Beasts in Winter:Tangere Tales 1(10)

By: Heather Rainier


“A climbing rose,” she whispered, spotting the plantings at the base of the walls. Part of her wished she could be there in spring, just to see how the blooming roses would festoon the structure.

Not wanting to waste the dwindling light, she marched forward to the nearest door. The knob turned easily, and the door swung open on silent hinges into a cavernous, darkened room. A huge carved chair and two smaller but no less luxurious seats sat on either side of it in the shadows on the far wall. She frowned, realizing she stood in an audience chamber. It appeared all the doors in the corridor opened into that room. Tapestries hung on the walls, but the draperies were all drawn so she was unable to see many details. A chill whispered over her flesh, as if someone had walked across her grave, and she backed from the room, determining to explore more fully when the light was better.

Venturing back in the direction of the dining room, she found a library. The light was better, thanks to a pair of tall leaded glass doors leading out to a balcony, so she could see that leather-bound books by the hundreds, maybe thousands, lined its shelves from the floor nearly to the ceiling.

“Wow.” It would take her weeks just to scan all the titles. “Spectacular.”

A hiss made her spin around, the dress caressing her with sensuous strokes as the fabric twirled with her, and she gasped as a fire burst to life in a fireplace so large she could stand in it, stretch out her arms, and still not touch the sides.

“Okay, if Angela Lansbury pops out of the woodwork and starts singing, I’m seriously going to freak out,” she whispered as she drew near, the heat from the merrily crackling blaze warming her chilled skin and lending further light to the room. Portraits hung on the walls, the figures seeming to move and watch her in the flickering light.

Feeling a little dazed, she took her time walking around the room, lusting after the books and taking note of the comfortable-looking padded chairs that were placed about the room. Wind buffeted the leaded glass doors and stained glass windows, drawing her attention, and she gasped as she drew near to the multi-hued work of art.

“Wow.”

She’d never seen anything like it. The pattern on the window resembled a rose garden in bloom, but when she drew close, she realized that it wasn’t made up of colored pieces of glass that had been cut and fitted together. It looked as though it had been painted…but not really.

She stroked a gentle finger on the glass and felt no texture of paint. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”

The color seemed to be suspended within the clear glass. She blinked as the pattern shifted slightly, as if it was an optical illusion, and she backed up to focus on it.

Affirmation that the room and probably the entire castle were magical arrived when the seat of a velvet-upholstered chair nudged her slightly from behind and she felt the urge to sit before the window.

“Thanks, because I need time to take this all in.”

As she studied the window in comfort, her eyes blurred. Her breathing slowed and contentment from her wonderful meal made her muscles relax. She blinked and watched in fascination as the stained glass seemed to undulate and then coalesce into a series of panels, top to bottom, so it resembled a graphic novel. Trying to focus on the movement of the glass only made her tired, and eventually she gave up. At that moment, the first clear image at the top left formed and made sense…somehow. She contented herself to experience the spectacle of the stained glass vision, or dream, or whatever it was.

The scene involved the occupants of the castle, both highborn and low. A flamboyant and charming prince and a proud father who was also king. A young princess with long hair so pale it was nearly white. The queen was lovely, with flowing auburn hair the same color as the young prince’s. This was the royal family.

The next panel began to reform, the colors dazzling her eyes as it displayed a dark-haired boy working in the castle gardens, encouraged by the chief gardener in learning his trade. At night he cared for his loving mother who was a maid in the castle.

In the next panel, the handsome young gardener grew muscular and tall, working with his hands. The new castle gardens were his design and creation. He planted the climbing roses that grew around the castle to please the young princess and her mother.

The gardener grew handsome, and courtiers and servants alike whispered behind their hands that, with each passing day, he resembled the king more and more. One day he noticed the resemblance himself as he worked at replacing a broken pane in the glass house where the queen’s favorite flowers were cultivated. The king paused in his walk to observe the work, and the gardener spied his reflection side by side with the king’s. He’d never given his reflection much notice before, but the resemblance there was startling and undeniable.