“That man was a specialty swordsman with a great deal of vanity,” Luca commented.
I raised an eyebrow at my guide. “How can you tell?”
He nodded at where the mouse man had gone. “His scabbard was of the finest quality and his saddle impeccably polished.”
“And the vanity?”
Luca grinned. “His tail was waxed. Most mouse men don’t go to that much trouble to show off their ‘assets.’”
I couldn’t help but laugh. “I’ll have to remember that.”
A slight touch of eager hope crossed his face. “Does that mean you’re staying?”
I almost hated to ruin that adorable boyish charm of his. “According to you I don’t have a choice, but I’ll believe that when I see it. Speaking of seeing-” I swept my eyes over the area. The street was lined on both sides by two-floor wood frame houses. They had a touch of Bavaria about them, what with their whitewashed fronts and paned square windows. “You sure do have a lot of styles of houses around here.”
He studied the architecture with more than a hint of pride and admiration. “Amnisis is an old city, and many people have called it home.”
I tilted my head to one side. “What does ‘Amnisis’ mean?”
He smiled down at me. “It means ‘one river,’ for all the peoples of the world flow into her and become a single people.”
“And your family has been in charge for a thousand years?”
He chuckled. “Five thousand, but who’s counting?”
I looked him up and down. “You’re not that old, are you?”
Luca stared at me in surprise for a moment before he burst into laughter. I scowled at him as he recovered himself and shook his head. “No, I’m not that old. I’ve barely passed my thirtieth year.”
“So dragon men don’t live any longer than humans?” I asked him.
“They live much longer, but I haven’t had the chance to live those years.” A slightly sad expression crossed his face as we came to an intersection. “My father passed on five years ago, and I’ve been the ruler since that time.” He swept his eyes over the strange but beautiful houses and small shops. “I have a great many responsibilities, but I cherish all of them that help my people grow in wealth and happiness.”
I leaned back a little and studied his face. There were hints of gray at the temples and a touch of eternal worry at the corners of his eyes. My heart softened a little for this handsome man who was aging before his time. “So about this ancestor of yours. I’m guessing the people elected him to be their leader in thanks for the save?”
He smiled. “Exactly. My family has ruled over the city ever since.”
“It’s a nice place-” I caught that hopeful glint in his eyes again, “-to visit.”
Some of his smile disappeared as he nodded at the way ahead of us. “We’ll be there soon.”
I arched an eyebrow. “And where’s ‘there?’”
“The Cloister of Reflection.”
The name made my other eyebrow lift up. “That sounds impressive. I’m guessing it’s a place where you think about things before being crowned?”
I couldn’t help but notice his eyes flickered in my direction. “About many things, but you’ll see for yourself soon enough.”
We ventured onward and soon little Bavaria curved around and rejoined Procession Street. The crowds didn’t notice as we slipped into their number and mingled with all sorts of people and animals. Dogs and cats scooted out of the way, catching whatever fell off the many carts that rumbled up and down the road. Women with children scurried up and down the slightly raised stones that made up the sidewalks, and men in long tails strode confidently to their next point of business.
All manner of peoples in-between them walked to and fro in search of sights, sounds, and some fun. The wide-eyed tourists gaped up at the elegant scenery. I know, I was one of them as we passed by buildings with balconies surrounded by wrought-iron elegantly twisted to form strands of vines and trees. The real things dotted the streets on either side, and flower pots hung from many windows.
That got me wondering. “There’s a lot of fresh baskets hanging around. Are you celebrating something?”
A bittersweet smile appeared on Luca’s lips. “That remains to be seen, but here-” He hurried us through the crowds and onto another side street.
This one was narrower than the last, and the houses gave way to a long line of larger-than-life statues that lined both sides. Men stood at attention in all variety of elegant war attire, from the marshal look to a few knights in shining armor. They led the way to a small domed building made of pure white marble.
A few groups of tourists took in the scenery, but they couldn’t come within twenty feet of the white structure because of a pair of guards with spears. Their armor was lightweight and scarcely covered more than their chests, wrists, and shins. I was surprised to see that they were women who stood at attention. At our coming they stretched to their full heights.
Luca gave them a slight bow of his head as we passed. Some of the tourists tried to follow us, but the women used their spears to block the path of the curious sightseers.
One of the tourists looked at the guard as they pointed a finger at me. “Is that her?”
The guard scowled back. “Any announcement will be made by the castle.”
“What announcement did was that guard talking about?” I asked my guide as we walked up the steps of the portico that surrounded the entirety of the building.
Luca stared straight ahead and nodded at the pair of tall and wide wooden doors that stood before us. “The way to your home is in here.”
He released my hand and pushed against the pair of doors. They creaked open and light spilled into a small round room. Pillars held up the roof, and a wide walkway curved around the outside of the columns and came back around to the doors. The floor was made from cut stones that followed the curve of the room in a band of circles that grew smaller the closer they came in the middle of the room until they stopped at a single round rock.
The sunlight reflected off an oval mirror that sat in the middle of the room. The gold of its frame glistened brightly in the light, and Luca and I were perfectly reflected in the smooth surface of glass.
Luca strode inside and I followed him. He stopped beside the mirror where he set his hand on the gilded frame and studied the ornate flowery edge. “The Glass of Caelum has been in place for over a thousand years. The glass was plundered from a monastery of our enemy and the finest goldsmiths were enlisted to create a fitting frame. They surpassed themselves, and the mirror was set in this place forever more.”
I crossed my arms over my chest and swept my eyes over the area. There was nothing in there except we two and the mirror. “That’s nice, but how do I get home?”
Luca stepped back and used one hand to gesture to the mirror. “Through here.”
I arched an eyebrow, but stepped forward and pressed my palm flat against the glass. Nothing happened. “Is there a switch to make it work?”
He nodded. “The Dragon Moon.”
“You mean the Blue Moon?” I guessed.
He shook his head. “Not quite. The Blue Moon in your world must coincide with what’s called the Dragon Moon in mine. That opens the portal and allows travel.”
Some of the color drained from my face. “And how often does the Dragon Moon happen?”
“Once every one hundred years.”
My jaw hit the marble floor. “You’re kidding.”
Luca pursed his lips. “Would that I was.” He set a hand on my quivering shoulder as the impossibility of me headed home fell on me like a ton of bricks. “I’m sorry. If there was a way I would gladly return you home.”
I shrugged off his arm and spun around to face him with my angry eyes. “Then why did you take me? You knew I couldn’t go back, so why take me?”
Luca turned to face me and those brilliant eyes met mine with sorrow, hope, and more than a little feral desire. “Because you are my queen.”