Chapter 12: Forward to the Future
“Welcome to the White Tower,” said the young woman.
She was dressed in robes of a muted blue and grey. She did not smile, but she had a kind, calming presence about her despite her somber manner. Her grey eyes were startlingly large and luminous.
The girl gave Percy, Seppo, and Charlie each a stern look. Annabelle felt so awed by her that she said nothing, though she had so many questions.
“Back from your adventure, I see,” said the older girl. Annabelle couldn’t help but feel like the stranger was waiting to launch into a lecture, because she looked so much like how her mother looked in that moment when she wanted to criticize something Annabelle had done.
For their part, Percy and Seppo seemed abashed, though Charlie simply shrugged.
“We did what had to be done,” she said. “And at least we all made it out alive.”
“Tut, only barely, I think,” the girl replied, looking askance at Percy’s bandaged arm and the makeshift splint along Charlie’s bad leg.
“I didn’t get this from the Enemy,” said Percy in protest.
“Hush!” said the older girl. “We don’t talk about those things outside of the Tower.”
Percy bit his tongue and stayed silent.
“Cid!” said the girl, her face lighting up for the first time. “it is good to see you alive and well and back among us.”
“It is good to be back, Jenny.” He was still weak, but he managed a smile at least.
There came a loud barking from within the walls, and Percy’s head perked up.
“Typhon!” he said and charged ahead into the Tower. But he did not get very far, for a very large hound, tawny and grey of fur, came running out of the Tower and launched itself onto Percy’s shoulders.
“Good boy, Typhon! Good boy!” Percy was laughing and trying to get the dog off of him. Finally, after a great struggle, he managed to get Typhon off of him. “Haven’t seen you in a long while, have we? There’s a good boy.” And he fed him some scraps of meat from inside one of his pockets.
“Come inside, come inside.” The girl turned to look at Annabelle, who felt once more like she was beneath her mother’s scrutiny and shrank back. “We have new guests. There’ll be a story in that, I’m sure. My name is Jenny. What’s yours?”
Annabelle mumbled her name quietly, not wanting to meet the gaze of the older girl.
“Hello, Annabelle,” said Jenny. “Come inside, and we’ll sort you out as well.”
The White Tower was aptly named, for the walls and floor and ceiling were made from the same white stone as the walls outside. Sunlight streamed down from above, and a set of stairs nestled against the walls, leading up, up, up, until Annabelle could not even make out the ceiling. She had not been able to really comprehend the size of the Tower until she was actually inside.
The walls were lined with shelves full of books every description, and the familiar scents of old paper and dried ink filled Annabelle’s nostrils. There were rows of lovingly hand-bound books with volumes clearly marked and numbered. And there were also untitled manuscripts tied together with string and written upon in charcoal. She could even see several shelves full of stacks and stacks of great big scrolls and scrap leaves held down by weights.
Annabelle had never seen so many books all in one place. Her father’s library would not have even come close, and here she could only see one small section of the Tower. She could only assume that the same was true all the way up to the very top of the Tower, and she wondered if any person could possibly read everything within these walls.
“Come along,” said Jenny, gesturing towards the stairs. “It will be easier to check your injuries upstairs.”
Annabelle only moved after a moment or three and only after Charlie gave her a prominent poke in the shoulder. She started forward but managed to keep her balance despite her utter astonishment.
Her eyes caught the shape of some of the letters, and she recognized a few of the glyphs from the many Doors she had passed through. “The glyphs!” she shouted aloud. Too late, she realized, as everyone turned to look at her. “They’re-they’re the same. As the ones on the Doors.”
“Yes, they do,” said Jenny. “Come on now, we’re almost there.”
“Have you read everything in here?” whispered Annabelle to Charlie.
She laughed and said, “Goodness no!” Then she made a face. “Though I suppose I’m behind on my studies. But who has that sort of time to be reading all this?”
Annabelle never thought she would agree with that sort of sentiment. She’d spent her life buried in a book in the comfort of her father’s armchair. The words turned in her mind.
“Is the Wizard here?” Annabelle asked while her eyes burned holes into the passing books as they walked up the stairs.
Jenny stopped walking for a brief moment, then continued onwards. “Not today, I am afraid, but hopefully soon. Come along.”
Annabelle saw how everyone gave each other knowing looks, but did not say anything, especially because she did not know what it was supposed to mean. Answers would have to wait for a better time.
“Is he going to be okay?” Annabelle asked.
For several days, Annabelle had almost forgotten about the miasma that had affected both Cid and herself, though Cid had gotten it much worse having been a prisoner for a much longer time.
Now she was in what she assumed passed for the infirmary in the Tower. She had imagined a Wizard’s infirmary would be some darkened room with all sorts of potions and concoctions lined upon the shelves. Or perhaps a smoke-filled laboratory with all sorts of glass beakers.
But her imagination had perhaps been over-eager.
It was a quiet, clean, simple room, well-lit and with ample room for the rows of beds that lay within. Though the lights appeared to come from simple oil lamps, the light they gave off was a much cooler hue and did not flicker.
Seppo and Percy had laid Cid down on one of the beds, and Jenny was now looking him over with a much practiced ease. Though she did not do the things Annabelle might suppose a doctor might do, like feel for a pulse or check the temperature.
Instead she placed fingers behind Cid’s ears, upon his forehead, or on the palms of his hands. Annabelle did not quite know what to make of it, until finally she burst out asking her question.
did not look up from what she was doing, but replied with, “I hope so. Come here, and I will check you as well.”
Annabelle allowed the older girl to do the same to her. Her fingers were warm to the touch, but they never lingered for longer than a moment or two.
“You are very lucky,” said Jenny after many long minutes. “I do not think the miasma will have much effect in the long run. But we will see. As for Cid—” She looked over at the young man, and Annabelle thought she could see sadness in her eyes.
“Is there—is there anything I can do?” Annabelle said, wringing her hands together.
Before Jenny had a chance to answer though, the whirlwind known as Amelia burst through the infirmary door, floating as she did. Annabelle was only slightly getting used to it.
“What’s everyone doing in here?” she asked. Now that Annabelle had a better look, she suspected that Amelia was younger than her, perhaps almost the same age as her sister Grace.
Jenny sighed and shook her head. “We’re looking after Cid.” Turning her attention back to Annabelle, she said, I’ll brew an elixir tonight and then time will tell.”
Annabelle felt so low that she didn’t even ask about what brewing an elixir entailed. She hated feeling so helpless, but she supposed she did not yet know enough, and she tried to tell herself that Cid was in good hands, that they knew what they were doing here at the White Tower.
But she couldn’t get rid of the sick feeling in her stomach.
Jenny saw her distress and said in a kind voice. “I will do what I can, and there is good reason to hope. But why don’t you and Seppo go down to the dining hall and—”
“I’ll do that!” said Charlie, hopping off her perch on one of the beds. Seppo had tied a proper splint now, and she had a stick that worked well enough as a cane in her hand.
“Ooh, yes, I’m so hungry,” said Amelia. “Me, too!”
“But your leg—” Jenny began, but to no effect.
Charlie waved away the words. “Oh, I feel fine. Besides, I feel much better when I’m on my feet. Let’s go, Annabelle, Amelia.”
Annabelle had time to give Cid and Jenny one last look of regret before Charlie and Amelia both pulled her from the room and out of the door.
Annabelle found herself in a hall with long rows of tables. Typhon was lying near the foot of the door, his head in between its paws, tongue lolling out to the side. She knew that Typhon in the Greek myths had been a deadly monster, and she hoped this was far more friendly, though she gave the dog a wide berth in any case.
Pushed up against the tables were many different chairs of varied construction and size. One was high-backed and regal-looking, but instead of at the head of one of the tables, it was situated towards the middle. Another chair had no back and was more like a stool, standing on three prongs. There seemed to be no overarching rhyme or reason to them.
The walls were covered in several layers of tapestries and hangings. Instead of tiled stone, the floor was dark planks of polished wood. A thin layer of dust lay on each table except the one furthest from the entrance.
One such tapestry depicted an old man with skin like the dusk and a long white beard wearing bright robes and holding a light in his hands. Surrounding the old man were many children, each wearing robes of a different color. Behind them was a panoply of light they fought an encroaching darkness of twisty, branching fibers with their own weapons of color and fury.
Charlie spread her arms wide. “Welcome to the dining hall.”
Amelia directed their attention to a door at the far end of the hall past the last table. “The kitchen and pantry are beyond that door. For the larders and food stores, you’ll have to go back down.”
“Have a seat!” Charlie plopped herself down on the stool near the end of the last table.
“Who are those people?” Annabelle pointed at the tapestry.
Charlie glanced over at the tapestry and shrugged. “That fellow with the beard is an important person, I think? But I don’t really know.”
“If you read your history books, you would know,” said Amelia in a teasing sing-song voice.
“Yes, probably,” said Charlie, rolling her eyes. “Go on then, who is he?”
Amelia flew up to the tapestry and stood beside the figure of the old man. “This was the Archmage. He was the Wizard before the Wizard was the Wizard. Now he’s dead. I think.” Screwing her face in concentration for a moment, Amelia then shrugged and beamed down at them. “That was a long, long time ago, and now the Wizard is the Wizard.”
“I see.” But Annabelle didn’t really. This person was both the Archmage and the Wizard? She supposed that the Wizard and the Archmage were titles passed along, but she couldn’t really know for certain.
Annabelle would have dearly liked to see those history books Amelia talked about, but she felt being polite in the moment was more important, so she clapped a little as Amelia gave a grandiose bow.
“Do you think Cid will be okay?” said Annabelle once more. Charlie and Amelia shared a look.
“Oh, I wouldn’t worry,” said Charlie, wrapping her arm around her. “I think he’ll be fine, and worrying about it won’t change anything. Let’s get dinner started, get something nice and warm in our bellies.”
Annabelle nodded slowly. She supposed Charlie was right, though she couldn’t shake that helpless feeling that she could be doing more. Perhaps rolling her sleeves and helping with dinner might be of some help though.
“Alright! Where do we start?”