"Your Highness, do you trust my counsel?" Historian Mascusda asked.
"I think I made it clear that I do," Liz answered.
"Then if we're all to survive this, it is vital that you don't suffer so much as a scratch. You can demand mercy all you want when the guard arrives, but show the slightest sign of injury, and they'll kill everyone in the room."
Traedon seemed to agree with her assessment. "Causing any harm to a member of the royal family is a capital offense. The punishment often extends beyond the offender."
"I see," Liz said. "Well I guess that leaves out injuring myself to gain Kivar's sympathy."
"Kivar lacks the capacity for sympathy anyway."
"True. But we need to make this look real somehow." Liz studied the furniture in the room, and with a wave of her arm, scattered the chairs so that most landed near the door. She turned the table on its side. It made a poor shield, but if it came down to a battle, they needed something. "They couldn't take us without some kind of scuffle."
"We took you by surprise and the threat of weapons," Traedon said.
"And I stood meekly by as this happened?" Liz demanded. "I've disarmed you twice, which as you may recall is the number of times we've met."
"Would Kivar know of your prowess?"
"I've given him enough grief this week that he might doubt my passivity. I cannot afford his distrust."
"With your permission, Queen Liz?" Historian Mascusda took an energy weapon and held it against her arm. "In my panic to defend Princess Vilandra, I fouled your defensive blast and caused our attacker's weapon to fire. I'm not sure which one shot me, of course, but they were not aiming at the princess, who stood to my other side."
"Then burn your other arm," Traedon said. "Princess Vilandra would have stood here, and this room only has one entrance."
"No!" Liz said, too late.
The historian winced as the welt rose on her skin. "It's nothing, I assure you."
Traedon grabbed the table and dragged it into a better position. He motioned for the others to hide behind it. "If Kivar is with them, someone may well shoot in haste. I'd hate to die because you fell to friendly fire, Your Highness."
Liz nearly grinned. "I'm glad to discover you have a sense of humor, Traedon."
"A poor one," Historian Mascusda muttered. "You joke while our lives hang in the balance."
"I find that's when a joke is needed most," Liz said.
They didn't wait long before Kivar's forces arrived at the door. To Liz's surprise, they knocked in the Antarian style, and the door glowed. "Princess Vilandra?"
She recognized the second captain's voice, to her relief. She kept both the emotion and her recognition to herself. "Kivar? Are you out there, my love?"
"Kivar is waiting at the palace, Your Highness," the captain answered. "He sent us to check on you, as he expected you to return by now."
More relief. Kivar had kept silent about their disagreement, then, and the guards likely did not have orders to drag her back in handcuffs.
"Is your face known?" Liz whispered to Traedon. At his nod, she cursed her overreaction to the situation, which now presented more of a problem than a solution. She should have walked out to meet her guards alone. Or at least sent Traedon for the baby, and kept Dremea here. She'd make a more plausible gala-planner than Traedon.
"Princess Vilandra?" The door glowed again. "May I join you, Your Highness?"
"Are you alone?" Liz asked.
"No, Your Highness. May I ask why we continue to speak through a locked door?"
Traedon signaled Liz to keep him talking. One of the other remaining Inwallers circled around to peek out the window.
"I am also not alone," Liz said. "My friends and I have a gala to plan."
"A gala? Pardon my intrusion, but are you safe, Your Highness?"
Liz turned to Historian Mascusda. "Am I?"
"You are not," the Inwaller at the window said. "The building's surrounded. And I believe Kivar has given up on waiting at the palace."
"Use your code word," Historian Mascusda whispered. "Let him know your status."
"I don't have a code word."
"Even better. Make one up and use it," she said. "Later, confusion over the word might work as an excuse."
"I like the captain," Liz said. "I don't want him to get shot for failing in his duties."
"Then take the blame for having misremembered it, but say something before he blows that door in on us."
"How could I be anything but safe planning a gala in a history museum?" Liz shouted. "It's not like I'm climbing Dimara's Rock. We're discussing table settings!"
"Was that a code word?" Traedon thundered behind her. "No code words!"
"Please," Liz answered in her best pleading voice. "Don't hurt -- "
"Historian Mascusda will suffer every time you disobey me," Traedon said. "We both know I can't lay a finger on you, Princess, but this commoner has no such protection."
"Princess Vilandra!" The glowing on the door grew larger. "Get down so we can free you!"
"Stand down!" Liz shouted. "They dare not hurt me but if you enter you put Historian Mascusda at risk."
"Have they given you terms, Princess Vilandra?"
"All they want is freedom for a comrade," Liz said. "What was the name?"
"Wonsfiech," Traedon said.
"Wonsfiech?" The second captain sounded shocked at the request. "Who are you?"
"We fight for the freedom of the written word," Traedon answered. "Freedom for Wonsfiech, freedom for all!"
Liz couldn't quite make out the murmurings on the other side of the door.
"They're probably trying to figure out if Wonsfiech is alive or dead," Historian Mascusda said. "Kivar had him locked up years ago for suggesting the tax codes favored the elite."
"A life sentence," Traedon said. "For stating the obvious."
"I see," Liz said. "Well then, let's move the tax codes to the top of our list for reform."
"Provided we survive, of course."
"We'll put Wonsfiech in charge of that reform," Liz decided. "If he's alive."
Traedon whistled with laughter. "I like the way you think, Queen Liz."
"Princess Vilandra! How many are with you?"
"Legions," Historian Mascusda whispered.
"Legions!" Liz shouted. She dropped her voice to a whisper. "Will they have guards in the room above us?"
"Doubtful," Historian Mascusda said. "It's an exhibit on the history of transportation, and it's currently undergoing remodeling. I doubt they could get the door open right now, we sealed it to keep out inquisitive visitors."
"Transportation," Liz said. "Tell me, are any of the displays functional?"
"What are you thinking?"
"That we'd be a hell of a lot safer inside something that can move under its own power."
"How would you suggest getting up there?" Historian Mascusda gestured at the ceiling. "There's a solid floor in the way."
"We can't scale the building," one of the Inwallers added. "Kivar is standing out there with scores of soldiers."
Liz studied the room. "Which of these walls is structural?"
"Begging pardon, Your Highness?"
"Which ones hold the building up, and which ones just break this level into separate rooms?"
"You are not going to blow a hole in my museum!"
"Just a small one," Liz said. "And I promise to fix it. That's actually a vital part of my plan."
After some discussion on the specifics of the layout above them, Liz chose a spot. While she did so, Traedon improvised an impassioned speech about his admiration for the writings of Wonsfiech.
Liz gathered up all the power in her borrowed body, and aimed a hand at the spot she'd chosen. The building material crumbled, showering her in dust and pebbles. When she judged it just wide enough, she ordered two of the Inwallers to retreat through it. "Pick a vehicle, and hide in it."
"As you wish, Your Highness." They scrambled up on makeshift ladders, reshaped from the chairs Liz had scattered earlier.
"Tax codes which allow wealth to accumulate only at the top do not serve the people!" Traedon shouted at the glowing door.
"I don't care about tax codes," the second captain answered. "Just let the hostages go."
"Has Wonsfiech arrived? Is he free to once again speak on behalf of the people?"
"Princess Vilandra? Has this man harmed you in any way?"
"Not a scratch," Liz answered. "But he has quite thoroughly ruined my day."
"I can't try again," Isabel said. "Not yet. It didn't work, and now I feel like I just ran a marathon."
"And you've actually run marathons," Kyle said. "So that's not just hyperbole."
"We need to get her home," Maria said. "We can't tell Mr. Parker she's sick in bed if she's sick in Max's bed."
"It's not a bed," Michael said. "It's a couch."
"Max sleeps on it, doesn't he? Besides, Liz sleeping anywhere in this apartment is hardly dad-approved."
"We carried her here," Kyle said. "Twice now, in fact. We can carry her up the back stairs at the Crashdown just as easily, but we'll need a distraction."
"Why is everyone looking at me?" Maria demanded.
"Aren't you the queen of distractions?" Michael asked.
"We don't need to cause a commotion," Max said. "Just make sure Mr. Parker doesn't leave the restaurant, and distract Mrs. Parker, if she's home."
"I'll take the restaurant," Isabel said. "I'm starving anyway."
"And I'll take Mrs. Parker," Michael said. "I feel the need for a little motherly advice."
"Really?" Maria asked.
"Of course not," Michael said. "But it gets me out of carrying Liz up another flight of stairs."
"She's done the same for you, you know."
"Well Liz is a better person than me," Michael said. He barely sounded sarcastic at all.
"Okay then," Kyle said. "Let's play another round of 'haul the unconscious person out to the car.'"
Maria looked at Max. "I suppose I'm a lookout again?"
Max nodded. "Let's do this."
"Stand clear of the door," the captain said. "We're coming in."
"Wait!" Liz shouted. "Please wait! We're not clear!"
The outside edges of the door began to glow.
"You've got about ten seconds," Traedon said.
"Get out of here!" Liz pointed at the ceiling.
"Your Highness -- "
The glowing door began to swell inward.
Traedon leaped onto the makeshift ladder.
"The door," Historian Mascusda hissed
Liz swore in English and flung up a shield to reinforce it. "Get the table."
Once Historian Mascusda had the table against the door, Liz aimed her powers at the ladder Traedon had just vacated. It shattered into kindling. Then she dealt with hole in the ceiling, closing it off as if it never existed. At least from below. The floor above, she suspected, would need a touch up. Finally, she snatched up an energy weapon and blasted another hole, this time in the floor. She drained the weapon, and flung it down to the room below them.
The glowing door gave a pop.
"Get out of the way!" Liz shouted. She threw herself in front of the historian and blocked the small explosion with another shield. Her vision began to swim from the exertion.
Soldiers poured into the room.
"He went that way!" Liz pointed at the hole she'd blasted in the floor.
Soldiers jumped down the hole.
"I found a weapon!" One of them shouted. The sound of a crash echoed upward.
"My poor museum," Historian Mascusda moaned.
"Kivar will pay for any damages," Liz assured her. "He's very generous."
"Princess Vilandra." The captain dropped to one knee before her. "Have you suffered any harm?"
"I'm fine, Captain." Liz desperately wanted to ask under what pretense Kivar had sent him. She didn't dare. "You scared him away."
"My men will catch him," he said. "What happened?"
"He didn't seem to have much of a plan," Historian Mascusda said. "He disrupted our meeting, and I must admit I panicked when I saw his weapon."
"Historian Mascusda was quite brave," Liz said. "She burned herself trying to take his weapon. I don't think she realized I could have shielded us both, had he fired."
"I did know, but my mind didn't work quickly enough," Historian Mascusda said. "I feel so foolish."
"You showed good instincts," the captain said. "Quick action doesn't always leave time for selecting the most effective plan. Just a working one."
"Everything's fine," Liz said with a conviction she lacked. "We both survived, and now we'll have an exciting story to tell."
"You've wasted enough time socializing with this historian." Kivar pronounced 'historian' with a scorn most people reserved for vile things. Like slum lords, or fascist dictators.
"She's my friend," Liz said. "And she got hurt protecting me. I would think that, at least, might earn your gratitude."
"I've arranged a more fitting social activity for you this afternoon," Kivar said. "I hope it will provide enough entertainment to quell your need to wander off."
"Tervalewa and Plasidy have kindly agreed to help you prepare for your role in the Night of Three Moons."
"Now I suggest you get some rest," Kivar said. "I know you'll want to look fresh for your guests."
It took some effort to submit to his suggestion, despite the fact that Liz ached for sleep at the moment. At this point, a week's sleep would fail to make her feel rested. Yet she had other pressing concerns. The current location of her handmaiden, for one. And more importantly, whether everyone had made a clean escape from the museum debacle.
Unfortunately, she still lacked that knowledge when the two socialites arrived. Liz tired of them even sooner than she had before. They supplied all the latest updates on other women's fashion choices for the Night of Three Moons. Liz did her best to pay attention. It might help her recognize key acquaintances at the upcoming festival, after all. Provided any of this speculation proved accurate.
The tedious conversation wore on for a while longer, and then Liz decided she couldn't take it any more. "I got taken hostage at the historical museum this morning."
"What were you doing at the historical museum?"
"I had a breakfast meeting," Liz said. "Some tax reformist stormed in with weapons. Poor Historian Mascusda ended up with a burn on her arm from trying to protect me."
Neither woman reacted to this story as Liz expected. They showed neither concern for her well being nor interest in the excitement.
"People these days," Tervalewa said. "Wasting their time complaining about taxes. Can you imagine caring about such a petty thing?"
"It's not petty when you're scrambling to earn enough money to survive," Liz said.
"Oh, tell me you were not poor while trapped on Earth! Did they force you to work?"
"As a matter of fact I did have a job," Liz said. Then she remembered that Isabel didn't, and Kivar knew it. "My foster parents had plenty of money, so I didn't work often, but sometimes I filled in for one of my friends. She worked as a waitress."
"They work in restaurants," Liz said. "They serve food and drinks."
"Like a common servant?"
Funny, I would have expected that when I mentioned getting kidnapped.
"It was hard work," Liz admitted. "Which is why the people who do it deserve good wages, not ridicule."
"Oh, tell me you're not going to care about causes now," Tervalewa said. "Our monthly Daughters of Antar meetings are bad enough."
"I'm to be Queen," Liz said. "How can I not care about my people?"
"Oh, let Kivar worry about keeping the common people in line," Tervalewa said. "You need to help us arrange some parties. Nobody else has your flair for it."
"It's about more than keeping people in line," Liz said. "As a ruler, it's about making sure everyone has what they need. Ruling is a responsibility."
"Earth has made you dull, Vilandra. But don't worry, we'll whip you back into shape. Won't we, Tervalewa?"
Tervalewa whistled. "Most definitely. We'll have you dancing until your feet bleed. Wait until tomorrow night!"
"Why?" Plasidy asked. "What are we doing tomorrow night?"
Trying to take over the world. Liz held back a manic whistle at her own thoughts.
"Tomorrow is the Night of Three Moons!" Tervalewa reminded her. "And since it will be Vilandra's first social outing, we need to make it as special as possible! It should be an event they'll remember for the ages."
No problem, Liz thought to herself. Tomorrow night I sacrifice every principle I've ever held. Tomorrow night I become a murderer. I'll definitely remember it.
"Yes," Plasidy said. "A night for the ages!"
As soon as she escaped the vacuous society girls, Liz rushed off in search of Prill. She'd left the handmaiden passed out in her own bed. She knew the ruse had failed, since Kivar had sent troops to retrieve her from the museum. Had the young woman woken up on her own, or had someone discovered her? Did she realize who had stunned her in the first place?
Prill could unravel everything with a word. Liz could only hope that loyalty to her mistress had stilled her tongue.
She found her downstairs, under the care of the palace physician.
"But now you've learned the dangers of imbibing," Doctor Gafer said to his patient. "You won't make that mistake again."
"No sir," Prill said. "I'll not touch a drop of cottrill again. I had no idea of its power."
"Princess Vilandra!" Doctor Gafer exclaimed. "If you've come in search of young Prill, I'd beg you show lenience. She never meant to neglect her duties."
Realization punched Liz straight in the gut. Doctor Gafer had used the mindwashing technique on poor Prill. The same one he'd spared her, when he defied Kivar's order to erase the coup from Vilandra's memory.
"All is forgiven," Liz said, fighting to keep her voice steady. "We all make mistakes, and Prill is too valuable an asset to waste over a such a trivial one."
"I should think so," Doctor Gafer said. "I know I've overindulged a time or two myself. The strength of that vintage has caught many by surprise."
"I trust this mistake has not damaged her health?"
"Oh no," Doctor Gafer said. "Aside from a slight headache she's as good as new. Or at least as good as she was yesterday afternoon."
Good, Liz thought, just a day. One day. Lots of people lost a single day. In fact, most people lost quite a few. Similar days faded together in one's memory, as time went on. He'd not erased anything significant.
"Prill," Liz said. "I can muddle through the rest of my day without you. You need your rest. Remember, you promised to accompany me to the Night of Three Moons."
"Of course, Princess Vilandra. I already have my dress and jewels laid out."
When the girl left, Liz started to thank the physician.
"How dare you put me in such a position!" Doctor Gafer snapped. "I realize you will soon be my queen. I owe you fealty as such. Even so, I will not soon forget that you left me no choice but to use that dangerous procedure on an innocent girl."
"I don't recall asking," Liz snapped.
"You left her passed out in your own bed, with a memory of your attack. How did you expect to cover it up?"
"With bribery! Hardly the ideal situation, but safer than brainwashing!"
"Fortunately, it proved an easy enough memory to tweak. Did you really expect bribery to work?"
"I hoped it would suffice, yes."
"Then why not start with it, and save yourself a bit of trouble?"
"You have a point, Doctor Gafer," Liz admitted. "I let haste make me sloppy."
He studied her quietly for a moment. "In the future, I would appreciate a little more care on your part."
"Of course. I regret having put you in this position."
"Then my life remains yours, Your Highness."
"Your life remains your own, but I am glad to have retained your support."
He bowed his head, and indicated someone passing near the door.
Liz silently acknowledged the warning. "Have you spoken to your wife? There was an incident at the museum. She handled herself with admirable grace, but I do hope she has not been unduly upset by the ordeal."
"I daresay you will see her before I do," he said. "I heard talk of reparations. I believe she will soon present you with a bill."
"I will make sure it gets paid. I hope nothing is too damaged to repair?"
"None of the artifacts suffered any harm. I did, however, hear a detailed description of the floor in the History of Transportation room. It seems the hasty repairs were less than thorough."
"I feared that might be the case. I'll try to make it over there tomorrow and take care of it."
"I suspect you have more important matters that require your attention," Doctor Gafer said. "The Night of Three Moons is upon us."
"It is indeed. Kivar and I will make this celebration one to remember. The guest list includes many a happy reunion." She paused, and glanced at the door. "Speaking of family, does your sister have plans for the holiday?"
"Funny you should ask, I just spoke with her. She and her son plan to celebrate with some good friends."
"I see. Please pass along my regards." Liz handed over her 'regards' in the form of a handwritten note. She could only pray that Tess would carry out her request. "I hope to enjoy her company again soon."