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LA FLOR MANOR: CHAPTER 3
Stepping through the rear exit of the inn was a sharp contrast to what Liz had seen upon arriving the day before. Where the front was well kept and businesslike, the rear was inviting and heavenly. From the door, there was a cobblestone path that led through beautiful gardens of flowers on one side, and vegetables on the other. As she ventured down the path, she discovered the garden went all the way to the mountain slope. The smells were exquisite, ranging from herbs and fresh tomatoes to the beautiful hibiscus she had in her room. Making her way through the path on the flower side, she came upon a marble fountain. At the center of the fountain was a statue of a beautiful woman, with her arms outstretched in a way so that the water flowed down her arms and over her dainty fingers to splash into the pool below. The woman was dressed in a robe that was decorated to the bottom with lilies and hibiscus. They seemed to be flowing down to meet the water that flowed from her hands. Gazing at the statue, Liz felt a sense of peace and calm run through her. She could have sat at the fountain all day however, the fading sunlight told her she should return inside. Plus her stomach was beginning to hurt from her depression imposed diet. Retracing her path back to the entrance of the inn, her stomach started to growl loudly. The closer she got to the door, the more aromatic were the smells, that she assumed were dinner. She hurried through the lobby to the dining room, expecting to find a crowd of people. She found instead only two people, and the rest of the tables were clean and bare. Glancing around the dining room, she noticed a clock, it was eight thirty. How could it be so late? She wandered around a bit hoping she had not missed another chance at eating. Feeling a little guilty for not keeping her word, and worried about another night without food, Lizette slowly walked through the lobby towards the stairs. Taking the first step, she was surprised by Anna’s sweet voice calling after her.
“Do not tell me you are planning on sneaking to your room without eating again.” Anna’s tone was demanding.
Liz felt like she had just been caught sneaking out of her childhood window. She saw such sweetness and concern when she turned to look at Anna, that tears started forming. Blinking quickly, she retraced her steps and stopped in front of her new friend. Answering in a quiet tone “I just thought I had missed dinner. Again.”
“Well, you are right. Dinner is over and the kitchen has closed for the night.” Anna watched the disappointment in Liz’s face and quickly added, “But as I didn’t see you, I saved you a plate.” With a smile, she motioned for Liz to follow her. She led the way through the dining room and into the kitchen, where there was a bustle of activity and noise. Dishes were being washed and the stove was being scoured. In the corner was a small table. On which were two plates and a bottle of wine. “I thought you might like some company, so if you don’t mind I will eat with you.”
“I would love the company and thank you so much for saving me food. I wasn’t looking forward to another granola snack. Plus I don’t think my stomach would have liked it at all.” Liz was elated. Her mouth was watering as she observed the plates piled high with food. Each plate held a large fish that was fried to a golden brown, green beans, corn, and potatoes. In the middle were three bowls of salsa, sour cream, and handmade tortillas. The smells were amazing and the taste divine. Anna poured each of them a glass of wine and handed one to Liz. “This food is delicious Anna. My compliments to the chef.”
“I will tell my father you approve, then. He is the one that cooks all the meals here. I choose the menu and he cooks it.”
“And your mother?” Liz instantly regretted the question, seeing the sadness in the other’s eyes.
“Mi Madre, passed away shortly after I was born. It has always been just me and my dad.”
“Oh Anna, I am so sorry for intruding. Sometimes, I don’t know when to be quiet.”
“No, please do not be sorry. It is a natural question. I just don’t talk about my mom as much as I think I should. So I feel guilty when someone asks me about her. She is often in my mind and always in my heart. I don’t want to remind mi padre all the time though so I learned not to talk about her.” Anna forced a smile and hoped the other would not notice. She honestly she dreaded talking about her mother, because her father always became sad and depressed for a few days, with the mere mention of her mother.
“So how long have you and your father had the inn?” Liz hoped changing the subject would return Anna’s smile. And it worked. The woman beamed with pride at the mention of the inn.
“My dad bought the property when I was only six. I wasn’t much help back then. All I could do was tend the flowers and wash the dishes. But we managed together. I would go to school and rush home to see what was new and if we had any customers. It took a few years before we had a steady stream of people. But after that, we have had enough customers to keep us going. I still tend the flowers, but now I can do everything that needs to be done. Except cooking that is. I know how to cook and I make the tortillas, but mi padre won’t let me cook. That is his passion. More than the inn itself, he loves to cook, and serving people makes him happy.”
“He is very good at it,” Liz said between mouthfuls of food and motioning approval at her plate. “This food is amazing, I don’t think I have ever had anything so wonderful.” The two made conversation while they finished their meal. When they were finished, Liz helped to clean the dishes and thanked Anna again for saving her a plate and joining her. She left the kitchen to return to her room full and sleepy.
The long day was catching up to her and the wine with dinner had her head spinning a bit. She was very satisfied with the way the day had turned out. Now all she wanted was to reach her room and sleep. Opening the door, the smell of fresh mountain air hit her. The breeze coming from the open window was becoming cool. Liz quickly changed into her pajamas and walked to the window. Looking out through the darkness she found the dark mass in the clouds. Again she could see a flicker of light, but nothing else. It was then that she realized she had forgotten to ask about the building. Oh well, she had tomorrow and who knows how many days to come to explore these mountains and discover what they held.
The sun was warm as it shone through the window. The light was inviting as Lizette stretched. She had finally gotten some well-needed sleep. She felt refreshed and full of excitement for the new day. She had not been haunted by dreams or nightmares. Climbing out of bed she walked to the window. It was a beautiful day out. She looked up the mountainside to the building she was longing to see. It was then that she made her plans for the day. Breakfast, a visit with Anna to ask about the mysterious building, and a ride up the mountainside to see it for herself. She quickly showered, letting the cool water wash away the sleep and sorrow from the days before. When she was done, she donned her riding clothes and set out to find breakfast and Anna. The latter she found as she descended the stairs.
“Good morning Liz. I hope you slept well. You look better today.” The sweetness in Anna’s voice added to Liz’s wonderful start.
“Good morning. I did sleep well thank you. And yourself?”
“I did thank you. Are you ready for breakfast?” Liz nodded with excitement, remembering how delicious dinner had been. “I will go prepare your plate. Just sit where ever you would like.” Anna motioned towards the empty seats in the dining room and disappeared into the kitchen.
Liz chose a table at the back of the dining room. She was sure the quaint room would be overrun with people soon and hoped to be able to catch Anna to discuss the building. She was thinking how wonderful the room smelled when Anna returned with a tray full of food. The first plate contained bacon, eggs, and chilaquiles (which are fried tortillas cooked in green salsa). Another plate was piled high with pan dulce and there was a container of hot tortillas. She also brought a carafe of coffee, cream, sugar, and a mug. The mug was a traditional terracotta design with hibiscus (which was quickly becoming Liz’s favorite flower) painted on the side. “I did not know what you would like, so I brought a bit of everything we have this morning.” Anna’s smile lit up the already bright room with its warmth.
“Oh Anna, I can not possibly eat all of this food. Thank you. Do you have time to join me? I would love some company for breakfast and I would like to talk to you about something anyway.” She looked at the other woman, hoping she would say yes.
“Since we do not have any customers yet, I will take a chance and sit with you until I have to go back to work.”
Liz smiled and motioned for the other to take a seat. They prepared their coffee and began to eat. After a mouth full of the delicious food, Liz dove right to her questions. “Do you know anything about the large building up on the mountain? I have seen it through my window several times and can never make out exactly what it is.”
Anna looked a bit puzzled, thinking for a moment, then understanding lit in her eyes. “You must be referring to La Flor Manor. It is an abandoned castle that sits at the edge of the mountain.”
“I don’t think that is it. The building I have been seeing has a light flickering in it at night. Surely it is not abandoned.”
“La Flor Manor is the only large building up there. You may have seen light reflecting from another source, but I assure you the castle has been abandoned for ages. Legend has it that a prince from Spain once lived there. He was an outcast in his home country and secluded himself in the castle. They say he never came out and never let anyone inside. Then all signs of inhabitants ceased and the people speculated the prince either went home or died of loneliness in that very castle. Many people have gone to explore the grounds, however, the doors are locked and no one dares go inside. There are many superstitions in our country about disturbing the grounds of the dead, and if he truly died inside the castle, that is what it would be doing, to enter forcibly. Mind you these are just stories past down through generations, but no one wants to be the one to investigate further.” Anna’s sweet smile faded and was clouded with thought. Giving Liz a foreboding feeling and causing her to drop the subject.
“This food is delicious. Compliments to your father.”
“Thank you. I will let him know you enjoyed it. What plans do you have for today if I may ask?” her smile had returned and it seemed the subject had been forgotten.
“I thought I would go for a ride if there is a horse available that is. I think the fresh air will do me good and it is such a beautiful day, seems a shame to spend it inside.”
“That sounds wonderful. I will make sure there is a horse for you to ride. What time would you like to go?
“I was thinking after breakfast would be nice. I could make a day of it. That is if you don’t mind me monopolizing a horse for that long?”
Anna shook her head, “Of course not. There is a lovely path you can ride up to the top of the mountain, and many trails along the way. I will send someone to ready a horse for you.”
“Thank you, and thank you for joining me for breakfast. I do not enjoy eating alone and it is nice to have a friend to talk to.” On an impulse, Liz hugged Anna. Which caused the other a moment of surprise, but only for a moment. Then she returned the hug wholeheartedly. Anna rather liked her new guest and was relieved to see that her melancholy from the day before had passed.
“When you are ready just go to the stables to the right of the garden and Javier will have a horse waiting for you. I wish you a wonderful ride and look forward to a full report of your opinion of our lovely terrain, over dinner. If you would like I will wait for you, and we could dine together.”
“I look forward to it.” Leaving the table Liz went to her room to freshen up a bit and grab a bag of granola to take with her. She also took a few minutes to write in her journal while there.
Today has started out great. Anna is becoming a friend. I really enjoy her company. I asked her about the building and she seemed uncomfortable. She said that it is an abandoned castle. Surely she is wrong. But I did not want to upset her. I am going riding today and I intend to find out for myself. I know I have seen lights up there. I also hope she is wrong because I have a feeling about the castle. Anyway, if it is abandoned, I still want to see it. I bet it is beautiful……
Liz grabbed a small backpack and shoved some granola and waters inside. Then she dug through the bag she had yet to unpack, looking for a camera. She knew she had packed one. Finding it, she put it in the bag and headed out the door. Walking through the dining room to the rear exit she was stopped by Anna.
“You said you intended to spend the day out, so I packed you something for lunch. I also put some horchata and agua de melon for you to drink. Please do not stray too far from the paths, it can be very confusing in the mountains. I would not want you to get lost.”
“Thank you, my friend. I promise to stay close to the paths.” The women hugged and Liz set out to find the stables. She turned right exiting the inn and followed the cobblestone path that wound through the flowers and to the stables. It was a medium size building with very little light inside. As she walked through the doors a dark young man, maybe 19 or 20 walked from one of the stalls. He pulled behind him a magnificent white mare with a black saddle.
“You are Liz?” He asked in broken English.
“I am, and you must be Javier.” The young man only nodded his reply. “Thank you for getting the horse ready for me.”
“Senorita Anna, say I should have her ready when you come.” He looked away shyly.
“Gracias Javier.” Liz took the reins he gave her and followed him to the door.
“Her name is Bella. It means beautiful. She likes oats. I put some in the saddlebag.” Javier motioned to the bag and led them outside.
“Gracias again.” Javier bowed slightly and then helped Liz mount Bella. She was a large mare but, Liz had no problem pulling herself up with Javier’s assistance. She thanked the young man one more time and nudged Bella a bit and the horse began to walk through the backfield. They went past the garden and started the incline into the mountain.
The paths winding up the mountain were well worn and easy to follow. They wound between gigantic trees and through lush foliage on the ground. The woodsy smell of the forest was intoxicating. Every breath made Liz forget more of her troubles, allowing her to escape completely from the reality that was her life. She found herself longing to stay in the serenity of the woods and their comforting protection from the world around her. As they made their way up, she took in all of the beauty within the canopy of trees. She lived in Colorado, so mountains and forests of trees were nothing new. But the beauty within and the sense of belonging in this forest was not only new but exhilarating.
She let Bella lead the way for a while. The horse seemed to know where she was going. They had been riding the paths for a couple of hours when Liz decided she needed a break. She guided Bella to a stream not far off the path and dismounted. Leading the mare to the stream and finding a flat rock to sit on for a while. She opened the bag Anna had packed for her and pulled out the horchata and a piece of pan. She also took an apple and some oats out of the saddlebag and placed them on the big rock, so Bella could eat. The sun peeked through the leaves down to shine on the rock. The warmth felt good on her chilled face. Liz had not noticed the temperature change in the shadows of the trees until that moment. She realized she was a bit cold as the sun began to warm her. Lost in the sensations of the rays, she was startled when Bella whinnied and began to pull at her reins. Something had spooked her, but Liz could not see anything. Frightened by the mare's behavior, Liz stood and began scanning the forest. She still saw nothing. That is when she heard the growl. It was a deep sound that seemed to be coming from behind her. She whipped around just in time to see a black blur spring towards her. Oh God her dream was becoming reality. She screamed and heard a shot ring through the air. The creature fell inches in front of her. She looked frantically for the shooter and for any other creatures. There was nothing but silence. No animals, no creatures, and no shooter. She walked to Bella and patted her long neck. Her hands were shaking but the horse seemed calm. She must have known the danger was gone. Liz turned back to the creature that laid dead on the forest floor. It was hideous. The face was similar to a wolf but marred and with teeth that were long and protruding from its mouth. The body of the creature was more cat-like, with slender lines and short fur. She had never seen anything like it and never wanted to see another one. Returning to her rock, she packed up the few things she had and mounted Bella. She was tempted to forget her adventure and go back to the inn. No! She was in charge of her life and no one was going to run her off. Not even a hideous creature. She nudged Bella and they began the climb to the top of the mountain.
Checking the time she was surprised to see it was just after noon. The sky was getting dark above the trees and she had been sure it was much later. They followed the path to the top of the mountain where Liz realized she was still quite a distance from the castle she had made her destination. She could see it in the distance surrounded by clouds. She clicked to urge Bella into a canter towards their destination. They had been riding about twenty minutes when the clouds closed in around them. Liz could only see a few feet in front of her. Slowing the horse to a walk, she tried to find their path. Then the rain started. First, a light sprinkle that in minutes turned into a downpour. Liz could not see to go forward and was afraid to go back. She climbed down from the horse and found the view a little easier. At a slow pace, she walked alongside Bella, as they made their way forward. They walked and walked through the pouring rain. Finally, they seemed to walk above the clouds. The rain stopped, but the sky remained darkened by the thick layer of clouds. Liz was surprised to find that it had not rained on this part of the mountain. They had truly walked above the storm. The path was no longer visible and the trees around them were different from the ones below. There was a mixture of poplars and pines, they were very beautiful, these trees though seemed to have been planted rather than grown wild. As they continued to walk Liz noticed the clouds seemed to move below them. It was like she was truly walking in the clouds. They journeyed onward and, Lizette tried to find any sign of their path. There was nothing, she only found lush coverings on the ground and clouds growing all around. She continued this way for about an hour, not knowing where she was going, just moving up. Lizette was becoming tired and the sky was darkening again. She knew she had to find a place to rest but was scared to stop. Ready to give up and admit defeat she looked around to find a path back down the mountain. That is when she saw the flicker of light. She had made it to the castle.
The sky was dark as the rain began to wet the earth. Candlelight shown through the stained glass of La Flor Manor. The castle seemed to float in the clouds rising over the mountains. Movement was visible inside the old castle, and Lizette hoped that someone would be willing to let her rest inside until the rain passed. She had left her hotel for a mountain ride, unaware of the coming rain, and now found herself lost, wet, and a bit scared. She approached the grand doors, raised the knocker and let it go. It hit with a thunderous boom that shook her to her core. Then she waited.
The doors slowly opened to reveal a tall slender man. He bowed slightly at Lizette and began to speak. “En que te puedo ayudar señorita?” When Liz just looked at him, he decided to try English. “How may I help you senorita”
“I am sorry to bother you. I was riding when the rain began and was wondering if you would allow me to wait out the storm here?” Lizette felt her cheeks burn with embarrassment as she spoke to this stranger.
“Of course child, please come in.” The man led the way through the grand entrance to a sitting room to the right of the foyer. Liz was in awe at the surroundings she had walked into. The walls were covered with what appeared to be antique tapestries. The furniture was magnificent in reds and golds that were accented throughout the tapestries and flowers filling the room. The sitting room was lit with a few gas lanterns and the warm light of the fireplace. The atmosphere would have been enchanting had Liz not still felt the sting of imposing on total strangers. “Senorita? Are you okay?”
Jumping slightly, Liz looked again at the stranger. “I am sorry, I was admiring your beautiful room. I am fine thank you, and very sorry to be intruding like this.”
“Not at all senorita. You are more than welcome to stay the time you need. As for admiring my room, this castle is not mine. It belongs to, Senor Feliciano Fernando Castelliano III. I am the butler of this grand castle and companion to mi Senor. My name is Pierre, and I will attend you in whatever you may need.” Again the gentleman bowed and motioned for Liz to sit near the fire. “This will be the warmest place for you. I will have Francesca, bring you a towel and some tea.”
“Thank you, Pierre. I am Lizette. Please do not make a fuss. I only need someplace dry to wait out the storm and then I will get out of your hair.”
“I am sorry senorita, but you are not in my hair.” Pierre looked at her like she was a little crazy.
“No, I mean that I will leave so as not to bother you further.” Lizette fought to hide her smile but knew that it was peaking at the corners of her mouth and felt a bit guilty.
“I apologize, for the misunderstanding. Be assured you are not a bother to us. We are delighted to have guests of any kind and you are welcome to say as long as you like. Now if you will excuse me, I must inform my master that we have a guest. He will be very cross if I do not advise him. Please relax and warm yourself. Francesca will be in shortly.” With that Pierre left.
Lizette sat in the chair closest to the fire. It was a high back gold chair with red flowers. It looked very old and she felt bad for getting it wet. But she was so tired that exhaustion won out over etiquette. She rested her head on the back and stared into the fire. As the warmth began the thaw her frigid bones, she began to relax. She noticed a portrait above the fireplace of a very handsome young man. As with everything else in the house so far it appeared to be an antique. The young man was obviously royalty of some sort. He was dressed in robes of red, bordered in white fur and embellished with gold embroidery. His clothes were elegant and looked to be from another era in time. He held a golden scepter in his right hand and a book in his left. What drew Lizette in, were his eyes. They were a magnificent brown with a strong look. But something said the person they belonged to was mysterious and kind.
Hearing a noise, Liz looked to the door to see a full-figured woman about her height. She was carrying a tray and towel. “You must be Francesca.”.
“Yes, mam. I am Francesca, and Pierre said to bring you a towel and hot tea.” The maid placed the tray on the table and handed Liz the towel. “Would you like me to help you dry your hair mam?”
“No thank you, I can manage, and please call me Liz.” Liz noted the difference between Pierre and Francesca. Pierre spoke with a very thick Spanish accent and was darker in skin color, where, Francesca was very pale in color and spoke with a beautiful French accent. She gratefully accepted the towel that was offered and began to dry her face and hair. As she sat in the chair again she reached for her tea. The tea was very hot, aromatic chamomile and exactly what she needed to finish warming her body and allow her to relax. She had not noticed, that Francesca had slipped out of the room until she realized she was again alone. With her cup in hand, she reclined back against the chair and again gazed into the dark eyes of the mysterious man in the portrait.
“Senorita Lizette.” Pierre had not wanted to disturb her but duty required it. He gently touched her shoulder and called her name again.
Lizette jumped up, dropping her teacup to the floor. It hit with a loud shattering of porcelain on the tile. Lizette looked around, confused in the haze of her still sleeping mind. As the fog cleared she remembered where she was. “Pierre, I am so sorry. I didn't mean to fall asleep nor did I mean to break your cup.”
“It is not a problem senorita. Francesca will have in cleaned up momentarily. I am sorry I startled you. I came to inform you that, Senor Feliciano has asked that you join us for dinner. He is readying himself and will greet you in the dining room.”
“I really do not want to be a bother. Wait did you say dinner? How late is it?”
“It is almost 7:00 senorita. And I assure you it is no bother.”
“Thank you, Pierre, and please thank Senor Feliciano, but I need to return. The people at the inn must be worried about me.”
“Senorita, you must eat and I think it would be better for you to stay in one of our guest rooms for the night. It is very dark outside and the storm has not yet passed. I am sure mi Senor will agree that it is far too dangerous for you to try and ride home this evening.”
“That is very nice Pierre, but I could not possibly intrude like that. I will have to find my way back down the mountain. Thank you for the offer and concern.”
“At least have dinner and let us see what, Senor Feliciano has to say.”
Lizette reluctantly agreed. She was rather hungry and not at all looking forward to the trip back down the mountain in the dark. Much less on an empty stomach. “Thank you, Pierre. I will stay for dinner and then be on my way.”
Pierre nodded and led the way to the dining room. Opening the large wood doors, Lizette was bombarded with the delicious smells of meats and all sorts of food. The table extended the length of the room and had seats for at least thirty people. It was a mahogany wood, lined with white linens and adorned with hibiscus flowers and silver candelabras. The glow from the candles illuminating the room was something out of a romance novel. Romantic and captivating, it left Lizette again in awe. She had never imagined seeing the inside of a real castle, much less one as alive as this one was. Pierre led her to a chair on the side near the head of the table. There he left her to await the master of the house.
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