“Lani. . . ”
I awoke to see Ryonel squatting beside the bed, poking my shoulder with one respectful finger. I rubbed my eyes and sat up.
“Good afternoon, Sleepyhead,” he said.
“Did you see Leon?” I asked.
“No, but Dante did. He said that Leon sent you a message: “I am well, but still pretending to be sick. I’ll be ready to leave tonight.”
“Oh, thank God!” I exclaimed with relief.
“Yeah, but I also talked to Bravon, one of the guards. He said that Bartroles announced that Leon has to get well by tomorrow morning. He sent him a tray of food like the one he sent you yesterday. What do you make of that?”
“Well…” I hedged, pulling the smashed lily out of my hair and dropping it on the floor.
“What?” Ryonel asked, looking worried.
“Eh. I’m engaged to marry Bartroles tomorrow.” I said with a sheepish grimace.
“What?! Why?” Ryonel exclaimed, jumping to his feet.
“Relax, we’ll be long gone. . . and, in the meantime Leon is safe.”
I sighed and stood up, shaking out the princess dress which was now wrinkled and crushed. Ryonel stood near the window, frowning. He did not respond to my explanation and at length the silence grew awkward.
“Is something wrong? Are we still leaving?”
He didn’t answer and I wondered if the crazy-Ryonel was back for a visit.
“You look beautiful,” he said at last. And then with strong emphasis, he added, “and you’re not going to marry Bartroles.”
“Okay, I won’t,” I assured him.
Then Ryonel seemed to shake off his worry. He unknotted his bundle of food and spread it on the bed between us. We both began to eat the bread, cheese, smoked meat and grapes.
“It’s not roast chicken,” he apologized.
“It’s great. Thanks,” I said, eating with more enthusiasm than usual. “I was starving.”
“I have more of the same stored on The Aero. Plus some tools. And even a dozen chickens and a couple milk goats. We’re ready to leave as soon as we get everyone on board.”
“Geez, the Arrow is practically an Ark,” I smiled. “And you’re Noah.”
“My mother told me that story,” Ryonel said. “Do you think it’s true?”
“I don’t know. There are a lot of weird things that turned out to be true. But if it is true. . .”
“I kinda think God would have talked to you by now, like he did to Noah.” I said this jokingly, but Ryonel was sober.
He didn’t say anything and I watched his face, waiting for him to think. He picked up a cluster of grapes and turned it over in his hands like he’d never seen one before. Then he pulled off a grape and ate it slowly, still observing the cluster. He laid the cluster back down and said thoughtfully,
“Maybe. . . he has.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well - my grandmother made it here to Nedan from Earth, through a portal that only opens about once every eighteen years. Then, you and Leon escaped Earth just before it burned up. And that just happened to be the moment the portal opened again. You show up in a ship with all the parts I need to finish The Aero. And you are pilots. And the youth are somehow ready to follow us to a place they’ve never been before. And you had dreams about the Estuary my grandmother saw — a place you’ve never been before. What do you call that?”
I remembered my dream of the Messenger, giving me directions on how to save Leon’s life, before I even knew he’d been poisoned. My mind couldn’t have contrived that. But the experience was too unbelievable to relate to anyone.
“Unlikely.” I admitted. “Unexpected.”
“It’s God talking.” Ryonel answered his own question with joyful candor. “And not the dark gods of Nedan, who must be offered the lives of our children so they’ll grant the rest of us a pathetically fleeting moment.”
I didn’t know what to say. It was an idea that needed more thought than I’d had time for in my life. But Ryonel didn’t need a response. He had done his own thinking, during the years of solitude on the Starport.
“Have you ever heard of something called “The Archive Crown?” I asked him. “It looks kinda like a metal hat.”
“A hat? Like a helmet?” Ryonel asked.
“Yeah. Like, in the Archive building somewhere. A special room, maybe.”
“Did you see it in a dream?” he asked.
“I saw it on a map Bartroles keeps in a silver canister thing. And I sort-of dreamed about it too. I think it’s a database of information.”
“What kind of information?” Ryonel asked. “That could be useful.”
“Very.” I answered, and got up to look out the window.
“It don’t really know. . . The Special Clearance Archives is what I heard it called in a dream. The Archive Crown is what it was called on the map. It could be secrets, or just a collection of everything known. . . like a mega hard drive of data. Ryonel—” I turned suddenly to look at him and found him standing right behind me.
“We need that archive helmet,” he said, guessing what I was going to say.
I nodded. “I think it could be the most valuable thing on Nedan.”
Ryonel rolled his shoulders and grimaced. He turned to pace the room while he was thinking. “They’ve still got Leon under guard,” he said, changing the subject. “I’m going to have to go in and get him before we leave.”
“I’ll go with you,” I stood up and reached for my backpack. “Oh, I guess I better change. . .”
“No,” Ryonel interrupted, still pacing the floor. “You’ve got to get the kids up to the Starport. I can’t get them and Leon, both. So we’re going to have to split up.”
Then he looked at me and added, “I’m going to wait a few hours before I go get Leon. . . until the darkest hours of the morning when everyone will be asleep. Maybe even the guards.”
“Okay. . .” I said slowly, knowing he was working up to something.
“Can I borrow your stun gun?” he asked. “I don’t want to injure or kill anybody. I just don’t want them to stop me.”
“Sure.” I got it out and handed it to him. “It needs to be recharged, but it should have a couple more shots in it.”
He took the gun and tucked it into his belt, then he looked up and grinned at me.
“In the meantime. . . you want to go archive hunting?”
“Absolutely,” I said.
“Then I’m going up to talk to Madia and the kids while you get ready.”
“Someone will probably come to check on me soon, anyway,” I agreed. “So I should stay here until after the bell rings.”
“See you soon,” Ryonel said as he left, and winked the way Leon always does.
I stood at the window, watching the children gather around the bell for worship and at length I spotted the tiny figure of Jenassi entering the Hall of the Gods. I quickly added some dark circles under my eyes again and laid back down to pretend illness.
She came through the door silently, without giving any warning, and I made note of her newly acquired stealth.
“We’re getting ready for the wedding!” She announced to my prone figure with girlish excitement. “The Marchempor demands an excellent feast and celebration. You are to wear the gown of The Ancients and be decked with lilies and blue mist. I shall be decked with lilies and blue mist as well! His Royal Highness will wed you beneath the bell ere it tolls on the morrow!”
“That sounds splendid,” I moaned and gagged over the side of the bed. Jenassi leaped backwards and frowned.
“You must be well by tomorrow!” She commanded me. On second thoughts she added, “Your Highness.”
I didn’t answer her this time. I just groaned and turned my back.
“Perhaps you should get up and sir-size again,” she advised.
“Sir size?” I asked, curious in spite of my charade.
“The running and falling down thing you were doing yesterday to get stronger,” she suggested. “I tried it myself, and it does make your head spin.”
I hid a smile in the blanket.
“Or perhaps sustenance?” She offered. “I could bring you a feast as I did yesterday.”
“I don’t want any food,” I moaned. “Just let me sleep all night in peace! I just need undisturbed rest.”
“Oh.” Jenassi uttered and went out the door and back down the hall, clearly disappointed.
I laid on the bed for a while, just in case she might tiptoe back to check on me. Then the bell tolled, and I knew she must be gone.
I quickly changed back into my black fatigues and put on the hepa-filter mask. Darkness had fallen, and if I laid down I might go to sleep again. So I left my room and went to the stairwell to wait for Ryonel.