Part One: Plans
They hadn’t been meant to hear the news about Little Svon-on-Taba; they hadn’t been intended to be out of their rooms at all when the messenger came. Evanika and Orma were, as they had spent most of their childhoods and into what were nominally their adult years, grounded the week the messenger showed up. But, with a trait that had probably contributed to their state of perpetual confinement, they didn’t let a little thing like maternal disapproval (or the even-less-likely paternal censure) get in the way of their adventures.
So they had been in the back of the Emperor’s receiving room, anonymous among their cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and assorted other dozens of royal relatives, and conveniently camouflaged from discovery by Cousin Illavania’s immense feathered concoction of a hat, when the messenger, hastily cleaned up but still looking very much of the road, battered and scruffy and missing buttons on his jacket, bowed low and impatiently before His Eminence.
“We have found Little Svon-on-Taba, sire,” he’d announced eagerly, with an air of great importance emanating from him. The room had seemed less impressed with his announcement than he himself was, however; he’d gotten only a few gasps and quite a bit of murmured confusion.
Evanika and Orma had been just as lost as the rest of their family, but the Emperor had seemed intrigued enough that, when they’d retreated to Eva’s room, barely dodging detection by their father, they had immediately begun plans to discover more.
It had taken them over a week to research and prepare, their pace slowed by the necessity of hiding from their parents not only their plans, but the fact that they were working together on anything at all more complicated than eating dessert. All the while, several levels away in the huge castle warrens, the Emperor’s exploratory team made their own preparations.
They had to get there first; that was a given. Once they’d discovered what the story was behind Little Svon-on-Tabe, there had been no question if they were going; it became a matter, simply, of how.
Their older brother Iai provided the primary “how,” all unwitting; flitting from project to project in what appeared to be a family trait, he had put aside an small airship three-quarters of the way through building it because of a terminal flaw in the rudder design; he could not get the boat to properly detect nor navigate the air currents without making it too heavy for its air bladders to lift. In the mountainous ridged landscape of northern Callenia, the winds could easily be deadly for a ship with such a flaw; the ponderous, lumbering passenger air barges stuck to the valleys and lowlands, travelling, in many cases, the same paths as the river boats.
Making the boat steer itself was beyond the capabilities of either Orma or Eva, as it had been beyond Iai’s (Eva had held out some hope; together, the two of them could often outwit any one older relative). Eva had found a way to make the steering function manually, however, with the addition of two winglike appendages to the sides of the vessel to serve in lieu of a keel.
Orma had come up with the pièce de résistance, however, for their little expedition: spectacles, the metal-framed sort with the leather side guards that airship pilots wore to protect their eyes, but to these he’d attached a set of interchangeable lenses, pivoting from the sides up or down, to be looked through or not in whatever combination the wearer chose.
The lenses had taken most of the week and a few discrete calling-ins of favors on Orma’s part, while Eva designed and fabricated the wing-fins. Each individual lens, etched with the proper symbols and made of tinted glass, allowed the wearer to see into a different spectrum of what scientists, poo-pooing millennia of religious study, were now calling the aether. With the spectacles and Evanika’s new steering system, they could see the air flows and ride them, like riding the surf in a small sailboat. They could get to Little Svon-on-Taba faster in their tiny, swift aircraft thus than any river boat (going against current as it would have to) or plodding air barge could hope to.
With the questions of transportation and navigation out of the way, provisioning took only a few midnight trips out. They had done this enough times to know exactly what to swipe (and the castle staff, it seemed, had gotten used to their escapades; most of what they needed was already tidily packaged for them and waiting in their common hidey-holes); by the time they’d finished the fabrication of their tools, the ship was packed and ready to fly.
The maps had been the hardest; the castle librarian had gotten in some trouble over one or three of their earlier adventures, and, as such, was disinclined to help them or even let them into her domain. The closest city librarian was of a similar inclination, for similar reasons. They had to sneak all the way down to the West Quarter, a neighborhood that had been, in the days when their research was set, a very fine, up-and-coming place, and was now the sort of place where young royals should probably not be without an armed guard or three.
The very fact that no-one expected there to be royals in the West Quarter (combined with a bit of cleverness in the nicknames they used for each other and in their manner of dress) got them in and out of there safely, with the Allesely-dynasty-era maps of Little Svon-on-Taba, the Taba River, and Large Svon-on-Taba tucked away in Orma’s map case.
Two night before the Emperor’s exploratory party was even ready to leave, the pair floated their improved ship out of Iai’s launch bay. It moved perfectly, even loaded with supplies; the spectacles were amazing; they were actually doing it! Adventure awaited!
The ship glided a few lengths from the castle and jerked to a stop.
There will be more! I promise! But once I got to a stopping point at exactly 1000 words, I liked it so much I had to post it!