-- A BLUE KINGDOMS TM story --
The tower could only be seen in the light of the full moon. It stood on the rocky tor above the city of Darkharbor on the island of Thorntide. Legend said that the tower had been destroyed long ago, during the Second Wizard War--but people still saw it.
The land around the tower stood fallow, abandoned to the ghosts who once dwelt there. The locals avoided the place and advised visitors to their town to do the same. Many residents stolidly refused to even acknowledge the keep's existence.
This puzzled Seamus, as the tower seemed quite obvious to him. It was, in fact, the reason he'd come to Darkharbor. Legends of the tower ran rampant throughout the Blue Kingdoms. The stories that most interested Seamus told of the fabulous treasure inside the mysterious keep.
Tales of a forgotten princess trapped in the ancient bastion weren't of so much interest to him. Seamus was a freelance treasure finder by profession ("burglar" some called it), and far more intrigued by coin than the prospect of romance, marriage, or . . . other things.
As he approached the lonely hill, Seamus wondered why no one had plundered the tower previously. Or perhaps they had, which was why few people thought the place worth mentioning. Seamus frowned at the prospect.
Another feeling came over him as he crossed the blasted earth in front of the stone keep--a surge of electric anticipation, mingled with a vague uneasiness. The burglar scolded himself; such feelings were for amateurs. He approached the rotting wooden door. The handle felt cold, but it wasn’t not locked. Seamus frowned again; unplundered ruins were seldom so easily accessible.
The tower entryway debouched into a narrow room, with a winding stone stairway leading upward. Seamus checked briefly for hidden passageways, then--finding none--mounted the steps. The stairway was bleak and narrow. Mold and mildew plastered the stone walls, and the air felt damp and warm--despite the brisk Fall weather outside.
Seamus paused a moment and removed a glowstone from his pocket. The light in the stairway--light Seamus suddenly realized he didn't know the source of--had grown too dim to continue safely. What he saw in the glowstone's light didn't comfort him. The walls had become altogether covered with lichens, fuzzy mold, and gently oozing slime. The stairway appeared more a fungal cavern than a winding corridor in a stone tower. The smell of the air had become appalling--a mix of ammonia and rotting vegetables.
Just as the burglar wondered if he could stand to go any further, the stairway opened up into a wide, circular room. The stench of decay vanished as he entered the chamber.
Seamus smiled. The kind of treasures he’d always dreamed of surrounded him. Rich tapestries hung on the walls. Lovingly crafted furniture--chairs, tables, desks, armoires--filled the room. An exquisite four-poster canopy bed rested against the far wall. He'd never get that out of the room of course, but, perhaps its silk curtains and bed setting. . . .
Hang on . . . Something lay on the bed--something large that shimmered like emeralds in the moonlight. And gold! Spun gold! No, wait . . . It was a body -- the fabulously adorned body of a woman: the fabled princess!
Seamus dashed across the room to inspect this prize of prizes. With so much finery, she must certainly be wearing priceless jewelry as well! He held his breath as he approached the gold-and-emerald-clad body. His heart fluttered in his throat.
Astoundingly, he did not find just a pile of old bones--nor even a rotting corpse (as he had half-expected from the smell outside). Rather, the princess lay uncorrupted on her bier--as though she were merely sleeping, and not long dead. She was clad in a shimmering dress of green, gem-like scales. Golden jewelry twined like tiny snakes around her arms and at her throat. Hair as bright as spun gold fell over her pale, bare shoulders. Seamus let out a long, low sigh in appreciation of the princess’ undiminished beauty.
As he did, the woman on the silken sheets stirred and drew a breath. Her eyelids fluttered open, revealing emerald-green orbs set in ivory eyes. Slowly, gracefully, she sat up.
Seamus took a step back. His knees almost gave out. She was real! She was alive!
"I've been waiting for you," she said, her voice like honey on a summer's day.
The burglar tried to reply, but his voice caught in his throat. The only sound he made was a faint, hoarse, hissing.
The princess smiled and rose from the bed. She walked toward him, arms extended in welcome, her head slightly titled to one side. Her golden hair fell in streams over her alabaster shoulders. Seamus gazed into her sparkling emerald eyes.
Her ruby-red lips parted, and a slender, forked tongue darted out.
Seamus blinked and she was upon him, sinking her long fangs into his neck, injecting the venom that would make him her thrall.
As the world spun around him, Seamus found he didn't care about treasure any longer. All he cared about was her.
The image of a lonely tower surrounded by mist stands out in my memory. I'm not sure if the story started with that image, or with the princess herself. In any case, I'd wanted to write another story set in the Blue Kingdoms--the fantasy world Jean Rabe and I created--for some time, and a story about a mysterious tower seemed a good opportunity.
Like many of the stories in this volume, this tale is written in a pseudo-Lovecraftian fashion. The style is a bit awkward, and it lends an aura of distance that I'm not sure is entirely appropriate to the spooky subject matter; it robs the story of some of its immediacy and impact.
For this volume, I've kept the tale largely as originally written. After all, this book is supposed to be about the work I did during those feverish nights of writing, not about how well I could rewrite that work later.
-- Stephen D. Sullivan
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