The bartender had every single ear in the tavern trained on him before his story even started, and by the looks of him, he was quite enjoying it. The Frozen Hearth in Winterhold wasn’t necessarily known for its warmth, but the innkeeper was known well throughout the city as a storyteller fit to tell tales to the Divines themselves. On this particular night, the festive lanterns danced with merry light outside the tavern. It was the night of the New Life Festival, and the tavern was offering its traditional gift of free drinks to the citizens of Winterhold, so naturally the entire city showed up. The building was crammed full of patrons that night, but as the bartender began his story, one could have heard the scurrying of the quietest of mice.
“I’d never ‘a thought I’d see ‘im. By Oblivion, I hardly believed in ‘im ‘till a few years back. ‘Twas the night before the New Life Festival. Bar was all quiet. Ever’one had gone home to their fam’lies. An’ that was when I saw ‘im. Ghostly pale son-of-a-bitch, he was. Creepin’ down the street. I wouldn’t ‘a seen ‘im had the moons light not just been streamin’ through the window at the right moment. Didn’ quite know what to make of ‘im to be honest. They call ‘im “The Ghost of New Life.”
The bartender paused for dramatic effect. All in the tavern listened in silence with bated breath. The only sound was the gentl crackle of the central fire.
“I heard that he was a Jarl here a long while back. Nobody liked ‘im. Not even his servants or guardsmen. Selfish and nasty, he was. Never even gave holidays off, if you’ll believe it. Not even the Festival.”
At this a great deal of indignant muttering spread through the tavern. The bartender waited for the ripple of chatter to pass before continuing.
“One day, the city woke up, and he was dead. Stone-cold. Dead as a door knocker. Someone had killed ‘im in his sleep. Knife straight across the throat. An’ if you’ll believe it, twas the night before the New Life Festival”
There was now an excited ripple across the room as the plot in the innkeeper’s story thickened.
“Well that’s ‘im, they say. Nobody mourned the Jarl’s death, and ‘is restless soul couldn’t move on into Aetherius. That’s the Ghost I seen awhile back. There’s legends of him, of course. He only comes ‘round at the time of the Holidays, by the mercy of the divines. He’s dangerous, mind. People say they see him in different ways. Different forms, like. Some of the tales say he looks like a priest or a monk of sorts. Say he can zip back through time. They call ‘im ‘The Ghost of New Life Past.’ Other tales say he’s this hulking giant of a man carryin’ a big ‘ol torch with ‘im. ‘The Ghost of New Life Present.’ But his last form, they say, is his most dangerous. This one’s s’posed to be tall and thin, covered in a great black robe and hood so dark you can’ even see his face. This version of the Ghost is rumored to punish the unrighteous and selfish. Don’ quite know how folks who meet ‘im come off. None’s ever lived to tell the tale. It’s whispered that he can make ya see visions of yer future self, but yer . . . different, in the illusion. Evil, mean, and heartless. Tha’s why they call ‘im ‘The Ghost of New Life Yet-to-Come.’”
The innkeeper seemed to think these chilling words were a good place to end his story. His words were greeted by a silence, and then the chatter slowly came back as people discussed what they’d heard. As the evening progressed, it became so late that even the more rowdy patrons returned home. At around three in the morning, the final patrons were filing out, but a boy of no more than sixteen remained behind. The innkeeper beckoned him to the counter he was wiping off.
“How much did ya manage to swipe off ‘em while they was listenin’?” he asked in a hushed tone. The boy pulled out several sacks of coin and dumped them on the table.
“Ha!” said the innkeeper, looking at them greedily. “Free drinks. Bah! They ain’t usin’ no holidays to get my hard earned product off me! No sir.” He glanced at the boy, who waited expectantly. “Here’s yer cut, boy,” he said, pushing a small portion of the coins back across the counter. The boy scooped it up slowly. He turned to leave, but hesitated.
“Sir?” he asked nervously.
“Hmm?” the innkeeper responded, his tone impatient.
“Sir, what about that Ghost you were talkin’ about? You said he punished the selfish and unrighteous--”
“Nah, that was all talk,” he said dismissively. “Made ‘alf of it up meself to keep ‘em busy well you swiped their coin. Don’ you worry about it.” The boy left.
The innkeeper was found lifeless in his bed the following morning.