Dancing stars – I – Andris

At seventy-four years, Andris could very well be considered a wise man. He, on the other hand, just thinks of himself as old. Regardless, straining his neck while looking up, he has the suspicion it is not going to last much longer.

Sitting at the outer edge of the region’s capital city Saryana, a grand old spire pierces the clouds scattered across the sky. The tower is located in the westernmost corner of the vast palace grounds, the gardens and courtyards below hidden in the shadow created by its commanding presence. Like a giant sundial, its shadow moves across the royal landscape as the structure overlooks the cliffs of the Gray Depths whirling round below. Down there the waves are caught in their maelstrom, crashing on eternally beaten rocks before getting sucked down into agitating depths, white foam spraying high up the faces of the dark gray stone with each impact in their futile attempt to escape, to reach the top of the stone walls. In the distance, far away from the violence below, small fishing boats ride the dark, powerful waves, going up and down while little figures, holding on to the wooden gunwales throw their nets overboard, all the while praying to the gods for a good catch and their safe return.

Balancing on the cliffs, the tower itself stands on a large, partially deconstructed star-shaped structure, its style very different from that of the rest of the palace around it. It looks older, and the stonework that is not covered by bushes and roots have a more utilitarian look about them. It must have had a more defensive purpose at one time in the past, evident through the many remnants of bastions and other extensions all around the tower. Once standing proud, most of their stones were repurposed for later constructions around the area. However, the tapered construction itself is still the tallest building in the kingdom of Thymia. At the bottom, massive buttresses support the sides of the structure, dividing its weight over the many supports. Some are caved-in, reaching up like broken, yellowed teeth through the muddy earth. Standing close to the base of the building the collapsed parts of the structure rip holes in the flow of the wind coming in from the ocean, creating howling noises. When the autumn storms hit the coast, it is as if a horde approaches, ready for an invasion.

In the last few days, Andris has had the persisting feeling that he should go up there once more. Right now, he has been sitting on his throne in the stuffy main hall of the palace for many hours already, eager to escape the ruckus of the weekly-organized open court. With a muffled sigh, he turns towards the tall man standing next to him and touches the ornate red robe the man is wearing. The man’s attention is directed towards the hubbub below, feigning disinterest. “Garben …,” Andris has to pause shortly, coughing, “can you take over for me for a while?” His hand drops back to on to the armrest. Garben has been with Andris for more than twenty years, replacing Andris’ old mentor Geghard, when he passed away. In the past years, he has proven to be a very dependable and strong-willed man. It is not the first time Andris has asked Garben to take over officiating the endless questions from the unrelenting public. Every week there are conflicts between citizens, merchant quarrels, and clashes between neighbors. Each week citizens inside both the city and the region beyond come to the palace to request arbitration. After so many years, he has seen most variations of them, and for the time being, Andris does not have the energy to deal with it anymore. With a kind look in his hazel brown eyes, Garben nods to his master and graciously steps forward, shielding Andris while spreading his arms and drawing the attention of the people to himself. Two shouting citizens, who are almost at each other’s throats at the bottom of the steps leading up to the throne, direct their grievances now towards Garben. The volume increases, each of them trying to get the upper hand in the changed situation. Garben lets the two red-faced men rage for a moment, to get the energy out of their systems. All around the hall armed guards eye one another, making sure they can get the situation under control should it escalate further. Even the people waiting for their turn, and the ever-present bystanders looking for entertainment, are getting uncomfortable and start talking among each themselves. The first row slowly shuffles backward, closer to the ones behind them, to make more room around the quarreling duo.

Andris watches his advisor for a brief moment, up until Garben raises his hand and the two arguing men suddenly stop mid-sentence. Garben’s smooth voice starts summarizing the issue the two men are having and seamlessly starts going into a solution for their problem in such a tone that refusal of the solution is not an option. I am glad I was right to trust him. Relieved, he gets up and sneaks out through a passage behind the throne.

Turning corners left, and right, Andris eventually shuffles towards an ornately decorated tapestry hanging in one of the empty corridors. He glances at the woodland scene, which is showing a dancing couple. In the background of the painting, many points can be recognized from the surrounding countryside. It does not matter how many times Andris has seen it before; he always enjoys these moments, as this is one of his favorite pieces. A moment later, he uses his left hand to move part of the heavy tapestry to the side. Behind it, now visible, an indistinctive wooden door. If you did not know of its existence, you would probably never have known it was there. Looking over his shoulder Andris checks if there is anyone around. He wants no servants or guards to see him. Satisfied when he sees no one, he enters the torch-lit space beyond the threshold. After the old man disappears from the hallway, the door closes behind him without a sound, and the tapestry covers the entrance once more.

Going up the stairwell, each of the levels turns the staircase slightly faster, each level being narrower than the one below. At regular intervals, in the corners, large doors lead to open platforms. Where the doors are slightly ajar they provide a view of the open spaces for now-absent catapults overlooking both sea and land. Outside large colored banners hang from poles attached perpendicularly to the stone balustrades and attached to them flags flutter slowly, showing the emblems and colors of the royal family and the most influential families and guilds in the city. There are many empty spaces in the pattern where banners got removed, never replaced. The only trace of their existence at one point in time is the discolorization in the stones behind them. Not noticeable from the ground, but apparent when standing on the walkways, is that the edges of the cloth fabric are frayed, ripped apart by the strong gusts of wind. The once white fields are now gray, and the material started to fade a long time ago. So far, the palace and the spire have lasted for hundreds of years already and probably can endure for hundreds of years more, unperturbed by life happening around it, their age most visible in the beige outer stone blocks smoothed by the wind and rain. Inside the tower, it shows in the stairwell, where many footsteps of people going up and down have left grooves in the stone slabs, thus making the journey even more arduous for those few adventurous enough to head up, as if the already plentiful missing tiles are not inconveniencing enough. These days only seemingly lost souls head up the stairwell beyond the third floor. Most of the levels now stand empty, as the royal living quarters, and all the areas and activities supporting them moved to the newly built buildings around the tower more than two centuries ago. The lower levels and basements used only as general storage and archives for the Royal Library.

Occasionally visible through the uncovered windows in the sides of the spire, a lonely light slowly makes its way to the top.

Photo by Florian Bernhardt on Unsplash

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