Loud, panicked cries intertwined with the sound of the fountain's rushing water. Daniel bolted upright to nothingness. Whimpering in terror, he rushed to find the tinderbox. Fumbling around in the dark, Daniel managed to grab the flint and steel. His childlike fear of the dark a remnant from long nights locked in the closet. The room was suddenly lit by a small, loan candle, revealing that there weren't any horrid monsters waiting by his bedside, or so he thought. Daniel let out a sigh of relief, only to scream once more when he saw the old baron. Alexander sat nonchalantly in a plush chair, eyeing him like a cat would a mouse.
"Sorry to disturb you, my friend. I heard your screams and came to check in on you."
Daniel stared at him in confusion. Alexander looked as if he had been sitting there for quite some time. How was it that he had just arrived? As if reading his thoughts, Alexander chuckled.
"I am far quieter than you think Daniel. I didn’t wish to awaken you prematurely. Now, it is still an hour away from sunrise, you should get back to sleep." He purred
"I don't feel well Alexander. These nightmares have been plaguing me since I picked up that damn orb! Sleep has been a fleeting thing for me." The young man tossed himself dramatically into the pillows, his chestnut hair framing his chiselled face. Alexander thought for a moment before answering. He could give the boy something to take his mind off things. Those prisoners weren’t going to torture themselves after all...
Daniel gazed down sullenly at his plate of spiced mutton and buttered potatoes. A fresh bowl of red grapes and sugared strawberries tempted his weak appetite. He delicately ran a slim finger along the elegantly gilded golden rim, lazily tracing out the flowers and vines. The baron was as wealthy as any nobleman could be. Such resplendent flatware and utensils were something Daniel had only encountered in museums. The impressive dining display did little to assuage his anxiety. His imposing host took notice of the untouched plate.
“Come now Daniel, those cardinal grapes will spoil in only two days. I didn’t have these fine delicacies created simply for spectacle.”
“I understand sir it’s just that-” He stammered out.
“Just what my boy? Oh, and refer to me as Alexander from now on. I am your protector as much as I am your host. As your generous host, I insist you try your food before it turns cold.” Daniel sighed in resignation and picked up his cutlery. The mutton was as divine as it looked, its tender flesh warming his insides. The potatoes were wonderfully creamy and soft. Alexander must have hired the finest cooks in east Prussia to have created this meal. The baron silently pushed the china bowl of grapes and strawberries to him, a stern look in his amber eyes.
Daniel dainty plucked a single grape from the porcelain bowl and placed it to his plump lips. Alexander twitched in anticipation, both because he wanted his guest to enjoy the fruits of his labour, and to see the Englishman’s mouth in action. Such a handsome visage enticed the baron’s imagination to less than seemly realms.
“Forgive my peckishness Alexander for I have been quite distressed. The Shadow haunts my dreams as does the screams of the tormented. Those that lie below the castle, do they stay there and rot?” Alexander eyed him for a moment, his wrinkled brow furrowed in contemplation.
“You must understand that those locked away are criminals under my watch. As you know, it is one of my less ceremonious duties in service to king and country. The bone-chilling screams that trouble you are the sounds of cruel and fowl men meeting their end.” He explained as he poured himself a glass of white wine.
“You also torture people? With what instruments?”
“Instruments that are best discussed away from the dinner table, my friend. I shall show you tonight perhaps.” The thought of seeing such morbid objects of suffering caused Daniel to cease his consumption of sweet strawberries.
“I’d rather not see such savage tools, Alexander.”
“Well, those tools of savagery are your key to salvation my friend. I shall explain more once we descend down into the dungeons.” He would have to provide the young man with a suitable reason to aid in the vitae extractions.
“You did say they were foul men… If you want me to aid in such acts, then I would like to know how that will save me from the Guardian.”
“All in due time Daniel, such secrets will be divulged tonight. First, let us drink. The sweet Moselle wine will most certainly assuage your concerns.” Daniel nodded as he took a tentative sip, the cool nectar leaving a tingle in his dry mouth. If the baron was so confident in his actions, then who was he to question him. Perhaps Alexander was mad, being secluded in a remote castle could do that to someone. And yet, those burning amber eyes, those sweet delicacies, and that soothing voice. Was this what it was to be a snake charmed by a flute?