You arrive at the door to Casandra's room to find that there is no door. The room itself is down at the end of a long corridor and none of the adjourning rooms are in use. The stone walls of the corridor are broken by a low doorway framed with heavy wood timbers. You are unsure if you should knock or just enter when you hear. . . .
"Please, leave your shoes on the mat by the door." says a soft voice from inside and to the right.
Entering, you see the mat and proceed to do as requested by Casandra. As you remove your shoes and place them next to a pair of sandals and a pair of black boots you notice the sound of water running over rocks, as if there were a forest stream nearby. You think to yourself that it is a strange sound to hear in the middle of Castle Amber. Turning around you take in the room. The walls are made of rice paper between floor-to-ceiling timbers of some sweet smelling wood you can't immediately place. There is another scent in the room . . . could it be cherry blossoms? You can see shadows moving back and forth on the walls as if the sun is peeking through a small grove of trees whose branches are blowing gently in the afternoon breeze. The left-hand wall appears to be more in the shade, as if the sun were coming from the back-right corner of the room. And yet the sun should really be behind you. At least it was coming through the window on the other side of the hall when you came in. . . .
You stand on a hardwood floor that shines from a new coat of wax, and yet your socked feet don't slide when you walk. As you look for the source of the aquatic sounds you notice the sparse and simple furnishings. No chairs, a few low tables with mats next to them, a couple of bookcases and some of the most beautiful paintings you have ever seen. You walk over to a large painting of a majestic stallion atop a small crag of rock. He looks out over a long, lush valley. The valley is split by a wide stretch of water. This stream is fed from a brook high up in the mountains in the background, which cascades down a waterfall before heading across the plain. The stallion keeps a careful eye out for any threats to the herd of horses behind him. They are all black with a gold star on their left flank. You realize this must be a picture of Casandra's horse, Hoshi. The painting seems so real that you feel you could reach out and touch it.
As you reach your fingers out toward the canvas you can feel the cold radiating from the picture. Just before you make contact you feel a small hand on your shoulder. The trance broken you turn to find a small woman with a Japanese cast to her features standing behind you. You must have been totally engrossed in the painting, because you never heard her come up behind you.
"Would you care for a cup of tea before you leave?" she enquires politely. Motioning you to a small table set with a traditional Japanese Tea service and a tray of your favorite pastries, she sits you on a mat and pours you some green tea. You are sure that the table was empty when you came in, and the sun seems to have moved to the middle of the back wall. You wonder how long you have been here. And also how she knew that these were your favorite pastries. You don't recall ever mentioning them. Nor have you ever had decent ones here at the castle. These, on the other hand, are delicious.
Once you are served Casandra moves around to the other side of the table and sits cross-legged on a mat. She is wearing a short, black, silk robe that ties in the front. It has a dragon stitched into the back with gold thread. She wears an armlet in the shape of a dragon around her right forearm. It wraps three times around her arm before ending with a head festooned with diamond eyes near her wrist. There is a third dragon, in the form of a tattoo, on her left ankle. You guess that she is about 5'2" in height, and she has a slim, athletic form and walks with a fluid grace. You notice, not for the first time, that she has green eyes that seem out of place on her. She is also missing the end of her left pinky.
While you eat she sings softly in a high, clear voice. Neither the song, nor the language, is familiar but the song is beautiful. As she sings she firmly massages your feet, which take up much of the space under the table. The song ends just as you are finishing the last of the pastries. Casandra hands you a warm, moist towel with a faint scent of orange. You clean your hands as she removes the dishes. You realize that you are feeling much better than when you arrived. Your problems, which seemed so important when you came in, somehow seem less urgent now. And that ache in your side seems to be gone too.
"Take a look around if you like. I am just finishing up a painting. I tend to get pretty engrossed when I paint, so don't worry about disturbing me." she says with a bow. She returns to the corner where she is putting the finishing touches on another painting. This one is a playing card sized portrait of a what appears to be a Navy SEAL. It is fascinating to watch her put minute details onto the card.
Please report any problems to me.