from behind him. He yelped as he dashed behind the coffin. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you. I only wanted to answer your question. Please come out, I won’t hurt you.” Quincy peeked out from behind the coffin, and saw a young girl of about thirteen standing in the aisle by the first pew. She was dressed simply in a white dress with her blonde locks falling freely past her shoulders.

“Who, who are you?” asked Quincy as he slowly ventured towards her.

Her green eyes sparkled as she smiled at him, “My name is Esmeralda.”

Quincy blinked as he glanced between her and the coffin, “Uh . . .”

Esmeralda laughed, “Oh, I’m here to keep an eye on Miss Agnes Fletcher and get her curse broken.”

“So she is under a curse!”

Esmeralda nodded, “That she is.”

“So, um, may I ask a few questions?”

“Of course!”

“Great! Um, why is she under a curse? How can it be broken? And what happened to everyone who came here but never came out?”

Esmeralda laughed, “Hold on, hold on, one at a time, please! Let me tell you the whole story of Agnes Fletcher, from the beginning, it should answer your questions. Please, have a seat.”

“Oh, um, thank you.”

“And no matter what you do, do not fall asleep.”

Quincy blinked as he slowly nodded, “Alright, I should be able to stay awake, I had a fairly good nap earlier.”

“Alright, I hope that does help, but just in case, don’t fall asleep.”

“I won’t.”

Esmeralda nodded, “Good, because it’s going to be a while. Now, this story begins when Miss Fletcher was barely fifteen. Her father was on the search for suitable suitors, and, as I’m sure you can guess, lots of men showed up, all having heard of the beauty of Agnes Fletcher. Her father gave her free reign to choose her own husband, but none of the men interested her, the primary reason being because all seemed to be more interested in her beauty than her mind and soul. So she turned them all down, and her father understood her reasons, so he searched for other men who had hoped would be much better suited for his daughter. But, as before, her beauty became something of a problem, and she turned down those men. Her father, refusing to give up, searched yet again.

It was during this search that Agnes met one of her father’s friends, a man by the name of Charles Franco. He was a good and pious man, at least, so he seemed. He began to visit the Fletcher’s more and more, more with the purpose of seeing Agnes more than anything else, though he used plenty of other excuses to visit. The third group of men came and went, much as the first two groups. Mr. Fletcher began to wonder that God perhaps had plans for his little girl in the convent, and set about getting her started as a novice at a nearby convent. But Franco stepped in, saying that he wanted a chance before she considered becoming a nun. Mr. Fletcher saw no problem with letting Franco have a chance, as he figured the outcome would be the same. But he was soon to find out how wrong he would be.”

Quincy gasped, “Franco wasn’t as pious as they thought.”

Esmeralda shook her head, “No, he was not. He merely gave the appearance of being pious, but Agnes quickly found out that he was anything but. If anything, he turned out to be the worst of the men who came seeking her hand in marriage. Not only was he only interested in her for her beauty, he desired her like no other man had, and was determined to make her his own, even if that included selling his soul to the devil.”

Quincy gasped, “And he almost succeeded.”

Esmeralda glanced at him questioningly, “Have you heard this story before?”

“No, but I have heard something similar, it might have been based on this story.” He glanced at her, “How long has Miss Fletcher been in the coffin?”

“Almost five years now.”

“That doesn’t sound right,” he muttered.

“What doesn’t sound right?”

“Oh, nothing, my apologies. Please continue your story.”

Esmeralda glanced at him for a few minutes before nodding, “Alright, where was I? Oh, right, Franco would sell his soul to the devil in order to gain the hand of Agnes in marriage. Instead, he met a warlock, or, at least someone who claimed to be a warlock, who sold him a love potion. Franco set to work immediately on making the potion to give to Agnes, but he didn’t read everything, until it was too late, a blessing on Agnes’ part. He had poured the potion into a cup of wine and handed it to Agnes at her seventeenth birthday party held at his house. It was also there that they learned Franco had a son not much older than Agnes who was on his way back from the university after having graduated early. It was quite by accident that they found out, the maid who had once been the boy’s nurse rushed into the party, proclaiming the good news. That settled it for Agnes and her father, Charles Franco could no longer pursue Agnes, but they were open to the idea of his son seeking her hand, if he wished to try. Franco seemed to be alright with the notion, coming up with some explanation for why he never mentioned his son. By the time he finished his so-called explanation, Agnes had finished her wine, and the potion began to work, but it did not have the desired effects. Instead of falling in love with Franco, she fell into a deep sleep. Nothing they did could wake her. Franco reread the instructions and found out that he had given Agnes a sleep potion that could only be broken by her true love. Franco found the warlock and demanded an explanation, and a way to reverse the curse. The warlock could give no explanation, but he did reveal how to break the curse. Only Agnes’ true love would be able to spend three nights in a row in the church where she laid, and would be the only one to ring the bell at first light each morning.”

“And every one who has come through hasn’t been her true love.”

“That’s right.”

“So what happened to them really?”

Esmeralda shrugged, “They just disappeared, usually in a cloud of green smoke the instant they pulled on the bells. I don’t know what happened to them after that.” Quincy glanced down, processing this new information. “It’s possible you’re the one, that you’re her true love.”

Quincy glanced up in surprise, “What? Me? No! I mean, look at me! I’m deformed and ugly! Who . . . who could ever love me?”

“Apparently the people of Crystal Woods care about you enough to provide you with food and shelter.”

Quincy’s eyes widened, “You know about that?”

Esmeralda laughed, “Of course I do! I can’t help but hear what’s going on in the Emerald Cabin!”

“Oh, right, we are practically next-door neighbors, huh?”

“That’s right. But there’s still a possibility, a rather high possibility that you are her true love.”

“I still don’t think so, but, I will try and help break the curse . . .”

“But don’t you see? If you do break the curse, then you really are her true love! The warlock said only her true love could break the curse.”

Quincy sighed, “Oh well, guess the bell will let us know one way or another.”

Esmeralda nodded, “Guess so, and perfect timing too. The sun will be peeking over the horizon at any minute. Come on, I’ll take you to the bell.” Esmeralda rose and led Quincy through the church and up to the bell tower. As they reached the very top, the first rays of the sun were just beginning to peek over the horizon. “Almost time,” breathed Esmeralda. The two watched almost breathlessly as the sky began to lighten and the snow sparkled beneath the growing light. “If the bell does ring for you, then you cannot breathe a word of what happened here, or else we would have to do this all over again, understand?” said Esmeralda. Quincy nodded, walked over to the bell, and took a deep breath before reaching up and grasping the rope. He looked up at the bell as several memories flashed through his head. He pushed them aside, and pulled, the bell of St. Dionysius ringing over the countryside for the first time in years.

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