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The Tower 16
I feel like I am moving through the coldest darkness of space for several moments and then the smoke clears. I can still feel Antheus’ hard hand on my throat and I cough as it tightens and the airflow is stalled. He suddenly releases me and I fall to the floor gasping and coughing.
He stalks away from me and I spare a glance at the new room around me. I recognize the carpets and the tall-backed chair from the tower. We are in the upper-most room where the book is kept.
“You fool of a woman,” he shouts at me. “I am much more powerful than my pitiful brother and his idiot daughter.”
He sounds like he is trying to convince himself, but I banish the thought before he can read my mind and become even more angry.
“You’re not powerful enough to break the protection around Sareanne’s book,” I mutter.
I hear him inhale sharply and I realize I shouldn’t anger him further. He stomps over to where I am huddled and grabs my arm pulling me to my feet. I look him in the eye knowing full well he can see my fear, but also knowing it doesn’t make a difference.
“You will read the book for me,” he says with a deadly calm voice.
“Sareanne’s magic will just send me back to my own world and Sareanne won’t call me here again,” I say almost hopefully. I would love to go back to my own world, though no one would ever believe me if I told them what I had been through.
A wicked grin spreads across his face and fear shoots through me like an arrow. Something had changed since the last time. I tried to understand what could possibly make the difference and I realized, the protective power of the grapes.
His grin widens. “Yes, you are under her protection.” He pushes me backward. “Go get the book,” he commands.
Gone is the kind, smiling man I had encountered on my first visit and in his place is the evil sorcerer that had been hidden. I stumble backward running into a chair and tripping on the carpet. He laughs at my clumsiness and my temper flares.
“No,” I say simply. I won’t help this man.
“What?” he turns on me.
“I…I won’t help you, Antheus,” I say. My body trembles.
“Then we will be here for a very long time,” he looks at me and snorts, “I have a great deal of patience, do you?”
I knew I wouldn’t last long without food or water, but I also couldn’t help him if I was dead. I thought about Sareanne and Rutheus. Would they come to try and to help me?
Antheus snorted again. “They are no match for my power. Here on this island, I am the ruler.”
“I won’t help you,” I say firmly.
“Suit yourself,” he says simply and then turns and heads down the stairs.
I feel like a caged animal, but I wonder about the protection that surrounds my body. I know his curses won’t work on me, but he could starve me or even physically torture me. How long would I last against that sort of treatment? And what could Sareanne and her father really do to help me? If Antheus was really as powerful as he said then they would be hard pressed to get on the island let alone into the tower.
I wonder if I would be able to leave. I look around the familiar room at the shelves of books with script writing and my eyes automatically fall on Sareanne’s book. It tempts me to read it, but I remember that Antheus has the power to pick the thoughts from my head. I turn away from the books.
I see a window in the far wall that I hadn’t noticed the first time I came to the tower. I go over and open the window. A breeze comes in swirling around me carrying the scent of the forest. I can even hear the soft rush of the wind in the trees. The sound pleasantly lulls me into a false sense of security, but I force myself to be vigilant and careful with my thoughts.
It is nice to hear sounds in this place. I wonder just how different Anderosea is now that the curse was broken. I find myself wishing I could return to Perdeen and see the castle and village as it properly is.
With a sigh I turn away from the window and make my way to one of the chairs. It has been a long, tiring day and despite the feeling of fear I fall asleep.
When I wake it is dark outside. I know I am getting my days and nights mixed up, but I don’t care anymore. I was pretty certain I wouldn’t make it out of this place alive anyway. Even if I did I would need a week of vacation just to recuperate.
I get up stiffly and try to work the kinks out of my neck and head to the window. I had left it open the evening before and now the chill night air came in making me shiver. I look out at a land bathed in moonlight and I wonder if it is the first time the land has seen moonlight since it was cursed.
As I stare I notice figures moving around in the shadows of the trees. At first I think it is wild animals of the forest awakened from their slumber, but then with a thrill of fear I realize there are people out there.
Did Antheus have people on his side? It couldn’t possibly be Sareanne or Rutheus, it had taken me three days of walking to reach Perdeen, but then I recalled that the distance could be covered much more quickly on horseback. Still it would have to be an incredibly fast horse.
I peered through the darkness trying to make out the shapes of the movement, but without success. Whatever it was frightened me almost as much as Antheus did. I didn’t trust it and I knew even if I could leave the tower I wouldn’t unless I knew I was safe from whatever stalked the shadows below.
I close the window and turn back to the empty room. The bookshelves practically shouted for me to come over and peruse their shelves. I turn away not wanting to be tempted by the forbidden book. I know Antheus is counting on my love of books to eventually draw me to the book, but I was determined to remain aloof.
I finally head for the stairs and tentatively take the first few steps down to the main room. The walk down seemed to take even longer than my first walk up the rounded staircase, but finally I catch the glow of the fire below. When I enter the room Antheus looks up from the book he is studying.
“Ready to read?” he asks with a wicked gleam to his eye.
“I won’t read the book, Antheus. Just give up. You won’t win this,” I say firmly.
“You are a fool if you think I am going to give up so easily. I have a lot more patience then you think.”
“The curse is broken!” I exclaim. “What can you possibly gain from keeping me here?”
“I will get what I want,” he retorted.
“What do you want, Antheus?” I ask simply.
He ignores me.
“What is it? Do you want power, wealth, a cure? What?
I saw the flicker of his real self as I spoke. I knew he wanted a cure, but there was more to it than that.
“You know even if Sareanne let the vineyards grow again they would burn them just as quickly to keep you from gaining any control.”
“Sareanne is a fool. Along with my idiot brother,” he answered bitterly. “They don’t know what they have and they waste it on those worthless people instead of building up their own family. Androsea could be the wealthiest country on the continent, in the world and yet they throw it away.”
“That wealth would destroy them and the people of Androsea. They have a gift from the Gods of the Earth and they choose not to exploit it. That isn’t foolishness, it is preservation. Long after every other nation has disappeared they will still be here producing the finest grapes, juices, and wines and living forever.”
“They should have shared with their family,” he spat. “What about Rutheus’ daughters? His sons? How are they benefiting?”
I couldn’t answer.
He answered for me. “They aren’t. They are living their short lives far, far away and they will die without ever knowing that they could live forever with their family.”
In my mind part of me agreed with him, but if word of Anderosea’s miracle grapes spread the country would be overrun and destroyed. Countries would battle against each other for dominance of the soil and it would eventually stop producing the miracle product. I look into his eyes and I realize that he knows what I am thinking and he understands.
“Why would you destroy this land?” I wonder aloud.
“I found this land long before Rutheus came here and began his little kingdom,” he said indignantly.
“And you knew what it contained?” I demanded.
His expression told me he didn’t. I saw the guilt in his eyes.
“You have no right to anything here. The land didn’t have its magical qualities until after Rutheus came here and I’d dare say it wasn’t until Sareanne was born. She is the key in all of this, isn’t she?” My eyes dare him to contradict me and he doesn’t. “This has to end, Antheus.”
“It will end when my brother turns over his kingdom to me.”
I turn away shaking my head. Whatever happened, this wouldn’t end pretty. Antheus chuckled as he reads my thoughts. I am thoroughly disgusted now and I move toward the stairs.
“I won’t read your book, Antheus,” I say quietly as I start up the stairs.
“You will if you want to protect yourself,” he says.
I stop in my tracks wondering what he means.
“When I leave the tower, you will be completely unprotected from what hunts out there and as soon as you open that book I will know.”
I choked down the fear that rose in my throat. “Then I will die,” I reply.
“It is such an easy thing to say when the danger is far away, but we’ll see when I’m gone just how long you last,” he says confidently.
I continue up the stairs keeping my mind blank and swallowing my fear. I will not betray Sareanne and her father. I will not betray Perdeen and Anderosea.
When I reach the top of the stairs I go straight to the window and look out. Nothing shows itself so I go and sit in the tall chair I had first seen Antheus in. The chair dwarfs me and I calmly sit to await my fate. It isn’t long before I hear the door downstairs slam shut.
I go to the window and see Antheus striding away from the tower. He heads straight for the road that leads back to Perdeen. I wonder if he will convince Sareanne to turn over her vineyards or Rutheus the kingdom for my safe return. At this point I no longer care. My only thought is to keep my word and not betray the book.
My gaze is automatically drawn to the book. I see it sitting on the reading stand where I had left it the first time. From my position at the window I can see the text on the page. That confirms my suspicions and Antheus’ statements that I can now read the book.
In frustration I turn away, but then my brain stumbles upon another idea. I could read the book and I wonder now if I can also destroy the book. My pulse quickens as the idea grows stronger in my head. I know that I cannot take any of the words into my mind where Antheus will certainly pick them out, but if I destroy the book then it will no longer be an issue.
I get up slowly and approach the reading stand. Keeping my eyes firmly stuck on the window I reach out and shut the book so I can’t read any of the text, then I gather it in my arms and start down the long spiraling staircase. This walk seems even longer than the one before and the book gets heavier with each step. When I finally reach the main room I see the fireplace with a cheerful fire crackling.
I have to drag my feet over to the fire and just as I reach the hearth the tower door swings open with a crash. I look behind me and see Antheus’ towering figure, enraged. The wild fear in his eyes is enough for me. I reach out and drop the book into the flames.
“No!” he cries leaping across the room and shoving me aside.
His hands shoot out to pull the book from the fire, but he is stopped before he can touch it. I hear the sizzling and smell the burning hair on his hands and arms. He tries two more times to retrieve the book without success. I watch with satisfaction as the cover of the book catches fire and begins to smolder and smoke.
At first I think it is a trick of the light, but then I see the tendrils of smoke laced with light and…magic. A huge weight is released from my shoulders and I step back. Antheus turns on me and the fear returns.
“You idiot!” he screams. “How could you do that? Don’t you realize what was in that book?”
“I don’t know and I don’t care. As long as you can’t get it then this world is safe,” I say defiantly.
He stalks toward me his face growing angrier with each step. Fear courses through me as I back away. I feel the stone wall at my back and then the ground begins to shake. I look up as the sound of falling rock fills the stairway.
I’m only steps away from the door and I slide toward it. Just then a tumble of rocks and blocks come crashing down the stairs. I slip out the door as the slide sweeps Antheus off his feet and slams him against the wall where I had been standing just moments before.
I run away from the tower as I listen to the sound of falling rock and cut stones behind me. When I am near the edge of the forest I turn around to watch the tower slowly crumble and fall to the ground. I didn’t know if Antheus had survived the rock slide, but if he did I was certain he was crushed by the crumbling tower.
His curse was now completely broken. I half expected to be whisked back to my Los Angeles hotel room, but nothing happened. It took several minutes for realization to push its way into my consciousness. I wondered about the things I had seen from the window, but nothing approached me from the forest.
After an hour I went closer to the tower. There was no way I was going to try and walk across the bridge and back to Perdeen.
I don’t feel particularly safe, but I’m also not completely uncomfortable.
I find a place to sleep that is protected from the wind and I make myself comfortable. I know it will be a long night with no food and no fire. I doze on and off as the sun dips behind the trees and then down past the horizon. It gets darker and I realize just how frightened I am to spend the night alone.
I lean agains a tumbled block and stare up at the stars overhead. They seem so brilliant from where I sit and their bright twinkling calms me. I spend the next few hours listening to the quite sounds of the forest, sounds that just a few days ago had been missing.
I can imagine the relief everything and everyone must feel to have life in motion once again. I think over Antheus’ curse. It froze Anderosea in time, for his own benefit I was certain. I couldn’t help but wonder what magic he had practiced that had affected him so deeply and why he couldn’t just ask his brother for some of their magic wine.
These questions would never be answered. “But they should,” I say out loud. “People need to be warned against Antheus’ magic.”
I close my eyes thinking about that and I must have fallen asleep because the next thing I know Sareanne is gently shaking me awake and it is morning.
“We came to bargain with Antheus,” she says looking around at the crumbled tower in awe. “What happened?”
“I burned the book,” I say.
Her eyes widened with surprise and then a sad smile creeps across her face. “I should have thought about that,” she says sadly. “I could have saved so much time and sorrow.”
“But you might still be under Antheus’ curse,” I add. “No one would want that. At least now the curse is broken and things can return to normal.”
“I will miss my book,” she says quietly.
“It is better this way, Sareanne,” Rutheus interrupts. “Now no one can try to steal its secrets.”
I watch her face and an aweful truth dawns on me. “This will affect your harvest, won’t it?”
She looks at me and shrugs. “I don’t know, but I suppose it will. I think the power of the grapes came from the book.”
“I think the power came from the goodness of the Anderosean people, especially those in Perdeen,” I say carefully.
“Even if our eternal youth is lost we have lost nothing. We have all lived good long lives and it is time we got on with them,” Rutheus adds cheerfully. “Shall we go back to Perdeen?”
Sareanne and I nod and he motions us toward the carriage they had brought. The journey back to Perdeen was much shorter than my first one, but I realized just how pleasant walking can be in comparrison to a bumpy carriage with no shocks.
When we arrive at the city I look around in awe at the magnificant village and town square that filled the empty space between the forest and the castle. It was as lively and cheerful as I had imagined when I had read the book. I didn’t miss the silence at all.
Sareanne took me to a guest bedroom and had a servant bring me a change of clothes and some bath oils. I took a long, hot bath, soaking in all of the good smells and rest I possibly could. When my hands looked like prunes I decided to get out and put on the pretty dress she had laid out for me.
Rutheus threw a banquet in my honor, but I deferred it all to Sareanne. If she hadn’t been brave enough to bear the pain of crossing the protection then none of this would have resolved itself. I enjoyed the festivities immensly, but I was ready to return to my regular life.
That night I slept peacefully and dreamed flight attendant dreams. In the morning I got up and dressed in my freshly laundered clothes that I had come to this world in and went in search of Sareanne. I found her in the pretty courtyard garden that lay in the center of the castle.
She looks at me and sighs, “You’re ready to go back.” It was a statement not a question.
I nod. “It’s time for me to return to my own world.”
“All right, come with me.”
She gets up from the stone bench where she had been sitting and leads me into the castle. We walk the corridors and traverse the rounded staircases until we come to the hall with the mirror.
“This will take you home,” she says sadly. “Thank you for everything.”
I embrace her and whisper encouraging words in her ear then turn to face the mirror. Through the glass I can see the hotel room as unchanged as if I had never left.
“This really has been quite an adventure,” I say stepping toward the mirror.
“For both of us,” she replys.
“If you ever need help again, feel free to call me back,” I say with a grin.
She grins back and laughs.
I step toward the mirror and tentatively put my hand up to the glass. It is like reaching through a sheet of cold water except you don’t get wet.
“Goodbye Sareanne,” I say my voice catching slightly.
“Goodbye Melanie,” she replys as I slide through the glass and back into my world.