The Tower 13
I am jolted awake sometime in the early morning hours. The soft growling of the tarrange pulled me from my slumber. I sat up afraid Antheus was coming, but I heard no footsteps and as far as I could tell the protection was still working. I rolled off the couch onto the balls of my feet and tiptoed to the bed.
Sareanne was still asleep, so I continued to the door and opened it just a crack. The hallway was completely empty and the circle was still rocks. I closed the door and returned to the couch wondering what had made the tarrange growl.
It was early enough that I knew we should take advantage and head up to the room, but for some reason I felt uneasy about doing so. I couldn’t tell if it was the same feeling I’d had before when I entered the rooms breaking the curse or my own intuition. I decided it was intuition and lay back on the couch and closed my eyes.
As much as I disliked being stuck in one place I wondered if going up to Sareanne’s room would even help. I thought about the book, but it didn’t seem to be the answer any more. If we could use her ‘gift’ to break the curse then we wouldn’t need the book.
I had almost convinced myself that this was the answer when the tarrange growled. My head snapped up and cleared a little bit. I shook the feeling off and walked back to the door and yanked it open.
“Nice try, Antheus,” I called.
I could hear Sareanne stirring behind me.
“Do you honestly think I want to stay here forever?” I asked angrily. “I’m not going to give up until this stupid curse is broken and you are vanquished.”
I could hear a faint echo of a laugh in my mind so I blocked it off and focused on the protection.
“What happened?” Sareanne asked wearily.
“Antheus is playing games,” I replied. “Go back to sleep, it won’t work again.”
“I’m awake now. Are you hungry?”
“A little,” I nodded.
“Then I know the perfect place we can go.”
She marched over to the door where I stood and confidently stepped over the protective boundary. I watched the rocks dissolve into sand and as an after-thought I reached down and scooped up as much sand as I could.
I followed Sareanne down the hall to one of the corner staircases and we went down one floor. She walked confidently and I hoped rather than felt we would be safe. This level was just as stony cold as the level above, but I no longer believed the façade. I figured it was Antheus’ curse and that we were probably walking through plush carpets with fantastic woodworking and spectacular paintings.
Sareanne walked directly to a large oak door and opened it. The most delicious smells assailed my nostrils and I inhaled deeply. There was a tangy mixture underlying everything. I looked around the room, but could see nothing that would produce such a rich medley of aromas. I turned toward Sareanne but she was already speaking the words that created the circle.
I watched intrigued as the façade slowly melted away revealing a well-stocked kitchen with bare stone floors and solid wood counters. A roaring fire filled the main fireplace and I could almost see the different scents mixing with the steam coming off the pots and pans on the cooking fire.
Sareanne went to the closest pot and lifted the lid. A cinnamony spice filled the air accompanied by cooked apples and peaches. Another pot smelled like some sort of oatmeal and an oven revealed several loaves of bread that made my mouth water. This food would be the best I had eaten in months I was certain.
Sareanne opened a cupboard and pulled out two plates and a bowl. The bowl she filled with goat’s milk and gave it to the tarrange and the plates she took to the pots and pans and began loading delicious looking food onto them. Lastly she cut two thick slices of the bread and placed them on the plates.
She handed me one plate and I silently blessed it then waited until she picked up her fork and began eating. The food was divine, almost better than it smelled. I ate ravenously remembering that I hadn’t really had a good solid meal for several days.
Sareanne seemed to enjoy the food almost as much as I did, though her expression became very thoughtful several times throughout the meal. I could only assume she was thinking about happier times when meals like this were every day fare.
When we finished and the tarrange was purring loudly, we got to our feet and Sareanne started toward the kitchen door. I felt as calm and confident as she looked. We headed back toward the stairs. I was anxious to get to the room upstairs where at least we could be comfortable and safe while we tried to figure out how to break Antheus’ curse.
We made our way through the long halls to the rounded staircase in the corner and began the climb up. By this time I am thoroughly sick of stairs and I’m certain I will never have a staircase in any home I own during the next fifty years.
When we reach the top I stare down the familiar hall at the door in the dim light. The hall seems twice as long as before and I started to feel exhausted just at the thought of walking down to the door. After ten dragging steps I looked over at Sareanne. She seemed to feel the same exhaustion I was.
I stopped and shook my head realizing this could be another of Antheus’ tricks. The tarrange came over next to me and rubbed his head underneath my hand. I could tell something was up, but he didn’t seem angry like when Antheus had come before.
We moved on and I took Sareanne’s hand determinedly. “Antheus is working on us again, can you feel it?” I ask.
“Push past it, it will go away,” I advise.
We move forward toward the door and I shrug back the exhaustion and think about the safety that will exist behind that door. The tarrange stops behind us and lays down on the floor. I turn to encourage it, but I know it is better to move on.
“Come on. Tuug, we are almost there and then you can take a nap,” I call behind me.
With a growl the cat-like creature slowly gets to its feet and follows. My anger at Antheus surges to the front of my mind and I force myself to push past the sluggish suggestion. I reach out and touch the handle turning it with energy that is not my own. I push the door open and collapse inside the room.
As soon as my body hits the floor I can feel the exhaustion leave me, but I instantly become aware of a presence in the room. Sareanne enters and gasps. Then I hear Tuug growl and whine. I sense someone or something hovering over me and I hear the low words of Sareanne’s protection, but not before I feel the sharp bite of something on my arm.
I cry out in pain and pull my arm away from the biter. I feel the circle of protection spread around all of us and hear the cry of pain from the animal. I can only assume it is Tuug’s brother, maybe another tarrange being changed back into a tarrange. I don’t listen for long as I experience a severe burning sensation in my arm where the bite is.
I feel as though my arm is being singed off. I glance down and see the scaly marks that must have bubbled up when the animal bit me and then I notice the steam or smoke coming from the marks. I put my arm back on the ground and try to focus on something else.
Using what little energy I had gained from entering the room I pulled myself into a sitting position and slid over until I was leaning against something. I look over to where Sareanne is standing next to Tuug and then I see the animal that bit me. It looked like another tarrange, but different somehow. It was much larger than Tuug and its coloring was like a burnt orange.
It was yowling in pain as the protection finished its changing process. Tuug went over and gently licked the other animal’s shoulder and face, purring all the while. The other tarrange’s cries lessened slowly until it was a quiet whimper. The pain in my arm had also lessened and I looked down to assess the damage.
I could see the bite clearly now. The scaly marks had disappeared leaving seven while puncture wounds that were still bleeding. Sareanne sank exhausted to the floor as the protective circle completed.
“Are you okay?” I ask.
“I’m all right. It just wears me out when there is more involved than just the room,” she replies. She looks over and notices my arm. “You’re bleeding.”
She moves to get up but I stop her. “I’m okay. They aren’t deep.”
I get to my feet slowly and go searching for something to wrap around the bite wound. The second tarrange is laying quietly next to Tuug and they both are purring contentedly.
“Is that also a tarrange?” I ask. It was so much larger than Tuug.
“Yes, that’s Jiun. She and Tuug are mates,” Sareanne replies. “They are happy to be together again.”
“She is so large,” I comment.
“The females usually are.” She motions to the bathing area of the room. “There should be a jar with orange ointment in it by the bath. Bring it over and I’ll wrap your arm.”
I find a strip of cloth and the ointment and take it over to where Sareanne is sitting. She spreads a generous amount of the ointment on the wound and I instantly feel the pain lessen. She then wraps my arm with the cloth.
“What’s in the ointment?” I ask curiously.
“Orange seed, grape seed and a special herb we used to grow in the courtyard,” she replies.
“Do you think it will scar?” I ask wondering how I am going to explain the marks on my arm to my roommates.
“Probably. I’m sorry about the burning. It was the only way I could counteract Jiun’s venom.”
“It’s all right. I guess I have a small taste of what it was like for you when you stuck your hand in the circle,” I say carefully.
She nods thoughtfully.
“I guess we have some time to rest and search the room,” I add.
“Until tomorrow at dawn,” Sareanne says walking to the window.
I join her and look down at the empty courtyard and invisible village. I wonder just how we are possibly going to break this curse. After a few minutes of staring at nothing I turn back to the room. It hadn’t changed since I had last been in it. I glanced over at the inviting tub and screen.
“Go ahead. The water will relax you,” Sareanne said behind me. “I’ll look for something to eat.”
I eagerly went over to the tub and turned on the hot water. I had been mulling something over in my mind for a while and I finally voiced my wonder.
“Is there any of these bath salts that have grape extracts in it?” I ask.
“Several. The tall blue bottle is powdered grape seed,” she replied distractedly.
I grabbed the bottle and shook it in the tub letting the powder mix with the hot water. When it was full I adjusted the screen and then undressed and slid into the water. The heat felt marvelous on my aching muscles. I let my arm drop into the water to test the theory in my head. The place where Jiun had bit me now started to bubble like I had poured hydrogen peroxide on it.
After a few moments of bubbling I started to feel some pain in the wound. I jerked my arm out of the water and examined the bite. The skin looked pink and new and the tooth marks had shrunk to half their size. I gritted my teeth and put the arm back under the water. The bubbling and pain commenced immediately.
It took several more minutes, some of it like daggers being sunk into my skin, before the pain started to subside and the bubbling decreased. A sort of numbness spread through my arm and down to my fingers. I pulled the arm out again and examined it. There was no sign of the bite at all.
I moved my fingers and tapped them against the cold tiles. I still had feeling in my hand. The numbing sensation spread through my body and then dissipated. When I felt completely relaxed I quickly rinsed my hair and washed it sprinkling a little of the grape seed powder and then rinsing it again then I grabbed the fluffy towel Sareanne had left for me and got out of the bath.
I felt so good at that moment, like a protective shield had been placed all over my body. I went to the wardrobe closet and found another simple dress. This one had a pretty grape vine pattern embroidered on the edges of the sleeves, collar and hem. When I finished dressing I glanced at the door and then down at my arm.
Another idea popped into my head and I moved slowly to the door.
“Where are you going?” Sareanne asked stopping me in my tracks.
“I want to see something,” I reply.
I opened the door. I could see the edge of the circle of white stone just over the threshold.
“What is it?” Sareanne asked behind me.
I closed my eyes and stepped over the stones. Sareanne gasped behind me and I felt her hand on my arm, but she drew it back. I turned around and looked at the surprise on her face and then down at the circle of stones still intact.
“How did you do that?” she demanded.
I held out my arm for her to examine.
“It’s the grapes, Sareanne. The grapes are what protected your people all along.” I looked at her carefully. “You said when Antheus cursed the city that everything disappeared. Just how quickly did they disappear?”
“It took a while, a week maybe, some even longer. My father was the last one to disappear, One moment he was sitting on his throne looking sadly at my cursed form and the next he was gone.”
“Long enough for the protection of the grapes to leave their bodies or wear off,” I murmured.
“So if I douse myself with that powder…” she began.
“Or eat some grapes,” I add.
“I’ll be protected too,” she finished.
I nod my head emphatically. “I’m certain of it. Look at the protection. It hasn’t disappeared or disintegrated even though I stepped over because I’m still protected. Whatever is in the Anderosean soil that creates this phenomenon is also in the grapes. The Gods of the Earth must know this, that is why they give you the protection, but it is in you already.”
“But how was Antheus able to curse me in the first place?” Sareanne said suddenly.
I stopped short. I hadn’t considered that. How had Antheus been able to place that first curse on her? If she had been recently working in the vineyards or eaten or drunk anything that had the grapes she would have been protected. I thought back to her version of the tale.
“What happened when Mehean returned from the north country? You said he seemed different?” I ask.
“Yes, there was something in his eyes, like he wasn’t completely there anymore.”
“How long had he been away from Perdeen?”
“Months. It takes almost four weeks just to reach Elderich.”
“I wonder if Antheus got to him in Elderich,” I murmur. Theories ran through my head like a race, but not all of them seemed to fit. “I can only guess that the soil in Elderich and the mountains didn’t have the same protection that it does down here in Perdeen. If that is truly the case, then Mehean would have gradually lost his protection. If he was under Antheus’ power then he might have tampered with your food and drink to make you susceptible.”
“But I ate from the vineyard every day,” Sareanne argued.
“Not after you left with your army,” I reply carefully.
Realization dawned on her face and a look of anguish crept into her eyes.
“Poor Mehean, he didn’t deserve this fate,” she cried.
I put my arm around her shoulders. “Antheus must have used him as a pawn in his plot. He must have been planning this for some time.”
Sareanne nodded. “I wonder how long he had known about the grapes.”
“Long enough to let it kanker and tear at his soul,” I reply sadly. I direct her to the bath. “Let’s get you protected. I have another idea.”