Gwenedine

I had traveled that day to Gungadere, a small town on the southern coast of France. I was looking for Princess Gwenedine, reputedly the most beautiful woman in all of Europe. She had haunting, gray-green eyes, the color of the sea before it storms, and golden-brown hair that fell in waves upon her shoulders. Her body was wonderfully proportioned, as if created by a master sculptor out of heavenly stone. She'd had many suitors, but remained unmarried. Tales of her torrid romances traveled up and down the countryside, and more than once, news concerning her imminent betrothal was announced. But she had never wed.

Now it was my duty to arrest Gwenedine on the charge of murder. It seems her suitors were not suitors at all, but innocent victims of a heinous crime: she would win their trust, their love, would promise them her hand in marriage; then, one night, after they had made love and were sleeping peacefully, she would steal from them all their earthly possessions, plant a dagger in their breast, and throw their bodies into the sea. It was believed she was responsible for the deaths of twenty-eight men over the past several years. Gwenedine had been seen only days before, making love to a sailor on the outskirts of Gungadere. Our informant had watched in silence as they made love together, as the charms of her lovemaking unfolded. And I, Chief Investigator Rosé Clare, Special Forces Homicide Division, I was to put an end to it all.

What my superiors did not know, and what I was not about to tell them, was that I had been in love with Gwenedine once before, madly, passionately, hopelessly in love. Twenty years before, when I was barely twenty-one. We had met at the police academy, at the Ecole du Criminology, though I never understood why she had enrolled: she had no interest in crime or the laws that defined it; her only interest was in love and the rules that governed it--of which she claimed there were none. I remember one evening when she pulled me into her room with urgent entreaties. Her voice a sultry siren's wail. Mesmerized by her beauty, drunk with youthful love, I humbly complied. I would have said anything that night to obtain her love! She laughed for she realized I was bound to her by a magic spell. We made love until dawn, holding each other tightly, frantically, as if afraid death itself might come and tear us apart. But death did not come. Not that night, nor the many nights that followed. What separated us in the end--what separates us all in the end--was the simple passing of time. Or that is what I forced myself to believe. Gwenedine simply vanished one day, without an explanation, leaving not a trace. I received from her only a postcard, several weeks later, from the Rue des Rêvers in Paris. I miss you, Rosé, she wrote, and signed herself, Your beloved Gwenedine. But from that day forward not a word. Her disappearance threw me into the blackest depression: What had I done wrong? How had I offended her? There is nothing more terrible than the end of love. Your soul aches, you do not want to go on living. Nor was Gwenedine there for me to question or confront; there was not even the ghost of her presence with which I could do battle.

How would I react when I now confronted her? Would I wilt (again) before her beauty? I did not know. And as it turned out, I would not discover how--at least not that day. For when I reached Gungadere I found it empty, a ghost town. No sign of Gwenedine or any other living person. I shook my head. Information was not reliable in this day and age, informants were not to be believed. Gungadere looked as though it had been abandoned for eons. I had been lured there by someone for some unknown reason. Perhaps Gwenedine herself, intending to try her tricks on me, make love to her former lover amongst these ruins. Then off with his head and into the sea! Only she had had a change of heart. Poor Rosé; today he shall be spared! she sighs. But it had probably only been a prank. One of my enemies--a former criminal I had put behind bars--had learned of my recent assignment and had managed to have me sent on this wild-goose chase. And after I spent days looking through the rubble of this decaying town--looking for what? for Gwenedine? for the corpse of her love?--and came up empty-handed, everyone would laugh. Perhaps I would even be demoted. I did not care. People were always expecting miracles of investigators. Catch the criminals quickly and lock them up forever!

A strong wind was blowing in from the sea and a thick fog was descending upon the town, blanketing it with a coat of misty gray. I turned to go. Gwenedine, murder? Never. She was no more able to murder than I was to dismiss the memory of her love.

Which I shall never do.

Gwenedine, Gwenedine, where are you? In truth, I had looked forward to meeting you again that day. To facing down ghosts from long ago. To putting them to rest forever.

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