Healing a Princess. . . 25 (On the Lake)

 Healing a Princess


(On the Lake)


By Tim Knight

            Cavalryman Symon clasped hands with Cavalryman Edwyn. “So it is to be the two of us who are to miss the fun, huh?”
            “I just follow the Captain’s orders.” Edwyn sighed. The two looked over to see Sergeant Takoda boosting the blonde half-elf up into her saddle. “- will take good care of you. I promise.” They over heard him say. “I’ll meet you in just a few days up in Narva.”
            The half-elf forced a smile. “Thank you, Takoda.”
            Takoda returned her smile then joined the two Cavalrymen. “She is a guest of her Highness, Tonya. Don’t let anything happen to her, or I’ll personally see you flogged.”
            Symon blanched at the threat. He didn’t doubt that this old Sergeant could do that or worse. Stories about the Sergeant at Arms were still told amongst the new cavalry recruits. Symon followed Edwyn’s lead and mounted up.
            “We’ll take good care of her, Sergeant.” Edwyn assured. He turned to the half-elf “Shall we head out, M’Lady?”
            Taelah nodded, and pulled the cowl of her cloak over her head, further hiding her Elven features.
                                                *            *            *
            Monyka thanked the Dwarf and his wife for the ride through the maze like corridors to the market place. The road that they took continually wound its way up around the deep crater. Every once in a while, Monyka was able to peek through an open door that showed the massive hole that they were traversing.
            From the last few glimpses of the crater that they were circumventing, she guessed that they were nearing the top of the wondrous city. The noise grew louder the closer she neared the market place. 
            Dwarves of various sizes, shapes as well as from different classes of society milled around. 
            The market place was several interlocking corridors. Almost as big as the highway that they had been travelling on. Both sides of the open area was lined with shops carved out of the stone. A few of the storefronts were even fitted with glass windows, keeping sticky fingers from snagging jewellery woven from precious metal, some were even inlaid with gems. Other stores were hocking ribbons, or vegetables. There were stores full of fabrics, rugs, or nicely crafted wood furniture.   It wasn’t the quality of craftsmanship she had seen come out of Morpeth, but the maker of this stuff, seemed to be making quality furniture. Every so often a blanket or rug was laid down in the middle of the corridor, causing shoppers to step around them. Knife sharpeners, or used goods sales people displayed the little of what they had, calling out to the passers by to buy their things. 
One shop dealt with exotic herbs and spices. Monyka decided to check out what they had. She might be able to find some things to take back to her mother.
“May I help you?” a well dressed Dwarf asked as she entered.
“I’m just looking to see what you have in stock.” Monyka smiled. The dwarf seemed tall and lean. At least that was how she thought of him. His beard, the color of mahogany, was brushed smooth and fluffed for fullness. He wore a clean tunic that was tucked into a russet heavy wool kilt, above his worked leather boots.
“New to Hobro?” he inquired. “I have some fresh cumin it was shipped in just two days ago.”
“It wouldn’t be any good by the time I returned.” Monyka muttered with a smile.
“Where are you from, Lass? We don’t get many Humans through here.”
“I’m from Riponia, we’re just passing through.” Monyka fingered some fresh rosemary and sniffed her fingers. “Get the Rosemary in the same shipment as the Cumin?”
“Very good. You a cook?”
“My mother is the pastry chef for the King of Riponia.” Monyka boasted.
“Oh, then I have something that she will surely wish to use.” The Dwarf ushered her back towards the back of the shop. “Something that she could only get in the Under-kingdom.”
“Oh?” Monyka  wasn’t so sure.
The Storekeeper brought out a small wood box and opened it revealing blue-ish green crystals. The shop keeper looked up from the box held out for Monyka’s inspection. “Narva glow-salt.”
“What is so special about Navra salt?” Monyka put her fingers towards the box, and looked askance from the storekeeper.
He nodded with a smile. Monyka picked up a few of the course grains and inspected it in the lamp light.
“Navra glow-salt contains traces of the algae that glows in the caverns.” The dwarf beamed. “Activated by the heat of the oven, the salt will glow as the caverns do.”
Monyka frowned disbelief at him. 
“My word is my honour, Lady.” The dwarf made a warding sign. 
“I suppose it tastes nasty.” Monyka dismissed.
“Nay, my Lady. It is a fine tasting salt indeed, go ahead, be my guest.”
Monyka tasted the few grains from her fingers. It was salt. It wasn’t mined, salt, instead it tasted and had the texture of sea salt.  For Dwarves who rarely saw the sky, processing sea salt would be quite a process.
“How much?”
“A silver per ounce.”
“Sorry, I wouldn’t be able to transport it safely.” Monyka shook her head and turned towards the door.”
            “Since you are a long way from home and your mother is the Rionian King’s chef, how about two ounces for a silver?”
            “Four Ounces for a silver and a moisture proof container for it.” Monyka turned her head and raised an eyebrow.
            “Oh, my Lady, I don’t know.” The dwarf shook his head. “This salt is so hard to process, and its effects are spectacular.”
            “I have many more things to look at, maybe I’ll be back to pick some up.” Monyka started for the entrance again.
            “Oh, very well, but I’m only allowing this because I want you to speak generously of Hobro and the Under-Kingdom of Thame.” The Dwarf sighed heavily.
            Monyka smiled and looked around the shop some more as the dwarf rummaged through some stuff and carefully measured out the salt. Monyka kept an eye on the scale from where she was, to make sure that the fellow was as honest as he pretended to be.
            Monyka felt like skipping down the market place after the purchase of the glow-salt. It indeed was a unique find, one she hoped her mother would enjoy.
            She came upon a very unique shop. Different kinds of instruments hung from various hooks or were laying upright in stands. Lutes, flutes, drums and many other strange and unusual instruments. Monyka stopped just outside of it’s door and looked in wonder at a few of the drums on display. They seemed to be carved from solid stone. She ran her fingers over the side surface. It was cool and smooth to the touch. A stretched skin was anchored by leather throngs that entered through holes carved in the sides.
            “You play the drums?” a melodic voice inquired.
            “No, I don’t, I, ah… is this made of stone?” Monyka regained her train of thought. She looked up into large luminous eyes that sparkled from above a sheer veil.
            “Aye, M’Lady, my mate carves them.” The woman dwarf smiled. 
            “That is incredible. It must take a very patient and skilled hand.” Monyka wondered aloud.
            “Aye it does.” The woman dwarf walked around her and approached the drum. “Would you like to hear it, M’Lady?”
            “Oh, could I?”
            The dwarf smiled and gave a little nod, causing the gems and charms to jingle in her ebony braided hair. She scooted the drum away from the wall a few hand spans and then rapped out a quick rhythm on the drum head, sounding the deep, unique sound of a stone drum.
            Monyka looked from the drum to the dwarf with a big smile on her face. “That is wonderful. What other instruments does your mate carve?”
            “Please, M’Lady, come in and take a look around.” The beaming Dwarf invited.
            Monyka followed her into the delightful shop. More drums stood on the floor, or sat upon shelves. Only a few of the drums were made of stone. Some drums were made of wood, obviously imported from Morpeth, by the looks of them. Others seemed to be made of clay, while others looked to have been pounded and shaped out of metal. 
            Marimbas and xylophones of various sizes, made from various materials also took up space on the shelves and floor. Wooden lutes, and harps sat in open cases, begging to be strummed or plucked. 
            A table on the back wall, held long boxes some were open, others closed tight. Monyka stepped towards the table and felt a chill of glee. The table was covered with flutes. Flutes, like the other instruments of various materials. Bone, Metal, wood, and. . . could it be? A flute made of stone?
            Monyka’s hands reflexively twitched to the flute, but they hovered over it, not knowing if she should touch.
            “Aye, you’re a flute player.” The mistress walked up beside Monyka.
            “Actually, my friend plays.” Monyka dropped her hands back to her sides. “Can I hold it?”
            “Aye, go ahead.”
            Monyka gently picked up the stone flute and cradled it in her hands. It looked to have been carved from a piece of cream colored marble. Light gray veins ran down the instrument, adding to it’s beauty.
            “Pretty. isn’t she.” The mistress stated.”
            “Beautiful, I don’t suppose it would hold up to the roughness and abuse of a soldier, would it?”
            The Dwarf’s face fell, “Nay, M’ Lady. The stone is too soft, and will chip or shatter too easily.”
            Monyka carefully replaced the flute a bit crestfallen.
            “I do have another that is even more exquisite and much tougher.” The Dwarf’s eyes twinkled. “One moment.” She walked over to the shelves on a wall and began opening and closing boxes. “Aha!” she picked up a wooden box and brought it over to the table where Monyka was admiring the other flutes. She set the box down and opened the lid, revealing a crystal flute. She handed it to the human woman with a smile. Monyka’s fingers tingled as she held the precious flute.
            “Its. . . Its. . . Is it crystal?”
            “Aye, M’Lady, it is a special crystal that was mined many, many years ago. My mate’s Great, Granddad made this one. My mate is unsure how he did so, he’s been trying for years to make another, but the crystal keeps shattering.”
            “Won’t this one break too, then?”
            The Dwarf’s eyes sparkled and Monyka saw a smile spread across her face beneath her veil. “Nay, this one has been magicked. She took the flute back and held it by one end and struck it against the table.
            Monyka cried out and stared at the crystal flute in wonder. She had expected the flute to shatter to a million pieces, instead, it looked to be unmarred, in the dwarf’s hand. “How?”
            “Magic.” The storekeeper smiled.
            “How does it sound?”
            The dwarf put the flute to her lips and proceeded to produce one of the purest, sweetest notes, that Monyka had ever heard.
            “Kadyr would love that.” Monyka breathed a moment after the dwarf took the instrument from her lips. “I’m afraid to ask how much.”
            “It’s been sitting here gathering dust for quite a number of years.” The dwarf sighed. “I’ll let it go for seventy-five gold.”
            Monyka grimaced. “Oh, I can’t afford that. I’d have to beg her Highness if I could get an advance on my next year’s wages.” Monyka’s face fell.
            “You are with the crippled Princess?” The dwarf inquired.
            “Yes, I’m her assistant.” Monyka gave her a weak smile.
            “I’ll tell you what.” The store mistress offered. “This flute has been here for so many years collecting dust. Dwarves don’t care too much for magical stuff, so I’ve been unable to sell this piece. I can let you have it for fifty gold.”
            “Really?” Monyka’s face lit up a bit. “I’d still have to ask her Highness, but I might be able to persuade her.”
            “This isn’t going anywhere, so I’ll have it waiting for you when you return.” The Dwarf followed Monyka to the door of her shop.
            “I’ll ask her as soon as she returns from her tour.” Monyka promised.
            Monyka was so deep in thought of what she could say to Tonya to get that kind of money, that she didn’t pay attention to where she was going. She turned down an intersecting corridor and found shops more attuned for women Dwarves.
The sound of many voices chattering and talking over one another caught her attention. She followed the sound past some dress shops, a veil shop, and a cosmetic shop to arrive at a shop that was well lit with glowing fish bowls, and gas torches. Several dwarven ladies sat in chairs while another dwarven woman stood behind her combing, braiding and doing other strange things to their hair. A second glance caught Monyka up short. None of these dwarven ladies were wearing their veils. Monyka quickly looked around and discovered that there weren’t any male dwarves in site. This corridor, these shops all contained women.
“Look a human.” A woman Dwarf exclaimed from inside the shop. “I told you there were humans traveling through Hobro.”
“Don’t be rude, you’ll just embarrass her and frighten her away another scolded the first.
“Come on inside.” A voice sounded from next to Monyka’s elbow. The brunette looked down at a Dwarven woman who was removing her veil. “Please, come on in.” She urged with a welcoming smile.
“I don’t want to intrude.” Monyka blushed.
“Non-sense child.” The blonde dwarf took her hand. “You’re one of the Princess’s helpers aren’t you?”
“Yes, How did you know?” Monyka looked stunned.
“Its my business to know those details, I’m the mate of Battleaxe Tallak.”
“Oh, it’s a pleasure to meet you.” Monyka dipped a small curtsy.
“I’m a Battleaxes wife, not Royalty. Save that stuff for the Emperor.” The woman pulled Monyka aside. “I’m Kamara.”
“I’m Monyka.” Monyka smiled.
“Good, now we’re not strangers, Come on in and join the rest of the cackling hens, Monyka.
“Kamara.” A woman doing the hair of another greeted. “It’d figure you would befriend a human and bring her here to show off.”
“If I wanted to show her off, this would be the last place I’d bring her.” Kamara joked.
“I’m just about done here.” The first dwarf explained. She turned gaze to Monyka. “Welcome M’Lady. Don’t let this gaggle frighten you off.”
“Do you have anyone that can do Lady Monyka’s hair?” Kamara asked.
“Oh, no.” Monyka blushed. “I just came up to do some shopping, and wasn’t watching where I was going.”
“Then it was fate.” Kamara grinned. She leaned close to Monyka. “This is the Battleaxe’s treat. If the men can go and play war all morning, the least we can do is come here and pamper ourselves. Besides, it’s not everyday we get a Royal visit from the over world. Come, you are my guest.” She insisted.
*            *            *
            Tonya held her fingers over the wax in her ears as they neared a machine. The forge was quite hot. It seemed like there were about twenty forges in one in this cavern. She looked around and could see at least four glowing furnaces. Each had bellows that were being worked by a machine that was powered by an unseen water wheel. 
            The particular machine that Kalgar was eager to show her looked to be a giant anvil that had what looked to be a giant hammer that slid up and down in a groove. The hammer was being lifted and dropped at a rapid rate as a dwarf fed and constantly moved a piece of glowing steel beneath it’s blows. The dwarf pulled the glowing steel piece out of the hammering machine and placed it back into a forge fire next to him and picked out a white piece with the pinchers and began shaping that one in the machine.
            Another dwarf picked the first piece out of the fire and carried it over to his work area and began hammering it with a smaller hammer, turning the piece and striking it in a certain rhythm.
            Tonya smiled at Ambassador Kalgar as he led them away from the heat and towards the cooler cavern.
            Once in the outer chamber, She and Annyka followed his example, pulling the soft wax from their ears. Tonya opened her jaw a few times to equalize the pressure in her ears. The hammering was still quite loud. They still had to raise their voices to hear one another.
            “That whole forge, all of those machines are run off from one water wheel?” Tonya was still having a hard time believing it.
            “Aye it is.” Kalgar beamed. “It takes a lot of gears and levers to get it just right, but just one wheel does all of that.”
            “How many wheels does Hobro have?” Annyka asked.
            “Three. One for the forge, one for the saw mill and one for the flour mill.”
            “I only saw one water wheel when I saw the waterfall this morning.” Annyka frowned.
            “The wheel for the flour mill and the forge are underground.” Kalgar explained. “We have diverted some of the water from the falls through little tunnels. They then fall over the wheels, turning them, the water then flows through some more little tunnels back to the waterfall.”
            One of the guards closed the large heavy doors to the forge, muffling the loud noise and throwing them into relative silence.
            “Shall we get some lunch, Highness?” Kalgar and Annyka helped Tonya up into the small carriage. 
            “Certainly, Ambassador, but first could you show me the trash dump?” Tonya asked.
            Kalgar physically jerked, stunned by the request. “You want to see the trash dump? What ever for?”
            “Well, I’ve never seen a carrion crawler, I hear that they are ferocious and hideous creatures. And I want to see how a city the size of Hobro disposes of all of it’s trash. Obviously you don’t dump It into the lake.”
            “I would hope not.” Kalgar looked repulsed by the idea. “Are you sure you want to see that?” Kalgar still looked confused.
            “Yes, please.” Tonya smiled. She was just short of batting her eyes at him.
            “Very well.”
Tonya clamped a hand over her mouth and plugged her nose. The stench wafting down the tunnel was horrible, retched. She was glad that she decided to come here before she ate. If she had waited until after, she’d have been leaving a trail of her lunch as they neared the cess pit. The Ambassador and Annyka weren’t doing much better, they looked as green as she felt.
            A cart drawn by two horses that looked to have seen better days passed them, the driver, in grubby clothes, wore a bandana over his nose and mouth. Tonya didn’t think that even that small barrier could keep out the stench. The driver’s eyes widened as he passed the Royal carriage, taking a double look as he saw that its occupants were humans heading to garbage dump. The reek of rotten produce and fermented waste floated into their faces after it has passed.
            “Gods, that is disgusting.” Annyka muttered just loud enough for Tonya to catch it.  Her eyes grew wide, stunned that she had said it aloud. “I’m sorry, Highness.”
            “Don’t be, I agree with you.” Tonya waved it off. She looked to Kalgar. “With all of the wonders that you’ve created under here, couldn’t you at least develop a garbage dump that had adequate ventilation?”
            The Ambassador shrugged his shoulders. “It shouldn’t be smelling this horrible. The cavern it is in is quite large and it has several airshafts leading out of the cavern.” The dwarf stroked his beard with his free hand. It could be that there is a shortage of crawlers.” He pondered.
            “What would that mean?” Tonya inquired.
            “Too many crawlers and they don’t have enough food and begin killing one another off. To few and the garbage begins to pile up faster than they can break it down.”
            The carriage rolled to a stop. “We’re here, your Highness.” One of her body guards coughed.
            With the assistance of her walking stick and Annyka, Tonya followed Kalgar into a vast cavern. ‘It must be half as big as the hole in Hobro.’  Tonya thought.
            The roof of the cavern held thousands of glowing larva, casting the cavern in an eerie glow. It was too dark still to make out details, but Tonya could see the massive centipede like creatures shifting, moving, and burrowing, fifty feet below. Feeling dizzy from the height, Tonya took two steps back from the edge of their promontory. 
            “Gross.” Annyka turned her head away from the view.
            A large undulating creature lifted half of its body up into the air and turned a little towards the small party. 
            “It must be ten feet long.” Tonya wondered aloud.
            “Some of those get up to twenty feet.”
            “How do they get so big?”
            “They have plenty of food, and they don’t have to hunt for it.”
             Wagons loaded with refuge backed up to the edge of the pit while dwarves with pitch forks unloaded the sticky, stinking loads into heaps stacking up below. A couple of wagons were a little more ingenious. A dwarf pulled a large pin out of the front and pulled with a bit of effort on a rope. The wagon bed, tilted upward. Once it reached about forty-five degrees, the load of nastiness slid out of the back and landed in the pit below with a loud slapping sound.
            “Okay, Ambassador, I’ve seen enough.” Tonya turned away from the pit. “I feel like I need to take a bath now.”
            “Me too.” Annyka grimaced.
            The carriage slowly made its way up the long spiral up around the crater city of Hobro. The cess pit long left behind, Tonya could still smell the stench, like a residue that coated the inside of her nose.
            A Riponian guard stood outside of her suite of rooms. “Your Highness,” The guard greeted with a salute. “The mate of the Battleaxe is expecting you for lunch.”
            “She is?” Tonya frowned. “Where is she?”
            “She and Lady Monyka are waiting for you in the Battleaxe’s home.”
            Tonya looked to Kalgar who just raised an eyebrow.
            “I need to wash my face and change my clothes first. Ambassador could you please let the Battleaxe’s mate know that I’ll be along shortly?”
            “Yes, Princess.” Kalgar bowed and walked quickly down the hall, sniffing at the sleeves of his coat.
            Tonya and Annyka entered their suite. Sun light poured in through the windows that led out to the verandas. Tonya sat on a stool in the bed chamber while Annyka worked as fast as she could to unlace Tonya’s bodice and help her out of her gown.
            “Put it out on the veranda to air out.” Tonya instructed. “I might just have to burn it.”
            In her underclothes, Tonya went into the bathing room and began scrubbing a wet cloth over her face and hands, while Annyka changed out of her dress and lay it next to the Princess’s. Annyka quickly changed into another dress, the last of the nice dresses that she had and went to the wardrobe. “What do you wish to wear for the afternoon?” Annyka called.
            “The light blue one.” Tonya called back.
            “The one with the under dress? Or the one with the chemise?”
            “The chemise. The light blue that goes with the under dress is a bit formal for lunch and an afternoon on the lake.” Tonya explained joining her new assistant in the bed chamber.
            Annyka pulled it from the wardrobe and helped Tonya first into the chemise then into the dress.
            “Ready?” Tonya inquired.
            “I would like to scrub my face and hands too. I feel like that smell is still with me.” Annyka stood before her Princess in askance.
            “Of course, but do so quickly, we don’t want Monyka or the Battleaxe’s mate to starve while we change clothes.
            Tonya and Annyka exited the suite to find the small carriage had been turned around and waiting for them to board.
            The ride to the luncheon was only up one level of the city and half way around the crater from Tonya’s suites.
            Annyka helped the Princess out of the carriage and stood next to her. She was about to knock on the door of the home when the door swung open. “Come on in, your Highness.” A blonde dwarf with wide hips and lovely brown eyes greeted. “I’m Kamara, the Battleaxe’s mate.”
            “Thank you for inviting me.” Tonya greeted the Dwarf with a curious smile.
            “Please come on in.” She stepped back into the living quarters. 
            Sunlight from the opened windows warmed the stone floor near the veranda doors. The heat, radiated out warming the room with comfort. Tonya was surprised to see that a lot of the stone floor was covered with rich, thick rugs from Ladamore. The furniture was nice, but well used and looked to be very comfortable. A human-sized table was set up near the open doors of the veranda, along with four human sized chairs. Small sandwiches, slices of cheese, fruit and sweets were waiting for them.
            “Please make yourself comfortable.” Kamara gestured to the set table. 
            “Where is Monyka?” Tonya inquired curious, not seeing her present.
            “I’m getting the tea.” Monyka called from an adjacent room.
Annyka pulled out a chair for Tonya, facing away from the view from the veranda so that she wouldn’t feel uncomfortable with the height.
            Monyka entered the room carrying a tray of tea cups and pot. Tonya had to look twice and then stared at her assistant. Monyka had a shear green veil covering her nose and mouth. Her eyes had been made up with makeup making them a focus of her face. Her hair had been pulled up into a topknot of braids just like the dwarven women. Beads, charms and chains of gold dangled and tinkled as she moved in to the room.
            “Oh, my.” Tonya suppressed a smile. 
            “Do you like it?” Monyka smiled. “it was Kamara’s idea.”
            Annyka just stared. It was so alien seeing the older assistant with her hair arranged thus, but the tresses pulled away from her face, accentuated her facial features.
            “It’s very different“ Annyka began.
            “It’s so. . . Dwarven.” Tonya smiled. “Wait until your Lieutenant sees you.”
            “I hope he likes it.” Monyka set the tea service down with a nervous smile.
            “I’m sure he will.” Tonya stated.
            “Please help your selves.” Kamara climbed up into the seat opposite of the Princess.
            “Wow, this is quite a spread, Kamara.” Tonya took a few items. “I’m absolutely famished.” She took a few bites and closed her eyes savoring the feeling of food hitting her empty stomach.
            “The Battleaxe said that you were going to take a tour of Hobro. How did it go? What did you see?” Kamara took some food herself.
            Tonya described their tour of the city, the saw mill, forge, and the disgusting cess pit.
            “Why would you ever want to see such a foul place?” Kamara screwed up her face.
            “To learn different ways of doing things. In Ripon, most of the garbage is either dumped into the river bay, or carted off to feed the hogs and chickens.” Tonya explained. “I was hoping to discover a better means of getting rid of it.”
            A knock came at the door, before it was thrust open and in walked BattleaxeTallak. “Hello, Princess.” He greeted. “That Captain of yours is one devilish fiend to fight. I’m just glad that he is on my side.”
            “Good day of fighting, dear.” Kamara inquired.
            “Great day of it.” the Battleaxe grinned. “If you ladies will excuse me, I am in need of a bath.” He paused in his march and turned back to the women. “Princess, your Captain said that he will be waiting for you in his quarters. It’s across the hall from your suite.” The Battleaxe then spun and marched into the bathing room.
            “Are human men as stubborn and single minded as Dwarven men?” Kamara rolled her eyes.
            “I think that they are even more so.” Tonya grinned. “After all they have more mass to fill with stupidity.”
            The Battleaxe’s mate cackled at that.
            “Kamara, Thank you so much for this lovely spread. It was quite delicious and refreshing.” Tonya struggled to her feet with Monyka jumping up beside to help, the trinkets in her hair jingling with the sudden movement.
            “So soon?” Kamara looked sad.
            “I have a meeting with my Captain.” Tonya smiled taking her walking stick from Annyka.
            “Well, I’ll see you at dinner then.”
            “Yes, until then, Kamara.” Tonya was assisted into the little carriage and rolled off down the spiraling corridor.
            “Your Highness?” Monyka twisted the necklace at her throat as she looked up through long eyelashes at the Princess.
            “Huh?” Tonya looked casually away from watching another transit wagon with dwarves heading out for another part of the kingdom.
            “I need to ask a really big favor.”
            “Yes, what is it?” Tonya asked.
            “I found a gift for a friend that would really, really appreciate it, but I don’t have enough funds.” Monyka bit her lip beneath the veil. “I was hoping to get a loan from you.”
            “How much?” Tonya asked interested. Monyka had never asked her for a favor, let alone money. ‘She must really be in love with this Lieutenant.’ Tonya thought.  
            “Fifty gold.” Monyka fingered her necklace.
            Fifty gold wasn’t nearly as much as Tonya was expecting her confidant to ask for. It was the cost of a few new gowns, though.
            “That shouldn’t be a problem.” Tonya sighed. “I’ll get it for you when we get back to the suite.”
            “I’ll work it off, your Highness.” Monyka smiled. “I promise. You can cut my wages in half until it is paid off if you’d like.”
            “Monyka, how long have we shared a room? How long have you emptied my piss pot? helped me to dress? Assisted me in circumnavigating my mother?”
            “Ten years.”
            “In those ten years, this is the first time you have ever asked a favor of me. Why,after ten years of your work and toil would I refuse it?”
            “Because it is a lot of gold.”
            “You’re worth every copper of it. Just make sure your Lieutenant is.”
            Monyka was thankful that the dark tunnel hid her blush. The carriage came to a stop in front of the Princess’s suite. Instead of the two guards standing watch outside her door, there were twenty. Five in chain mail and heavy plate, the others in leather and ring mail.
            “Whoah, what is going on?” Tonya asked the ranking Corporal.
            “We are part of your bodyguard this afternoon.”
            “Part? How many more are there?” Tonya inquired.
            “That is one of those need to know things.” Captain Kalhoun exited his chambers.
            “It just seems like a lot of soldiers for a little outing in a boat.” Tonya stood as straight as she could before the Captain of her body guard. Memories of this morning, him sweating in his armor and ordering men flashed through her mind. The musky scent of him as he effortlessly helped her out of a carriage tugged at her nose. “What did you do? post archers in the verandas?” she had to try and gain a foothold.
            “Possibly.” The Captain shrugged.
            Damn he looked good in Riponia blue. “I’ll be right back.” Tonya turned and followed Monyka and Annyka into their suites. Biting back the curse that followed the pain, Tonya sat heavily in a chair once the door had shut behind them.
            “You okay, Highness?” Annyka knelt beside her.
            Tonya took a deep breath and let it out slow. ‘Why was it so hot in these suites?’ she thought. “Yes, I’ll be alright in just a moment.”
            “Maybe you should postpone the boat trip until you’ve rested.” Monyka tinkled as she re-entered the main room.
            “I’ll be alright.” Tonya snapped. “Did you get my purse?”
            Monyka handed the heavy purse over to the Princess. 
Tonya dug inside to start counting out the coin, then poured it back into the bag. “Why am I doing this? I trust you, Monyka. Go ahead and pull out seventy-five gold.”
            “But all I need is fifty.”
            “You’ll need more later. Please, don’t argue, just take the seventy-five. While you’re at it give my new assistant here, ten.”
            Annyka’s eyes grew to the size of saucers. Ten gold pieces was more than she’d make in a year of washing clothes. “Why ah, thank you your Highness.”
            “Oh, don’t give me that. You’ll earn it in the next few days.” Tonya waved her off. “I need a drink of water. Cool water if you can find it.”
            “Yes, your Highness.” Annyka jumped up and almost ran to the dining area.
            Monyka stood behind Tonya and laid the back of her hand on the Princess’s  forehead.
            “What are you doing now?” Tonya almost snapped.
            “Checking to see if you are feverish.”
            “No I am not. Go buy your Lieutenant’s gift while I try and enjoy an afternoon on the water surrounded by two dozen dirty men sweating in armor.”
            “It won’t take me long.” Monyka put her hand on the Princess’s shoulder.
            “I’ve got Annyka now, so that you can have some free time. Just be back here in time to help me dress for dinner. I have a feeling that Kamara is going to throw a big formal affair to show off her ‘friends’.”
            “Don’t give your Captain too hard of a time.” Monyka slipped the heavy purse into an inner pocket.
 Tonya grunted as Monyka left.
            “I thought you wanted to go out on the lake.” Annyka was confused.
            “I do. I just didn’t expect a whole company of soldiers to be out there with me.”
            “I can be there with you too.” Annyka looked hopeful.
            “Do you want to come?”
            Annyka nodded her head with a big smile.
            “Do you know how to swim?”
            “Yes. Not well, but I can swim.”
            “Then you can come too.” Tonya smiled. “Come on, help me up.”
            The carriage slowly spiraled its way down around the lake. Tonya felt as if she was back in the entrance that Kalgar brought them in spiraling down through a mountain. The big difference was that this road wasn’t on the edge of a deep, black hole in the ground. Instead they were passing houses, shops, places of business, warehouses and even a few schools.
            Just when she felt like she was going to get dizzy from the long corkscrewing road, the carriage came to a stop.
            “We’re here, Highness.” Captain Kalhoun mounted on that black devil of a horse announced. He swung down and stood by the carriage. He helped Annyka down then held out his hands for Tonya.
            “How is your arm?” She asked. “I don’t want you dropping me.”
            “The arm is feeling much better now, but you’re right.” Rikki stood back. “Corporal.” He called to a soldier. “Please help her Highness down.”
            “Yes, Sir.”
            Although the Cavalryman did his duty with skill and ease, Tonya found she missed the strong hands of Rikki helping her down. The Cavalryman, like Rikki, smelled like armor and horses but his odor wasn’t as familiarly pleasant as the scent of the Captain of her bodyguard.
            Most of the Captain’s men had already disappeared through a tunnel, leaving four to guard the carriage and horses. Rikki led Tonya and Annyka into the dark tunnel. The sun shining off the green water of the lake could be seen, framed by the dark walls of the passageway. Tonya blinked back the sun as they exited and stood on a stone quay that had four wooden docks extending out into the lake. A few dwarves tinkered around on the docks. Some working on their boats, others sewing nets.
            Tonya looked out over the green water, then up the steep hole that Hobro was built around. Hundreds of verandas carved to match the stone around them could just barely be made out. Dwarves walking past open doors or out on their private patios are the only thing that broke the spell. 
            “Here, your Highness.” Her Captain cleared his throat. He stood one foot on the dock, one foot in a small rowboat.
            The small boat rocked a bit as he and an armored heavy infantryman assisted her. Someone had been considerate enough to have placed several small pillows to be used as cushions to make the Riponian Princess more comfortable. Tonya eased herself onto the padded bench and arranged a few of the pillows in place around her.
            The heavy infantryman bowed and regained the dock as Captain Kalhoun settled across from the Princess. Rikki held the small boat in place with one hand as an unarmored cavalryman joined them. The cavalryman seated himself up towards the bow and proceeded to lock the oars into the oar locks.
            “What about me?” Annyka looked at the three in the boat.
            “You can ride in that one there.” Captain Kalhoun pointed.
            “Come on in, M’Lady.” A soldier from the other boat beckoned.
            “It’s alright, Annyka. They’ll be close by.” Captain Kalhoun assured the blonde girl. He turned to the Princess. “Your Highness, Cavalryman Dyrk here, has assured me that he is an expert boats man.”
            “My father was a fisherman. I escaped to the cavalry to get away from the smell of fish guts and saltwater.” He smiled sheepishly.
            Captain Kalhoun pushed the boat away from the dock, causing them to rock gently as the boat settled. Cavalryman Dyrk dipped the oars into the lake and began strong powerful strokes, showing off his strength and skill.
            “Where would you like to go, Highness?” her Captain inquired.
            “Just out in the middle so that I can look around this. . . this hole.”
            Captain Kalhoun nodded to the Cavalryman, then looked around to see other boats filled with body guards catching up to surround the Princess.
            Tonya lay back on the cushions making her self comfortable and enjoying the warmth of the sun as it peered down into the hole of Hobro. Having spent the past few days underground in dark caves and caverns, the warm sun was a welcome respite. 
            “My Lady in waiting has been involving herself with your Lieutenant, did you know that?” Tonya broke the silence.
            “Yes, Highness.” Rikki was keeping a vigilant eye on the surrounding verandas.
            “How do you feel about that?” Tonya urged.
            “As long as he can do his job, it is no business of mine.”
            “Is he doing his job?”
            “Yes, “
            “What kind of man is this lieutenant?” Tonya pried.
            Rikki looked away from the surrounding cliffs and to his Princess. “He is a very good man, Highness. He comes from a noble Trunonian family, and has worked hard to get to his current position. My concern is whether or not, your Lady in waiting is good enough for him.”
            “My Monyka good enough for him?” Tonya was indignant. “I could marry Monyka off to a Noble of my own court in a heart beat, except no one has caught her eye.”
            “With all due respect, Highness.” Rikki sighed. “Noble blood has nothing to do with the make up of a man. Only character and hard work.”
            “I’ve seen dirty peasants dressed in rags who I’d rather trust than some of your Nobles.” He said the last word with a sneer. “And I believe that your father feels the same way.”
            “How could you possibly know my father’s mind?” Tonya snapped.
            “Look who is in your retinue, Highness. I don’t see many of your Nobles risking their precious lives protecting you, or feeding you. I don’t see any of your courtesans slogging through rain, mud and confining caves to see you safely on your quest. They aren’t the ones washing your clothes, feeding your belly, or shoeing your horses. The good, honest, trustworthy people your father sent with us to keep you comfortable and safe are all his loyal subjects.”
            Silence descended upon them. Silence with the exception of the oars rhythmically dipping into the lake,
            “Will we be able to reach Sherstone tomorrow?” Tonya broke the silence.
            “If we get an early start and we don’t have too much trouble, Ambassador Kalgar says that we can reach Sherstone late tomorrow night.”
Cavalryman Dyrk gave one last pull on the oars and pulled them into the boat.
Tonya turned her head and looked around at the city surrounding her. It was immense. Easily larger than Ripon, and this was just a small city compared to Sherstone and Narva. Who knew what other cities the dwarves were keeping secret. Hadn’t Emperor Talison hinted to Kalgar that he suspected the Dwarves of having cities under Truno? A city of mechanics and industry that Truno and Riponia could only dream about. 
When she became queen, she would work as hard as she could to bring Riponia up to the standards that she had witnessed today. She tried envisioning machine powered saws that cut through the Riponian blue stone. Tunnels that connected Ripon with Pershore or even with Bandon. One thing about the underground highway that they were traveling on, it didn’t have many hills, twists or turns in it, making it easier and faster to travel on. Rain didn’t wash out roads, Snow didn’t keep travelers cold, or hungry. 
The sun over head was starting to make her sweat. She had worn just a light dress, nothing with too many layers, but the warm spring sun was doing it’s job. Tonya dangled her fingers in the green water. It was cool to the touch, but not cold like she had expected the water in a mountainous hole to be.
The Princess stretched her arms and legs, then braced her hands on the edge of the boat and peered into the depths of the cool water.
            With a quickness that even surprised her, Tonya launched herself over the edge of the small boat and splashed into the refreshing water. When she surfaced, she found her captain standing awkwardly in the rocking boat, ashen with fright as he looked down at her. 
            “I’m alright, Captain. I just wanted to go for swim.” She smiled.
            Captain Kalhoun waved to the other boats, “Stand down.” He called to them. “It’s all right. Stand down.”
Tonya looked around her for the first time and found that other than the oarsmen, the other guards were all standing in their boats with crossbows drawn and scanning the city around them, acting like a human wall of protection. Poor Annyka looked just as frightened as her Captain.
“What the hell are you doing?” Rikki didn’t bother adding her title.
“I love to swim. This is a lake is it not? So I am swimming.” She tread water with her arms and her good leg. The other leg dangled freely in the water, enjoying being weightless.
Cavalryman Dyrk expertly positioned the small boat right next to her. Her Captain knelt on the edge of the boat and held a hand out to her. “Come on, let me help you back in, your Highness. Please.”
Tonya sighed and lifted her hand up to the Captain, who took a firm hold of it.
Rikki’s mind flashed back ten years. He was again up on the roof of the Summer Estate. The Princess Tonya was below him, clinging to the eave of the house for dear life, her fingers slipping as she cried out for help. He reached, he stretched, but he couldn’t reach her. 
Rikki suddenly felt himself fall forward. He felt weightless for a split second as he grasped the Princess’s hand, then cold water woke him from his flashback. He fought his way back to the surface and gasped a deep breath. He heard his lungs take in the breath that he wasn’t able to take on his way in, and then he heard something that warmed his heart faster than any bon fire. He heard his Princess laughing. He opened his eyes to her smiling face, her sparkling eyes and turned his head quickly as she splashed water at him. Her giggle made him smile as he splashed back.
“Oh!” Tonya cried out then continued laughing. “You should have seen your face, Rikki.” 
Rikki took two strong strokes towards her and pushed down on her head, dunking her. “That wasn’t very nice.” He stated when her head popped up.
“You need to lighten up a little.” She splashed him again. 
Rikki closed his eyes against the spray and fluttered them open in shock as he felt her arms around his neck. He gazed into her sapphire eyes, as she looked into his. The smile faded from her lips as she bent her head forward. He almost forgot to tread water as her lips brushed against his. His blood felt like it was on ice and fire at the same time as her lips again caressed his. He closed his eyes, his lips now having tasted what his heart had always longed for, sought out hers, tasting their sweetness, feeling their softness down to the core of his being. He felt her, longed for her.
“Captain?” Dyrk’s voice interceded into his heart’s bliss. He pulled back, realizing that he had just kissed his Princess. She tightened her hold on him for a second longer then released him. 
Blessed Tanitha Goddess of love. He had just kissed the love of his heart. No! what was he thinking?  Damn the Gods, all three of them, He had just kissed the Princess. The Princess that he had sworn to protect. What in the hell was he doing kissing his Princess? He had no right to even touch her unless she was in mortal danger, let alone kiss her. Oh, surely Tanek must be playing with him, baiting him. He could feel it. he could practically feel the chaos of Tanek surrounding him. Now she was going to use this against him. She was going to inform his king, his majesty that he had forced himself upon her. He’d be demoted back to Cavalryman. No, he would be executed. By the theee Gods she smelled good. Even with the smell of the lake clinging to her, she smelled wonderful, tasted wonderful.   He had never tasted a woman as wonderful as Tonya. Even Calandra was dirt compared to Tonya’s sweetness. Oh Gods, he was calling her by name. he felt his face flushed with embarrassment.
Tonya released him and stroked a few strokes towards the waiting rowboat. What was she doing? What had come over her, why had she suddenly felt the urge to kiss her Captain? Tonya felt her face heat as she blushed. Gods he tasted good. If given a choice between Sadira’s sweet-roll and Rikki’s lips, she’d pick his lips. Oh, gods what must he be thinking? A poor crippled Princess, desperate enough to throw herself at the Captain of her body guard. What would he tell her father? Oh, the shame of it. She was no better than her courtesans throwing themselves at soldiers. But he felt so good, his firm lips against hers. His strong shoulders treading water under both of their weight. Blessed Tanitha, he felt good, Smelled good too, well if you got past the leather, and horse smells clinging to him. Underneath it all was a musky scent that she could still smell in her memory of a few seconds ago.
Tonya held onto the edge of the boat with one hand. She dared a glimpse over her shoulder and saw Rikki reach for the boat right next to her.
            He looked around then at her, his gaze not quite reaching her eyes. “Ah, Highness, I. . . ah. . . “ Rikki couldn’t finish. The Princess’s lips were again caressing his, hungrily kissing him, her hand on his cheek, holding his head still.
            Oh, the Gods, what have I started? Rikki’s brain screamed. I want her so bad, why is the Goddess Tanitha teasing me like this? Or is Tanek just trying to torment me more?
            He pushed the thought of Tanitha and Tanek out of his head. She is kissing me. The reason I live, the purpose of my heart’s beating, is kissing me. He unexpectedly found himself kissing her back. 
            Their caresses slowed and Tonya parted from him, locking his eyes in her gaze. “I – I –“ Tonya stuttered, trying to find the right thing to say he would just scoff at her if she told him that she loved him. Her mind raced trying to find something. “I just wanted you to know that what just happened between us wasn’t an accident.”
            Rikki slowly nodded agreement.
            “I think the powers of Tanitha are at work here.” Tonya blurted. She didn’t admit that she loved him, only that the Goddess might be playing with her heart.
            “Agreed.” Rikki admitted. “Can I assist you back in to the boat now, Highness?” Rikki needed to get this situation back under professional control.
            Tonya nodded and smiled.
            With Dyrk’s help, Rikki pulled himself over the edge of the rowboat. He turned, knelt back down and again offered a hand to the Princess. “Don’t pull me in this time, please.”
            Tonya gave him her both of his hands and kicked with her good leg as Rikki leaned backwards, pulling the blonde Princess into the boat, on top of him.
            Tonya lay across Rikki’s chest. He seemed to have lifted her effortlessly out of the lake sopping dress and all. She suddenly became very aware of his strong hands grasping her waist. Her eyes met his. She didn’t want to look away. She wanted to stare into those comforting eyes for the rest of the afternoon. She found her lips drawn to his, wanting to taste yet again, that which they craved so.
            “Uh, you okay, Tonya?” Rikki asked breaking the spell.
            “Yes, thank you.” Tonya pushed her self off of her Captain and struggled in her wet skirts to sit up on her cushions.
            Rikki found his seat and looked around at the surrounding boats acting as a screen and body guard. “I suppose we should start heading back. To get you out of those wet clothes.”
            “I’d like to stay out here just a bit longer. Could we go and get a closer look at the waterfall?”
            Rikki thought for a moment, looked at the surrounding city then nodded. “Cavalryman, could you take us near the waterfall.”
*            *            *
            Tonya’s mind was racing and swirling as she sat in the steaming bathing tub. She had kissed him. Kissed him in plain sight of the whole city of Hobro, and he kissed her back. At first she wasn’t sure if he had, but when she kissed him a second time next to the boat, he definitely kissed her back. Was he just placating a poor crippled Princess? Or did he actually feel something for her too?  How could she be falling for her bodyguard? She needed to fall for a Prince, or at least a Duke or Count, not the Captain of her guard.
            She had wanted to see the waterfall, but she could not remember much about seeing it. all she could remember or think about was Rikki’s strong arms, his beautiful eyes and his wonderful lips. After a few minutes watching water fall over the cliff into the lake of Hobro, they turned the boats around and made their way in silence back to the docks. To make matters worse, the rest of the guard pointedly wouldn’t look in her direction or even at Rikki. It was as if they didn’t exist. They had seen, and they knew. Tonya could feel herself blush again as she soaked.
            When she had gotten back to the suite, still soaking wet, Monyka with her strange hairdo was waiting in sitting room touching a flute with a smile on her face.
            “How was the lake?” she questioned taking in Tonya’s wet clothing and ruined hair.
            “It was. . . nice.” Tonya allowed.
            Monyka carefully put the flute into a wooden box and followed Tonya into the bathing chambers. With out being asked, she and Annyka helped the Princess out of her wet clothing and unwound her disheveled hair while the tub was being filled.
            “So did you fall in?” Monyka dared.
            “No, I jumped in.” Tonya corrected. “It was getting hot under the sun, and the water felt good.”
            “So you jumped in.” Monyka didn’t believe she was being told everything.
            “She did jump in.” Annyka defended the Princess. “I saw her. I thought she was trying to get away from a bee at first, but I didn’t see anything buzzing around.”
            Monyka smirked. “Okay, Tonya, your bath awaits.”
            “Thank you. Why don’t you both leave me alone to soak for a bit.”
            “Sure.” Monyka headed for the door with Annyka. “Oh, by the way, our invitation for this evening’s dinner hosted by Kamara has arrived.”
            “Good grief. Tanek just won’t leave me alone.” Tonya muttered as the other two left the room, no doubt to gossip about what happened this afternoon.
            What had happened this afternoon? Yes, she kissed Rikki. But why? What provoked her, what stirred her to attempt such an outlandish thing? Did she really have such strong feelings for him? 
She thought back to the nice young man who had joined her and Monyka in the Ripon kitchens. She had to admit, even not knowing that the young man sitting across from her eating sweet rolls was anything but a cavalryman, he had been nice on the eyes. His standing in the palace of Truno in his dress blues did catch quite a few of the Trunonian ladies eyes. His strong will arguing with her against taking that horrible Aukai drug showed his determination and his fortitude in trying to keep her safe.   His calming presence as he mopped her brow and held her vomit bucket while she was sick on the river boat showed his compassion. He didn’t even say ‘I told you so’ after she had recovered. His quick thinking and strength while under attack by river bandits saved her from being carried off while his clumsiness and lack of tact in handling Calandra was in a strange way endearing. She thought of how relieved she felt seeing him in Bolton and how even while wounded, he tried his best to protect her, to shield her as he helped her down from her mount and his arm failed. He had rolled so that she might land upon him, not upon the ground.
Oh Tanitha, Goddess of love, what are you doing to me?
*            *            *
            Power of the fresh sacrifice flowed through his veins, charging him with a power that felt almost electric. The sacrifice was a small one, no noble blood used to power this spell, but any of power from the blood letting was intoxicating. Raulah closed his eyes and allowed the power of magic flow through him, back and forth, up and down, like waves never ending, it flowed over him, through him, it was part of him, yet it was diminishing, like the last bit of water to make it’s way through a broken dam. Raulah channel, the energy. He focused it forced it from his body through his fingers. He pushed it through the wand in his hand and to the map laid out before him. The words of the chant, moved his lips as he ran through them over and over again. His hand moved the wand over the map as he chanted, as he focused the power. 
Sweat broke out on his forehead as he murmured the mystical words. Something was wrong. This was an elementary spell, one that novices were taught, one that could be done with the blood sacrifice of a chicken, or hare. This spell should be pointing out where its target was even as far away as he was. Why wasn’t it working?
Raulah ceased the spell, pointed his wand across the room and spoke one word. The hem on the cloak of the dark Maskalah burst into flames. The shadowed one, waved his hand speaking a word and the fire ceased as if it had not been there. The only proof that it wasn’t an illusion was the charred edge of his cloak.
“Taking it out on me won’t get you what you want, Sire.” Maskalah’s dark voice hissed.
“You failed to plant the spell.” Raulah accused.
“I have never failed a spell.” It wasn’t a defense, just a statement. “Your sacrifice must not have been strong enough, or your words slurred.”
“You know better than that.” Raulah defended. “You must not have laid the tracking spell, or else this would work.”
“It could be the ground.” Maskulah posed. “She could be too far underground for the spell to penetrate.”
Raulah paused to consider this. No one has ever tracked anyone underground with a simple tracking spell. Well, at least not that far underground. It made him pause to wonder just how deep the ‘Mountain moles’ were tunneling.
“I’ve got squads of trackers and skirmishers spread out along the forest boundaries, looking for her signal.” Maskalah interrupted Raulah’s train of thought. “It has been only a few days since they entered that dark hell. It’ll be a few more before she can signal us.” His gravely voice sent shivers through Raulah’s blood.
“Just make sure they deliver those human Nobles to me alive.” Raulah hissed. “I will make them suffer, I will break them, before I use their sacrifice.” He turned back to the map. “I just need to know where that Dwarven garrison is. Once we find that out, then we can ambush them and take the Northwest Passage and lay siege to Lakemere. What word have we had from Nokomis and the Lycanthrops?”
“Nokomis has effectively sealed Ladamore from it’s forests. The dark skins won’t venture into the trees. Your squads of skirmishers have almost completely cut them off from Hasslemere and the Lads are not for sea faring and rely heavily on the Sea Giants to bring them goods. Once war breaks out, the Sea Giants will not risk their ships in their harbors. They will be isolated with little effort.”
Raulah nodded with a sneer. He changed his focus back to the map. “Where is she? Where is that garrison? The garrison is the key, once it is neutered, the rest will fall into place.”
                                    *            *            *
Kadyr and Monyka excused themselves from Kamara’s dinner as soon as they could do so without offending their host.
Kadyr smiled and gently stroked Monyka’s elaborate braids. She wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled his lips to hers. Gods she missed him today. She felt his strong hands around her waist, pulling her closer still. Pressing her body firmly against his.
“Finally some time to ourselves.” He whispered as he parted his lips from hers.
“I got you something today.” Monyka’s heart sped up with excitement.
“You mean more than your interesting new look?” his eyes glanced up to her hair.
“I couldn’t stop thinking about you all day.” Monyka kissed his chin. Gods he had a good looking chin.
“I kind of have something for you too.” He let his hands drop from her hips but took her hand. “After the hunt, one of the Halberds showed me a place that has one of the most incredible views of Hobro.
“Is it private?”
“The halberd said that it was.”
“Can we stop by our suites on the way?” Monyka asked.
Kadyr took her in his arms at the door to the Princess’s suite and kissed her again. “Don’t be long.”
Monyka took a moment to catch her breath. “I won’t.”
When she returned to the corridor, Kadyr had a large basket in his hands. Monyka’s mind drifted immediately to the Cave of Wonders. A thrill of excitement and longing raced through her blood stream.
Hand in hand they walked down the smaller corridors until they got to the large spiraling corridor. 
Kadyr stopped at the intersection and set down the basket. “So what do you have for me?” he inquired.
“Wait until we get to where we are going.” Monyka leaned in and brushed her lips against his. “Why have we stopped?”
“We’re waiting for the transit wagon.” Kadyr smiled. “It should be along any moment.”
“Where are we going?”
“That, my Lady, is a surprise.” He kissed her back.
A few minutes of waiting and kissing passed before they heard the sound of heavy hoofs. Monyka parted from her Lieutenant and wiped her blood engorged lips. The wagon stopped for them and then began its progress up the spiral.
“End of the line.” The driver called as the horses came to a stop.
Kadyr helped Monyka off of the wagon and looked around. “Ah, there it is.” He led her over to a set of stairs cut into the rock. “It’s not too far from here.” He promised leading her up the steps.
They emerged onto a barren rocky plateau.
“Oh, this is so romantic.” Monyka teased.
“You’ll see.” Kadyr led her around a large boulder and there below them was all of Hobro. It was like they were on top of the world, staring down into an abyss, the sides of which were lined with twinkling lights. At the bottom of the abyss was a glowing pool of water. The sight was almost an equal to the cave that he had taken her to near Radec. 
Kadyr took her hand and led her down some steps onto a grassy veranda that held a large cherry tree. Its buds hadn’t broken out into blossoms yet, but it looked like that it would at any moment. Kadyr spread a blanket out near the edge of the veranda and took Monyka’s hand in his and led her to the blanket.
The two stared off into the hole marveling at its beauty. Added to the twinkling lights of peoples homes was the low rumble of the water fall across from them. The white froth seemed to glow in the moonlight. The murmur of a thousand conversations drifted up, sounding like a second waterfall.
“This is incredible.” Monyka managed.
“I thought you’d like it.” Kadyr took her hand in his and caressed it with his lips.  “Now, you were saying that you had something for me?”
Monyka reached behind her and pulled out the box and handed it to Kadyr with a giddy smile. “I hope you like it.”
“I’m sure I will.” Kadyr took the box and felt the smooth wood I his hands. He found the brass latch and opened the box. The crystal flute seemed to glow from within in the moonlight.
“It’s gorgeous.” Kadyr exclaimed. “It’s almost too beautiful to play.”
“Oh, no it isn’t it sounds beautiful.” Monyka urged.
Kadyr, afraid that it would shatter in his grasp, very gently picked it up.
“It won’t break.” Monyka told him.
He looked at her doubtful.
“Honest. I watched the shopkeeper strike it against the table, and it didn’t even chip. After I bought it. I through it against the stone floor of the suite to make sure. Not only did it not shatter, it didn’t chip or even crack.”
Kadyr turned it over in his hands feeling it’s weight, its fine craftsmanship.
“The shopkeeper said that it was created by magic.” Monyka smiled. “Give it a try.”
Kadyr put the flute to his lips, adjusted his fingers and blew into the instrument. A pure note echoed around them. His fingers rapidly went up and down a scale, testing the quality of sound. It was by far the finest, most beautiful sounding flutes, he had ever heard let alone play.
“Play me something.” Monyka begged.
Kadyr thought for a moment and then began a beautiful romantic piece. The pure notes reverberated around the hole of Hobro and created a symphonic sound. The piece he played grew more complex, more beautiful as he drifted into a trance, where only the sound that he produced counted. He closed his eyes against the tears clouding his eyes and lost himself in the sound. 
When he finished the song, he slowly withdrew the flute from his lips and looked through tear streaked eyes at Monyka who was crying and smiling. 
            He listened to the last note as it finally ceased to echo off the city walls. The only sound that could now be heard was the waterfall as it marked time into the lake. Even the voices of the city ceased. It was eerie quiet. All of a sudden a voice boomed “Bravo!” The city of Hobro erupted into cries of appreciation and of encouragement.
            Monyka covered her giggle with her hand. Her eyes twinkled at Kadyr. “Go on, your audience demands more.” She laughed.
            Kadyr blushed bright red, then lifted the flute to his lips again. As soon as he played the first bar, the city was quiet again, listening intently to the mysterious, haunting sounds of the musician.
            In her suite, Tonya sat next to the open veranda. Rikki stood against the door frame looking out at the twinkling lights and the glowing lake.
            “That was beautiful.” The Princess commented, wiping an errant tear from her cheek.
            “That’s Kadyr.” Rikki smiled to himself.


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