Sixteen – the River of Black Roses
Whether the henchmen were not as familiar with this raw awesomeness as their manner purported, I knew not. But as I had slowed to a stop, there had been levity in their attitude, too, and they hand not given me the expected prod when I stopped as the rumble of thunder drew me across to one edge. Like a tourist truly taking in the vastness of an ocean along a seafront promenade, I propped one foot upon a baluster and both hands shoulder-width apart on the ivory railing of the balustrade.
To the west, there were rolling plains running parallel to what seemed like miles of the mist above, which darkened visibly the further it stretched from this courtyard, from the synthetic sun, until they turned to angry, black storm clouds on a horizon far, far in the distance. Were my eyes deceiving me or were there shadowy hills bordering the plains, peaking beneath the thunderheads where perfect perspectives met in absolute collusion? If there were, they were being treated to a pyrotechnic display of lightening unlike anything I’d ever witnessed above ground. The constant clap of thunder buffeted the very air in visible shock waves, but the sound petered out before it reached this safe haven, kissed by light not afforded to those far reaches of this underground land.
A gentle reminder, a hand at each elbow this time, worked to break my own slippage into the will of the hypnotist and we continued our descent. There had been a path of black rose petals laid out, covering the last few steps of the ivory staircase, a stunning contrast, which continued on the York-stone flagstones of the courtyard. A gnashing of teeth and cursing escaped the countenances of those carefully placing the last few delicate petals as one of the thunderclaps from the distant storm actually reached us, displacing the trail of homage and roaring discontent as it exploded about us.
To a vampire, they descended to one knee, initially I assumed to deflect any effect of the thunderclap. But at the other end of the row of petals across the yard, ascending a much smaller flight of stairs, the type you would expect to see leading from the patio of some great country house somewhere in rural England onto its well-manicured gardens, stood Perveen, my queen. Beside me, the henchmen dropped like stones to their knees also, burying their already covered faces into the crux of the elbow propped upon the upright genuflected knee.
Uncertain of my role in all of this, I went to do the same, but the henchmen’s powerful grips on my elbows, even from their respectful kneeling, prevented me from doing so. They ushered me on, to complete the descent without them, as my queen began her descent into the petals and down her lesser staircase. Again, as if some rift in time bent to her will, I was, of a sudden, stood upon the last step as she, dressed in finery no earthly hand could have neither conceived nor created, stood on hers.
The black petals sprung to live, becoming molten, dancing like a turgid stream. Without effecting a move of my own, the black ‘waters’ took my feet, as they did those of my queen-to-be. We met in the centre of the courtyard stream of black, fluid rose petals. Its entirety swirled up in a whoosh around us, configured like a whirlpool and, without warning, we were dragged beneath the very surface of this new world I had hardly had time to appraise.
Unseen, above us, the petals settled to become simply rose petals once more. Thunder roared its disapproval from afar at the passing of events, breaching the yard vehemently, casting the dead, still stream hither and thither.
But too late, the river of roses had served its purpose, whatever that was. I would find out soon enough.