The castle was built 800 years ago in the North of France, amidst a sea of trees. They called it the Chateau de la Mothe-Chandeniers. Candle flames danced in the hallways every night to illuminate the people dancing in the ballroom, men dressed in velvet thick as lion hide, women dressed in skirts that painted the floor in billows. In the summer, the sweat from the air in the thousand-mile thick swamp made the outside unbearable; in the winter, ice frosted the windows and paralyzed the trees and made the outside uninhabitable. But in the center lay Mothe-Chandeniers, and she protected the dancers from it all.
The trees whispered to the castle, Did you hear about the English? They’re coming.
And the castle whispered back, They won’t win.
And the castle protected the dancers from the onslaught of battle. Bronze and silver knights—standing at the highest tower, the one the castle wore so proudly—rained arrows on the invaders. A message was engraved on the head of each arrow, a message chosen by Mothe-Chandeniers herself: I will not fall.
When the battle was over and the English had fled with a screech of fear, the dancers came out from the ancient roots of the castle, where they had been hiding. The candles sparked, the music illuminated, and the castle would have swayed with rhythm rolling through her stone floors if swaying wouldn’t have undermined her strength.
In 1798, the dancers left. They took their gold shirts and cloud-puff dresses and clickety clackety shoes, their powdered white faces now genuinely white. The Revolutionaries are coming. And the castle cannot protect against their gunpowder.
The trees fell silent. For if they spoke, they would draw the attention of the Revolutionaries. They too would face the head chopper, the one whose fateful name Mothe-Chandeniers heard whispered by the lords and ladies: guillotine.
The castle was silent too. She did not weep, though with every breath of wind flowing nakedly through her open windows, now unhindered by the laughter of the dancers, she felt hollow. She was hollow. But she did not weep.
The trees offered to come closer to her. They floated a few leaves down to her, through her open rooftops and windows. She repelled them away, pushing her stones down and out until the leaves catapulted upwards. The dancers were coming back, and how could they dance if leaves littered their dance floor?
They’re not coming back, whispered the trees.
And you would know that? When you have known nothing, ever? Mothe-Chandeniers replied, pushing her tower up a little higher.
That hurt the trees so much that they did not talk to her for a century and then some.
One spring day in 1940, she heard a sound she had never heard before. It sounded a bit like the bees that buzzed around the windows in the summer. But it got louder and louder. An unfamiliar screech rang through the forest as a black dot fell from the sky.
The cries of the trees, save me, save me. The bronze and silver knights were gone. Mothe-Chandeniers could do nothing but watch, strengthen her stone. It was not enough. The black turned into orange, and then red—red like the velvet the noblest dancers used to wear, but angrier. The tower that the knights used to guard was hit first. The castle had barely registered it before she felt her outside explode, her inside crumple, and then a heat she had never experienced—heat stronger than any summer she had endured, even that one summer in the 15th century—stretched its way through her hollow hallways and tangled roots.
Through the fire, she could hear the tortured moans of the trees. If she squinted through the sting, she could make out the black poles in place of where they used to be.
After the fire from the sky, Mothe-Chandeniers let the trees come closer to her. There was no use pretending. No dancer could bear to look at, let alone touch their feet to, her caved and angled floors. The trees’ roots became her roots, their voice became hers. And to be honest, the castle liked it. Her old friends.
So trees grew and grew inside the castle. They snaked up her walls, sealed off her windows, padded her corners. At the tower, a giant evergreen sprouted, stretched to the sky in a permanent yawn, neglecting the proud duty of the knights. And in the ballroom, vines hanged from the ceilings, swaying in the wind. Dancing.
And then came the silence. She had not noticed it before, but now the silence roared over her like a wave. The silence of one, of alone, of abandoned.
One day, she felt a gentle tapping in the entryway. She recognized that weight, the weight of a young woman, feet small but steady. Could it be? she wondered. Have they returned?
The woman did not speak. She did not move, either. She stood in entryway, in front of the staircase that had once been draped in velvet to match the dancers’ velvet jackets. The castle felt the pressure of a gaze all over her, on her ceiling and on her walls and in her corners.
Then she heard it. “How beautiful,” the woman whispered. And the castle did not weep, though she might have felt like it.
Isabella Li is a sophomore at East Chapel Hill High School. She has won a National Silver Medal in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, in addition to regional Gold and Silver Keys, for her writing. When not writing, she enjoys learning useless (but highly enriching) facts, studying biology, and watching the television show The Flash (ask anyone she knows, she talks about this show too much).