Right then, are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin...
Up in the hills towards The Gap there are many remnants of earlier communities, self-styled noblemen and petty kingdoms. Some are undoubtedly still malign, like the Black Hand Barrows, others merely shocking to modern sensibilities, like the frescoes in the Temple of Perpetual Dissipation. Any traveller to nearby towns and villages will, if not driven away by suspicious locals, be treated to tales of heroism and misdeeds, tragedy and treasure about these ruins. One such tale is of the Widow's Lantern.
|Picture taken from Coopdevil's tumblr feed - great source of inspiration|
All that is left of the castle/great house/private chapel/monastery (depends on the teller of the tale) is one end wall, complete with huge, exquisite window. The glazing is long since lost, but the fineness of the supporting tracery that is still intact tells of a level of workmanship not seen in these days outside the capital. Anyone who looks carefully through the window will notice something odd; tracking a bird or cloud across the sky, they will see that as it passes behind the window it fraction of a second longer than it should before it appears through the window. Indeed, if you stand at the right angle, the bird might still just be visible through the window and have reappeared beyond it. The real mystery, though, is the light that blazes forth from it on midwinter and midsummer nights. In summer, the light is accompanied by the sound of great merriment, as if a host of fine ladies and their paramours were feasting and dancing. At midwinter, the sound is different. Very different. The moaning worms into the listener's very guts, filling them with such sadness and dread that none can stand it. Very few stay long enough to hear the screams, and they never talk of it.
Why the widow's lantern? A learned man from the king's schola came once and decided it was a corruption of 'window' by an illiterate villager many years ago and that simple countryfolk had built superstition around a spelling mistake. The villagers know better. They say the moaning is that of a beautiful maiden from a distant land who was married to a nobleman on midsummer's night in that house. He treated her brutally and shamefully for many months after she objected to his predilection for serving girls until, broken-hearted and broken-spirited, her piteous cries brought down heaven's judgement on that evil man and his corrupted household. At midwinter, fire fell from a cloudless sky, consuming all of the building and its inhabitants, but for that window.
Even now, should a man within five leagues mistreat his wife or sweetheart in any way on midwinter's night he will surely be dead by morning without a mark on him, except for sooty marks around his nose and mouth and the stench of smoke clinging so tight to him such that no washing will remove it!
The stories also tell of those who have been invited to the midsummer wedding feast within the long-vanished hall and have come away laden with gold and jewels handed out as largesse to the guests. Reason enough for any adventurer to try their luck and risk the Widow's displeasure...
Happy geeking, and be good to your lady,