“A precinct of silence and grey dust. At its centre, a château as heavy and brutal as a fort, its tall windows blinded by a century of storms. A failed lineage, a succession of degenerate heirs, lords whose crimes were the subject of bawdy jests in stables and taverns, of shocked whispers behind elegant, bejeweled fans. After the funerary procession of the last of that clan passed its gate, the inbred families of retainers, parasites and flatterers, creatures as ill-reputed as their masters, were shunned with contempt by the lowest crossing-sweeper of the city. They scattered to the four corners of the world.
“For a long time, the area was abandoned. Not even the rankest of grasses would grow between the dark cobblestones, and tales were told of malign spirits, ghosts of the vile lords and their pitiful victims, so that only rats and wild dogs dared to prowl its streets and cisterns.
“Thus it was for more than a lifetime,” said the old man.
“And then?” asked the boy. “Was the curse lifted?”
The old man’s eyes narrowed, and his mouth curled with disdain. “No,” he said. “Then the students moved in.”