The Tower 6
I closed my eyes, but sleep had evaded me for the rest of the night. Finally the sun peaked over the edge of the horizon creating tiny patches of light through the heavy drapes I had drawn. I sat up and crawled to the edge of the bed. The stones were gone leaving the circle of white sand. With trepidation I stepped outside of the circle and waited. Nothing happened.
My nerves were stretched tight from my predawn visitors. The questions were building in my head making it ache. I quickly changed into the dress from the previous evening and found a hot breakfast waiting for me. I ate, filling up because I wasn’t sure what the day would bring.
When I finished I walked to the door and taking a deep breath opened it. The hall was as empty as the previous day and there were no signs of any movement or attempt to get in. I left the comfort and safety of my room.
“All right,” I said out loud. “I was promised answers.”
“And answers you shall have,” the voice echoed.
I looked around expecting to see the tall stranger, but I still found myself alone in the passageway. I waited hoping to be given a direction or something. After a few moments I realized it wouldn’t be that easy.
I made my way down the hall to the stairs and went down one flight. From there I had a choice. I could continue down the stairs or follow either of the two passages to the right or left. I stared at my options praying for some sort of an answer, but gaining nothing. Finally I decided to descend to the next level.
The marble railing slid easily beneath my hand. At the next level I turned to the right opposite from where I had come the evening before. Everything looked so similar that I felt lost immediately. I kept hoping to feel a tug or pull in a particular direction and when I didn’t I made a choice and continued on.
I walked the length of the passage looking in and out of the rooms that I passed. I glimpsed a huge ballroom, dining room and library. At the library I stopped and went inside. Shelves lined the walls three normal stories high and each shelf was filled neatly with leather bound volumes with gold or silver writing. Tall wooden ladders attached to a metal rail scaled the walls to reach the books higher up.
I made my way to the nearest shelf and began scanning the titles. Each one was unreadable in a language I had never seen before. I climbed up as high as I dared, but was still unable to decipher the writing.
After spending at least half an hour searching I gave up. I was no closer to an answer than before and I was becoming very frustrated and angry with the situation. I wasn’t about to return to the room at the top of the last tower, so I continued on down the hall toward the next staircase.
As I walked I took notice of the paintings on the walls. The passage from the throne room had been, for the most part, unadorned except for the occasional tapestry. This hall was like a gallery in a museum.
Most of the pictures were depictions of vineyards or fine ladies drinking wine and eating grapes, but towards the end of the hall I noticed a change. It was a particular painting that caught my attention. I was a darker shade than the previous ones and the scene did not look as carefree and happy. The faces on the ladies had a hint of panic and one even looked over her shoulder like someone or something unpleasant was watching.
I followed her gaze and met the edge of the painting. Intrigued I moved down the hall. The next one showed workers in the vineyard. There were children, adults and elderly people working, but the painting focused on one child who was crying next to a basket of grapes. The grapes appeared much smaller than the other pictures and a shadow was cast across the child’s basket.
I reviewed three or four more paintings all with similar themes of fear and all with the obscure shadow. When I reached the last one I gasped ever so slightly. The noise echoed down the empty silent passage.
In this picture it showed a desperate figure fleeing the vineyard. Behind him were flames that almost seemed to lick the edges of the canvas. Silhouetted against the burning vineyard was the short stubby figure I had seen through my lashes in the room at the top of the stairs.
I stared at the canvas for several minutes listening to the pounding of my heart and the sound of my accelerated breathing. Who was this figure? He must have some sort of power over these people who would obviously tower above him. What had he done to cause so much fear? How long ago had it been?
I glanced out the window behind me. There was no sign of the endless vineyards that made up the major export of Anderosea. Had the vineyards truly burned as the picture depicted and was it really the doing of the short stubby figure?
The questions shouted across my mind and somewhere in my deep thoughts I knew the answer was yes. So now I knew, somewhat, what had happened to the surrounding land, but that still didn’t explain what had happened to the people and who the stubby figure was and who, for that matter, the tall gentleman from the tower was.
I needed to know the answers to those questions before I could comfortably proceed with my purpose for being trapped in this strange land. My frustration mounted as well as my impatience. I actually stomped my foot on the hard marble floor and listened for a moment as the sound echoed down the hall.
What enchantment or curse had forced the perpetual silence of an entire kingdom? My frustration mounted. Instead of answers I had more questions and absolutely no direction. The hall of paintings came to an end and I was faced with the choice to either go up the stairs or down the hall. I felt oddly drawn to the hall on my left so I moved in that direction.
I was met with another gallery of paintings, but these were vastly different from the ones before. Each picture depicted a person dressed in the simple finery of wealthy people. No titles or name plates adorned the frames.
The first one I guessed to be a portrait of Rutheus. He appeared to be fairly tall with broad shoulders and a slightly rounded chest and stomach. His brown eyes were afire with passion and a twinkle of humor. His hair was a deep chestnut color that would make any brunette jealous.
He was dressed in a simple doublet of brown and standing next to him was a pretty red-headed woman in a delicate gown of the palest blue. She was tall and slim with stunning green eyes. Her skin was creamy white with just a slight scattering of freckles across her nose and cheeks.
They looked prim and proper, but there eyes were completely content and the smile that played on the lady’s lips gave a hint to the happiness she held in the man next to her. Her face made me smile. I found myself wishing I could have met this couple and enjoyed an evening in their precious castle.
The next few paintings were quite obviously Rutheus’ two sons and three daughters. The young men bore a striking resemblance to their father, but had some of the softer characteristics of their mother in their eyes and smiles. The girls were a mixture of their parents. All three girls had their mother’s complexion, but only the youngest had her father’s chestnut hair.
Her face was striking and I spent several minutes trying to decipher her expression. It was a mixture of tentative happiness, but there was a knowing fear behind her striking blue eyes, like she knew what was coming. Whomever had painted the portrait must have considered it a masterpiece to be able to capture the deep feelings of the subject so clearly.
I continued on. There were more family pictures of the sons and their wives and the daughters and their husbands, but I saw no further portraits of the youngest girl. I assumed she had died, perhaps that was the cause of the fear in her eyes, but she hadn’t looked ill. Deep down I began to suspect she was the key in all of this. If I found out what happened to the daughter then I might be able to solve the mystery of the empty castle.
I took a deep breath feeling like I had finally stumbled onto something worthwhile. The next ten portraits did not really capture my attention much, but the last one made me stop in my tracks. It was the man from the tower. His piercing blue eyes smiled somewhat anxiously and his dark brown hair fell in waves across his forehead. It wasn’t the familiarity of his face that stopped me. Everything about him screamed one thing: he was the son of the youngest daughter.
I stumbled back like I had been pushed. The hall of portraits now felt tainted by something dark. I fled back toward the stairs with only the desire to get away. I reached the winding staircase and started up. By the time I had gone halfway to the next level I had calmed down slightly. The urge to run was gone replaced by a stronger desire for answers.
I remembered the book in my safe room. I hadn’t finished it and perhaps I would find more answers in the remaining pages. I continued up to the top of the staircase. I knew there was one more level to ascend before I could reach my room, but the stairs in this corner did not continue to that level. I glanced down the hallways before me trying to remember which way led back to my room.
I chose the hallway to my right. The hall was lined with thick, soft carpets in beautiful grape patterns and accented with exquisitely carved wall tables and chairs. The outer wall was mostly windows that looked out across the countryside and the light coming in made everything seem so cheerful and happy.
There were a few paintings on the inner wall between doorways. Most of them were landscapes, but I noticed after the first two that the landscapes were void of any people or animals. They seemed to depict the perfect silence that had enveloped the land. I walked on glancing into tastefully decorated tearooms and comfortable bedrooms.
When I reached the end of that hall I came across another painting that included the far borders of the land and the enormous gorge that I had crossed. The details were perfect in reference to what I had beheld, down to the heavy mist that obscured the bottom of the rift. I could see no semblance of the tower where I had first arrived and the bridge was also intriguingly absent.
My curiosity was burning now. I had to know what happened to this happy family and their small kingdom and what could possibly bring about the painful silence and emptiness of the land. I turned to look out one of the windows behind me and examined the landscape. It was like everything had been frozen in time.
Yet on the contrary I remembered my nights in this land, the pounding on the cottage as well as my evil little visitor and his helper. Who they were and what power they held were the first questions popping into my mind, but then I wondered about the ring of white flowers or stones I had encountered. It was a protection of some sort and I wanted to know who had placed it there and why.
My feet kept me moving and I found myself facing another stairwell and hall. This one was different from the others I had encountered. Instead of a fountain or sculpture I was greeted by an enormous clock. I circled around it examining the workmanship. It had three faces but the numbers were different on each face.
One had the figures I was familiar with, the next had the same scripted writing I had noticed on the books in the library and the third a completely different set in a blocky stroke. The pendulum on the scripted side was frozen mid-swing, the blocky pendulum moved at an ominous pace from one side to the other. The side with the numerical figures I was familiar with swung at a normal rate, but no sound emanated from any of the faces.
I looked closer at the clock I recognized, searching for a tab or pull that would allow the chimes to ring, but found nothing. The glass door enclosing the workings was locked and no amount of shaking would grant me access. With a groan I stepped back. I would give anything to hear something even as ordinary as a clock ticking.
I wondered what it would be like when I returned to the hotel room where the noises from the freeway traffic were constant. I left the silent clock and continued to the stairs. I had only walked up three or four steps when I felt a wave of nausea sweep over me. I stopped, reaching out to grab the railing, and fell to my knees.
I turned around and sat down on the steps to catch my breath. As soon as I turned I felt much better. I sat for a moment to let the sick sensation depart then I stood and began up the stairs again. I only made it two steps this time before the nausea returned.
I sat down again and waited until it passed. Clearly I had a choice: either there was something up there that I wasn’t supposed to see or there was something that someone didn’t want me to see and I had to decide what to do about it.
I’m definitely not someone who enjoyed pain, discomfort or danger, so I wasn’t really jumping onboard with running up the stairs to some horror, but I also hated being told what to do and being left in the dark. If I didn’t find out what was up there it would torture me for the rest of my life.
“I’m tired of being left in the dark,” I muttered out loud if only for the sake of convincing myself.
Taking a deep breath, I turned and ran up the stairs as quickly as I could. I made it about halfway up to the next level before I had to stop and still my heaving stomach. I paused for several minutes catching my breath and trying very hard not to throw up. Since I hadn’t heard my guiding ‘voice’ I figured this was where I had to go.
With another deep breath I dashed up the remaining steps. Not only did I feel sick to my stomach, but I also had waves of dizziness sweep over me. I reached out to grab the railing and felt myself sinking to the floor. With my last conscious thought I wondered what time it was.
I awakened slowly unsure of where I was or what I was doing. I could feel the texture of carpet beneath my cheek and I questioned why I had fallen asleep on the hotel floor, but then I realized that the carpet was much too soft for a hotel room. Suddenly the memories returned and my eyes flew open.
I was lying on the floor of the hallway at the top of the stairs. The feeling of nausea was gone now replaced with a sensation of hunger. I was alone, but I sensed that I hadn’t been alone the entire time. I sat up. The hall was dimmer than before and I could tell it was very late in the day. All around me was a circle of small white stones, my protection. It must be very late indeed.
I felt tempted once again to leave the circle and as I got to my feet I heard the familiar voice.
“I wouldn’t leave the circle if I were you,” he said with a sigh.
I whirled around to the wall behind me. He sat in a tall chair with his elbows resting on his knees. I hadn’t seen him for almost three days and I realized how much of his appearance I had forgotten. This time, however, his piercing blue eyes didn’t have any of the sparkle to them.
I raised my chin defiantly. “Why not?”
“It’s not safe at night here, I thought you had figured that out,” he said annoyed. “Why did you come up the stairs?”
“Because I didn’t hear the voice telling me not to,” I replied petulantly. I sat down on the soft carpet. “Why am I even here?”
“I need you.” His voice was on the edge of emotion.
“What do you need me for?”
“I can’t tell you that,” he said bitterly.
“Of course not,” I sighed. “What’s the point of being stuck in a silent land or mystery if I don’t even know why?”
“Do you want to go back?” he asked carefully.
I bit my lip. Part of me did want to go back, but I was too involved to turn back now. If I left I would always wonder about everything I had experienced here.
“No,” I replied, “but a little help would be nice. Who are you?”
“You already know the answer,” he replied. His eyes had just a glimmer of the previous twinkle.
“All I know is that you are the son of Rutheus’ youngest daughter, but who are you?” His evasiveness was starting to annoy me.
He looked at me carefully and then spoke, “My name is Antheus. I am the only son of Sareanne, youngest daughter of Rutheus and Abrigal, King and Queen of Anderosea, and the only one of my family still living.”
“What happened here, Antheus, what happened to Anderosea?” I asked softly.
“My father,” Antheus replied bitterly dropping his head into his hands.