"Mel, I can't sleep," Apo said, knocking on his sister's door.
There was no response.
"Mel, I know you're not a light sleeper."
Still no response.
"Come on Mel, I want someone to talk to," Apo said.
When he got no response again he sighed and opened the door. She had a bad, and unsafe, habit of leaving things unlocked. On the one hand, the sound of a door opening would be sure to wake her up --royal quarters, even the ones intended for foreign royalty who were visiting as guests, had very strong doors, which almost always meant very loud doors-- on the other hand it was a bad habit.
When he walked into the room he was considering whether it was worth talking to his sister about the value of locked doors, again, or just to let it slide. When he approached the bed he realized that he'd been focused on the wrong bad habit.
After securely closing (but not locking -- he didn't want to lock her out) the door to his sister's room, Apo sprinted to the quarters of the captain of his guards and knocked softly.
"Who is it?" a groggy female voice asked.
She sounded at least somewhat annoyed, and Apo new she had reason to be as her duties often meant she got less sleep than almost anyone else. So Apo approached the matter with formality.
"Captain Arga, this is Prince Apobammos. Princess Melitta is not in her quarters."
After a mumbled sound that Apo guessed was profanity, followed by some shuffling, the door opened. Captain Arga was dressed in her night clothes, which revealed more Apo would normally be comfortable with, but at the moment there was business. Apo simply waited for Arga to speak.
"How long as princess Melitta been gone?"
"Her bed hasn't been used."
"Are our guests aware of her absence?"
"Not that I know of. I'm hoping to keep this quiet; do you know where your opposite is?"
Integrating the Eraymobatai royal guard with the local palace guard had been one of the first priorities. Of course captain Arga knew where to find the captain of the palace guard. The question, on its face, was silly. But it wasn't just a question, it was a request. She nodded and closed her door.
Soon she returned dressed in light clothing and adorned with a short sword that was made for speed rather than power. If something happened in the palace she expected speed, rather than armor or powerful weapons, to be the key to victory.
After locking her door, captain Arga led her prince to the head of the palace guard.
"We had better hope that they don't have any dark secrets," Apo said, mostly to himself, "if they do she could stumble on one and kill the entire treaty."
"You're not worried about your sister's safety," captain Arga said. It was more statement than question, but still left the impression that a response was expected.
"She can take care of herself," Apo said. "You trained her."
"And she learned well."
"Better than me."
"I didn't say that."
"You didn't have to."
"So," Arga said, "what are you worried about?"
Apo thought for a moment.
"That she'll get so caught up in exploring a strange place looking for adventure that she won't turn up for a month," he said. "At which point ... at which point it'll be too late to stop a war and countless people on both sides will die."
"Probably a reasonable fear," Arga concluded. "Let us hope that they don't have catacombs."
"Let us indeed," the prince said.
Soon they reached the central guard station in the palace. Captain Arga spoke to the outermost guard:
"Tell captain Robur of the palatial guard that captain Arga of the Eraymobatai wishes to speak with him, and that the matter is to be kept quiet."
A few moments later a burly man in ceremonial (but, Arga noted, quite functional) armor came to see captain Arga and prince Apobammos.
"I thought you were sleeping," he said to Arga.
"I was," Arga said.
"Your majesty," he said, with a slight bow, to Apo.
"Captain," Apo replied.
"What's going on," captain Robur asked them both.
"My sister is missing," Apo told him.
"She likes exploring," Arga explained. "Does the palace have catacombs, disused wings, a dungeon?"
"Empty places that you haven't told my captain about because they mean little defensively, but tempting to a young woman who finds the unknown exciting," Apo added.
Robur nodded. "We have a deep underground," he said. "Layers of passages laid down over centuries as the area turned from a fishing village to today's city."
Prince Apobammos and captain Arga hung their heads.
Captain Robur confirmed their worst fears, "She could spend years down there and not see everything there is to see." With a sigh he added, "We haven't fully charted it ourselves." After a pause he added, "After all, our primary concern was to make sure they couldn't be used to sneak into the palace, which we have, but only by sticking to the perimeter and making sure any open passages there had gates added to them."
Captain Arga said, "We have to organize a search for her."
Apo added, "And we have to do it quietly. The entire reason we're here is political, the political ramifications could be catastrophic."
"Majesty?" Robur asked.
"My sister is presumably just having harmless fun, but if word gets out that she's wandering the under-structure of the palace complex the wrong person can spin that into her being a spy meant to infiltrate the complex and find a way in. It would cause the war we're hear to prevent."
"I'll select only my most trusted guards."
"You have untrusted guards?" Arga asked, a bit of a smirk on her face.
"I trust all of the guards with my life, my freedom, and the lives and freedom of my royalty," Robur said in a
very serious tone. "But trusting someone with secrets is another matter entirely."
Apo and Arga nodded.
A few miles of the coast a small storm was brewing and it turned the calm surface of the ocean into a ragged landscape filled with moving mountains of dark waters and scarred by whitecaps. Rain pelted anything unwise enough to venture within the storm.
"Closer!" Melitta shouted. "Closer to the water!"
Princess Lara laughed and obliged. She couldn't remember the last time she felt such pure joy, and she steered the magic carpet into the troughs between waves, mere feet above the water at its lowest, the high points towering over them.
She needed all of her skills to dodge the tall masses of water pushed about by the storm, but she hardly noticed. She had never felt so alive; everything was coming naturally to her.
Lightning struck the sea to her left and she headed toward it. She was looking for the center of the storm, and enjoying every drop of rain in her face and every salty splash when water erupted from the sea.
"Don't stop," Melitta said. "Don't you dare stop."
Lara smiled, but then realized that, since she was behind Melitta, the other princess couldn't see her. "Don't worry. I have no intention of stopping."
"Is it always like this?"
"Having a magic carpet."
"There isn't always a storm," Lara said.
Hours of fun later Lara and Melitta were flying over calm seas, and now Melitta was learning to fly the carpet. The two had traded positions, but Lara was facing back so she could see Melitta and advise her on how to guide the carpet.
Both were still damp from rain and sea spray --salty too-- but their adrenaline filled joy from before had transformed into a much mellower feeling of contentment and well being.
Melitta's skills were slim, but, going slowly and letting Lara guide her under the moonlight above the clouds, she was able to learn all the basics of controlling the carpet.
Just as they were about to trade places for the return Melitta heard something. Slowly, carefully, guiding the carpet lower through the clouds she was surprised to see what seemed to be the lights of a village.
"Did we go in a circle?" Melitta asked Lara.
"No," Lara said, looking over the side of the carpet to see where they were. "We wen't further than I realized."
"Where are we?"
"It's called Insula Agorum. It was our first farming colony at sea. Now it's the center of a duchy and an important trading hub."
When they were fully under the clouds and the view was as good as it would get, Melitta carefully crawled forward on the carpet and tried to get a better look at the island and the surrounding sea.
The noises she had heard came not from a village, but from a boat heading toward the island. The lights she had thought came from a village, now unobscured, were from a city of some size with a couple smaller cities and dozens of villages visible. The island itself was impossible to see, where not lit by the lights of a settlement it was inky blackness. She was only able to make out the shape because she could see the ocean reflecting the moonlit clouds, where it was invisible the island must have been. It seemed to have at least one mountain on it.
"Can we fly there?" Melitta asked, offering the drivers position to Lara.
"We really shouldn't," Lara said.
"Of course we shouldn't," Melitta said, a smile on her face even as she tried to hide it. "Can we?"
Lara just smiled back as she took over flying the carpet herself.