We flew over the majestic countryside and I soon glimpsed the walls of Amnisis. This was my first view of the front, and I couldn’t help but admire its beauty. The large walls that ran from the port parted a half mile from the city entrance and lowered to only ten feet before they wrapped around a large circle set before the gates. In the center stood an elegant fountain of pure marble with a beautiful woman at the top. She held an amphora, and from the mouth poured fresh water from which many a traveler drank. There was even a overflow to one side for their animals.
The pair of gates of the city stood thirty feet tall, and the elegant grain showed the wood had been hewn from a single massive tree. A edifice of marble stone supported the gates, and a mass of humanity, and many changeling species, poured in and out of the entrance. We flew over the gate and the way opened into a massive square with rows upon rows of vendor tents and booths.
I gaped at all those people I saw that made up a number which I couldn’t even begin to guess. “How many people live in Amnisis?”
A sparkle of pride struck his eyes as he swept his gaze over the multitudes below us. “Because of the many travelers and merchants there’s no official count, but my ministers have guessed there to be about a half million people who call the city their home.”
I couldn’t help but whistle. Though the number paled in comparison to many cities around my world, I couldn’t help but admire that many people being packed into a medieval-style metropolis.
As I studied the intricate, winding streets my memory wandered back to earlier in the day. I looked up at Luca. “Do you think Trulio was telling the truth about not trying to kidnap me?”
He furrowed his brow. “I’m not sure. He certainly had no advantage in denying the accusation, and if he would have wanted to keep you he would have been more keen on separating us.”
I winced. “Then that might mean Trulio’s client has somebody else working for him?”
Luca pursed his lips and pressed me closer against his chest. “Yes, and they may not have given up on their efforts to kidnap you. We must keep vigilant and return you to the castle.” I leaned back and lifted an eyebrow at him. He noticed my look out of the corner of his eyes and frowned. “What?”
“You’re not taking me back right now?”
I shrugged. “I just thought that’s usually what happens. The damsel gets dropped off again and the dragon king goes off to handle the crises on his own.”
Luca turned his head slightly away from me as he continued to fly us over the city and toward the museum. “There are certain. . .complications that prevent me from doing so.”
I blinked at him. “Like what?”
“Like we’re nearly there,” he mused as he flew us down into the museum courtyard.
Luca set me back on my feet and turned his attention to the people around us. The hour was later than past visits, making the museum and its courtyard more crowded than before. Through the open doors I could see people mill about the entrance hall, gaping and admiring the many displays.
Many of the museum goers gawked at Luca as his wings disappeared into his back. He took my hand and drew me close to him as he meandered us through the visitors. We were greeted just inside the hall by Mia.
She inclined her head to us. “It’s a great pleasure to see you again, Your Highness. What can I do for you?”
Luca nodded at the door behind the desk. “We need a moment in your office.”
She kept her official smile on her face as she turned and led us into the office. The expression slipped away the moment the door shut behind us. She turned and took a seat on the edge of her desk. “What’s happened?”
Luca recounted to her her our port adventure, and when he finished there was a gloom over the small room. “Trulio hinted that the key’s location had something to do with a drum.”
Mia folded her arms and furrowed her brow before she shook her head. “I’m not familiar with any particular drum, though obviously we have a large collection of ceremonial war drums. As for the key still being hidden somewhere in the museum, I dearly hope that isn’t true.”
I lifted an eyebrow. “Why is that?”
She pursed her lips. “Because there are countless spots in which to hide such a small item. It would take my entire staff days to search everything.”
Luca took my hand and nodded. “We’ll go check out the drums and perhaps a thorough search by your staff won’t be necessary. Is the exhibit still in the east wing?”
She used a hand to gesture down that particular hall. “Yes, in the green room.” Luca inclined his head as he took my hand and turned us away. “Luca.” We paused in the doorway and half-turned back to our compatriot. She had slid off the edge of her desk and her gaze flitted over Luca’s face before settling on me. “You shouldn’t be together, you know.”
He nodded. “I know, but we have little choice. She needs the protection.”
A worried expression settled onto her face. “I know this isn’t my place, but the guards are well-equipped to handle protecting your queen.”
Luca turned his face away from me, but one side could still be seen by Mia. When he spoke his voice held a slight growl to the words. “There won’t be a problem.”
Mia’s eyebrows crashed down. “There already is.”
Luca slightly tightened his grip on my hand. “I can handle this. Thanks for the help.”
He pulled me out of the room, but I caught one last glimpse of Mia. She still had that worried look on her face. That made me worried.
Luca navigated us through the crowds and down the hall of the eastern wing. The wing mirrored the western one with large windows on one side and rooms on the left. The visitors milled about admiring tapestries, paintings, and statues that littered the hall. The rooms were an eclectic mix of old and older materials. I glimpsed ancient weapons with stained tips and old carts that sported wheels worn down by countless generations of owners. There was even a strange trident that looked like Zeus would have wielded it, except the bottom of the zig-zag staff had a strange small ball attached to its base.
The hall we wanted lay at the far end. We stepped into the large space and I found myself surrounded by every musical instrument imaginable, and some that were completely foreign to me. There were guitars, flutes, and even a small piano, but some xylophones had been created in the shape of tear drops and there was one that appeared to be made out of bones. Human bones.
The crowds that occupied the other parts of the museum hadn’t yet reached our location, so we were alone. Luca led us to a group of glass cases which held drums of every size and make. Some were simple leather stretched over wood, and others were cloth over metal bands. He reluctantly released my hand and examined the contents.
“There must be something here. . .” he murmured to himself as moved down the long, narrow case.
I recalled that I’d only seen the pillowed outline of the object we were now searching for. “What does this key look like exactly?”
“Its appearance is very close to that of a seashell,” he explained as he stopped at a particularly large drum and attempted to scrutinize its interior. “The colors, however, are brown and green to signify the union of the dwarves and my family.”
I lifted an eyebrow. “How does that fit into a lock?”
He paused in his perusal and smiled at me. “It’s a rather unique lock.” He returned his attention to the case and frowned as he tapped the glass. “Much like the ones that contain these objects.”
“I thought you might ask.” We whipped our head around to find Mia strolling into the room. She held a key in her hand, but it wasn’t like any key I’d seen. The teeth were half the length of the long stem, and at their ends were tiny bulbs. She stopped in front of us and held the key out to Luca. “In your haste you forgot to ask for the key to the display cases.”
Luca smiled as he accepted the key from her. “My apologies. My mind was unfocused.”
She cast a wry look at his body below the belt. “I don’t believe it is your mind that has your focus.”
Luca turned away from her and back to the case. He held the key in his open palm and scrunched his face up in thought. “I have things under control.”
Mia sighed and set a hand on his shoulder. “Your Highness-Luca. . .I’ve known you a great many years, and in all that time you have failed to lie properly to me.”
A crooked smile slipped onto his lips as he closed his fingers around the key. “Once the search is over then things will be as they should be.”
Mia pursed her lips. “Then I hope you find what you’re looking for, and soon.”
I raised my hand. “I have a feeling I’m involved in this conversation without being involved in this conversation.”
Mia turned to me with her own smile and clasped her hands in front of herself. “There are certain. . .proprieties that should be taken when a new queen arrives in the city. However-” She cast a look over her shoulder at Luca who studied the key with an intensity strong enough to melt the metal. “I believe I will leave that to His Highness to explain to you.” She slipped away and left us alone.
I turned to Luca who still stared at the key and lifted an eyebrow. “Well?”