“It’s dark in here,” Allison said as she looked around.
There were no lights on, so the only light came from the sconces that glowed outside the windows. A light breeze wafted in through one open window, otherwise the rooms were still.
Picking their way through the dark rooms, Allison found a low table and placed the tray on it. Jonathan poked his head into a dark room and found himself staring into a mostly bare study or office. A desk sat under a window and empty shelves lined the walls. White curtains rested still and silent, framing the latched window.
“Cass?” Allison called. “Do you see her, Jonathan?”
He pulled out of the study and found Allison starting down a hallway.
“Not yet,” he answered, following her.
Together they poked their heads into a bathroom, a spacious closet, and a small room that was completely empty. Finding all of them empty and dark, they moved on into the bedroom.
“Cass,” Allison called out, “if you’re taking a nap, it’s dinner time.”
Jonathan almost collided with her when she stopped suddenly.
“Jonathan?” Allison asked quietly.
“Yes?” he said, his voice just as quiet as he took in the dark room and perfectly made bed.
“Do you see what I see?”
“An empty bedroom,” Jonathan whispered, feeling the blood rush from his face.
“That’s what I was afraid of,” Allison said, her voice so soft Jonathan almost missed her words.
“What do we do?”
Allison licked her lips and turned to leave the room, her back straight and stiff. “We find Landick.”
Nodding in agreement, Jonathan followed her out of Cass’s rooms. They walked swiftly down the halls, not sure of where they were going, but walking as though they knew exactly where to find Landick.
“I was wondering where you two were.”
Allison started and almost knocked into Jonathan. Caught off guard, he stopped short and managed to grab her before she fell over. Together they turned to see Arnold strolling towards them, his hands in his pockets. He eyed them curiously as he approached.
A little frantic, Allison suddenly lunged towards him and grabbed his shoulders. His eyes widened as he caught her before they strayed to Jonathan with questions in his eyes, the lights shining brightly along the walls glinting off of his glasses.
“Arnold, tell me you’ve seen my sister,” Allison demanded, her fingers digging into him.
“Ow, Allison. No, I’ve only seen Daniel. He’s down in the dining hall still.” Arnold grinned. “I think he said something about trying all of the desserts.”
Though Arnold was tall and slender, he was still solid, but that didn’t stop Allison from trying to shake him. At the surprised look on Arnold’s face, Jonathan leaped forward and tried to pry her away. Allison, though, only threw an angry look at him that had him quickly backing off and shooting their friend an apologetic look.
“When was the last time you saw her?” Allison demanded.
“Back in the oak grove, right before she walked out.”
“Are you sure?”
“Positive.” Arnold’s gaze wandered over to Jonathan. “What’s going on?”
“Cass isn’t in her rooms,” Jonathan said tersely.
Arnold blinked at them before slowly saying, “Well, this is a large palace. She could be exploring.”
Allison’s grip finally loosened and she backed away, a light blush coloring her pale cheeks. Jonathan made a sound and ran a hand through his hair. Neither of them had considered that possibility.
“We hadn’t thought of that,” Jonathan said. “We just assumed Cass would be in her rooms, locked up or something.”
Arnold shrugged. “Landick’s in the dining hall. We could go talk to him if you’re worried.”
Allison nibbled at her thumbnail for a moment before she nodded. “Lead the way, Arnold.”
Together, in silence, they headed to the dining hall. Since they were newly arrived at the palace, they took a few wrong turns and ended up on the wrong floor twice before a helpful servant gave them specific directions and they learned every hall was decorated differently to help guide people through the palace.
“This place is a maze,” Jonathan muttered as they finally found the dining hall.
“Yes,” Allison agreed, “but it’s home.”
“To you,” Arnold said. “Jonathan and I aren’t part of your family. We don’t have to stay here.”
Allison turned to him and narrowed her eyes. “You wouldn’t dare abandon us.”
Arnold sighed as they entered the dining hall, the sound of silverware clinking against porcelain filling the room.
“No,” Jonathan answered for both of them. “Whatever your family has to face, we’ll be here to stand by your sides.”
Allison gave a curt nod as they proceeded into the room. “That’s what I thought.”
The dining hall was a large room with chandeliers hanging from the high ceiling. The floor had pale blue and white tiles and the walls had been painted a creamy white. Along one wall was a long table stretching nearly the entire length of the room. Covered platters of various sizes were placed at equal distances and a young man or woman dressed in stained pale yellow robes stood behind each platter. Round and square tables of varying sizes dotted the rest of the room, each covered with pastel colored clothes and adorned with small vases blooming with wildflowers. Opposite the food table were five sets of French doors. Each set led out onto a balcony with two tables each and flowers spilling over the rail. A gentle breeze wound in and out, carrying the salty sea breeze mixed with the almost cloying scent of the thousand or so flowers.
Several of the tables were filled with palace personnel. Their quiet chatter filled the room, punctuated by clinking silverware and the occasional laugh. At the far end of the room was a long table set with baskets of flowers. There they found Landick and Daniel enjoying dessert.
Landick’s eyes danced as he looked up at the group swiftly approaching them. Merry, he waved for them to join him and the young prince, but Allison shook her head.
“Have you seen my sister?” Allison asked softly, her eyes boring into Landick’s.
Suddenly solemn and unsmiling, Landick shook his head. Daniel had been about to take a bite, but, at his sister’s words, he carefully put down his fork.
“Why do you ask?” Landick said softly.
“Jonathan and I went to her rooms to deliver her dinner, but they were dark and empty.” Allison nodded to Arnold. “We ran into Arnold and he suggested she might be wandering around the palace.”
Landick stood. “That’s entirely possible. This is a large place. Like you, I am hoping she is merely wandering and perhaps lost. In any case, it wouldn’t do to have the Star Queen missing, even if she is still here. I will check with the guards and have the servants search the entire palace.”
“What can we do?” Allison asked.
Landick shook his head. “I can’t have you wandering around otherwise we may lose you, too. It’ll be late soon, so I suggest you return to your rooms and settle in for the night. With luck, Cass will be found and we’ll be discussing her adventures over breakfast.”
Allison’s lips tightened, but she nodded.
Cass woke to the sun on her face. Groaning softly, she drew the soft blanket over her face and turned over. Last night she had been sure that a good night’s rest would help her clear her mind, and help her determine if she was doing the right thing by running away.
She grimaced at that thought. She never thought she would be the type of person to run from her responsibilities and duties, but the thought of being a queen in a completely unfamiliar world felt absurd. It wasn’t a dream; she was sure of that. But perhaps Landick and her mother’s visions were wrong. She held fast to the thought that she might not actually be the Star Queen.
Sighing, Cass threw the blanket from her face and stretched. She turned to gaze out the window to see the sun was slowly rising, just peeking over the tops of the buildings. Sitting up, she wondered how late in the morning it was. But, considering the quiet air that floated in through the open window, she figured the traffic along the nearby main thoroughfare hadn’t yet started up yet.
Cass dressed quickly and braided her hair before gathering up her bag and leaving the room. As she walked down the hall to the stairs that would take her back to the dining room, she rummaged through the purse for a lily. She was still awed by the beautiful pieces of silver. Though thin and delicate, they were surprisingly strong. She should know; she had spent all night playing with them and seeing if they were as delicate as they looked.
The dining room was quiet when she arrived. The boy was wiping down the empty tables, whistling a lilting tune as he worked.
“Morning, lady,” he called out as he caught sight of her. “You’re up early.”
Cass smiled at him. “Good morning. I don’t think I caught your name yesterday.”
“Eller,” he said, giving her a grin and bow before going back to wiping down the table. “Take a seat where you please and my mother will be out soon to offer you something to eat.”
Cass smiled and settled herself to wait. She laid the lily on the table and studied it as it glinted in the light of the chandelier. There was one window beside the door, otherwise the room was entirely dependent on the chandelier’s light.
Before long, the boy’s mother came out from the kitchen. She paused a moment as she caught sight of Cass, who smiled and nodded to her in greeting. The woman held up one finger and then disappeared back into the kitchen. Cass’s eyebrows rose in surprise, but, a few moments later, she reappeared with a plate in her hands.
“Good morning, lady,” the woman said as she placed the plate before Cass. “No cost.”
Cass looked up at her in surprise. “Are you sure?”
The woman smiled. “My boy told me you were new in town. Baiater City is known to be welcoming, so it’s the least I can do to welcome you.”
“Well,” Cass said, picking up the silver lily, “here’s the lily for last night. You have a beautiful inn and one of the most comfortable beds I’ve ever slept on.”
Pleased, the woman bobbed a small curtsy and inclined her head. “Thank you. Please, enjoy your breakfast. If you need anything else, just ask.”
“Thank you,” Cass said with a smile as the woman withdrew, sliding the lily into a pocket.