(Inspired in part by Erckmann-Chatrian's 'The Man-Wolf'.)
The Winter Court of the Feywild is in turmoil. Lord Anadore lies on his death-bed, tended by his strikingly beautiful black-haired daughter Aniathel. The heir apparent, Anadore's son Erathin, seems both ill-suited and uninterested in taking his father's place. The Court is divided between preserving the family's traditional hold through the ascendance of Erathin or accepting into their midst a suitor from the Spring Court, Prince Arthain, who is doggedly pursuing the hand of the reluctant Aniathel.
In addition to Prince Arthain and his fey retinue, the Court is also hosting an emissary from the distant kingdom of Oromeiai, a mysterious young woman named Lady Athé. The High Queen of Oromeiai has declared her support for the ascendance of Erathin and has promised Lady Athé to the young man in the continuation of an age-old tradition of marriage and cooperation between her kingdom and the Winter Court.
The cemetery of the Winter Court has been the final resting place of the Anadore family for almost a thousand years. Buried here are all of the Lords Anadore, their wives and children, and their most beloved retainers. The cemetery is arranged in a spiral pattern, with the central pentagonal mausoleum, known as The Great Home, housing the remains of the Lords proper and the various smaller tombs devoted to the more distant relations. Proximity to the Great Home is an honor bestowed on those most close and dear to the Lord and his family.
The reflecting pool outside the Great Home is an important landmark for the family. It is said that only those with blood strong and pure enough to rule the Winter Court can find their reflections there. When a son of the Lord Anadore comes of age, the family gathers around the reflecting pool for a solemn ceremony in which the young man and his father gaze into the pool to confirm by the appearance of his reflection that he is indeed suited for the great responsibility of rulership that is his birthright.
The current Lord Anadore's son, Erathin, is by appearance a dark-haired youth with a cruel grin and by disposition a rather petty and stormy young man. Spoiled, given to tantrums and fits of rage, and far from favored by either the family or the Court, Erathin by virtue of being the only male heir was nonethelesss slated take his father's place on the throne. The family reluctantly went through with the ceremony of the reflecting pool, but to their dismay, the boy's reflection failed to appear in the water.
This was the the first time in the history of the family when the male heir failed to pass the test. A vocal minority within the Court favor breaking from tradition and supporting the marriage between Aniathel and Prince Arthain, with Arthain thereby assuming the title of Lord Anadore, but Aniathel herself seems uninterested in the young man and insists on spending her days and nights by her father's side, tending to his fragile health.
The first Lord Anadore was originally married to a woman named Lorolia, a fair-haired maiden from the nearby village of Coldreach, who despite being a commoner won the hearts of the Lord and his Court through her beauty, humor, and kind deeds. But on the night of their first anniversary, only a few short months after having borne him a daughter named Eiathel, Lorolia died under mysterious circumstances. She was on the roof of the castle in the middle of the night for reasons unknown, and apparently lost her footing on the ramparts and fell to her death.
Under pressure to produce a male heir, the Lord remarried a short while later to Lady Thea, a courtesan from the distant kingdom of Oromeiai. Thea was not well-regarded by the Court, and rumours of her involvement in the dark arts were furiously whispered of throughout the halls of Castle Anadore. Nonetheless, the Lord's decision to marry her was reluctantly respected, and when she bore him a son, the rumors died down and the Court resolved to support the young heir Thaniel.
As the time came for Thaniel to assume his father's place on the throne, another young woman arrived from Oromeiai to be his wife. The appearance of this princess from Oromeiai was the beginning of a tradition, with the distant kingdom sending a young bride-to-be to the Winter Court whenever a male heir comes of age. And despite what other prospects there might be, even if they are more politically advantageous to or beloved by the Winter Court, somehow the Oromeiain princess always prevails.
True to tradition, Princess Athé of Oromeiai arrived at midnight on the day of Erathin's thirtheenth birthday in a silent procession of dark carriages. She came with a vast retinue that threatens to overwhelm the hospitality of the Winter Court. Princess Athé is the most vocal proponent of those who support Erathin's ascendence to the lordship despite the failure of the reflecting pool ceremony, but appears by her machinations to be more interested in her own claim to the title of Lady Anadore than she is in the dull and cruel Erathin himself. Indeed, her treatment of the young man is markedly and visibly poor, more akin to that of a disappointed and frustrated mother than a blushing bride-to-be. She often berates him publicly for his lack of courtly manners and cruelly mocks him in the presence of the Court when he is absent.
On top of the problem of the heir, the machinations of his foreign bride-to-be, the question of marriage between Aniathel and Arthain, and the Lord's desperately failing health, the family is being plagued by the reappearance of an age-old family curse.
For generations untold, as the time of the ascendancy of the new Lord Anadore approaches, a ghostly visitor has appeared to torment the family. The faint and terrible apparition of a woman adorned in the fashion of ancient courtly days appears every night on the ramparts of the castle, pacing back and forth. When the moon is at its highest, the figure is seen to tumble from the roof and fall past the window of the Lord Anadore. The ghostly woman pauses in her descent, gesturing furiously and mouthing a silent plea for help at the window, finally fading as she resumes her fatal flight toward the frozen ground below. The latest appearance of the figure, traditionally referred to as the Winter Bride, has caused much dismay, and in fact seems to be contributing to the failing health of the Lord, as he is unable to sleep through the night out of fear of the apparition.