The most affected of the revelers still lay in the hall, but I attested nothing of life to their sleeping forms. What an extraordinary state sleep is! We spend a third of our lives enmeshed in its visions and yet pay it such little thought. My personal interest in the matter does not concern its mechanism (whose unmasking I shall leave to those self-professed men of science) but rather the dichotomy it poses. Consider our aspects during its performance: the mental and the physical. The first form flies so far above the ground that it loses sight altogether of its brother—without which it cannot survive!—and yet deserts it nonetheless in the most sensuous forms of vulnerability. This speaks to me of some deep-rooted perversion unique to ourselves. Surely the lowly swine which till our fields and carry us upon their backs do not dream as we do.
I left the hall and felt less like an intruder once outside the reaches of its walls. It should speak to my addled state of mind that the prospect of a private conversation with my father did little to alter my strange mood. What had we to talk about? Our relationship could be written without a page. Perhaps Arden’s father had asked him to allow my accompaniment on their upcoming hunt. A ridiculous theory, as Arden had never left my side, but one that I considered given the lack of other possibilities. In deep thought I passed through the inner courtyard. The sculpted forms of its bushes, and the garish shadows they cast on the ground before me, which on another night would have caused me to hurry past them in dread, I ignored.
I reached the southern towers in due time. Three fingers of bone-white marble, they appeared architectural anomalies against the squat castle over which they loomed. Their story too ran against expectation. If the records of the library are to be believed, the general structure of Castle Lachliez was built four centuries ago. It was known as Nightstone Keep in those days because of the color of its rock (had I been a judge, the man responsible for the name would have been tried and punished for his criminal lack of imagination). The tales surrounding the towers’ construction don’t fit so clean a narrative. No text speaks of an architect, no document lists the names of its workers. Only many years after that night did I find a reference to their making: a faded painting in a codex of local folk tales. Under the picture was a caption: Three towers builte under mooneslight, which at night cast from their heights malevolente dream and bestial scream.
A good story—but all of it silly superstition, of course. Two of the towers (the right and the left) lay empty save two sets of winding stairs, which looped from the base and emerged onto open platforms at the towers’ tops. Here two soldiers kept lookout from sundown to sunrise, the light thrown from their ever-burning torches a testament to their watch. High in the central tower lived my father and mother. To it was I summoned that night.
Dim candlelight greeted me as I entered, and had it not been for the glowing tip of his cigar, the figure of Dagger—my father’s bodyguard and executioner extraordinaire— would have escaped me entirely. As it was, I started in fright. Dagger laughed in response, the rumbling sound echoing all about me like a thousand drums.
“Welcome, little master,” Dagger said, but made no welcoming motion from his chair. “Your father is expecting you. Hurry along, best not to keep him waiting.”
“Y-yes, Dagger,” I said. I felt a fool talking to a man I could hardly see.
“Will it be the chains tonight?” he asked. The whites of his teeth shone behind grey cigar smoke and I could tell he was smiling.
“No, t-thank you.”
The tip of the cigar bobbed in a nod. “All right, run along then. Dagger is always here if you change your mind.”
Needing no further encouragement, I groped against the wall to my right until my foot struck the first step. In night’s shadow, the white of the tower’s marble illuminated nothing, instead falling into itself until the stone appeared composed of some incorporeal ghost-matter.
I looked up, and as my eyes drifted toward tower’s top, I saw that the stairwell’s form began to resolve itself; shafts of moonlight streamed through shuttered lancet windows. Like a fisherman treading uncertain water, I began to climb. Hardly had I taken a few steps when Dagger’s voice boomed below me.
“The chains would be simpler, little master!”
Although I stood on level ground (the steps’ tread was sufficiently deep), the claws of vertigo grabbed me and I felt that I would topple backwards. In fear I scrabbled about myself, wildly thrusting my arms in blind desperation, until at last they touched stone wall and my sense of balance could restore itself once again. Without answering Dagger I began to bound up the stairway. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say I fell upwards, so often did I trip over my clumsy feet in my haste. In time the pounding of my heart lessened, and finally, when the agony within my lungs commanded I could go no further, I collapsed in a heap. I did not care that my clothes would get sullied by whatever dirt clung on the steps.
It was in this moment, as I gasped for breath under moonlight—how convenient that my body decided to give out under a window!—that two thoughts came to me and I burst out in laughter.