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.”