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Jo was curled in a chair, a thick book in his lap and a cup of tea at the ready on the end table within arm’s reach. He wore a silk night clothes but his feet were bare.
His attention seemed focused on the book, as if trying to remove himself from the opulence of the room around him. Thick velvet curtains hung over stained glass window that went from the high ceiling to the smooth marble floor. The plush chairs seemed at odds with the books lining the walls and standing at attention in the rows of bookcases filing the rest of the space.
An elf entered, a satin robe cinched tight around his waist and slippers on his feet. His dark hair was cut short. “Joseph, it’s time for bed.”
“Whatever” was the reply.
Jo looked up from his book, frowning. “I’m sorry, Mr. Wai, but I don’t see any point in going to bed when I’ll spend my day locked in that room.”
Wai nodded. “Thought you’d feel that way. Would you like some more tea? I’ve brought us a snack.” Jo smiled and Wai disappeared from the room, reappearing with a teapot and a tray loaded with sandwiches.
He watched the boy devour the sandwiches and tear through the cookies. “I didn’t know you were hungry.”
“The stuff they’ve been serving me is gross,” he said around a cookie.
“I can see why you’d say that.” Wai took a teacup from his pocket and poured himself some tea. “I’ve made the whole pot the way you like it. saved me from carrying sugar.”
“That was smart.” Jo seemed to study the cookie. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Anything, Joseph. I am, after all, at your service.” Wai smiled.
“What’s going on? Why am I here?”
Wai considered the question and leaned back in his chair, sipping his tea. “For many reasons. Some tradition, some need. First of all, you are of royal blood. Your mother is the daughter of one of the princes and a lord’s daughter. She raised your mother, a very brave thing to do, but when Zelda got older she fell in love with a cook. Zelda lost her land, her title and gold when she married your father. Tag had left, promised to come back for her once he had a place for them to live but never came back. She worked for a noble family so she could raise you. She had no idea the guards had been ordered not to let him through.”
Jo had set aside his book and was holding his teacup. “How did we wind up leaving the city?”
“Zelda and Tag met secretly, how is a mystery. He had friends on the outside, ones who were going to protect you and your mother if need be. Honestly, you both would have gone and been declared exiles except for one thing: nobles have been losing the ability to have children. You have the bloodline and the prince does not have any children. Prince Tallavon is the last noble son born of the emperor who is dying. He has to have an heir before he takes the throne. He was going to formally adopt you before you left but knowing you would not return, he had you abducted.” Wai refilled his teacup and gestured with the pot at Jo. “Which is why you’re here. Tea?”
Jo held out his cup for more. “Can’t I say no?”
“That the prince didn’t expect,” Wai confessed. “What child would turn down riches and the chance to rule an empire? You, it seems. His last hope on securing the throne rests in a child who likes to read, hates the dainty food served at dinner and finds comfort in the library.”
That got a thin smile. “I just want to go home and be with my Mom and Dad. Honestly, that’s it. I don’t care about thrones or titles or any of that stuff that everyone around here seems to care about.” Jo put down the teacup. “I think I will go to bed. It’s late.”
“Good idea.” Wai stood up and started to say something when a window shattered, colored glass falling like pieces of a rainbow.
Amy tumbled through the shattered window, landing gracefully on the floor. She bowed to Wai. “I’ve come for my cousin.”
He bowed back. “You know I can’t just hand over the next prince.”
“Figured that.” She kicked out, aiming for his head
Wai blocked it without effort, grabbed her ankle and tossed her toward a book case. She landed on her hands, flipped herself upright and grinned. “You’re no butler.”
“You would be correct.” Wai kicked off his slippers and threw aside his robe to reveal cotton pajamas. “Shall we?”
“I think we know how this would end.” She curled her hands into fists.
“Do we now?” Wai didn’t move.
Two glass vials flew into the room, shattering on the floor. Smoke rose slowly from the vials, moving toward them. Wai held his breath and Amy tensed for his attack.
The butler felt the teapot crash against the back of his head, turning in disbelief as Jo sprinted for the shattered window. He was equally surprised at the strength behind the punch that Amy landed on his jaw. He took a deep breath before hitting the floor, the smoke over taking his senses.
Amy watched him fall then ran after Jo. She picked him up in one motion and jumped to the ground, heading for the woods. Arrows flew from a hidden place but ceased after a single arrow replied from the trees. The darkness embraced them and they disappeared.

The darkness faded, Jo and Amy were standing on the edge of a clearing lit by the full moon. Marti stood outside a conjuring circle, elves standing together in the center without a sound. Puck and Bunny led some elves into the circle, no one speaking a word. Marti closed her eyes, Puck and Bunny stepping out of the circle. A crack appeared in the air, the clean sea air drifting through. The elves walked through the crack, each nodding thanks at the ones on the edge of the circle. Once the last one had gone, Marti clapped her hands and dispelled the crack, breaking the silence.
Bunny winced and pulled out her medallion. “Did any of you feel that?”
“Feel what?” Puck asked.
Marti took a glass ball from her bag, muttered some words and stared into the depths for a moment before gasping. “Tilldae’s on fire!”
Bunny pointed to Puck. “Take Jo and hide in the woods. Tag should be coming soon. Amy, Marti, we need to go!”
Puck took Jo’s hand and they watched Marti unroll a scroll, stick it to a huge oak tree then open a door that wasn’t there before. Amy and Bunny went through, Marti paused long enough to leave a bag beside the tree. “If you need it, I’m leaving my bag of tricks. Good luck!” she passed through the door, closing it behind her.
“What now?” Jo asked Puck.
The sprite grinned. “Now I show you why no one’s ever been able to see us.”

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August 2011

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