The Fool followed the glow for several hours. The terrors of the Tower were still with him, but fading in intensity. He passed through woods and over fields, across streams, up and down hills. He emerged eventually, exhausted, from a beech wood to behold a lake, and at its centre a castle, raised upon an island and reflected many times over. The castle shimmered and shone between the trees. The building was spotlit by a thousand white torches, so radiant and numerous as to make it visible for miles.
The lake and the castle environs were surrounded by a wall reaching far above the Fool's head. At the end of the path he now travelled were wooden gates, the entrance to the castle estate. He walked up, pulled on the adjacent rope, and almost immediately the gates swung open to reveal a magnificently arrayed guard who greeted him with some reverence and much to the Fool's amazement ushered him into a waiting seat suspended on rails which lifted into the air and sped across the lake to deposit the astounded Fool at the front door of the castle.
The door was promptly opened by a figure dressed in a fine uniform of red and silver. As if the Fool were more an honoured and invited guest than a weary traveller, he was ushered by the gentleman into a small chamber in which hung many suits of clothes. A bath was already filled, and every sweet smelling spice and oil imaginable filled the air.
"Pray wash and dress speedily, my good Sir. For many are assembled and await your entrance. When you are ready to meet the company, this bell will summons me. I shall then announce you. Make haste however, for the people are impatient."
The Fool was so excited his wash could best be described as cursory and it was not long before the doorman was called back. The Fool followed him some fifty metres to the banqueting hall, where an extraordinary feast was in progress.
A fire roared in an open grate, while chandeliers hanging from the wooden beams cast magical glints across the faces of the guests. There was wine and food in abundance, and musicians played to the centre table. Some fifty people sat at two tables set along the walls. The Fool was taken to neither of these. Surveying the scene from a table, set upon a dais and apparently constructed of solid glass, sat the presiding couple, a Lord and his Lady. Between the pair was a third place set with gleaming silver and sparkling glass, but vacant. To this third seat the Fool was led.
It was the Lady who first held out her hand, her eyes shining like diamonds.
"Welcome to our home, boldest of knights, and to this feast held in your honour. We are all most pleased to see you and though you may be last to arrive the sweetest of the food and the best of the wine to still come."
She had the palest complexion and was splendidly arrayed in crimson silk trimmed in black, her golden hair piled high. Around her throat sparkled a black and silver band studded with diamonds, while fastened upon her breast was an exquisite broach of pearls and rubies. Her firm breasts rose proud from the slimmest waist. Perfume filled his nostrils, and all his senses were assailed by her.
She poured red wine from a black vessel, first into an empty glass and then into her own. She handed a glass to the Fool with such a warm smile that it seemed to him as if he had known her forever.
The Lord, despite being dressed in splendid clothes and partaking vigorously of both food and wine, had about him the air of a creature not comfortably placed. It was as if he would sooner leave the festivities for an alternative pastime and his mind dwelt elsewhere. Yet he too smiled upon the Fool and bid him welcome.
The Fool ate a little, but found his attention kept wandering to the Lady. Her ruby lips made flattering remarks. Curving eyelashes framed large eyes that looked upon him longingly. He laughed and talked with the others present, all of whom appeared particularly well-disposed toward him, yet his efforts were for one person alone.
Encouraged by the wine and by the respect shown to him, he related, with some embellishment, his story. Yet as he spoke, his senses intoxicated by the company, he became aware of an inner tension that he had not known before. Finally, when telling of the crumbling tower and the death of his horses, he found, to his surprise, that he was telling the truth.
"You see," he concluded, "I am no hero, simply a Fool."
All went silent.
"You have the courage of honesty," finally said the Lady, and the Lord agreed, standing to firmly embrace the Fool. "You did the best you could, and none here could or would speak ill of you for being less than perfect. Please, rest here with us a while. There is a room already prepared for your use and it will give us all a great deal of pleasure if you can remain in our company for some days more." The Lady placed her hand on his shoulder and smiled at him in such a way as to banish any thought of refusal from his mind.
The company retired for the night and the Fool was duly led to his chamber, fully equipped with bathing facilities and garments for both night and day wear. The room was on the outer edge of the castle, with a wide casement window covered by heavy blue drapes. When left to himself, he bathed again, tended his wounds and selected from the night attire arrayed before him a silken night suit of deepest purple trimmed in crimson. "You did the best you could." The thought seemed to soothe his aching mind more readily than the hot bath did his body.
He moved to the window, and drew the curtains open wide. Bright starlight flooded the room. Standing by the window, gazing down upon the castle grounds he wondered at the enormity of the heavens and the good fortune which had befallen him. He recalled the fair lady who had sat beside him that evening. In his mind's eye he imagined her beside the lake, far in the distance, yet clearly visible, naked, with her golden hair hanging long below her waist. In his vision, She held two vessels and appeared oblivious to the world around her.
He was excited in a way he had never been before. He had been treated as a hero, and now he felt like one. Bathed in starlight he looked out at the bleak wintry landscape. Somewhere on the horizon lay the ruined Tower, and the Fool knew that whatever spirit animated it, and whatever purpose it served, was still unknown to him. Suddenly it became essential to him to discover the secret of the tower. He promised himself that, whatever the consequences, he would return tomorrow to complete his mission at that dark place.