The Tower 12
She sighed and then followed with a question of her own. “What do you know about Anderosean grapes?”
“Just what I read in the book in my room, The Castle at Perdeen. They are supposed to be the best grapes, juices, wines and raisins in Gemal and the only major export of Anderosea,” I answered. “I understand that can be very profitable, but why would Antheus go to such trouble to control the vineyards, he’s a sorcerer.”
Sareanne closed her eyes as if what she was about to share was painful. “Once the products left Perdeen they were very good, the best in Gemal, but here in Anderosea there was something more. It was something my father happened upon quite by chance.”
“Yes,” I whispered.
“Once you ate one of our grapes something happened to your body, it would regenerate itself. Cuts healed in hours, major injuries in a day, illnesses disappeared over night, and no one died.”
My eyes widened in surprise and understanding. To control such a product would make Antheus the most powerful man in the world.
“Did the other countries in Gemal know this?”
“Not that we knew of. For some reason once the product left Anderosea it didn’t work the same. They were the best tasting of any product and I suspect it increased people’s abilities and lives, but not to the extent it did when the consumer remained on Anderosean soil.”
“So you burned the vineyards,” I said quietly.
“My father would have relented and Antheus would have destroyed our land. Think of what the people of the world would do if they knew what our land contained. We were a peaceful people, hard-working and economical. We were happy to live our lives producing things that brought joy to the people of Gemal. If Antheus took control the world would know what our land could do. We would have been overrun and subjected to slavery or worse. Wars would have been fought over the very ground and eventually the earth would revolt and refuse to produce its magical product.”
I nodded in agreement, knowing she was absolutely correct. I looked at her and then carefully asked, “How old are you?”
She blushed ever so slightly. “Seventy-five this year.”
“And your father?”
“He would have been one-hundred and thirty.”
“What happened to him?”
“After I burned the vineyards he began to realize what was happening to me. He refused to acquiesce to Antheus’ demands so Antheus cursed the land. Everything was frozen, changed into a state that couldn’t change. My father and the people of the city disappeared.” She shook her head sadly. “I have been alone in this castle with Antheus and the tarrange monsters for twenty years.”
I immediately put my arm around her shoulders to comfort her, realizing the struggle she must have had over the years and then I remembered the scene I had viewed from the window of the cloaked figures and the invisible village below.
“Wait, I have to show you something,” I cried excitedly.
“What?” she asked bemused.
I tried to remember our progression through the castle and my own progression earlier that day. We had reached one of the castle corners and climbed one flight of stairs by this point. I turned around to go back down the stairs and toward the hallway with the mirror. When we reached the said hallway Sareanne stopped.
“I can’t,” she whispered pulling back.
“I can’t go back down there,” she said pointing to the mirror.
“We aren’t going there. There is another hall connected to this one.”
I pulled her gently down the hall and passed the mirror. When we reached the barren hall I half dragged her to the first door and opened it. I was met with the same noxious feeling, but I brushed it aside easily and went to the window.
I looked out at the same view from before. The smoke wasn’t quite as thick as before and there weren’t quite as many people milling around below, but there was enough activity to show life. I pointed to the window and drew Sareanne over.
She cautiously looked out and gasped. "How is this done?" she cried.
"Is that Perdeen?" I countered.
She nodded and tears filled her eyes. "I haven't seen the village for years. I've come through these halls and looked out on the barren landscape thousands of times and never seen this. How am I able to now?"
"I can only imagine it's because the curse on you is broken," I replied gently. "Come."
I pulled her across the hall to the window that looked out over the castle garden. The same gasp and tears escaped her again as she stared longingly at a place that she had only seen in memory for the last twenty years. I watched her carefully and after a few moments the sadness and joy were replaced with anger.
"Curse Antheus for doing this to my people!" she exclaimed. "We were peaceful, wanting nothing but to produce our wares and be left alone."
"Evil men and women would kill for a lot less than you had," I replied. "Antheus is driven by power."
"Even if we do break this awful curse and drive him from the land, what's to stop someone else from doing the same thing?" she asked mournfully.
I shrugged my shoulders. "I don't know."
"I can't see my father creating an army to protect his borders. He's not that kind of a man. We prospered, but he would just as well give away our grapes if he were asked."
I opened my mouth to suggest another idea, but she brushed my unspoken words away. "We won't stop growing the grapes. We have too much joy in the work to stop."
"Well until we can defeat Antheus, you won't have to worry about that problem. Let's go back to the room and see if we can find some answers."
I turned her away from the window and heard a low growl. I looked over at the tarrange and could see its hair starting to rise as another growl escaped its body. Sareanne's head snapped up and I could see her lips moving rapidly. She gripped my arm holding me in place and I watched as the circle of white rocks quickly surrounded all of us.
I glanced at the door as it swung shut with a clang and the click of a lock finalized the realization. We were trapped, imprisoned as effectively as Sareanne had been. Antheus' face appeared behind the bared window of the door.
He examined the tarrange with a sigh. "I'm so disappointed in you Tuug. I thought you would be faithful to me."
The tarrange hissed and growled again. I could hear the underlying curses and anger from the creature beside me as well as the current of fear.
"Don't stoop to his level, Tuug," Sareanne said softly. The tarrange's tail twitched petulantly and he turned away from the door. "You can't keep me here forever, Antheus," Sareanne said confidently.
"Perhaps not, but for now I know where you are. Since you have managed to poison my pet, Tuug, I am most obliged to you for offering another prison that is just as convenient," he said matter-of-factly.
"Poisioning?" I sputtered as a flare of anger rose to the surface. "We returned him to his original form."
"He was so much more attractive the other way," Antheus replied nettling me.
I opened my mouth to speak, but Tuug growled again and spit at the door. Whatever it was he had said I silently agreed with.
"His language was much nicer too," Antheus continued. "Why did you come down here? I would have thought you would be making your way back to the tower by now, Sareanne."
I realized he didn't know what we could see and I kept my thoughts occupied elsewhere. The last thing I wanted was for him to know that his curse had flaws.
"I wanted to see my kingdom with my own unaffected eyes," Sareanne covered. I was grateful for her attentiveness to our situation. "Go gloat somewhere else, Antheus, I'm done speaking to you."
She dismissed him with a wave and turned her back on the barred door. I looked over at Sareanne and Tuug and then turned back to the door.
"I'm with her," I thought as loudly as I could.
With satisfaction I saw him flinch ever so slightly and then he left. I waited for a few moments before turning to Sareanne. Her face was set with determination. Whatever she was feeling I hoped it would get us out of our present predicament.
“It’s probably good he doesn’t know what we can see out the window,” I commented not really knowing what to say.
“His curse is weakening, broken in some places, this is very good,” she replied. I could see her confident façade weakening.
“What are we going to do now?” I couldn’t see how we could get out of this situation.
“I don’t know,” she said her shoulders drooping in defeat.
I thought about everything that had happened. “What is so special about the room in the upper corner of the castle?”
“It’s my room,” she said.
“Can Antheus go in there?”
“I don’t think so. I’ve never even seen him up on that floor. I haven’t been up there since he cursed me. During the day I was the monster and at night I was trapped in his prison.”
“Then I think we need to get to that room,” I suggested.
Sareanne nodded in agreement and her gaze drifted to the barred door. I followed her and began examining the door. It was made of sturdy wood and iron bars that were unbreakable especially by two women. Our situation seemed pretty hopeless, but I still prayed for a miracle.
I looked around the room that was now our prison. Everything in it seemed so uncharacteristic of Perdeen and Rutheus’ rule. From everything I had heard and read, I’d never imagined there would even be a room like this in his entire castle.
It was larger than a prison cell and despite its stark appearance it was not uncomfortable. I wandered around the perimeter twice, leaving the safety of our circle that had now turned to white sand.
Curious I leaned down and swept some of the sand into my palm. The grains were like teeny tiny pebbles of various shades of white. Some sparkled, some shimmered, and some were as clear as glass. With a sigh I tossed the grains over my shoulder and returned to my pacing.
As I came around to where I had tossed the sand I noticed some inconsistencies with the flooring. I got down on my knees to examine the strange phenomenon. Little tufts were coming out of the hard wood that looked almost like…
“Carpet,” I exclaimed.
“What?” Sareanne asked surprised.
“What were these rooms like before?” I asked wonderingly.
“They were servant’s quarters,” she replied confused. “They weren’t as nice as the rest of the house, but my father made sure there was a fireplace in each room and a comfortable bed and carpets on the floors. No one ever complained.”
I wandered around the room again pondering the turn of events and contemplating what could have caused the carpet to appear in little tufts all over the floor in that corner and then it struck me. The sand! I raced to my circle and scooped up another handful of sand and tossed it in the same area, but concentrated on one corner.
I heard the same hissing sound that had accompanied the tarrange’s change and watched as the bare floors melted away to reveal soft carpets and the corner of a fireplace.
“Sareanne, look!” I half shouted.
She glanced over to where I pointed and her eyes widened. “What did you do?”
“The sand,” I cried. “I looked at it and then tossed it over and where it landed the curse burned away.”
“Just like the tarrange,” she finished.
I nodded excitedly. This was a fantastic development and my mind moved quickly towards a possible solution.
“Do you think you could make a protective circle big enough to fill the entire room or even the castle?” I asked anxiously.
“I don’t think I could do the castle,” she replied hesitantly. “It exhausted me just to surround the cottage.”
“Let’s start with the room,” I encouraged.
She nodded and then began speaking the words under her breath. At first I didn’t notice any changes, but slowly I saw the bare floor boards disappear and soft carpets appear in various places. I wondered that they hadn’t shown up when she had first built the circle around us, but then I realized as the room changed to its former appearance that where we had been standing was bare floor.
The carpets were located strategically throughout the room to give comfort when treading with bare feet from the dresser to the bed and fireplace. When she finished she slumped heavily against me and I helped her over to the soft bed. She closed her eyes concentrating on her breathing and I looked around at our magically refurbished room.
The bars were gone from the window and had been replaced with glass panes that sparkled ever so slightly in the fast approaching evening light. The door no longer had a barred window, but stood whole in its frame, allowing for privacy of the occupant. I went over and tried the knob. It turned easily in my hand like it had never been locked.
“Did it work,” Sareanne asked breathlessly.
“Yes, even better than I thought,” I said swinging the door open to reveal the empty hallway.
She had pushed the protection further than the boundaries of the room and I could see the stark difference where the protection ended. The soft, cheerful carpets that used to line the halls suddenly disappeared about two feet from the door.
After a few moments Sareanne joined me at the open doorway. The difference made me shiver with excitement and curiosity.
“Can you do more?” I asked impatiently.
“Not yet,” she breathed.
I looked at her face and realized she was much paler than before. The sheer amount of energy it had taken her to build that circle had exhausted her strength. I put my arm around her shoulders, supporting her weight against my body.
“At this rate it will take me years to uncurse every room,” she added annoyed.
“Can you teach me the words?” I asked.
I highly doubted my ability to produce any kind of magic, but this was a magical land and maybe the rules were different here. Sareanne said she used power from the Gods of the Earth. If they agreed to help me then maybe it would work.
“I can try, but…” I could see her struggle internally.
I put my hand on her arm. “It’s okay, Sareanne. It was just a suggestion. We need to figure out a way to make you stronger.”
I looked out the darkening window. “It’s getting late. We should just stay here for the night. The room is already protected and if we leave it will break the protection,” I said.
She nodded in agreement.
The room was now equipped with a comfortable bed and a soft couch as well as a well-stocked fireplace. I sent Sareanne to the bed knowing she would be too tall for the couch. I spent several minutes at the fireplace before I finally got the tiniest of fires started. Sareanne came over to my side with a grin and helped me get it going strong.
“Don’t you have fireplaces in your world?” she asked curiously.
“No we have heating and air conditioning.” Her expression was total confusion. “You push a button and a…machine makes the house warmer or cooler.”
“These machines can heat a whole castle?” she asked incredulously.
I laughed. “Most people in my world don’t live in castles. We live in cottages or houses that are a little bit bigger than the cottage I stayed in the second night.”
I could tell she didn’t really believe me. I sent her back to bed and went over to the couch. The tarrange had curled up on the rug next to the hearth and was purring contentedly. The sound, instead of annoying me, relaxed me and after considering the events of the day I fell asleep.