Luca spun back around to glare at Trulio. “You dare to kidnap the king of Amnisis?”
Trulio chuckled. “My dear Luca, now is as good a time as any. I am well aware that you are as weak as a kitten. Now then-” He stood and his dark eyes darted between Luca and me. “What shall I do with my guests. Men?”
“A moment before you pass judgment on us,” Luca spoke up as he gathered himself and stared at Trulio through narrowed eyes. “Why do you seek to capture my queen?”
Trulio lifted an eyebrow. “Whatever do you mean, Your Highness?”
Luca gestured to me. “I’m referring to your attempt to kidnap my queen on the streets of Amnisis earlier this day. What does your buyer want her for?”
Trulio laughed. “My dear Luca, even if I deigned to pry into the motives of my clients, this time you have the wrong merchant. I have no interest in your queen other than to admire her beauty, and it was certainly not one of my men who attempted to abduct her. Besides, surely you know I don’t go into the kidnapping business.”
I looked over my shoulder and snorted at the passing scenery. “Could’ve fooled me.”
He smiled and swept his arm over the motley crew that surrounded us. “This is merely an amusement for my men. After all, you did sneak aboard my vessel, and the law of the sea states that any such boarding is considered piracy.”
“Then how do you explain this?” Luca reached into his pocket and drew out the bandanna he’d taken from the singed pirate. He tossed the cloth onto the desk.
Trulio studied the cloth for a moment before he frowned. “Where did you get that?”
“From one who tried to kidnap my queen. An incineration spell destroyed the rest of him.”
The pirate leader wrinkled his nose. “I know nothing of this attack, but I will certainly look into the matter when I have the time. Now then-” He returned his attention to the crew, “-what shall we do with this boarding party?”
“Cut their throats!”
Trulio folded his arms and closed his eyes as he shook his head. “What unoriginal proposals, and so messy.”
The doors swung open and a figure cast in shadow stood in the doorway. “Let us throw them overboard.”
All eyes fell on the figure, and I couldn’t help but notice Luca’s own eyes narrowed. The figure stepped into the room and I recognize the one-eyed face of the woman whom Luca had called Reshma. She wore a tight-fitting purple blouse with black pants and knee-high boots, all of which showed off her impressive figure. The woman sported two pistols on either hip, and a knife handle stuck out of one boot. Her golden locks cascaded down over her shoulders and framed her like that of an angel, but the dark look in her eye told another story.
Trulio smiled as the woman strode up to the side of the desk and continued to glare at Luca. “A rather bland suggestion, but I suppose with your curse the effects could be. . .interesting.”
She kept her focus on Luca as she crossed her arms over her large chest. “I hope so.”
A smile spread across Luca’s lips as he slipped behind me. “You’re about to find out, but first might we have that key? As a parting gift.”
Trulio sighed. “Do you still beat at that drum? Surely you understand that even if I had stolen the key I would not hold such a dangerously valued item aboard my ship.”
Luca set his hands on my shoulders and grinned at Trulio. “I see. In that case, I think we’ll be going.”
Some of Trulio’s good humor slipped away as he lifted an eyebrow. “A bold statement for someone who’s trapped with only the sea as their escape.”
Luca chuckled as he wrapped his arms around my waist and drew me close against his chest. “The sea IS my escape.”
A strange tingle ran from his arms and into my body. The next moment we were violently tugged backward and off the floor. Luca kicked up my legs and at the same time drew in his legs. We flew past the astonished pirates and out the window. The beautiful dark ocean rippled beneath us as we sailed over the deep water. The mouth of the port was only a few feet away, and we made splashdown into the chilly port waters.
Panic overtook my mind as I thrashed about, but Luca looped my arms around his neck and kept us buoyant. His soothing voice reached me through my alarm. “I have you. Just hold on.”
I clung to him like a drowning-well, me. Luca kicked his legs and pumped his arms, and he cut through the water like a fish. We hadn’t tied the away vessel, and the tide had floated the boat free of the mist and closer to land. Luca helped me into the vessel before he climbed in and collapsed beside me.
We both lay on our backs, soaking wet and breathing hard. I rolled my head to face him. “What. . .the hell. . .just happened?”
He grinned back at me. “My ‘curse.’ Reshma forbade me from stepping foot on the open sea, so whenever I make the attempt the curse draws me out of the domain of the sea.” He closed his eyes and sighed. “I must admit I would never have expected the curse to be a blessing.”
I sat up and looked out on the mouth of the port. The white sails of the ship were disappearing into the horizon. My heart fell. “What about the key?”
Luca scrunched up his face in thought. “Drum. . .”
I twisted around and blinked at him. “Come again?”
“Trulio mentioned a drum,” Luca mused as he sat up and draped one arm over a bench. “And he isn’t a man who wastes his words.”
I frowned. “So what was he trying to say?”
He lifted himself onto the bench and offered me a hand. “That we may find the key hidden in something to do with a drum.”
I took the hand and he pulled me onto the wood beside him. “But why would he want us to find the key?”
Luca smiled. “No doubt he’s received his pay and no longer has any need nor desire to hold on to the key, especially as hurting Amnisis would hurt his more honest trading ventures. There is also the matter of the bandanna. He appeared to be genuinely surprised by its presentation, and Trulio is not a man who likes surprises, especially those that insinuate him into such an obviously clumsy crime as what happened to you earlier.”
“But that means we still don’t know who hired him, or where the key is hidden,” I pointed out as I lifted my eyes to the sky. The sun told me there were only a few more hours of daylight left, and then the dwarf king would make his new entrance.
“Not quite,” he mused as a thoughtful expression appeared on his face. “What better place would a thing be hidden if not on yourself?”
I furrowed my brow before an idea struck me. “Where you found it!”
He smiled and nodded. “Yes. The item may very well still be in the museum, hidden somewhere among the other relics. We should return to the museum and see what we can find.”
I looked him up and down. “Can you fly us back, or do we have return tickets through the creepy portal bus?”
Luca grinned before he plopped himself on the bench in the middle of the boat. He took up the oars and winked at me. “Hold on.”
He dipped the oars into the water and gave a great push. The boat propelled forward. I yelped and grasped the board as the bow of the away craft cut through the waters. A few bits of sea foam sprayed over us as we neared the port docks.
In a few short minutes, in a trip that had taken me twice as long, we had arrived. Luca docked and tied the boat to the pier. He climbed out before he offered me his hand. As he pulled me out I tripped over the boards of the dock and fell against him.
I sheepishly looked up at him, but my silliness caught in my throat. There was a strange look in his eyes. It reminded me of the time in the alley behind the pub. We’d been so close then, and there’d been that strange spark between us. For the first time since I’d dropped into this new world I saw that spark, and it both excited and terrified me.
Luca looked away, and the spell was broken. “We should hurry back to the museum. Mia might know something about this drum in their collections.”
I shook off the strange, erotic feeling and looked in the direction of the city. “So we fly?”
Luca’s wings burst out of his back and he grinned. “We fly.”
He swept me into his arms and leapt into the air. I was better prepared this time for the terrifying exhilaration, and made sure to wrap my arms around his neck. A seawater-tinged breeze swept past us, but we soon left behind the large port city and followed the road that connected the two halves of Luca’s kingdom.
The road was made of cobblestones and stretched four carts-wide in a straight direction from one city to the other. Stone walls some twenty feet tall and nearly as thick rose up on both sides and protected the vital infrastructure from both directions. Beyond the walls were large swaths of farmland that stretched from the rocky coast to the foothills of the mountains that also abutted the city. Fields of green, yellow, and even purple passed below us, and small, whitewashed farmhouses dotted the landscape.
I caught Luca’s eyes and pointed at the heavy fortifications. “How old are those walls?”
“Roughly a thousand years, back when the kingdom fell into a trading dispute with one of our neighbors.”
I lifted an eyebrow. “Has there ever been a time when someone wasn’t trying to attack your kingdom?”
He stared ahead and pursed his lips. “Unfortunately, peace is won through war, and in the annals of my kingdom those gentle years are few and far between.”
I furrowed my brow. “So you guys have always been attacked, or were you the ones doing the attacking?”
He shook his head. “A little bit of both, I’m afraid. Not all of my ancestors who have sat upon the throne have been just, and some were cruel.”
I winced. “And what happened to them?”
“Often one of the other lines of the family ousted them, or their own child did the duty for the good of the kingdom.”
“That’s. . .” I couldn’t think of the right words.
A bittersweet smile slipped onto his lips. “Such is the way of the world, especially for a kingdom as old as mine.”
I grinned at him with more humor than I felt. “But it has a good king now, right?”
He chuckled. “I appreciate your words, and try my best to be the king my good people need.”
A thought struck me that forced a pensive expression on my face. “And I’m supposed to be its queen. . .”
He continued to stare ahead, but I had a feeling his full attention lay on me. “If you desire.”
I snorted. “I can’t exactly go back, right?”
The corners of his lips turned downward. “No.”
I folded my arms over my chest and shrugged. “Then I may as well stay. How hard could this queen business be?”