Chapter 16: A Wondrous Experience
They were greeted by a bustle of people frantically accomplishing certain tasks and going from barge to barge. Stray eyes landed on Kladspir and then his companions, whispers meeting Draden’s ears as people scurried away. Apparently the Captain of the King’s Guard was so popular - or infamous - that he was known by appearance.
Flagprim stood next to Kladspir, a glowing violet ring binding his hands; a thin sliver of magic hung from the mystical shackles, the end of which was held in Kladspir’s hands like a leash. They stood on a main road, smooth cobblestones creating an even path that led all the way up the rising hill to the castle’s elegant golden doors that glinted brightly in the sunlight.
The city was built in levels; the road would rise and then level out, then rise again, each level circumferencing the hill. People and carts dotted the streets, all of them attending to duties. It was amazing to Draden that a city this large could be held together so efficiently, as he had only ever known the life of his small village.
Kladspir stepped forward, beckoning Draden and Loran to follow, and they began their ascent to the castle, Flagprim trailing closely behind Kladspir.. City-goers quickly parted when Kladspir approached, creating an open path for the group to walk through.
They had soon reached the gates, and Draden paused to look behind him. Arema Lake was so large, the other side where Grigmire Village stood could not be seen on the horizon. A long expanse of blue merged with the cerulean of the sky. The docks were far below them; it was truly amazing the expanse of this city. He moved his gaze to the left to see a span of water so incredibly large it looked infinite; Arema Lake paled in comparison. ‘The Gsiper Ocean!’ he thought excitedly.
He was startled back to the moment when a bang sounded behind him. He turned around to see that the thirty-foot-tall solid gold doors stood regally open, a procession of heavily armed and armored soldiers standing in a salute on either side of the wide hall.
They were entering the castle.
The hall they entered into was at least twenty feet wide, the floor made of green marble, streams of white and black swirling throughout. The ceiling was a good thirty feet away, elegant tapestries on the walls hanging down to the floor.
The cloth was a lighter shade of green than the marble, the king’s crest emblazoned in gold in the middle of each tapestry. Tassels of black and white hung from the bottom of the tapestry, stopping right before they brushed the floor.
The walls and ceiling were also marble, though it was a pale tan with darker russet tendrils coloring it in curvy lines.
Between the tapestries were suits of glistening silver armor, the bodiless armaments staring eternally at identical brethren across the hall. The only thing that differed was the style and the weapons. Near the entrance, the armor was more crude with sharp angles, and the weapons were blunt. As the group travelled farther down the marvelous hall, leaving the living soldiers behind them to guard the entrance, the armor became more graceful and smooth, the weapons turning into ones more capable of causing damage.
Their footsteps clacked loudly on the floor, and Draden looked behind him to see a man in pale gray robes polishing the marble they had passed over with an ivory cloth.
‘Wow,’ Draden thought, awestruck.
The hall ended in a set of magnificent stairs made out of the same dark green marble as the floor, and to the left and right of the stairs the hall continued in smaller corridors.
As Kladspir started up the first finely carved steps, Draden looked down the corridor on his right to see a woman with long, wavy brown hair clad in a purple robe conversing with a man with short blond hair in a deep blue robe.
‘They look so regal,’ Draden thought in admiration.
Loran clasped his arm as they began up the stairs. It was welcome to feel another’s touch in a place so vast. All of a sudden, he felt so very far away from home.
The ceiling slanted upward the same angle as the stairs, so soon the long hall behind them was out of view and they ascended to an almost identical corridor.
This one had black tapestries and, hanging from the ceiling, elegant chandeliers made of silver, glowing white candles illuminating the hall in a warm glow.
Now that he thought of it, Draden realized there had been nothing to light the lower level, yet it was brighter than this hall. ‘So, the lower level must be home to magic users. But, a permanent light spell? Wouldn’t that take an intense amount of energy and magic?’
Draden and the others passed a black-cloaked man carrying a stack of scrolls. He noticed that there were also more corridors branching off from the main hall on this floor.
The castle had looked huge from the outside, so there must be at least five floors. Moreover, if each level spanned the entire length of the castle, then they were getting a mere glimpse of how vast this place truly was.
It took them around five minutes to reach the end of the hall, the four of them standing before a wall. Draden had seen no other stairs, so, unless one of the corridors they’d passed led to a means of getting to other floors, they’d reached the end of the castle. ‘But that doesn’t make sense,’ Draden thought, confused.
Kladspir leaned forward, placing his hand on the cold marble wall, and whispered something under his breath. A large portion of the wall seemed to melt away, revealing a shimmering archway with a hallway rippling behind it.
Kladspir explained, “By muttering the right words, a portal will be created in this wall to one of the other nine floors of this castle you have yet to see. I imagine the king will allow you the privilege of receiving the knowledge of how to get to some of these levels, but don’t expect to acquire all of the passphrases. Few know them all.”
‘Nine floors! This place is twice as large as I guessed! It would take days to explore every floor!’ Draden’s mouth hung agape with astonishment.
Kladspir continued, “The floor we are entering contains the sleeping quarters for royal members and guests, and also a dining hall. It is a small floor, so you shan’t get lost easily. This is the tenth floor and where you will remain until I retrieve you and take you to the library. I will take you to your rooms where you will receive plentiful accommodations. Shall we?” He gestured with his hands for them to enter, and they complied.
Draden found it odd that the man was allowing Flagprim to come with them. He guessed Kladspir wanted to keep an eye on the elf himself.
Draden was the first to step through the veil, the same sensation he had felt when he used the portal in the Realm of Doom washing over him. It was uncomfortable, but soon it was over and they all stood on a different floor.
The hall was short, only four corridors branching off from it––two on each side. It was about one-hundred yards long and, at the end were two large, granite doors that he assumed the dining hall was behind.
Kladspir led them down the first corridor on the left. There was a large, polished stone door on both sides, and the corridor turned sharply ninety degrees to the left. Two more doors were on either side, and at the end of the corridor were a set of double doors that Kladspir led them to.
“This is where we part,” he announced. “I am taking this elf directly to the king. You two get settled; someone will be along shortly to fulfill your needs.”
He turned and the two of them returned down the hall.
Draden grasped the gold door handles, turning both and pushing the stone doors open. They were surprisingly light.
But what was more surprising was the room.
Directly across from the doors, on the opposite side of the amazingly large room, was a huge bed, dark scarlet cloths lying unwrinkled across it. About ten feet away on either side of the bed were two floor-to-ceiling windows, and another ten feet past that were glass doors leading to, from what they could see through them and the windows, a fairly large balcony. A large wool rug spread across the marble floor, a pale cream color with the king’s symbol in the center in gold trim. A great gold chandelier with red candles cast a sensual hue in the room. Directly on either side of the bed were polished black nightstands.
As Draden walked in, he noticed an equally ebony dresser to the left of the main door, an identical one on the right. ‘One for both of us, I guess.’
On the right wall was a large, gold trimmed mirror, a white marble washbasin beneath it. In the center of the left wall was an archway, which Draden walked through to reveal a bathroom. On the right were a mirror and another washbasin, and on the left was a shower with a crystal door. He opened the door and turned a knob on the wall. Water burst from a spout higher up on the wall, and he felt it to discover it was cold. He turned another knob and the water grew warmer. ‘Actual running water!’ he thought in excitement. He’d only ever heard of this in traders’ tales. There was also a toilet on the wall across from the archway, something he’d never seen before but recognized from stories he’d read in Perdfale. You could draw a scarlet cloth across the door for privacy.
A knock on the main doors brought him out of his awe, and he returned to the room to see Loran lying on the bed, arms spread above her head, cloths swirling to envelope her.
He crossed to the door and opened it. A gray-cloaked man walked in, pushing in front of him a cart carrying a feast so grand it could have been meant for the king himself. There was roast chicken, ham, grilled steaks, all kinds of colorful fruits and vegetables, and delicious-looking desserts.
Draden couldn’t help but smile. He could get used to this.
After they had finished as much of the food their stomachs could hold, the gray-cloaked man returned and carted the remains away. Draden let out a long, satisfied sigh, placing a hand on his belly. It was mid-afternoon, and he guessed Kladspir wouldn’t return until they’d rested, so he decided to see what the dressers contained.
Loran had walked outside and left the door open, so a cool breeze brushed him as he opened the onyx doors to the first dresser. Inside were a few shelves with folded clothes on them made of shimmering silk. He took one of the articles out to discover it was made for a female. ‘Loran’s dresser, then.’ This concluded, he walked over to the second dresser and looked inside.
There were more silken clothes, and he removed a dark blue shirt and black pants. He noticed on the bottom shelf a few pairs of shoes to match the clothes and removed a blue pair, knocking to the floor a brown-covered book.
Curiosity piqued, he set the garments atop the dresser and retrieved the book, sitting on the edge of the bed and opening it to the first page.
He quickly concluded that it was a journal; the first entry dated ten years before he was born. ‘Odd that the book is in such good condition for its age.’ His eyes scanned the first passage written in a feminine scrawl:
‘I begin this journal, describing the events that occur as I travel from Dasteir to Perdfale with Josha. Certain events have transpired that are causing us to trek as far north as we can. We hope to make it to Cradof within the week, for we have a small supply of provisions and we were forced to leave our horses behind. We’ve been on foot for a day, yet we are still in the forest. I have not voiced my doubts, but I fear we will never reach our destination.’
Before he could continue to the next entry, interest greatly focused on who these people were and what had happened to them, Loran walked back in, saying, “You should come out here; it’s so beautiful!”
He placed the journal back on the shelf and followed her onto the white stone balcony, wind rushing over him. They were high above the road that led into the castle, Arema Lake a hazy blue splotch below. The sun was a pale yellow orb that slowly crept toward the edge of the Gsiper Ocean. Dusk would approach within a couple of hours.
Loran’s chestnut brown hair billowed softly behind her, her hands placed on a silver railing for support.
“This is so amazing! Never in my life did I think I would ever experience something like this. It even makes me forget my sorrow that I can never return home….”
She tilted her head down, and he waited for her to continue.
At last, she spoke, eyes gazing to some faraway place, “It was a summer day, and I was sitting in the corn fields. Without warning, I smelled smoke, and discovered that a corner of the field had been set aflame. I went to warn people, and when the fire was out––more than half of the crops had been burned––they couldn’t find the person who started it.” A tear slid down her cheek. “I was blamed for this disaster by a few of the ignorant elders in my village, but that wasn’t enough to do anything. In the weeks that passed, I was deliberately set up so that I was in places where bad things happened. Unanimously, they decided it would be best for the village if I left. And so, I was exiled. Even my parents believe I did it. I don’t know who actually did, but I swear one day I will find them, and I will earn my place in the village again.” She turned and walked back into the room.
He waited a while before following. Loran lay turned away from him in bed, breathing slowly. He crossed the room to his dresser, replaced the clothes for later, and extracted a violet nightgown.
He walked into the bathroom and closed the curtain, undressing and slipping the robe over his head. As he was doing this, he pondered what to do regarding the bedding arrangements. He wasn’t comfortable about getting into bed with Loran, so he got some of the clothes out of the dresser and created a makeshift bed on the floor. He laid down on the soft garments and soon fell fast asleep, mind lost in the wonders of the day.