The last embers from the dying fire slowly faded away as the sun set, the wood splintering quietly before the flames eventually died out, the fire place growing cold as the vestigial warmth of the of the perishing flames dissipated. The small seating area in the wooden house grew cold once more, the icy chill coming through under the door in drafts and filling the room with the frigid bite of winter. Hauling himself up from the chair at the fireside, Nathaniel placed both arms on each side of the chair and heaved his tired body from the seat, stretching his arms as he stood. Yawning, he trudged his way up the stairs and up to the bedroom, the old wooden steps creaking underfoot. He had no idea how late it was, but he was sitting by the fire long enough for it to splutter out of life, so he had assumed it was pretty late. As he walked through the doorway into the bedroom, he thought about the warmth of his bed and the good night’s sleep he was bound to have after such a long day of working. At the edge of 17 most boys were expected to start working, and his mother had offered his services as an apprentice to a carpenter two weeks before. His hands were already becoming rough, and he was often finding saw-dust his boots and hair even days after working. Groggy and tired, he doubled checked that the everything was securely locked and bolted, and them clambered into bed after getting undressed, barely able to hold onto consciousness. He pulled up the blankets right up to his neck and laid his head on the duck feather pillow, his eyes snapping shut. He lay back and waited for his mind to drift off, his body sinking into the bed as it because stiff with tiredness, but still his mind would not let go. He couldn’t stop thinking about today; John-Paul’s instruction today at the work-shop, his mother’s insistent nagging that he hadn’t done his chores, he just couldn’t seem to let go. It wasn’t long before he starting seeing colours in the darkness of his eyelids, shifting shape and colour seemingly randomly. This was normal, happened all the time when he closed his eyes, but rather than ignoring them and falling asleep, he decided to watch as each one changed and shifted; a purple circle expanded and become a turquoise colour, a small dot slowly drifted across his view in the darkness. The shapes and colours become more and more intricate, changing into sharper, more complex objects of strange colour. Then he started hearing things. At first he thought it was his imagination, his head playing tricks on him as he finally managed to start drifting off to sleep and so he ignored it. But it became louder, and he heard it more clearly. Perhaps he was already asleep, and he was already dreaming? He never remembered falling asleep like this, never seeing and hearing things so clearly before. It wasn’t long before he was able to make out the disturbance; it was a piano, fluid and melodic as the notes swell and broke, massive soundscapes colliding with each other as he floated in oblivion. It was beautiful; delicate and alluring, almost hypnotizing. He wanted to find its source, but instead he kept his eyes closed, assuring himself that it was simply a dream, he wouldn’t remember it in the morning. He twisted and turned, trying to drown out the sound but instead the noise only became larger, until eventually, as the song reached its crescendo, he couldn’t resist temptation and opened his eyes to see where the music was coming from.
Immediately he knew he was somewhere different. He noticed the covers were different from the ones he had at home: pink, floral prints instead of the bland, beige colour he usually used. Instead of the pale, creaky wood of the bed he had at home, instead he saw a massive, four posted bed tower up over him and support a canopy of green material, the dark rosewood polished to a lustrous sheen. Beside him on each side, two end tables held small candles, one of which was still lit. In the scant, flickering light Nathaniel surveyed the room; plush, opulent rugs carpeted the floor, and on the far wall pictures hung on the wall, the subjects barely visible in their decorative frames in the small light. On the far wall a window stood open, the fresh breeze from outside gently blowing the curtains inward. Feeling the wind brush up against his skin, Nathaniel noted that it wasn’t as cold, a much milder, agreeable temperature than that of at home. Near the bed a chest of drawers sat beneath a pile of folded clothes, which, he assumed, belong to him. He pulled the covers up and hauled himself out of bed, stumbling over to the drawers and began getting dressed; he needed to find out where he was and why he was here. He threw his dark brown tunic over his shoulders and grabbed the candle from the dresser, using the flickering flame to light some of the candelabras on the wall. Closing the window, he lit the last of the lights on the wall and then set the candle back on the table, taking another look around the mysterious room. Now, seeing much better, he could see the wall was plastered with a regal, white patterning over a royal blue background, with a dark wood much like the one on the bed climbing half way up the wall. The paintings, now visible in the candlelight, held portraits of what looked like rich or important people, dressed elegantly in furs and jewellery, and a desk, paper and ink still sitting on the surface. Suddenly, without warning, the ghostly piano began to place once more, louder than ever as the music thundered down the hallway outside. Quickly, he turned around and grabbed the gilded doorknob of the door behind him, twisting it and slowly opening it as he stepped out into the hallway, so as not to disturb anyone. Not as if anyone would be sleeping with the piano, but just in case.
Immediately he felt the mild breeze of the open window again, and looking down the hallway he noticed the opposite wall was set with windows all along the hall, most of them open as the wind from outside gently billowing the curtains in throughout the corridor. The drifted in and out from the window on the crest of the breeze as if possessed by ghosts, and the luminary light of the moon fell in stripes all along the hall from the window. Listening carefully, Nathaniel could make out the distant sound of the vast whispering of the ocean over the piano, and could smell the briny, fresh smell of the sea. Closing the door behind him with a quiet click, he strode over towards the nearest window and looked out. What he saw surprised him. Rather than the meagre spread of stars in the night sky back home, here the heavens was full of them, sparkling like diamonds in the arch of the midnight sky. The moon, larger than he had ever seen it before, hovered almost ominously in the blackness, silhouetted temporarily as the wispy clouds drifted across the face of the lunar giant. At the horizon, over the heaving waves of the sea, sheer mountains could be made out in the dead of the night, tall pine trees populating the slope of the mountain in the form of a large forest. He had never seen anything so majestic.
Regardless, the elegant piano continued to bewitch him, constantly pulling him towards the mysterious source of its music. He strode down the hall slowly, watching as the scenery of the sea and the mountaid-side slowly moved in his vision through the windows. Eventually, the long set of windows stopped and he walked along through the castle. He imagined the notes of the delicate song gliding out through the empty rooms of the manor, flowing through hallways and bedrooms and filling the empty rooms with the sound of the graceful, elegant music. He imagined the rooms empty of life and movement to be replaced with the presence of beauty in musical form as he approached the large open passage way into the ballroom, the arch of the opening curving high up above his head as he entered the room, the echoes of his shoes resonating off the black and white marble floors unheard over the sound of the breath-taking piano. The room was huge, much larger than any single room he’d ever been in before, but it was very nearly empty, besides the grand piano in the very centre of the room and a few small benches scattered around the perimeter of the ballroom. He squinted, and he could make a small figure hunched over the piano as they came down on the keys, a tad bit too far to make out accurately. He moved closer before taking a seat just behind the piano, and from here he could make out it was a young woman playing the piano, no older than her mid-twenties. She was wearing a sheer, white gown and her sleek black hair flowed over her shoulders and down her back, coming to rest over her hips. Her slender fingers danced and skittered over the keyboard as she played, never once even blinking, so deep into the music.
Finally, as he sat there, the music slowly wound down and he listened as the final note quivered in the air of the vast room, before evanescing into silence. He clapped, and the sound of it flew out through the room and pierced the heavy silence that replaced the song.
“Oh my!” She spluttered, as her head snapped up from the piano. She laid a hand on her chest and let out a deep sigh. “I apologize, I didn’t realize I had an audience.”
He laughed quietly “I didn’t realize that a piano could be played so beautifully, bravo!” Nathaniel replied, continuing to clap.
“It’s just a little song I made, is all, nothing really” she said modestly, as she stood up from the bench. She stepped over the small black seat and started walking towards him, and he did the same, standing up from his own bench and approaching her. Eventually, the two met halfway.
“I’m not used to having someone hear me play. I have to admit I’m embarrassed,” She said meekly, staring at the floor. She smiled and extended a hand, “My name is Calligena Morale, pleased to meet you. What is your name?”
“The pleasure is all mine, mi ’lady” He replied, as he bowed. As he rose up, he caught a quick glimpse of her eyes and for that moment time itself seemed to slow. Lapis Lazuli eyes glimmered in the moonlight pouring through the windows, drinking in the light of the stars and sparking, like precious gems, with intelligence. Her long, black hair framed a delicate, pale face, and voluptuous red lips framed pearl white teeth in a sincere smile. Her figure stood tall yet at the same time effeminate, showcasing self-confidence and power while still retaining an edge of female gentleness.
“My name’s Nathaniel, lady Morale”, he said quietly.
“Please, just call me Calligena,” she replied, somewhat caught off guard, “I didn’t realize the palace was excepting guests for the night. Father is asleep and I thought he had ordered the guards away from the castle for tonight for the sake of privacy: he says they can be quite a nuisance when they want to be.”
Nathaniel was taken aback. So this placewasa palace then, and her father the king. He still had absolutely no bearing as to where he was and, in fact, and the only reason he had walked down the hall was because he heard the piano. Still, he didn’t think it was a good idea to mention that he randomly appeared in a bed in one of the rooms of the castle.
“I was ambushed, unfortunately, but a group of bandits while travelling to sell my goods,” he lied, “I was severely injured, my stock taken from me. It was a miracle that someone from the castle came across me collapsed on the road and decided to take me here, otherwise who knows what would have happened. He had explained that he was taking me somewhere safe where I would get help before I passed out again, and then before I knew it I woke up here. Unfortunately, I haven’t the slightest notion where hereis.It was never explained to me where I was going.”
“My Nathaniel, you’re in no other place that in Cyprorcea Castle, crown jewel of the nation of Basillia. My father, Reroth Morale, is king of Cyprorcea and is held in high esteem by all his subjects,” she explained, gesturing to a massive painting to the left, “Father is currently the fourth king of the family, the nation established by my great-great-grandfather nearly 200 years ago” she elaborated, her voice thick with pride. The painting, a massive oil portrait of her father, the king hung on the wall. I would have noticed it had I come in. However, now within my view, I was suddenly humbled: the painting itself was amazing, on it depicted a man who, you could say, of such energy, such magnetism, that it transplanted onto canvas. Just looking at the portrait had me inexplicably drawn to the man; I wanted to meet him, shake his hand and talk to him. He was dressed in some of the most opulent and expensive looking clothes I had ever seen: draped over his back was a sumptuous red cloak with a black and white fur trim, and he was suited up in such extravagant red silk that I’d have to save my entire lifetimes earnings to be able to pay for. Jewellery and rings decorated his neck and hands; it was all topped off by a crown sitting on the top of his head which was laid with such magnificent, lustrous gems that almost seem to sparkle, even on canvas. The overall effect was one of such intimidating, imperial majesty that I couldn’t help but feel humbled simply looking at the painting. The name Cyprorcea rang a distant bell, perhaps a name I had over-heard from a conversation a while back, but I couldn’t remember. It was there, on the tip of my tongue, but it refused to come out: a case of Presque vous.
Calligina moved forward, tendering touching Nathaniel’s arm so to check for injury. “Fortunately for you after your incident, you couldn’t be in better hands; there are many healers at the castle who can cater to your needs, and the fact that you had the ability to walk down here from the guest rooms is testament that you’re already recovering. Tell me Nathaniel where are you from?”
“A small village known by the name of Esterline. It’s quite small, set right in the middle of a large valley with trees dotting the slope on each side. It’s peaceful, but sometimes I wish something would happen.”
She nodded a knowing smile, seemingly agreeing with me.
“Your father seems like an interesting man, Calligena.” I said.
“All of that is for show really. He thinks it makes him look ostentatious and pompous; he prefers to wear simpler clothes when he isn’t doing anything of particular importance” She said, as she turned around and set off towards a door on the far end of the ball room, her footsteps once again echoing off around the room. “The view from the ballroom balcony would be wonderful tonight Nathaniel,” she exclaimed, “Come with me, we’ll do some star gazing”
“Coming, Calligenia!” I called after her. As she walked, her dressed flowed and dance elegantly, her graceful movements complimenting the silken material of the dress. She reached the two windowed doors at the end of the ballroom and pressed down on the handles, pulling back the doors and swinging them open, her arms spread wide as if to embrace the sudden gust of fresh sea air that came in from the new opening. Lowering her arms, she strode outside onto the balcony and took a deep gulp of the fresh air, filling her longs with life and refreshing her senses. Nathaniel followed her outside. He walked passed her and right over the balcony, peering down over the edge and the sheer drop of the cliffs below. Beneath them, the ocean constantly threw itself at the cliff face, gradually wearing away the rock over time. Boulders of various sizes sat at the bottom of the slope, either partially emerged in the foamy sea or submerged completely, watching the world from beneath the waves. They had fallen from the cliff face after being unendingly assaulted by the ocean and plummeted into the green-blue depths below, either barely peaking their heads above the surface or forever lost beneath the waves, watching the castle from under the water. Above, the moon continued to sit, suspended in the night sky, the ghostly white reflections of it shimmering in the water. The stars, also reflected on the surface of the ocean, bobbed and dipped in time with the waves. Nathaniel had always loved stars, ever since he was younger. He would watch as they rotated ceaselessly in the heavens, the stars sparkling in the hallow, echoing beauty of space as they spun, powered by some godly machine. In a sense he longed for a connection with the vast spread of constellations and nebulae that hovered there in the teeming darkness, to reach up and re-arrange the layout of the universe as he saw fit. But he was but a man.
“They’re beautiful, aren’t they?” Calligenia asked over the dull roar of ocean, breaking his reverie. “I’ve always had a bit of a fascination with constellations and the like, constantly finding and re-finding the different connections between the stars…sometimes it’s nice to just sit out here if I’m finding it hard to sleep and think a little while, It’s serene, and peaceful. I find myself thinking about the most strangest of things, but also some of the most important; life, purpose, meaning…what does it all mean?”
“Who are we if we don’t dream” He replied. “What is the point in living if you have nothing to strive for, nothing to believe in? I know what my dreams are, and although they’re big I hope one day they’ll be realized. Sometimes I wonder if people think the same why I do, have the same dreams as I, but then I start getting worried; what if everyone else does think like me, but they never realized their dreams? I see people walking through Esterline every single day, doing the same thing they did the day before. If they had dreams, where are they now? I’ve always believed that our fates aren’t predetermined by…some bearded man high in the sky or the whim of different spirits. We make our own choices, and we deal with consequences of them. We make our own dreams, but we must have the courage to chase after them. Otherwise, they would never be realized at all.”
A bit of a silence hovered between them, both of them staring quietly at the scenery or the stars. Then, as they stood there, the same ghostly music began playing from within the ballroom, flowing out onto the balcony.
He turned to Calligenia: “Who’s playing that?” He asked, a puzzled expression on his face.
“It does not matter,” she said, placing her finger on Nathaniel’s lips. “You seem like a nice man, Nathaniel. Would you care to dance?
Without a word, he took her hand in his and placed his other hand on her hip, beginning the dance gently. Slowly they swayed back in forth, half in time with the motion of ocean, half in time with the tempo of the music. As the pace increased, they found themselves spinning, eyes locked together. He watched as Calligenia pirouetted in a graceful circle, the silk of her dress billowing out in waves, her hair flying out as if to embrace all the stars under the arch of the night sky in streams of black, elegant and precise. They stepped and spun in time with the music, in an almost hypnotic trance as they gave themselves over to the music. And then, as it finally slowed down again, they stopped and then parted as the last note hovered in the air between them.
In the new find quiet, they found themselves staring at each other. “Your eyes, Nathaniel…they’re quite beautiful.” She breathed, as she moved in closer.
“I could easily say the same…” He whispered.
Then, as she closed her eyes, she leaned in close, and kissed him.
To both of them it was blissful oblivion, floating together through the endless expanse of space and time, both suddenly irrelevant in each other’s embrace. As the intensity increased, Calligenia moved closer, crushing herself up against him, and he could feel the gentle rising and falling her of her breathing, slowly quickening with in pace as she trembled in his embrace. It was all they could feel; each other. Nothing else mattered.
But then it ended. They split apart, but rather than resurfacing to the world of moonlight and the Cliffside, Nathaniel kept his eyes closed. The darkness kept its grip on him as he fell backwards once more into oblivion. Its clasp grew tighter, enveloped him in the sensation of sleep. In the darkness, once more he started seeing shapes and visions, noises. The creaking of wood, the whispering of the sea echoed in the blackness. Finally the sensations of his body lying in bed returned to him; Suddenly from the darkness, he heard someone call his name, shouting for him. He opened his eyes and no one was to be seen: it sounded like Calligenia.