At Lantern’s Light

At Lantern’s Light

1/3

Chapter 1: The onset of destiny

The smooth stone floor pressed against Basil’s right cheek. Opening his eyes he looked across the floor at a wall filled with portraits and aligned with statues. He came to full consciousness, and lifted his head off the ground. His cheek felt frozen, but it wasn’t just the stone floor that felt cold to the touch though, it was the entire room. Never before have the chambers and hallways of King’s Fort been this cold, he thought warily. It was said that the hearths blazed both day and night. It suddenly dawned on him where he was, half lying on the floor of some random room within King’s Fort, alone. Not quite sure what he remembered last, Basil checked the sides of his head for wounds. Nothing. He felt neither tired nor exhausted, yet his muscles ached with fatigue. His arms and legs felt strong, albeit drained, as if he had worked all day.

The room looked somewhat dreary since last he saw. Normally the yellow-stoned walls would be outshone by brightly coloured tapestries and splendid paintings of landscapes unfamiliar to Basil; now, the room looked somber, with shadows creeping up on the statues and colours wholly drained from every surface. A lonely low-lit silhouette of an embrasure hinted that the darkness was not confined to this room alone. The adjacent room, the Grand Hall, was where the King held speeches and hosted events – events like the Feast of Forgiveness. All I wanted to do was take a look, Basil thought, but it seems I’ve gotten myself into some trouble. He stood up, hand on knee to stop if from shaking. A few steps towards the recess in the wall gave him clear view at the Grand Hall. Usually a lively place, ready to receive guests at any hour. However, at this hour there was no gleeful music, nor sooth crackling of burning wood. It was silent, altogether silent. No voices, no footsteps, no mice crawling beneath his feet. Grim thoughts seeped into his mind. What could have happened here? Where is everyone?

Taking a moment to calm his nerves, Basil tried to recollect the moments before he awoke. Memories of the recent past felt hazy, but there was an image surfacing in his mind. A festive crowd filling the Grand Hall, with each of the luxuriously located hearths ablaze. Heat rushing through the entire keep, sounds flying past his ears, smells making his mouth water. An eerie comparison to his current bleak surroundings. Feeling the despondency crawl over him, a small flicker of light brought some hope. It was but a twinkle, coming and going, and coming again. Rushing forward, past marble pillars holding busts and other sculptures, Basil bumped into a knee-heigh statue. Pain started to throb in his knee, as the statue stood defiantly unmoved. Continuing, albeit with a limb, he noticed the light original was not from within this room. Underneath the heavy wooden door faint glimmers were dancing on the floor. It had not been the door through which he had originally entered, nor did it lead to the same hallway. This door must lead to the west wing, he concluded after drawing the layout of the keep in the air. The other door, was south of him, on the farther side of the room. It still stood half adjare, ready for him to make a quick escape, if he had been spotted.

Tiny shadows danced on the floor next to him, luring him to investigate. Taking firm hold of the handle, he tried to pull the door open. It would not move. Two hands. Still no movement. Is it locked perhaps? His fingers stroke the door, finding nothing but plain wooden boards, though cold and rough to the touch. His eyes turned to the entry door, on the other side of the room. He made his way, this time keeping eyes open for any statues in his path – a troublesome task in this dimness. The paintings and statues that filled this room would have deserved a second look under different circumstances, but he could tell something was amiss. Closer to the half-open door, he slowed his pace. The hallways outside looked empty. Absentmindedly he tried to push the door further open, but was surprised to see it too would not yield. Reaching with one arm through the gap, he took hold of the architrave surrounding the doorway. Pulling himself through – squeezing, pulling, and pushing – he landed on the floor in the hallway.

The hallway was shrouded in darkness save for the dim light coming from behind the corner. Basil held one hand on the wall, taking slow steps forwards, towards the light. The stone walls felt coarse. The carpet that lined the hallway was not wide enough to reach from side to side, but his right foot was within its range. Somehow, the stone floor felt as cold and hard as the carpet. Once at the corner, he looked down to see the source of light resting on the floor. A lantern about the size of a small bread basket stood before him. Spherical in shape, with two handles on opposite sides, and one more on top. Four small curvy legs kept it off the ground, and two circular windows with thin barred frames – also mirrored on opposite sides – let out a dull glow. Within this low light, Basil guessed it golden of colour, and maybe even in material. A soft heat rose up as he bent through his knees to further inspect it. Flickers became erratic. There was no smell of burning tinder, or wax, or even oil. Furthermore, there was no visible opening to the lantern, unless it was hidden on the bottom. Even so, there should be some air holes for ventilation, he thought to himself. He took hold of the top handle. A voice in the back of Basil’s head told him this lantern was worth taking. It seemed familiar somehow.

Standing back up, he held the lantern closer to his face. The entire lantern seemed to be engraved or embossed with ornaments. Swirling waves rolling from one hand, crashing into the lantern’s side to form flames that reach towards one of the small windows. A drawing of a calm lake, reflecting the full moon above, that held a eerie figure looming over an oblivious lady. Bushes and trees spread across the lake side, and ripples echoed in the water. The craftsmanship was beyond anything Basil had seen. More still was indented upon the lantern, yet he lowered his hand to look beyond. The lantern’s flashes helped him discern his surroundings. Best to turn back, head along the hallway, and take the last left, he puzzled out. With luck I’ll find one of the servant’s stairs to the kitchens.

Having never been allowed entry to King’s Fort, yet always being intrigued by it, he soon learned the quickest ways in and out of the keep. Sometimes, a swift entry did not mean a swift escape, which was a lesson he had learned the hard way when he was younger. Eventually he learned that the easiest passage was through the kitchens; busy servant’s made for lousy eyes, and the guard would be fewer there as well. Confident that he would walk out unscaved and unseen, Basil held the lantern in front of himself, guiding his path. The hallways seemed no less gloomy with the lantern’s glow, nor did its dull crackling sounds stop his nerves from jumping. Keeping eyes mostly on the floor and lantern in front of his face, Basil saw too late the guard leaping out of the shadows. A gauntleted hand knocking against the lantern filled the hallway with a loud clunk noise. Startled, Basil could feel the blood rushing through his veins. The low beating drums of his heartbeat in his ear numbed the surrounding noise. Within a moment’s notice he thought of every method of escape, either by foot, by speech, or, in the worst case, by fist. The nearest window slit was behind him, but he was on the second floor. If only I had paid more attention to the placement of the bushes outside, he thought. Different excuses ran through his head like a swarm of bats. Justifications for him being here at this hour, lies that would explain his presence, and half-truths that could persuade the guard to let him leave.

But as the beating drums slowly subsided, he noticed the guard had not made any move towards him. In fact, the guard had not moved at all. He just stood there, motionless in the darkness. Trying to subdue the energy rushing through his body, Basil slowly paced forwards. Coming ever closer, he found the guard not responding to the noise of his boots hitting the cold stone floor. When the guard was within arms reach, Basil exhaled deeply. A sigh of pure relief. It seemed the shadows had been playing tricks on him. The guard was no guard at all, but merely a statue. An excellently crafted statue at that. Not like the rough busts in the room he had awoken in just moments ago; this statue was perfectly lifelike, from the finely carved coat, to the details within its bushy beard. Basil had not seen this statue before. Which wasn’t strange on its own – the keep was massive, and trying not to get caught did not leave much time for observing its treasures. What did strike him as odd was the placement of the statue. In the middle of an intersection between this hallway and another. Thoughtlessly, Basil pointed the lantern towards the gloomy hallway beside him, ready to see where it would lead. But the lantern was at such a low burn, that no more than a single step forward would be lit up. The opposite hallway showed as little, and it almost seemed as the lantern’s brightness lessened with every second.

Darkness consumed the statue once more, and Basil’s ears perked at the soft whispers coming from the hallway whence he came. Unintelligible noises seemed to be coming ever closer, until, suddenly, a loud shriek came to his ears. The scream was one of pure terror, and went as swiftly as it came. The beating drums became louder in his head. The silence of the hallway was broken again, this time by a shrill voice. “They’ve all turned!” The cry shocked Basil enough that he let out a yelp, backing away from the statue. He fell backwards, tripping over something hidden in the shadows. His skin one with the cold wall. The voice in the darkness steadied, and softly spoken words of an elderly lady travelled along the hallway. “Something’s over there. Go quickly, now. Grab however did this.” Basil clambered to his feet, warm sweat sizzling against his cold back, with war drums beating out his eardrums. He could only half make out the heavy footsteps coming into his direction, and the concurrent sharp ringing of a sword being unsheathed.

Continue
Back