I closed my eyes, but sleep had evaded me for the rest of the night. Finally the sun peaked over the edge of the horizon creating tiny patches of light through the heavy drapes I had drawn. I sat up and crawled to the edge of the bed. The stones were gone leaving the circle of white sand. With trepidation I stepped outside of the circle and waited. Nothing happened.
My nerves were stretched tight from my predawn visitors. The questions were building in my head making it ache. I quickly changed into the dress from the previous evening and found a hot breakfast waiting for me. I ate, filling up because I wasn’t sure what the day would bring.
When I finished I walked to the door and taking a deep breath opened it. The hall was as empty as the previous day and there were no signs of any movement or attempt to get in. I left the comfort and safety of my room.
“All right,” I said out loud. “I was promised answers.”
“And answers you shall have,” the voice echoed.
I looked around expecting to see the tall stranger, but I still found myself alone in the passageway. I waited hoping to be given a direction or something. After a few moments I realized it wouldn’t be that easy.
I made my way down the hall to the stairs and went down one flight. From there I had a choice. I could continue down the stairs or follow either of the two passages to the right or left. I stared at my options praying for some sort of an answer, but gaining nothing. Finally I decided to descend to the next level.
The marble railing slid easily beneath my hand. At the next level I turned to the right opposite from where I had come the evening before. Everything looked so similar that I felt lost immediately. I kept hoping to feel a tug or pull in a particular direction and when I didn’t I made a choice and continued on.
I walked the length of the passage looking in and out of the rooms that I passed. I glimpsed a huge ballroom, dining room and library. At the library I stopped and went inside. Shelves lined the walls three normal stories high and each shelf was filled neatly with leather bound volumes with gold or silver writing. Tall wooden ladders attached to a metal rail scaled the walls to reach the books higher up.
I made my way to the nearest shelf and began scanning the titles. Each one was unreadable in a language I had never seen before. I climbed up as high as I dared, but was still unable to decipher the writing.
After spending at least half an hour searching I gave up. I was no closer to an answer than before and I was becoming very frustrated and angry with the situation. I wasn’t about to return to the room at the top of the last tower, so I continued on down the hall toward the next staircase.
As I walked I took notice of the paintings on the walls. The passage from the throne room had been, for the most part, unadorned except for the occasional tapestry. This hall was like a gallery in a museum.
Most of the pictures were depictions of vineyards or fine ladies drinking wine and eating grapes, but towards the end of the hall I noticed a change. It was a particular painting that caught my attention. I was a darker shade than the previous ones and the scene did not look as carefree and happy. The faces on the ladies had a hint of panic and one even looked over her shoulder like someone or something unpleasant was watching.
I followed her gaze and met the edge of the painting. Intrigued I moved down the hall. The next one showed workers in the vineyard. There were children, adults and elderly people working, but the painting focused on one child who was crying next to a basket of grapes. The grapes appeared much smaller than the other pictures and a shadow was cast across the child’s basket.
I reviewed three or four more paintings all with similar themes of fear and all with the obscure shadow. When I reached the last one I gasped ever so slightly. The noise echoed down the empty silent passage.
In this picture it showed a desperate figure fleeing the vineyard. Behind him were flames that almost seemed to lick the edges of the canvas. Silhouetted against the burning vineyard was the short stubby figure I had seen through my lashes in the room at the top of the stairs.