Seraphina swooped down through the trees she looked like a darting beam of light. She slipped through them like she was a drop of water and not a gliding body with black wings and hair and slim brown limbs that could be easily damaged at that velocity. She landed in a roll that sent her laughing with the thrill of adrenaline all the way to the edge of the lake. She stopped and crouched down near it and pulled out a miniature flute she wore constantly around her neck. The necklace was a gift from the special friend she would summon with it now. She leaned down before she began to play, dipping the end of the flute in the water. The tune released one color then another and another into the water as she changed notes. The colors swirled and danced with the changing notes and keys like clouds in the water. When she finished, it merged together glowed bright then the signal shot off like a bolt into the depths of the sea. Seraphina sat back and waited. A frog and a black bird came near. The frog chose a seat on a rock in the shallow depths of the lake, but the bird hopped up to her.
“Hello, Rumple. What are you about today?” she asked leaning toward him. Her large brown eyes twinkled with mischief that went unnoticed by the bird.
He chirped and hopped into her lap. She teased him with a bit of worm she had saved wrapped up in a pouch that hung from her waist. She was so absorbed in her game that she didn’t notice the water ripple and slide away from her friend who swam near to the shore. The girl from the lake stayed in the water the lower half of her body still submerged and watched the poor bird.
“Huh.” The brief distraction was all Rumple needed. He snagged his prize and flew to a nearby tree branch to enjoy it.
Seraphina pouted. “Hey Elodie, you ruined it.” She sat near the water and pulled her knees to her chest.
“That’s just cruel,” Seraphina’s towheaded friend said.
“I was going to give it to him eventually. Besides do I tell you how to treat your pets?”
Elodie’s pet frog was making slow circles around her. Seraphina took to the air and flew low above the water trying to catch it.
“Hey, leave him alone.” Elodie splashed water at Seraphina and the girl tumbled back to the shore laughing. “What are you doing here anyway?”
“It’s boring in the sky today,” Seraphina lamented.
“Really?” Elodie asked looking up. “It looks as if there’s storm coming.”
“There’s nothing but meetings. Father, mother, uncle, cousins-- everyone’s busy.”
“Well you’re old enough to go to them. Shouldn’t you be busy as well?” She asked wisely. She was always the one to think practically. When they were together Seraphina took the chance to be carefree expecting Elodie to keep her out of trouble.
Seraphina stuck out her tongue. “I was forced to go… but I snuck out.”
Elodie shook her head. “I think you should have gone….” She lowered her voice and continued, “I’m worried something bad may happen between our people.”
Seraphina crawled nearer to her. “But the sky-dwellers and the sea-dwellers have been at peace since before we were born.”
Elodie shook her head again. “Seraphina I’m several years older than you are.”
“Oh, I always forget because you’re so much fun.”
“Thanks, but my point is I remember a time when I was very little, and everyone was nervous that the peace couldn’t last between our people. And now there’s talk that relations are strained again.”
“But nobody wants war,” Seraphina said.
Elodie pursed her lips. “I wish that were true. Right now I don’t think it would take very much to cause trouble.”
“When I rule, this won’t be a concern at all.”
“That will be great. When that time comes I look forward to seeing how you will solve the issues between us that have been in debate for centuries.” Elodie sighed. She didn’t want to be too hard on her friend. She knew Seraphina had good intentions, but she wished she would take things more seriously. Elodie had much she would like to negotiate between their people, but while she was high ranking in their hierarchy older relatives would always hold the real authority.
Seraphina sat silently for a moment. She knew as part of the ruling family she should be more knowledgeable about those sorts of things. But even though she was next in line to rule everyone still treated her like a child and she didn’t really exercise any influence. It was something Elodie never seemed to understand.
Elodie interrupted her thoughts. “We’ll talk more about it later. Try to pay attention at the next meeting, but now I think you ought to get back before that storm breaks.”
Seraphina glanced indifferently at the sky. “Elodie I’m a sky-dweller I think I would know if there was a storm com—”
A clap of thunder interrupted and Elodie looked at her expectantly.
“Which is why I timed it this way and planned to head back now,” Seraphina said grinning sheepishly.
Elodie shook her head but couldn’t help smiling with her friend. Elodie watched Seraphina take off and when grimaced when she turned around to wave and barely missed hitting a tree. Rumble struggled to keep up with her.
As Elodie watched the darkening sky, her brow wrinkled in worry. “Be careful Seraphina,” she said quietly before sinking back beneath the water.
While everyone else in the village was safely waiting out the storm nearby a warm fireplace, Henry was on the roof of his building trying to hold a flimsy looking contraption of his own creation in the air. Unfortunately the wind was stronger than he expected. The cloth and paper blades of his device kept whacking him several times as he positioned it over his rooftop garden. He thought he might go flying off the roof with it, but finally he got it tied down and stood back to check the sky. It was a pretty dark blue like the tailor’s navy colored jacket he loved but couldn’t afford to buy. If his invention really could transfer the storm’s energy to his garden and cause it to grow in a single day maybe that would all change. Maybe he would have decent food and could afford new clothes. Maybe he would redeem his family’s good name and earn his brother’s approval. Yeah, and maybe you can stand in a rain storm and not get wet. He was soaked. He’d had about enough of the rain and wind beating him down and was ready to head in, when he thought he saw an unusually large bird. Henry squinted and shielded his eyes with his hands, but the thing had disappeared.
“I must be too tired,” he decided letting down his hands. Then a bolt of lightening lit up the sky near his invention and it started spinning. Henry watched it with a grin that grew wider.
“Yes! Yes!” he shouted. He went over to the small garden box where only barren dirt had been. Now a sprout was curling up from the soil, green and healthy. The contraption spun faster, and then the sky lit up again. A bolt of lightening struck his machine. It went up in flame quickly. In under a minute it was little more than ashes.
“No!” Henry groaned. He leaned back with his face to the sky that had treated him so harshly. He hardly had time to stare despondently at the gray blue void when the next flash of light roused his curiosity. That bird was nearer, and it didn’t look like a bird at all. The lightening faded but it was close enough now for him to see that it was falling, and it wasn’t a bird at all. It looked like a girl. She was coming down in a spiral right toward his roof, but it was hard to tell where she would land. Henry ran to edge of the roof, then back to center, then back the edge and finally caught her. The velocity of her descent and the dead weight of her body sent him crashing down onto his failed invention. Henry struggled to stand and untangle them both. He turned the young woman face up on his lap and pushed aside her raven hair. Her eyes were shut tight. She was completely drenched, and fresh drops splashed onto her russet face, but she didn’t stir. He kept looking up to see where or what she had fallen from. Finally, he let go of his wonder and stood.
“Oh great,” he said trying to brush off some of the mud that clung to his back side. He sighed and tried to pick up the strange young woman. It seemed like something was stuck to her. Some black material. He pulled a little and she moaned. The black things spread out like beautiful silk drapes. Wings. Henry stumbled back in surprise.
“Wings?” he said aloud. He bent down beside her. “So you didn’t fall from anything…You...You were flying.”
Carefully, he picked her up and took her into his home. He laid her down beside the fireplace and examined her wings by the light of the fire.
“Wow,” he said in awe. He looked over at his work area. A work bench sat in front of shelves lined with an array of inventions in various degrees of completion. Piled in a corner were failures. It was disappointingly high. The edge of one contraption poked out mockingly from beneath the pile. Artificial wings-- his own attempt at reaching the skies. He turned back to hers. The one on her right side seemed bent unnaturally, at least according to what he imagined was natural for human scale wings. He lifted it gently not noticing that he was being watched. In his rush he hadn’t shut the rooftop door completely. A little blackbird that had been peeking in at them flew inside and targeted his hand pecking him furiously.
“Owe, owe, owe. You stupid thing.” He stood and it caught hold of his sleeve. He flung it hard toward the rooftop door and it went sailing back out the way it had come in. Henry quickly shut the hatch tightly behind it.
“Crazy thing,” he said. He had small cuts on his hand, but he would worry about that later. He took off his jacket and wrapped it around the flying girl and carried her to his room. It was the only other room in his home.
He was pulling a blanket over her when there was pounding at his door. He hurried to it and opened it a crack.
A man who looked like a taller, stronger, dark haired, slightly older version of himself was waiting. A relieved expression washed over his face when Henry opened the door. “Good you’re alright,” his older brother said.
“Of course I am, Carl. What’s wrong?” he asked blocking the doorway with his body. Had he remembered to shut his bedroom door?
“Someone saw you out on the roof in the storm. Mother’s worried sick.”
“Yes, well I was working on something.”
His brother rolled his eyes. “Another great success I suppose.”
“I ran into some unexpected issues.” He subconsciously glanced behind him.
His brother tried to follow his gaze but all he could see was piles of half finished machines. “Something going on?” he asked.
“No. Why? What do you mean?”
Carl sighed. His brother was terrible at deception. Carl found it to be an admirable but frustrating quality. “Look I really need to talk to you. Can I come in?”
Henry glanced over his shoulder again. “Now is not the best time.”
Carl was getting frustrated and forgot his plans to have a calm reasonable discussion with his younger brother. “Then I’ll just tell you from here. It’s about time you start pulling your weight around here. Do something respectable.”
“Like you? Was working at a feed shop our childhood dream?”
“It’s a good job. It’s taken care of you and our mother. It’s going to take care of Sarah when we’re married. ”
“I’m not saying anything’s wrong with it.” Henry respected the fact that is brother started the business on his own and had worked it alone while practically raising him as well. But he couldn’t imagine living day after day working there. “Don’t you remember working with dad?” Henry pleaded.
Carl shook his head. “I remember how it got him nowhere. It left mom a widow and us hungry.” He put a hand on his brother’s shoulder. “Look I think you’ve got a great mind and you’ve tried your best. There’s just no need for your type of creativity in this town. I started the business so you could have a good job and take care of a family someday. ”
Henry pulled away from his brother’s hand. “I know I can build something really great.” He thought of the wedding present. He planned to surprise Carl with it, but these were desperate times. “I’ve been working on dad’s old carriage—“
His brother put up a hand. “I don’t want to hear it. Whatever you’ve got going on in there, just get it cleaned up by tomorrow. I want you to take the morning shift at the shop.”
“That’s final.” He went down the stairs before his brother could say anything to change his mind.
Henry fell back into his chair next to the fire place. He missed the old times. At first his brother had encouraged his projects. It was a way of connecting to their dad even after he died. But more and more responsibility fell on the older brother. Soon he was serious all the time, especially now that he had to start thinking of starting his own family. Henry thought about the sky-dweller in his bed and wondered if Carl ever thought of the old stories anymore. There was a time when his brother would have been the first one he’d come to with such news. Henry went to the doorway of his bedroom and stared in awe at the young woman. She shivered a little in her sleep and he pulled the blanket up snug around her chin then went back to his chair.
When Seraphina woke up she was laying down on her stomach with warm, cozy blankets wrapped around her. It was nice but not at all like home. She sat up quickly turning all around. She was on a bed in a small room and she could see into the next room where there was a young man in a chair by the fireplace. He looked like he fell asleep in the middle of working on something. He had a tool on his lap and what looked like a set of wings was on the floor in front of him. She tried to move off the bed but got tangled in the blankets.
“Ah,” she shouted as she fell to the floor. She entangled her self more as she rolled around the floor trying to fight off the comforters.
The boy woke up with a start and rushed over to her. “Whoa, whoa,” he said. “Calm down.”
She stopped moving at once. Just her eyes darted around energetically. “Where am?” she asked, a little out of breath from her spinning.
He seemed surprised to hear her speak. “Um, you’re in my chambers. You fell from the sky.”
“Oh, yes flying in a storm can be quite dangerous even for a sky-dweller,” she said struggling to free her arms from the blankets.
“Here let me help you. Did you say sky-dweller?” he asked as he worked.
“Yes. What did you think?” she said trying to be patient.
“I thought so but… that’s just a fairytale, or a hoax put up at carnivals.”
“I suppose you would think that. We don’t associate much with mud people. Are you done?” she asked glancing at the blankets he was holding.
“Great, thank you very much,” she said stepping around him into the main room where there was a window. “See you around,” she said heading toward the window backwards.
“Wait!” he caught her before she fell out the window and pulled her back in.
“Hey!” she said. He anxiously held a hand to his heart while she leaned to the side and looked back. “What’s wrong with my wing?” She tried to flex it. “Owe, owe,” she repeated as she did it again.
“Please, stop doing that.” He reached around her and held it down. “You’re injured. It doesn’t work.” He tightened the bandages she had loosened. She waited until he was done. Then he stepped away and sat back in the chair.
“That’s not bad,” she said of his work. She stood and felt around her waist and ribs. “Ouch. Hey, you bandaged me here too.”
“Ah yes,” he said. “It seemed like you had injured some ribs.”
“You did it all yourself? While I was knocked out?” she asked.
“Well I—” he began uncertainly wondering if she was upset. “You were terribly hurt, and I just thought…” His eyes darted to the flame of the fire as his voice trailed off.
“Hmm, you did a good job. I think my father’ll be impressed.”
“Thank you,” he said relieved. “I do have some training… Well mostly on horses, some small farm animals...”
She was wandering to the other side of the room to his work shelves. “Did you make all these things?”
“You’re a great inventor,” she said pulling from the pile. She laughed spinning a wooden trinket around with her finger.
He smiled half heartedly, but confessed, “I’m not really a great inventor. None of those work.”
She dropped the trinket carelessly and he ran over to straighten the pile.
“Not even these.” She asked picking up the wings.
He smiled. “Actually I think they might now. I made some modifications from studying your wings.”
She grinned at him. “If they do work you’ll have to come see me in the sky. Maybe we can get a pair for Elodie.”
“In the—in the sky! I bet I’d find all sorts of new materials and concepts. How do you keep things afloat?”
She was looking out the window and didn’t seem to be paying attention to his words. “Storm’s clearing up,” she commented. “I have to get home.”
“You mean up there?” he asked coming by the window.
“How long have I been asleep?”
“All night. The storm kept going right into this morning.”
“That’s not good. I have to get back. My father will be concerned and he’s so impulsive there’s no telling what he’ll do. Do you know how difficult it is to deal with people like that?”
“I can imagine,” he said scrutinizing her face to see whether or not she realized it must be a family trait.
“Can I use those wing things?” she asked but was already trying them on. “Won’t fit.”
“They’re not really made for someone that already has a pair. Besides I still have to test it…” he trailed off getting the impression her mind had wandered again. She went back to the window not even looking at him as he spoke.
“I guess I’ll have to walk and then signal from the ridge.” She looked over the edge of the windowsill then back at him. “How do your people get in and out of buildings with out being able to fly?”
“Oh, there’s stairs behind that door.”
“Okay.” She rushed to the door and opened it. “Here I go.”
“Hold on! You can’t go out like that.”
“Well with those,” he said pointing to her wings.
Seraphina scrunched her face in irritation. “I can’t exactly leave them behind.”
Henry peered behind her into the hallway. “I live above a feed shop. We need to be careful no one sees you, until we disguise you a bit.” He closed the door.
“Oh, of course.”
“I’m sure I have a coat or something.” He found one and put it around her shoulders, but she couldn’t put her arms in it without the breadth her wings tearing the lining. “No, that won’t do.” He went to a trunk and pulled out an old cloak. He dusted it off, making a comical sight.
She was still smiling when he came to wrap it around her. “You’re funny mud man,” she said.
“Thanks. I usually am when I don’t mean to be.”
“And very nice.”
Her eyes were cheerful, warm and trusting. It had been a long time since Henry had anyone look at him like he wasn’t a failure. In that moment he thought she had the prettiest friendliest face he’d ever seen. Then he realized he was staring but it didn’t seem to strike her as strange.
“You know maybe I should go with you,” he said suddenly. “I mean you’re not used to getting around on foot and I wouldn’t want you to get lost.”
“You’re right it would not be good for your people at all if I got lost.”
He frowned wondering what she meant but let it pass. “So l shall go with you?”
“So we’ll go then.”
“What’s your name?”
“Well Mine Henry before we go, you’ll probably have to let go of the cloak.”
“Oh right.” He had still been standing close to her holding onto the tassels he had tied. “I just, don’t want it to fall off or anything.” He patted her shoulders and stepped back. “And that’s it. So we’re ready, Miss…”
“Seraphina, just Seraphina is fine.”
They finally left disguise perfected. Unfortunately for them someone had already been watching.
An alert had gone out through all the sea: Princess Seraphina next in line for the throne was missing. Elodie struggled to hide a worried glance during the strategy meeting. There was word it was believed sea-dwellers had taken her to force the Sky King’s hand. This was a false rumor of course but Seraphina was last seen heading to the water’s edge. Elodie was assigned to head a squadron should military action become necessary. After the meeting Elodie swam as quickly as she could to shore. She pulled herself out, coated her tail with a special gel from a pearl jar and watched the tail morph onto two legs. Scales still covered parts of sides of her legs, but once she grabbed the robe hidden in a hollow tree off shore, they would pass. She wiggled her toes and stood uncertainly. It always took a moment to adjust but she didn’t have time to waste. She soon found Rumple franticly tweeting nearby.
“Okay, calm down and show me where you left her,” she said letting him land on her shoulder.
Rumpled led her to the edge of the forest where she could see the mud-dweller’s town. It looked better than how they were depicted in stories since the house weren’t all made of mud now. They used different things like wood frames, stones and had paved the streets. Elodie nervously hugged the last tree that separated her from the mud-dweller’s town. Being out of the water and even out of the forest in this temporary form made her intestines knot, but it didn’t scare her as much as the thought of some harm coming to Seraphina.
“I don’t want to draw much attention. Go fly to the house,” she told Rumple.
She pulled out a spy glass and whistle which hung from a cord around her neck. It was a gift from Seraphina. The memory made her sniffle a little and she wiped at her nose with one hand as she held the spyglass to her eye with the other. Rumple flew up to a building just as two people came out. She moved the spy glass to their faces.
“Seraphina,” she gasped. The girl had the same unworried expression as always, so she wasn’t in danger… or didn’t realize it. The mud-dweller seemed harmless and they were headed to the forest; a good sign in Elodie’s opinion. She smiled and started to walk to them when her worst fear happened. The storm had not completely let up. A drop of rain water fell in front of her.
“Oh no.” she felt one on her head, then her nose. That was all it took. Any amount of water on her skin caused her to revert back to her natural form. She had seconds to find a hiding spot. She spotted a barrel in a nearby alley and ran for it flopping over the end as her tail reformed. She could still see Seraphina in the distance. She reached for the whistle and didn’t find it.
“Oh no,” she said again. Elodie squinted searching her path and spotted it. She had dropped the spyglass and whistle. Seraphina and the mud man were too far to hear her shouts. Even when those shouts changed to warning cries.
Henry and Seraphina had just started on a forest path Seraphina knew well. He was entranced by talk of a world he had imagined as a child.
“Everything’s moving all time. Floating slowly like… like a… Well do you have mobiles? And in my city,” she continued without waiting for his answer, “things aren’t made of these charming but rather dull colors and hard materials. It’s like going back in time being with mud people. Where I’m from everything’s so soft and vibrant with colors always changing because of the sun. Even when there’s a storm it’s so pretty since we’re above the weather you know. I’d compare it to some stones you can find in the water world. Have you seen rose and aqua quartz?
“Well the water world is almost as pretty as ours because they make a lot of things from those beautiful stones. They use bunches of precious stones and coral and pearls and ground up sea shells. Their world is so glittery. A bit over the top we think. But the folks on ground seem to like that sort of thing. Also you don’t get as much light diffusion. All their lights are artificial or from sea creatures, so I think the sky effect is just a little nicer. Of course Elodie would disagree.”
“Elodie, you said that name before. Who’s she?”
“She’s my closest friend in the water territories. Even though she’s not as high in the royal line as I am, she’s just wonderful. I love her. ”
“I’d love to meet her.”
“Yes, I know… but I don’t know. She’s really nice, but historically water-dwellers really don’t like you mud people.”
Henry sighed. In the short time they had been together he learned to take what she said in stride. She could sound arrogant, but it was with a child like tactlessness. It was so apparent she spoke simply of the way things were with out feeling inherently superior that it was impossible to feel negatively toward her. He encouraged her to go on as much as she liked. “Why don’t they like us?”
“You steal water and you ruin it. Then you eat the animals they keep as pets. It’s just a taboo thing. We have many more of the same taboos, so we get along better. And even so we’re nearly on the brink of war because—” She paused and cocked her head to the side. “Did you hear that?”
Seraphina had barely posed the question when suddenly a net went down over them.
Elodie was stuck sulking in the barrel. She was soaking wet head to fin although the rain had finally stopped the barrel was half full of water. Rumple landed on a low window sill across from her and tried to shake himself dry.
“That’s what I need to do.”
A laundry line ran on an angel from a window above her into the lower one across from it where Rumple waited. A few items of clothing were still hanging from it. It reminded her of a sky-dweller game Seraphina had taught her in the forest and she had an idea.
“I can’t believe this,” Henry said pacing the large cage they were locked in.
“What’s that?” Seraphina asked. She was sitting playing with a piece of the hay that covered the floor of the dimly lit room and their cage. They were in what looked like a robbers’ cave converted from a large hut. They were among boxes and chests and various other likely stolen items. Three men stood in the distance near the wide wood door.
Henry sat down next to Seraphina and they both looked at the shadowy figures keeping them hostage negotiating a fee.
“These are probably carnival people,” Henry explained. “They go from town to town. But that man that brought us here. Why is he paying them? They should be paying him for the new attraction.”
“I think I know him,” Seraphina said. Henry waited for her to go on, but she looked down working something in her hands for a minute before holding it out with a grin. “Look Henry, I made you a friendship bracelet.”
He took it a bit stunned.
“I used to make them all the time.” She sighed. “Hardly have time for things like that anymore. After I ascend the throne it’ll be all work, work, work.”
Henry wondered about her lack of concern over their present situation. He wondered how old she was. They looked about the same age, but he thought he remembered something from the childhood stories about them aging differently. He was thinking about it when the man who had captured them came over to the cage. He was in a dark hooded cloak and seemed unusually tall.
“Come close princess. Show them your wings.”
When she wouldn’t move he reached in a long arm and pulled her near the front bars.
“Hey!” Henry shouted.
The large man just glared. Both knew he was helpless.
Then Seraphina spoke her voice unusually cool and stern and she looked the man dead in his heartless eyes. “I hope you like it here with the mud-dwellers because when you’re found out there’ll be nowhere to hide above earth or under it. We’ll bury you here.”
He yanked her, pulling up the cloak. She stifled a whimper as her injured wing hit a bar. “Go ahead and touch. They’re real,” he told the buyers loudly.
“But broken,” one of the men said. They stayed back and looked uneasily at the prisoners.
“And if she’s real. It could be trouble,” the other said.
“The storm disturbs us,” the first one explained.
“They’ll heal by the time you reach argentine.” The tall man released her and tossed a sheet over the cage. “And don’t worry the storm is just a coincidence. You will not receive blame for this. That I have already arranged.”
“What about the boy?” one of them asked his voice fainter. They had moved away from the cage.
“Take him too. Make him a slave, toss him into the sea. I don’t care.”
Then Henry and Seraphina couldn’t hear anymore.
“Argentine,” Henry repeated. “That’s a month’s journey across the sea.”
He looked at Seraphina. She was huddle in the corner like she was meditating.
“Are you ok?”
She smiled though he could hardly see her in the dark. “You’re worried about me, when you’re the one he wants thrown into the sea. I’m fine, try not to worry.”
“Who was that?”
“He was second in command, recently demoted to third. Everyone says he’ll get the position back quickly, but I never liked him. Most are impressed because he so tall and good looking even for our people. But something’s wrong with him. Maybe he couldn’t handle the pressure. Always praised for good looks, mind and stature but easily mocked because you know, he‘s not full sky-dweller.” She lowered her voice whispering the last part as if it were a terrible secret. And maybe it was.
It wasn’t a particularly unusual afternoon for Mrs. Dunham. The hard rain hadn’t altered her routine much. She had put the children down for a nap, started the stew for supper and then settled into her rocking chair to finish her knitting when quite unexpectedly a young woman came tumbling through her window. The clothing line she came in on snapped and half of it came through the window with her. A scream stuck in Mrs. Dunham’s throat. She briefly registered a young woman with porcelain skin and a glittering tail then she fainted. She stayed out long enough for Elodie to dry off, regain her legs and layer herself head to foot in clothing. She left a small pearl on the table in exchange for the favor and hurried out. She probably looked ridiculous, but she stayed dry long enough to run for cover in trees. She grabbed the whistle and spyglass on her way. Once she entered the woods she climbed a tree for a better look; another trick from playful days with Seraphina. The rain was not from a natural storm. This rain was a tool of the sky-dwellers. It was hitting hard the mud-dwellers village and the sea while the woods were mostly dry. She saw that the sea level was rising, and her people were responding by causing their own storm in the water. Then she saw an orange light in the darkness of the stormy day. It was a cabin near the shore and beside it a ship was preparing to go to sea. A ship taking to the waters in dangerous weather was strange enough for her to take a closer look. Strange cloaked figures were loading cargo. One figure, noticeably tall and strong, oversaw the work. Elodie shimmied down the tree and headed that way.
Henry and Seraphina had felt themselves moved onto a ship. They were held below deck in a dark dank area that stowed other oddities to be sold across the sea. They felt the waves toss the ship more and more as their journey progressed. In fact their little cage slid across the floor when they were hit with particularly fierce waves. The two captives braced themselves against the cage walls as they bumped into other crates and listened to the shouting above.
“This is terrible” Henry said. “I never imagined the storm would get so bad.”
“This is no normal storm,” Seraphina explained. “I suppose it was all part of his plan to kill us. He knew that once war was announced the sea and sky dwellers would cause a fierce storm.” They slid near a window then and she reached through the cage bars and pulled on it, but it was sealed tight. “It won’t work then. I have to submerge it for it to work.” She sighed and sat down.
“What won’t work?” he asked. She held up a miniature flute that hung from a chain around her neck. “What will it do?”
“Call a dear friend to help us.”
“You were planning to use that all the time and didn’t say anything?”
“There was no point. A chance to use it would either be a perfect opportunity to escape or it’d mean we were headed to our watery graves. I didn’t want to worry you.”
“Next time, worry me.”
Elodie made quick time to the cabin where she saw the ship preparing to depart but the vessel was gone when she got there. She saw a hooded figure leaving the poor looking cabin. Exiting the door he suddenly whipped off his cloak and took to the air. A sky-dweller! She took out the spyglass and was shocked again. She was sure she recognized him, but she would need proof. She crept to the cabin where she figured the departed sailors and the sky-dweller must have met. Beside it was a cellar dug into the ground like a cave, the doors were open and swinging in the wind like the sailors had left in a hurry. Inside the cabin was completely cleaned out too. Besides a table, a few chairs and a couple of lanterns, all personal affects seemed to have been removed.
“There has to be something.” She picked up a lantern and moved into another room. She set the lantern by the door and went to searching the room. It was a small bedroom with hay covering the floor and making up a mattress on the wooden bed frame. Near the bed she spotted it; a single unusually large and beautiful feather. Elodie smiled, it could only have come from a sky-dweller and they would know which one just as easily as she could identify her brothers by a single discarded scale. She’d enjoy watching him try to explain what he was doing in mud-dweller territory. She was so lost in thought she didn’t notice the light in the room shift as the lantern was lifted up. So she was completely surprised when she turned and saw him standing there.
“Lord Baan, Second-- Oh,” she laughed scornfully, “I mean Third in Command. What a surprise to see you here.”
He glared at her hatefully. “Lady Elodie, Seraphina still getting you into trouble I see.” He stepped forward, towering over her and snatched the feather away. “I’ll take that,” he said and headed back to the door.
“You know Seraphina never liked you, but I did. It’s too bad what will happen to you once we are free.”
He stopped at the door and faced her. “I imagine it would be bad, especially since I helped devise the standards of punishment for treason. Fortunately that will never happen…” He smiled an eerie sick grin in the light of the lantern. “Fortunately for me,” he said. Then he threw the lantern roughly letting it crash and break against the floor as he exited through the bedroom door and locked it behind him.
Flames leapt up in a hurry. Elodie backed as far from them as she could. Smoke filled the air and she coughed and moved as far from the flames as she could and squinted in the smoke searching for an exit, but none was visible. Coughing harder she knelt the ground. All she could do was crawl to a corner furthest from the heat of the flames. She reached a far wall where the ground squished beneath her and her tail began to reform. She was faint from the smoke and almost beyond understanding what it meant. The dirt floor in the corner of the room was soaking wet. Muddy, she thought that’s why the flames hadn’t engulfed the room yet. She smiled sinking her fingers into the soggy earth. Yes the sea level was rising and it was about to come to shore.
Their cage was sliding more easily as water seeped in. They heard fewer voices above.
“I believe they’re abandoning ship,” Seraphina said her head tilted up as she listened.
“Here we ago again,” Henry said as they felt themselves sliding again. “Ready?”
This time they leaned to one side trying to shift the cage to crush the lock against a concrete block that supported a gaudy statue chained to the boat.
“Almost. One more time,” he said as they slid again. “Got it!”
They waited to slide back away from the statue then crawled out. Water was up to their chests. As they waded to the stairs, boxes and cages went sliding again almost crashing into them. Henry pushed open the door at the top of the stairs then helped Seraphina onto the deck.
“There’s a boat left!” he shouted.
They rushed over to it slipping on the wet deck and struggled in the rain to release the lifeboat. It fell to the water and looked like a bean shaking in a maraca as it was tossed about by the waves.
“We’ll have to jump!” Henry shouted again to be heard above the storm.
Seraphina looked down then shook her head.
“You have a better idea?” he asked.
She looked up but her usual way of travelling was lost to her now. The sky was dark gray and navy blue and the rain was pelting them relentlessly.
“I wish I could fly,” she said.
“Hold on,” Henry said taking her hand. “We’ll do it together. Ready!”
“Wait—” He pulled her with him and they jumped into the boat before she could finish shouting, “I can’t!”
The waves were terrible. They were higher than any building in Henry’s village and as cold an early winter frost. As they tried to make their way to shore it seemed they were stuck between two great storms an angry thunderous one from the sky and an icy fierce one from the sea. A large somewhat level rock loomed up ahead. It was part of a cropping of stones near shore, but Henry questioned the idea of reaching it as less imposing ones bashed against their small vessel. Seraphina was at the other end of the boat bent slightly over the edge. She sat up and called to Henry, her voice barely carrying above the storm.
“It’s no use I’m out of the sands I need to call for help.”
“This boat wont last much longer!” he shouted to Seraphina.
“Oh…” she said sliding closer to him. “I should probably tell you I can’t swim
They slammed into a barrier of rock hidden beneath the water’s surface. The boat broke apart and the stormy waves flung them away from each other. Henry grabbed a piece of wood to stay afloat but lost sight of Seraphina. He called to her with no answer. Trying not to panic he took a deep breath and dived down. Nothing. He came back up and tried again. Finally he found her on the seabed the flute in her hand and strange colorful clouds floating around her. He pulled her up. They had crashed on a rocky shallow area that was still miles from real land, but he managed to find a large rock flat enough to pull her onto. She coughed and took shallow breaths as he held her close to his chest and tried to keep her warm. There was no break in the rain, but he did his best to shield her and soon she opened her eyes.
“Oh,” she said smiling weakly. “Did you save me again?”
“You scared me half to death.”
“That makes two of us.”
“Why can’t you swim,” he asked. “Aren’t you friends with a sea girl?”
“Yes but I don’t see why that should matter. You’re friends with me and you can’t fly. I’d like to see you try swimming with wings.” She coughed and tried to sit up more. “Fortunately I managed to get this,” she said holding out her hand. The small wet mound of sand on her palm seemed to glow. “I used some and sent a message to Elodie—Look, that’s her!”
He wasn’t sure what he was seeing at first. Seraphina seemed to be pointing out some sort of optical illusion. As it came closer he realized it was a calm patch of sea that was getting closer to them. Eventually he could see a totally pale head that was blending into the white crest of the sea foam. A white haired, porcelain skinned young woman with eyes as light blue and intense as the sea on a calm day was riding toward them. With one hand she held onto the back of a giant sea turtle and with the other she held a white and gold spear like he’d never seen before. The tip of the spear spiraled to a point like a conical seashell but it was clearly much stronger. When she reached them the sea around them settled but the rain still beat down.
“You got my call,” Seraphina said cheerfully as Elodie approached.
“Yes,” she said. Her expression was serious and she swung herself onto the sea turtle’s back, weapon raised. “What did he do to you?”
“He saved my life a couple times, but I’m planning to even us up.”
“So he’s not working with Lord Baan?”
“No. You know what Lord Baan has done? You must tell me what’s happened.”
“I tracked you after he captured you both, but when I caught up to him at a cabin near the shore you were already gone. He tried to kill me, but seawater was coming inland enough for me to draw it to myself, flood the place and escape. I heard a signal as soon as I got in the water. My people report that the Mud people are gathered to fight, like a great black cloud working on the shore to block the sea’s incoming. Then I saw your light so I cam here. You’ve got to tell your father to call off the war.”
“But I can’t.”
“Your father will believe you.”
“No, I can’t get to him. I can’t fly.” She showed Elodie her broken wing.
“This is not good. If he doesn’t see you…”
“I have an idea.” She turned to Henry, “You can fly me home.”
“How? It’s not possible.”
“You can! That thing I saw you working on, they were like artificial wings right?”
“But they didn’t work.”
“But you fixed them from studying my wings.”
“But I haven’t tested them.”
“No more buts. It’ll work.” She looked confidently at Elodie and repeated, “It’ll work.”
“We can’t do it Seraphina.” Henry interrupted. “My inventions always fail. My work is…just a bunch of junk trying to be a good idea.”
“I’ve seen your work. Your inventions are incredible just like their inventor.”
Elodie watched the exchange. Seraphina had taken his hand and they were looking at each other as if they were communicating without words. Suddenly, Elodie felt she had a new concern but nothing was as urgent as diverting the war. “Great,” Elodie said. “So you‘ll take her to the sky, yes? And I’ll try to explain what happened to the Sea people. Hop on Latent’s back. He’ll pull you to shore. And hurry.”
“Okay, let’s go,” Seraphina said. Elodie slipped back into the water and Seraphina hopped on the giant turtle’s back. Then Henry followed suite.
“What about the storm?” he asked Seraphina.
“If it were a natural storm we’d have to worry,” she explained as the turtle carried them to shore, “but this one’s generated by the sea-dwellers. You see that collar on Latent’s neck? It sends out a signal identifying him as being on the sea-dwellers side. Since the sea-dwellers are fabricating the storm the sea is calm for those on their side. We can do the same thing with the storms we generate from the sky.”
“Like this rain storm?”
She nodded. “I have bracelet that sends out a signal identifying me as sky-dweller but I didn’t bring it because I didn’t expect war to break out. So we’ll still have to deal with the rain.”
When Latent left them at the shore they rushed to get to his house. The weather was gray and relentless. People were piling up sandbags to try and protect the town from flooding.
“They’re not gathered to fight,” said Henry. “They probably have no idea your people are causing this storm.”
As they got near his home his brother came running out and hugged him.
“I’ve been worried sick!” Carl shouted over the pounding rain before leading them inside. “Henry! Who’s this?” he asked once they were sheltered.
“Who is he?” Seraphina asked at the same time.
“My brother,” Henry told her. Then he looked at Carl and thought about who Seraphina was. “No time to explain. We have to get to the roof.”
“The roof,” Carl repeated as his brother gathered up the wings he had constructed. “What are those things?” Carl asked following them to the roof. “You can’t seriously be thinking about one of your crazy experiments right now. Have you seen what’s happening? Waves have been spotted that were higher than the trees. This rain won’t stop! We’re afraid the town might flood so badly everything will be washed away.”
“I know,” Henry said starting pull on the wings.
“All the men are helping build a barricade, and what are you doing? Still dreaming!”
Henry stopped strapping on the wings and looked at his brother. “I know you don’t believe in my inventions but if this one doesn’t work there’s no hope for our town. We’ll get swept way in the war between the sea and sky-dwellers.”
“You have gone crazy.”
“It’s true brother,” Seraphina said letting the cloak slide to the ground. Carl stared awe-struck. “I have to get home, up there and Henry is the only one that can help me.”
Carl felt dizzy for a moment then the message sunk in and he grabbed his brother. “You can’t do this. You’ll die.”
“Listen,” Henry said pulling away, “forget about the barricade. In the empty horse stables is the all terrain carriage we worked on with dad.” Henry smiled. “I finished it…sort of. It can ride over dry land and float on water. Get mother and Sarah and try to get away from here in case...”
“In case your plan doesn’t work,” Carl said for him. “And what’s going to happen to you?”
“If we fail there’s no way the town will survive but maybe you can sail to a safer area or wait out the storm.”
“This is foolishness.”
“Come on Seraphina,” Henry said. “I think you can hold on from the back.”
She climbed on his back and used a loose strap to tie herself to him. “Ready,” she said when she was done.
Henry stepped onto the ledge.
“Please!” Carl suddenly shouted. He walked over to them and pleaded with his little brother. “This is going to break mom’s heart just like dad…I don’t know if I can take it.”
“I’m sorry, but we must hurry,” Seraphina whispered to Henry.
Henry nodded then smiled weakly at Carl. “Don’t worry, everything will be fine.” Then he turned and leapt off the roof. They plummeted straight down.
“Henry!” Carl shouted looking over the edge. He saw them slowly laboriously lifting upward. “It’s working,” he said shocked. “It really works!” he shouted and laughed but there was no one to hear. He felt silly but couldn’t wipe the smile off his face. He watched as Henry and Seraphina continued to gain height picking up speed as they went until they were out of sight.
Seraphina and Henry broke through the clouds and were suddenly in a whole new world. They sky was clear and the air fresh.
“Wee!” Seraphina squealed. “We did it Henry!”
“I can’t believe it.”
“I told you. Isn’t flying the best? We’re almost there so watch out. To your left, pull up.”
The city was floating like buildings moving along with the clouds. She directed him toward one of a group of round floating objects made in a myriad of colors. They looked vaguely like small, narrow carriages to Henry, except without the wheels, a roof or anything to pull them. They landed on one and she slid off his back and sat in the front seat. He sat next to her.
“Seraphina,” she said to the machine. It came alive and pulled away from the others.
“Where are we going?”
“Daddy’s office. He should be giving orders from there.”
Henry was fascinated by it all and he couldn’t stop looking at the buildings as they flew by them. “How do these work?” he asked. “How do you know where anything is if they keep moving? How are we going so fast?”
“Density management, cycles and air compression,” she said as if that explained everything.
She laughed. “Why does a small rock sink but a massive boat float? The boat is less dense, and our constructs are less dense than the air. Everything floats in a predictable pattern. It may move but it’s always at the same place, the same time of each day. And our ‘carriages’ run on compressed air for the most part we also use fans and other means to hover. You’ll have to talk to one of our engineers.”
“If all goes well,” she said, her tone becoming serious. Her eyes narrowed with determination as they landed like docking beside other carriages in font of an elegant, misty white building. He was about to step down from the vehicle when she held him back.
Careful,” she said. “There’s no floor on this part. You’ll have to fly us to his chambers.” She climbed back on his back and added, “But I don’t like it, seems deserted.”
She directed him to her father’s chamber, and it was empty. “What’ll we do now?” Henry asked.
She went to his desk. “I’ll look into his schedule and see where he could be.”
Henry walked over to a massive window. It had no pane and arced from one side of the room to another, providing a large panoramic view. The view was breathtaking. He couldn’t imagine what it would be like to grow up everyday surrounded by such beauty.
“I’ve never lived during wartime,” Seraphina was saying while she searched some device on the desk. “I suppose that’s why people aren’t in their usual assignments. Aha! They’re in strategy planning at the central meeting hall. I’ll—Baan!”
Henry spun around. Seraphina stood up sharply as the traitor sky-dweller came into view. It was the man Henry had seen before when they were trapped in a cage. Standing uncloaked in the brightly lit room he was much more impressive. He held out a hand and something like lightening shot out from it right at Henry’s head. Henry jumped to side, but a second shot was waiting. It hit him in the chest and he fell paralyzed to the floor.
“Stop!” Seraphina shouted.
“Don’t’ move…Your Highness,” he said aiming at her. “I expected you’d come here when I got an alert your voice had triggered a travel pod. No one else was looking for that. They believe you must be trapped or dead, not making friends with mud men.” He glanced disdainfully at Henry then approached the desk keeping Seraphina targeted. He was standing on the opposite side of the desk he leaned in close to her face. “Why couldn’t you just stick to my plan?”
She frowned not backing down from him. “You’re too late Baan. Others already know you’re behind starting the war,” she said.
“Really,” he laughed. “Who are the others, your little fair haired swimming friend?”
“For one. She didn’t die in the cabin; another failed plan on your part. You don’t seem to be very good at this, perhaps you should give up now.”
“My dear what kind of talk is that for a future leader. Sky-dwellers don’t quit. I’ll just have to rethink my strategy.”
“They won’t believe your lies anymore. It’s over. I’m going to tell father. I’ve already called for the guards.”
He leaned over to see where she had triggered a silent alarm. “I’ll have to hurry then,” he said and grabbed her by the collar. He carried her over to the window. She struggled and managed to leave a bad bruise on his face but he never loosened his grip. “Thank you for that princess.” He said as she pummeled him. “Some bruising will help my story. See if this sounds believable. I came here to pick something up for your father and after a struggle, I single handedly apprehended the mud man that killed his daughter.”
Henry struggled with every ounce of his will to move and shouted threats but it was impossible to break free from what ever paralyzing agent he had been hit with. Baan held Seraphina over the windowsill with her arms pinned to her sides. A bit of silver poked out from her collar and glinted in the sunlight.
“He was in cohorts with the sea dwellers of course,” Baan continued. “No one would believe a mud man could do it alone.” He let her go but caught her by the collar with one hand. She clung to his arm, her nails digging into his flesh but she was still slipping. With his free hand he snatched the marine flute Elodie had given her off Seraphina’s neck. “Tell me your highness, how’s you wing?”
She gasped as he let go of her with a shove and she fell backwards out the window.
No!” Henry shouted.
Then Lord Baan went over to Henry and tied the sea flute around his neck. “Something to remember her by.”
The Guards finally came when least needed. Baan quickly changed his expression as he stood to meet them. “Guards, take this boy. I saw him kill the princess.”
They seemed stunned then angry.
“He’s lying,” Henry protested but they had no reason to believe him.
“Am I? Look at the boy’s necklace, wasn’t the princess always wearing it? Do you think she would give it to a common mud dweller?”
Carl went to the stables and found the all terrain machine. He hadn’t been in that section of their property for years. He thought it’d be filthy, but Henry had been keeping it up. He had repaired and polished the machine. Carl pushed it outside. He was up past his ankles in mud and the rain was still coming down hard. He squinted up to sky. If he was going to help he’d have to get up there. He went back into the stable and started pulling the coverings off the tables looking for anything that might take the machine up. It’d been a long time since he’d tried to imagine or invent anything. He loosened the ropes about one bundle on the floor and pulled the cover off tugging it up. The air caught under it and before he tossed it to the side like all the others he had an idea.
Seraphina closed her eyes and braced for impact. It came sooner than she expected and didn’t hurt as much as she’d thought it would. When she opened her eyes, three other pairs were staring at her. One of them she recognized. “Brother!” she struggled to her feet and embraced Carl.
“Why is she calling you brother?” a kind looking older woman with white hair, his mother, asked.
“It’s a long story.”
“Like the one that would explain why we are here?” It was Carl’s fiancé Sarah’s turn to question him.
“But you see her,” he said. “You see it’s true. She’s the sky-dweller that was with Henry.”
Seraphina stood proudly though only one wing could extend. She imagined it would be enough to impress mud people.
They stared for a moment, and then his mother asked “Why was she falling? I thought sky-dwellers knew how to fly?”
“My wing is broken,” Seraphina said irritated. She turned to Carl. “I’m glad to see you. What are you doing here?”
“We came to help.”
She looked around but saw no one else. “Is this your whole rescue crew?”
“The others only laughed, and I couldn’t waste time arguing with them.”
“I’m glad you didn’t,” Seraphina said. “So this the invention Henry mentioned. But I didn’t know it could fly.”
“I made some brilliant adjustments,” Carl said proudly. “It uses hot air to keep us afloat.”
“Good idea. And you can steer this thing?”
“Sure. But where’s Henry?” Carl asked.
“Captured,” she said calmly.
“Captured!” Carl shouted.
“Captured!” his mother repeated.
“Yes, that’s what I said. I know exactly where they’ll take him for the execution, but first we need more help. Head west and then I’ll need you to take it down.”
“Did she say execut--” his mother fainted before finishing her question. Carl headed toward her along with his fiancé but Seraphina redirected him.
“Let her take care of that. You steer, I’ll direct. We’ve no time to waste.”
Elodie was head of Coral Base 2. She was prepping for a tactical team meeting when she was called urgently to the surface. The base was built into a sea mountain ridge and was one of the few bases that had a peak above the surface of the water. The sea-dwellers used it as a dock for above water excursions, so they had built a passage with a drying station into the outcropping of rock above the water. She took the passageway and arrived on the surface on two legs. A group of her squad members were surrounding a vessel that had just landed. Elodie was shocked not only by the strange looking boat but by its crew standing beside it.
“What are you doing here?” she asked Seraphina.
“We ran into a problem,” Seraphina explained. “He has Henry.”
“Baan’s framed him for my murder. I have to get back before they kill Henry and I need your help.”
“My group at your disposal,” Elodie assured her.
“That’s nice but I need ALL of your help.”
Elodie crossed her arms and surveyed her friend. “Are you thinking…”
“Well I don’t know what you’re thinking,” Carl said. “And this is my baby brother we’re talking about.”
“Let me explain,” Seraphina said. “I need their help because they know how to manipulate the water like you can till land. But some things take a group effort.”
He waited but she didn’t go on. “That didn’t explain anything!”
“They may not agree to it,” Elodie said. “Especially with how relations are.”
“Agree to what?” Sarah whispered to Carl who shrugged.
“But this is just the kind of act of loyalty that we need,” Seraphina insisted. “They must. You must persuade them.”
“Persuade them to do what!” Carl shouted again.
Henry was led bound to stand just a few feet from the edge of a large floating edifice. Gagged and tied fast with thick rope he could only watch as his fate was decided for him. Behind him was a crowd of sky- dwellers like spectators at a hanging. Before him was a break of open sky then a smaller floating area that looked like an impressive ivory colored judge’s box. A large man with dark hair and wings the color of storm clouds sat there glaring at him. He was the King. Lord Baan stood beside Henry holding the end of another thick rope they had tied around Henry’s waist and used like a leash. Coldly, Baan accused him before the powerful sky-dweller.
“Your Highness, Seraphina is gone. Your suspicions were correct. The sea-dwellers did not work alone. Their accomplices are the mud people. This mud man reached our heights with these artificial wings. He’s surely the first of a larger invasion.”
There was shock in the crowd but the King remained calm. “Still, it’s hard to imagine they are cable of such things,” he said.
After all Henry had seen he understood why the King would feel completely unthreatened by them. It took a great deal of will power for Henry not to shiver in fear. Then Baan played his trump card.
“Your lordship I also felt disbelief but look around his neck! Is that not familiar?”
When the King saw Seraphina’s necklace glistening like a fresh tear in the late afternoon light Henry felt a rumbling like thunder. The King stood and released a brief gut wrenching wail of anger and pain. In a flash he had landed in front of Henry and Baan. He snatched the pendant up then gave Henry a withering stare. Then he tore the gag away. Henry was surprised the king hadn’t gone for his throat.
“Where is she?” the king demanded.
Henry swallowed and tried to steady his voice before responding. “She’s gone like he said.” There were moans from the crowd and the king’s fists clenched. “But I swear to you I didn’t do it. I’m her friend.”
Baan sneered. “You mud dweller, her friend?”
“You insult her memory with your lies,” Baan said.
“It’s the truth!”
Baan shook his head and turned to the king. “Please, your highness let us silence this deception once and for all.”
Henry could only give a pleading look at the king and pray for justice.
“I’ve never seen you before,” the king said, “or heard mention of your name but now you’re close friends with my first born?”
Henry sighed. “It’s been an intense couple of days. She got caught in a storm and I saved her.”
“Oh please,” Baan muttered.
“But her wing was broken so I-- we were walking to the… oh I forget the name, but it was someplace she could call for help when he captured us.”
Henry had a feeling it was hopeless. Then tense silence gave way to scornful laughter and he was sure. Baan looked at the crowd and smiled.
“Oh yes,” he said. “In between serving the king, organizing our defense and updating the populace I had time to traipse landward and do that.”
“It’s true the sea girl…umm Elodie she could tell you.”
“Elodie?” the King frowned. “I’ve received no such message.”
Henry sighed remembering the arrangement they had made. “Of course not,” he said softly “because we we’re supposed to tell you.”
“Elodie,” Baan cut in. “Seraphina must have been betrayed by that sea-dweller. You know the law your highness, but we ask for your judgment.”
The king seemed uncertain for a moment. Henry almost felt hope then the king turned his back on the prisoner and spoke. “Execute him.”
“Wait,” Henry pleaded. They were dragging him to the edge. He struggled against the ropes, but someone would yank on the long one around his waist pulling him off balance. Suddenly they stopped.
Henry heard shouts of “What is that?” as something that looked like a large dark blue bubble appeared through the clouds in front of them. Attached to it was an odd looking sort of carriage or boat obscured by clouds. Someone on board was shouting and they fell silent as they struggled to hear what seemed to be a familiar voice.
“What is that?” The king repeated. “On guard everyone!”
Henry struggled to see as the guards made a circle around him. At least their attention was directed away from him. As it lifted higher the boat broke through the clouds and moved toward their floating stage.
“That’s the all terrain carriage,” Henry said. “That’s my invention! Sort of...”
When the vessel stopped, Seraphina hopped off and came running toward them.
“Seraphina? Seraphina!” Her father and Henry shouted at same time and her father glared at him. She reached her father and he embraced her fiercely.
“Seraphina, you’re alive. What happened to your wing?”
She smiled then explained. “I got caught in a storm but the boy-- This boy,” she said pushing through the guards to stand next to him. “He saved me. He’s my friend.”
Then she saw something in her father’s hand. “My necklace! Baan took it when he tried to kill me. It was all him taking advantage of the situation not the sea people or m—land dwellers. Now why do you have Henry tied up?”
“I um...” Henry was shocked to see this giant of a man stutter at his daughter’s displeasure.
“Release him at once,” Seraphina demanded. They immediately dropped the rope that was tied around his waist and cut the knot holding his hands together. She looked around at the crowd of guards and spectators. “The one you should be after is… Wait where is Baan?”
“He must have run already,” her Father said. He sent orders to chase after him. “We’ll be fine here with the mud—the boy there.”
She smiled at Henry. “Are you okay?”
“Yes.” He had started trying to remove the rope from around his wrist. “This last one’s tight,” he said pulling at the last knot around his right hand wrist. Seraphina helped untie him and then gently rubbed his wrists.
“I’m sorry about all this,” she said. Then her gaze suddenly shifted beyond him. “Father, watch out!”
The king had been standing near the edge of the stage watching them with a frown on his face, when Baan flew up from the clouds and grabbed him from behind. He held a knife to the king’s throat.
“How dare you,” the king said his eyes flashing.
“Shut up.” Baan pulled him off the ledge. “Don’t try to follow us!” he shouted to the guards.
Before they could fly off, the place started shaking. The startled guards backed up from the edge. As the rumbling intensified they fell to the ground along with Seraphina and Henry.
“What’s happening?” Henry asked.
“Elodie,” Seraphina said. She struggled to stand but could only manage to get to her knees. They watched in awe as a tunnel of water hundreds of feet high shot through the air near the judge’s station. Slowly it seemed to bend toward them. Henry tried to stand too, and they managed to get to their feet using each other for support.
“Oh, no!” Seraphina shouted over the noise of the cyclone. “I gave them Baan’s signal to target. It’s going to swallow him up, but he has my father!”
Baan flew back toward the stage as the tunnel zeroed in.
“Father!” Seraphina reached out to where Baan and her father hovered a few feet away. She instinctively tried to fly to them forgetting about her injured wing. She fell down in pain as the tunnel sucked them up. Henry looked at her and saw the pain on her face didn’t come solely from the flesh wound. In seconds he ran past her to the edge of the stage and jumped into the tunnel of water.
“What? Henry!” Seraphina watched shocked as all that was left was the rope trailing behind him sliding into the tunnel. Snapping out of her shock just in time she grabbed the end of the rope and shouted to the guards. “Grab on!” The line went taught. She leaned over and shouted his name into tunnel as it started to recede.
Realizing what was happening, his family came closer. The wind pushed back on them and all they could see was clouds and swirling water. They could only wait until the cyclone receded back into the sea. When the tunnel finally settled leaving those on the rope soaked and hanging over edge, Seraphina couldn’t tell if it felt heavy with the weight of one or two men.
“Pull it up!” she shouted, and the call was repeated down the line. They pulled hand over hand until finally Seraphina saw the men’s heads coming out of the fog. All three of them. They were hauled up on the ledge and the guards dragged Baan into custody. Seraphina’s father hugged her. Henry watched until he let her go. Then she went to him.
“Why did you do that?” she asked.
“I didn’t want you to have only memories of your father.”
She embraced him tearfully. “You’re wonderful and I love you,” she whispered and then she kissed him on the cheek.
Her father cleared his throat and they separated. “Ahem, yes” he said stepping between them. “You certainly are courageous mud--” he began, when Seraphina glared him, “young man.”
“Thank you, sir. I mean Your Highness,” Henry said still flushed.
The king stepped back and put an arm around his daughter. She smiled up at him and he kissed the top of her head. “You’ll have to be duly rewarded,” the king told Henry appreciatively.
Henry shook his head. “I don’t want anything.”
His brother stepped in, holding up a finger to interrupt. “I wouldn’t say you don’t want anything. I mean we did get into some pretty serious situations for a fight that wasn’t ours.”
The King nodded in agreement. “We never really considered the abilities and admirable qualities that could be possessed by such a limited people.”
“Okay…” said Carl trying not to take offense. “So, you can see how you may have misjudged a few things.”
They heard another rumbling from below. A wave broke through the clouds carrying a small vessel, ship –like in appearance but incredibly smooth and shining like silver. It had a carrying capacity of about five and the markings on the exterior indicated it was a diplomatic envoy of sea-dwellers. A gentle wave slid their vessel onto the platform a safe distance from all the people. Elodie with two other high ranking sea-dwellers escorting her hurriedly approached the King and Seraphina. Their guards stood at the ready, but the King signaled for them to stand down. The sea-dwellers bowed appropriately, but Seraphina pulled Elodie up and hugged her.
“I’m so glad you’re alright,” Elodie said hugging her back tightly. “I thought something had gone wrong.”
“It did, but it all worked out. Thanks to Henry,” Seraphina explained.
Elodie looked surprised but smiled warmly at Henry. Then she turned to the King having urgent business to discuss. “Your Highness we are designated to authorize a stop of aggression with your approval.”
“There wasn’t a threat from the sea or land people father,” Seraphina added.
“True,” he said resignedly. “I suppose the only threat started within our own ranks.” He turned to Elodie. “You helped arrange that cyclone?”
“It was Seraphina’s idea Highness. “
“Yes, but you agreed, and the sea-dwellers were willing to help?”
“Yes sir,” Elodie said. “If you agree we are ready to make peace arrangements and begin work on a long- term peace treaty.”
The King nodded pleased. “Of course.”
“And something should be worked out for us on the land,” Carl reminded them. “We were nearly wiped out as bystanders.”
As they talked, they didn’t notice Henry and Seraphina slip away. She took him to her favorite viewpoint on the roof of an enclosed land park. The ceiling beneath them was clear, so the trees and other plant life that had been brought up from the earth could have light to grow. At first Henry had a queasy feeling that he was going to fall through the glass ceiling or slide off it into the whiteness below. Seraphina held him reassuringly by the arm and rested her head on his shoulder. Some clouds parted revealing a patch of sky so clear they could see all the way to the surface of the earth.
“From this angle you can catch glimpses of the earth and sea every few minutes. It’s interesting that it only happens up here, where some borrowed land lives in the sky. It’s like for a brief moment all our worlds are one,” as she spoke more clouds drifted in and out of view. “The fog clears, and you realize there so much more to find out there than what you’ve ever known.”
“I know how that feels,” Henry said. She smiled contentedly and he felt relaxed. “Hey,” he said suddenly. “You didn’t call me mud-man back there with them.”
She looked at him apologetically. “I don’t think anybody’s going to do that anymore. Land–dweller much more accurate and respectable. I think you proved that you deserve such respect.”
“I guess we’re going to be on good terms in the future.”
“I hope so.”
“Then, do you think your father would mind me coming to see you and talking to some of your engineers?”
Her face went blank. She looked out across the sky. “We’ll see,” she said slowly. “I’m sure things will be really different from now on.” She sounded almost melancholy. Then she stood up and smiled cheerfully. She pulled him toward their waiting vehicle, saying happily, “but right now all I can think about is flying with you!”
He spent the night sleeping in the sky. He was surprised how refreshed he felt; no nightmares about falling or anxiety over a failed experiment. He got dressed and went looking for his brother. A sky-dweller, uniformed in a soft blue material greeted him outside his room.
“Good morning sir. I’m to escort you to breakfast.”
All his family was already seated at the long dining table that looked as if it had been carved from marble. The morning light came through the open ceiling and two open walls providing a comfortable warmth. The light hit the floor at varying degrees as clouds and shadows came in and out, producing rainbow colors that rolled over its surface.
He sat down next to his brother. “Good to see you, little brother,” He said with an unusually broad smile.
“Isn’t this place beautiful,” his fiancé stated. “We had a little tour last night…You should have joined us.” Sarah offered him a bowl of fruit, smiling the same as Carl.
“Thank you. Seraphina wanted to show me around personally,” he explained. “She’s probably going to be busy today with all the new agreements that need to put in place.” His mother glanced at Carl, but everyone was quiet. As Henry filled his plate from the offerings of any food item imaginable that was spread across the table, Elodie came in flanked by two sky-dweller guards. They stayed at the door as she came to the table and greeted them.
“Good morning. I thought I might join you and give you a brief update,” she said.
Henry stood and shook her hand then looked the entrance hopefully. “Where’s Seraphina?” he asked as they sat. Worried glances were exchanged, and Henry noticed. “What?” he asked, “she said she’d try to come by this morning.”
Carl cleared his throat and leaned toward Henry. “You know she’s like a princess, right Henry?”
Henry shrugged. “Yes, so?”
Carl shook his head and looked at his plate. “You’ve always been a dreamer,” he said softly, “and after all this with good reason. But you have to be practical too, little brother. They explained to us last night how, she’s next in line to rule and...”
“And what?” he asked, surprised to hear the anxiety in his own voice.
Elodie pulled her chair in and took over. “Henry the point is she’s proven she’s not as flighty as they were letting her get away with.”
“Flighty,” he looked at them smiling. “Is this a joke?”
“No,” Elodie said firmly. “She’s already in a conference this morning. I have to be going too but she made me swear to give you this personally.” Elodie stood and handed him a small square package sealed with Seraphina’s personal insignia; a side view of a bird in flight with a long tail that curved over it in the shape of an S.
Henry stared at it. “Why didn’t she just wait ‘til I see her again? How long could conference take?”
“There’s going to be many conferences,” Elodie explained, “and based on my advice, you’ll have to be going home today.”
Henry shot out of his seat and glared heatedly at her. “What? I thought you were her friend.”
“I am and I’ve always had to protect her. I’m trying to protect you too. I’ve explained it to your family.” She turned and headed to door but paused at the doorway and looked back at him. He was still standing but looked defeated, starring heartbroken at the space where she had given him the bad news. Sympathy passed briefly over her face. “Goodbye Henry. I wish you all the best.”
He turned at her words. They sounded sincere. Then he fell back into his chair. “Are we really leaving, today?”
“They’ve already packed our things. There’s some really interesting objects for you too,” Carl said trying to sound cheerful. Sarah looked on nervously, unsure of her place in this personal matter. Henry looked down at his hands, squeezing the little gift.
His mother wanted to comfort him. “I’m sorry it’s not going to work son. But I’m so proud you and I know your father would be too.” He didn’t respond so she went on. “It seems like you really cared for that girl, and you may not believe it now but there will be others.”
“Not like her.”
“Okay. So, that’s true,” Carl said. “But that’s why it wouldn’t work. We’re talking sky-dwellers. We were fascinated by stories about them when we were kids. You probably fell for her before she said a word, but eventually the novelty would have worn off.”
“It’s not just that,” Henry insisted. “I mean sure at first it was just amazing to meet a sky-dweller. But we became friends. And she thought I had good ideas and could make them work. Nobody’s thought I could be good at anything since Dad died.”
“That’s not true, sweetie,” his mother cut in. “I’m sorry if we made you feel that way.”
“We’ll be there for you,” Carl promised. “But you have to let this go. They’re not like us.” Henry scoffed. “Listen we’re all trying to look out for you. Did you know, even their life span different? You’d be an old man and she’ll barely be to middle age for them.”
Henry looked at him unhappily. “So she’s not even saying goodbye?”
“She wanted too, but her father thought it’d be easier this way.”
“He’s very wise,” his mother said.
“Maybe,” Henry said looking out the open wall that served as a huge window and over the horizon as one of their majestic buildings shifted into view, “but he’s wrong.”