The Tower 15
Sareanne skids to a stop and I almost crash into her. Our eyes meet and Antheus’ narrow.
“You have been more trouble to me than you are worth,” Antheus says to me. “I’m regretting the decision to call you here in the first place.”
“You should have thought of that before,” Sareanne replies snidely.
Antheus smiles wickedly. “I suppose you are right, but it is a problem I can resolve right now.”
He lifted his staff and waved it in my direction mumbling something under his breath. Nothing happens. I look around to see if Sareanne had built the circle of protection, but no stones have appeared around me. I glance back at Antheus trying to understand what was happening and then the sound of laughter startles me.
It is a pretty little musical sound emanating from Sareanne. I look at her face and realize just how beautiful she is when she truly smiles.
“Your power no longer works here, Antheus. We are protected, even without my circle,” Sareanne laughs.
Antheus’ face twists into a mask of anger.
“You’ve lost, Antheus,” I say carefully. “Just give up and go back to Betlath.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” he mutters darkly.
I look at his face and for half a second I see something that startles me. I lean forward trying to catch it again, but his façade remains solid. What I had seen, though, sears through my brain. I try to wrap my mind around it. It was just the faintest glimpse of an old, wrinkled, sickly, looking man.
His blue eyes bored into mine daring me to speak out loud. There was something there that piqued my interest, something that picked at the back of my mind just like the idea about the clock. I struggled with the glimpse I had seen until I could find the words to describe my thought.
“You’re related to them, aren’t you?” I said quietly.
A flash of fear whipped across his face and his eyes widened ever so slightly. That was what confirmed my suspicions. The blue eyes and expression of fear was so close to the same expression I had seen on Sareanne’s face. He was definitely a relative of some sort.
“Who are you?” I ask demanding an answer.
“It does not matter who I am,” he replies angrily, but his anger is short lived.
“Related?” Sareanne says wonderingly.
She peers into his face searching for something and finds it. She gasps.
Before she can speak I blurt out the realization I gain, “You’re older than you appear, and ill.”
Fear widens his eyes once again and his face pales. “You don’t know anything,” he growls.
“I know what I see,” I begin, “and I see an old man who is grasping at anything to stay alive.”
“Who are you?” Sareanne repeats my question. “Why are you doing this to my family, my people?”
Antheus laughs hollowly. “What I am doing? What about what you have done to me? I am who I am because of Rutheus and his people and their cursed vineyards!” he exclaims.
Sareanne and I both stare at him in surprise not knowing how to answer.
“I should have guessed,” Rutheus said behind me.
We whirl around to face Sareanne’s father as he climbs the last stair. His expression is one of complete sadness and loss.
“You left home, Antheus, determined to find your fortune. You abandoned our family. Mother and father were frantic for news of you, but nothing. And now you come here seeking what?” Rutheus asks bitterly. “You have cursed my family, my people, my land for what? Revenge? Your actions were on your own head.”
Antheus glared at Rutheus. “I left to make a name for myself. I could no longer learn the arts from our parents, their gifts were old and outdated. I was ready for the next step,” he replied angrily.
“And where did that next step lead you? I searched for you for years with no hope. Humph, but I suppose I should thank you,” Rutheus said slowly.
“Thank me?” Antheus’ curiosity was piqued.
“If I hadn’t gone out searching for you I never would have come to Anderosea.” Rutheus looked at Antheus gauging his expressions. “Did you find what you were searching for, brother?”
Someone gasped and I realized it was me. Antheus was Rutheus’ brother. Many things came crashing into place. Antheus had aged and Rutheus, because of the grapes, had not. The older brother had found other ways to try and retain his youth and when he learned of the good fortune of his younger brother it chaffed him.
With each word Rutheus spoke I could see Antheus’ face harden with anger and the careful mask started to fade. Antheus was much older and falling victim to some type of wasting illness. I wondered just how much longer he would have survived anyway.
Antheus turned toward me obviously reading my thoughts. He grinned wickedly. “I’m no closer to dying now than I was before.”
“You’re lying,” I say. “You only wanted the power of the vineyards so you could overcome your own mortal weakness.”
“I am not weak!” Antheus roared.
I cringe back from his anger.
“I was betrayed by my family and friends.”
“You abandoned your family and friends,” Rutheus countered. “When you left us because you could no longer see the value in the simple life our parents led. With you it was always more, more, more.”
Antheus’ face contorted in anger and hatred.
“I should have been the one to control this land, not you,” he spat at his brother.
“But you wouldn’t have controlled it, you would have destroyed it and all the people with it,” Rutheus replied.
Antheus began shouting curses at his brother and Rutheus would reply calmly, but firmly. I scooted closer to Sareanne.
“Can you create a circle around the clock,” I whispered in her ear, trying to keep my thoughts on the conversation the two men were having.
I saw only the slightest nod from her, but her lips began moving ever so slightly. I tried not to look at the clock when the white stones began appearing at its base. I did the only thing I could think of to keep Antheus’ attention.
“Just admit you’re wrong, Antheus. You’re dying and you need their help. Why not just say it?” I cry.
The two men turn to me incredulously.
“I don’t know what magic you have used to keep yourself alive, but it is now clearly killing you. Taking the vineyards was your last hope, but when Sareanne burned them and you cursed the country you didn’t realize that with the people gone no grapes would grow. Only the grapes that are attached to the castle grow and those are just as cursed as the rest of the land.” I looked Antheus squarely in the eyes. “You need their help.”
He sneered at me. “I need no one’s help, girl,” he spat.
He opened his mouth to speak again, but was interrupted by the loud, deep chime of the clock behind him. It rang out twelve times. Each time I could hear a cracking sound and then a rush of new sounds and voices and each time it rang I could see cracks in Antheus’ careful façade.
As the last chime echoed away I look around at the castle around me. Not much has changed except there is now a layer of dust on everything and when I glance back at the clock it is an ordinary clock with only one face. It ticks loudly and I welcome the sound in exchange for the frozen silence from before.
Then my eyes met with Antheus. He looked so old and frail standing next to the clock. His smooth skin was now a mass of wrinkles, but his brilliant blue eyes shown as sharply as before. He shoots me a look of hatred and before anyone can react he reaches out and grabs me by the throat wrapping his bony arm around my body.
He is deceptively strong and I struggle in vain against his arm. I see the horror that now fills Sareanne and Rutheus’ faces and then with the loud echo of his staff striking the floor, the room around us disappears in a swirl of smoke.