It took Ghetz nearly two hours to make it back to the castle. Soon after leaving the clearing, the storm began in earnest and his progress was seriously impeded by the unstable ground. The forest itself seemed determined not to let him pass, throwing roots under his horse's legs and putting branches in his path that he was forced to slow down and dodge, lest he be knocked off his mount.
Eventually, though, the forest thinned out into the royal gardens, and the well-paved path to the castle fell within his sight. Ghetz spurred his mare and together they climbed the sloping butte that the castle was built upon. No servant met him at the gates that surrounded the castle grounds. It was still Solstice, after all, and the feasting and drinking wouldn't end until the sun turned the land red with its rising. Working as fast as he was able, Ghetz stabled his mare and made his way up the last bit of hill before the front doors. By the time he made it, he was panting for breath and cursing the ingenious tactical position of the castle that made taking it an uphill battle.
As Ghetz passed through the doors, he wondered that there were no guards on duty. Before tonight it had been unthinkable that anyone would attack the castle on the holiday. As Ghetz rushed through the unguarded halls, he reflected just how much his assumptions about the world had been challenged in the last few months, starting with his Lord declaring a war he didn't agree with and ending with a murder on the eve of the Solstice. Both times, Ghetz had been powerless. His perception of his own abilities had been severely altered. Ghetz had spent his life living around fighting men. He'd always been taught that being a man meant having power. But now he began to suspect that being a man meant knowing just how little control over life you had. It was not glory on the battlefield but the crushing knowledge of your own weaknesses that marked the passage into adulthood. He felt older now than he ever had before, and here he was muddy from the road and with only a dagger at his belt.
Finally, Ghetz arrived at the closed doors that led to the secondary dining hall where the feast had been relocated. He was about to stride in and find the Queen when a sudden peal of laughter coming from the hall froze him in his tracks. Against the backdrop of murder and desperation, there was still a roomful of people just feet away enjoying a feast. The bizarre sur-reality of the situation suddenly weighed upon him and he staggered backwards, holding his shoulders and cursing at the feeling that was gripping his chest. Though he had not cried since he was a child, he had not forgotten the feeling of his chest being compressed, of his heart sinking towards his knees and rising towards his throat at the same time. With the back of his hand he wiped away the beginnings of tears at his eyes and placed his hands against the doors.
At the gentle voice, Ghetz turned, half expecting to see his father, so familiar was the address. Instead, he found Melchior standing, one hand held half way out, as if to catch him. With shock, Ghetz realized he had sunk practically to his knees. He tried to stand but it took him a great effort.
"I-I'm sorry," he said to the councilor. "I don't know what's come over me all of a sudden."
"It's alright, son," the old man's eyes never left his face, and his brows were bent in concern. "Any man who has lost his father would feel the same. And tears shed for him would not be a shame."
Ghetz wondered that the words did not affect him more. He felt nothing, as if he'd already known and mourned. And then he realized he had known, just seconds before as tears threatened his eyes. Still, though he felt calmer than he thought he had a right to, some distress must have shown on his features, because Melchior stepped away suddenly and bowed his head.
"Ah, so you didn't know." Melchior pulled at his chin hairs absent-mindedly. "My apologies for that, then. Truly, there were better ways to give you the news."
"No... I suppose I did know. Though I don't know how. How did this news come to you? How did he die?"
"I'm sorry, I don't know the details. Nor can I tell you how I know except to tell you that I do, and that I am sorry for your loss."
Ghetz felt like strangling the man. This wasn't the time for cryptic words or vague hints. Did Melchior think himself a prophet, that he would deign to know Ghetz's father dead without any sign of evidence or story of the death? The more Ghetz thought about it, the more it seemed to him some cruel jest, played by a drunken Councilor. Except... except that he himself knew his father was dead, without any explanation for how or why he knew. For a brief moment, tears once again threatened his eyes. He shook his head and cleared his throat, but he couldn't find any words.
"Come," Melchior said gently, but firmly. "The Queen awaits."
"The Queen... ah ye gods, what fate has befallen the King? We weren't able to find him."
"He has reached Truce."
"Truce? Impossible." He shook his head and said the words again, as if to confirm them in his own mind. "That's not possible, not in such a short time."
"He went by a different road than most of us would know how to follow."
Ghetz scoffed but wondered, nonetheless, if Melchior indeed told the truth. Could a man travel faster by some hidden road? He remembered his father's words to him, about the archway in the trees. He felt a cold shiver pass down his back. For all he knew, they had been the last words his father had ever spoken.
"How do you know these things?" Ghetz asked. "The time is past, I believe, for mincing words."
"And yet time is of the essence. And sights are worth a thousand words. If you'll come with me, I'll show you."
There seemed nothing else to do, so Ghetz obligingly followed the old man. Behind him, another peal of laughter sounded through the shut doors and echoed down the hall. Ghetz winced involuntarily at the sound. Melchior didn't seem to notice.
As they walked, Ghetz found himself wondering about the old councilor. He had always known that, behind his easy smile and bad facial hair, Melchior was hiding a powerful mind and personality. Now he wondered if perhaps there was more to it than that. The man hadn't entered the employ of the kingdom until Crono had become prince five years prior, but he was already the most respected councilor in Guardia, even having gained the trust of the other councilors (in some ways, his greatest feat) and having managed to avoid the usual back stabbing and bickering of their lot. Supposedly he was behind every major decision of the last three years, and had been highly respected by the old king, Nadia's father. Then, too, his skill at the forge was uncanny, especially for one so aged. Was it too far a stretch to believe that he had somewhat of an oracle's eye? Ghetz searched his memories, but he couldn't find any hard evidence for this. Yet here he was, believing the old man when he said his father was dead and following him through the castle towards an undisclosed destination with all the trust of a small child.
Momentarily, they reached a door. It took Ghetz a moment to realize where they were. When he did, he let his breath out in surprise. This was the Eastern Tower. He hadn't been here since he was a child. Melchior grabbed a torch from the wall and pulled open the rusty door with a sound like a banshee screeching. For as long as he'd lived in the castle, Ghetz remembered the door making that sound. It used to take him and Nadia together to force it open. He smiled, then shook his head. It seemed inappropriate for him to be reliving moments of happiness at such a grave time. Yet, as they entered the long spiral staircase that lay beyond the door, more memories came rushing to surround him like a comforting quilt. The footsteps of two small children seemed to run past him and the light of Melchior's torch became the sun on hot summer days.
"Watch your step," Melchior said, holding the torch close to the stairs and squinting through his glasses at each step. Ghetz barely heard him. He was remembering other words in another time, as a young princess taunted him to beat her to the top of the stairs. He had chased her with wild abandon, ignoring the fact that their game was a dangerous one, that a single misstep could send them tumbling down the stone stairway. They had been beyond such worries, then. Fears of death, or of injury, were unfathomable. Fear is something that people learn with age, something they have to be taught. Back in those days they could lose themselves in the simplest of life's pleasures: the very fact of being alive. Ghetz hadn't clung to the stone wall as he was now, taking every step carefully and deliberately. He had taken the stairs two at a time, never looking where he was going, trusting that he wouldn't fall. And while he was with Nadia, he never did.
The stairway spiraled for many levels. Every once in a while, there was a landing with a door. Usually, the door led back into the castle, and Ghetz and Nadia had explored these branching hallways and passages with glee. There was one door, however, that they always hesitated outside of. It was located at the very top of the stairs. The first person to touch the door would be the winner of the race. Ghetz usually lost. He would arrive, panting, to find her waiting. He remembered her posture: hands on her hips, she would lean slightly forward and warn him away in a scolding tone from opening the door.
"That's the door to dreams," she said. "Open it, and all your dreams will be whisked away." She would make him swear never to open it and then together the two of them would sit on the top stair and imagine what grand things could lie beyond the door. Nadia was an excellent story teller. She would invent whole worlds, filled with adventures and people needing to be saved. Ghetz would add the occasional detail, but mostly he listened, enraptured. The two of them would stay that way as long as they could, which was usually until a harried servant would find them and shoo them back down the stairs and out of the tower.
Though he'd made a promise to Nadia to never open the door, the desire to see the worlds she described was too much for Ghetz, and one day he took to the stairs by himself, the first time he'd ever climbed them alone. It was around sunset, and the tower was dark and foreboding. A cold wind blew through unseen cracks in the stone, slamming the door behind him. That was the first time Ghetz remembered feeling fear. He didn't understand the emotion at the time. He wouldn't fully understand it until minutes later, when he tripped on his hurried way to the top. In the brief instant before he hit the stairs and began to fall down them, he understood what it was to feel mortal, to know that pain and death could come upon you at any moment without warning. He didn't remember the fall, but he remembered the aftermath, the way his finger had been bent all wrong, and the white protrusion jutting from his knuckle that was his bone. The worst pain, though, was seeing Nadia as he was carried from the tower to the infirmary. She had stared at him with wide eyes and a mouth partially open in shock. He wanted to tell her that he hadn't been able to do it, that fate had kept him from ever reaching the door. But he felt he'd betrayed her all the same, and his shame pained him more than his broken finger. They had never climbed the stair again.
So now, as Melchior's hand found the handle of the forbidden door and turned it, Ghetz felt a certain trepidation, as well as a sudden excitement. Though it had only been a child's game, he was finally going to see what lay behind the door to dreams.
With a creak, the door opened. The smell of mildew and dust assaulted Ghetz's nostrils and he sneezed. As Melchior entered the room, the torch light illuminated a room cramped with old furniture: a dusty bed, a chair missing one leg, a dubious chamber pot which appeared to be the home of a large black spider. So this was the room of dreams. Ghetz laughed sardonically at the fancies of children. Then he caught sight of Nadia, sitting on the room's single windowsill, and his heart skipped a beat.
Nadia was still wearing the full regalia of the ballroom, though she had draped a shawl over her shoulders. Her golden hair fell in a braid down her slender back, and she was framed by the moonlight pouring in through the window, a moonlight tinged with the pinkish orange of the approaching dawn. When she turned to look at him, the movement seemed the most graceful thing he'd ever witnessed.
Melchior placed the torch in a dusty sconce near the door. The torch flared upwards, casting the room in a dull orange glow. Melchior walked over to the window and gently took the Queen's hand.
"There's a chill, my Lady. It is probably best to come away from the window."
In fact, the room was rather warm with the Summer air, but as Melchior coaxed Nadia away from the opening, Ghetz saw a look of desperation in her eyes that chilled his blood. He shivered and suddenly yearned to be back on the ground floor, maybe even amidst the laughing guests in the dining room. He also yearned to take the Queen and comfort her in his arms, but instead he simply watched as Melchior led her to a chair by the door and dusted it off for her to sit in. She didn't sit, but instead stood in a pathetic sort of half crouch. Her eyes watched the floor, and her mouth hung slightly open. In that moment, as her sorrow wrung his heart, Ghetz realized he truly did love her.
"Alright," Ghetz said, wrenching his eyes away from Nadia and turning to Melchior. "You said you would show me the answer to your riddles when we got here. I think the time has come."
"Indeed it has," Melchior said. "Look out the window."
Ghetz did, not quite sure what he was expecting to see. Maybe giant omens of death floating in the air? But there was nothing like that. The night was calm. The Eastern tower was the tallest tower in Guardia Castle. From the castle's place on the butte, the tower rose high above even the oldest forest trees. The paths he and his father had ridden only hours ago were hidden by the green of the woods, though Ghetz couldn't help but scan for the clearing he had left his father at. Eventually his search led him to the Eastern edge of the forest which had been cleared for timber and turned into farmland. All seemed peaceful and still.
Ghetz turned away from the sight to see Melchior standing nearby, watching him expectantly.
"What is it I'm supposed to be seeing?" Ghetz asked.
"Look further," the old man said. "Beyond the farm lands to the horizon."
Ghetz sighed and turned back to the window. He was tired of Melchior's hints and instructions. Why couldn't the old man just tell him what he needed to know? He squinted his eyes and tried to see past the farmlands. His gaze raised a little higher until he was looking at the distant horizon. And then he saw it. A black cloud hung heavy over the coast. It was thick like a building storm, but it was too steady to be a squall. Also, the cloud began at ground level, like the smoke from a fire. Ghetz suddenly felt very small.
"By the Omen," he said. "That's the Eastern coast. Truce burns tonight."
"Yes," Melchior said, spitting out the word through a grimace. "And by the King's hand, no less."
At that, Nadia let out a small cry and finally collapsed into the chair. Again Ghetz forced himself to remember his place. Though every muscle in his body wanted him to run to Nadia's side, he forced himself instead to stare hard at the floor and think of her pain, that her beloved would be in danger. He also reminded himself that her beloved was the King, and his liege lord. With that thought, his emotions turned cold and hard and he was able to raise his head, though he avoided looking directly at the Queen.
"Does the King live?" Ghetz asked.
"Indeed he does," Melchior said.
"Then we must prepare for his return."
"Right you are, lad. For now, would you bring the Queen a blanket from the bed? I fear me she will catch cold."
Ghetz looked to the bed. There was an old moth-eaten and moldy wool blanket covering it. Why Melchior ever thought the Queen would want it anywhere near her was a mystery to him, but then she was sitting hugging her shoulders as if indeed the room was freezing cold. He moved to the bed and removed the blanket, shaking the worst of the dust off of it. When he turned back, Melchior was gone. Ghetz saw the door to the tower close. A second later, he heard a key turn with a resounding click. Still absently holding the blanket, he moved to the door and tried the handle.
"What are you doing?" he called out through the locked door. There was a smile on his face: a part of him was willing to believe this some strangely timed attempt at humor. But Melchior's reply wiped the grin from his face and made him feel as if turned to stone.
"Preparing!" Melchior's voice drifted through the sturdy wood door. "The rebels will be coming here shortly. They will be looking to strike a deal with Crono. And it would be best if they had something to barter with."