"Do you have everything? Don't forget this jerky, or this bread- and take this, you're grandmother made you a wheel of cheese-"
"Mother, yes, okay, here- put it in this bag," Drummer said with casual impatience, holding out his leather pack.
"Do you have to go?" his little sister asked.
"I'm sorry, Chime, I do," he said, picking her up.
"Then you gotta take Ting," she said, holding out her stuffed rabbit.
Drummer smiled and set her on the kitchen table. "You need to keep him with you- if I'm not here, Ting will keep you safe."
"Okay...but will you take Gong then?" She held out a small monkey holding his namesake, all carved out of wood.
Drummer rummaged in his pockets until he found a piece of string. He tied it around Gong and then to his pack. "There, is that good?"
Chime grinned. "It's good. Come back soon?"
"As fast as I can!" he promised. He hugged her and kissed her on the cheek before turning to his parents. "I love you, Mom," he said as his mother burst into tears and squeezed him in a fierce hug. "Love you, Dad," he said, hugging his father, who punched him on the shoulder when he turned to go.
"Come back in one piece, or I'll remove a few more," his dad said gruffly. Drummer gave them his usual crooked smile and strode through the door.
"Ready, Inina?" he asked, glancing at the rosebush she liked to hide in. "Did you say bye?"
"I did," she assured him. "It was hard to get away from Chime. She kept trying to give me things!"
He smiled and strode down the street toward the fountain square. They had decided to meet there since the Queen lived in Percussion Palace during the spring, and they were going to ask her for her piece of the seal first. Then they would continue east to the sorcerer to find out what he knew and plan their next move accordingly.
It was a short walk, but he savoured it, taking in all the faces he wouldn't see for a while, all his favourite little shops and stands. He couldn't help but pause at the bakery. His grandmother greeted him, smacked him for going on an adventure without her, handed him a basket of delicious pastries, and sent him off with a tearful farewell. The square was one more street over, and even though he lived closer than any of them to Cymbal Square, he was the last to arrive. They were seated on benches and talking when he approached them and handed over the basket.
"I brought breakfast," he said, brushing crumbs from his tunic. "Courtesy of my grandmother."
Vivace dove in like he was starving. "This is great- I haven't eaten in two hours!" he said as he shoved a raspberry scone into his mouth.
Subito grimaced at him. "Thank you, and thank your grandmother," he said as he offered the basket to Maebhe before taking a blueberry muffin for himself.
Maebhe offered a piece of her chocolate crescent to Ylinda who had chosen not to dive into the basket with the other faeries. "We should probably hurry," Maebhe said nervously. "We can walk and eat- let's get to the palace."
They would have been there in ten minutes, but Vivace insisted on stopping for juice. "I will die of thirst from the decadent pastries if I do not have juice!" he cried, when Subito said they could get a drink later. "Two orange juices and three grape juices," he said after convincing them all to stop.
After getting their drinks, they continued on down Castle Road, Maebhe struggling to keep up with the boys' long legs while holding the bowl of juice for the faeries steady. "Double flat!" she cursed as the bowl tumbled from her hand.
"Well, wasn't that adorable?" Vivace muttered to Drummer as Subito picked up the bowl.
"I'm sorry- I forgot," he said. "We should slow our pace." He turned to give the other two a stern look.
"Sorry, boss," Drummer said as Vivace bowed.
"I should have carried the bowl," Vivace admitted.
Maebhe blushed and wound through them to lead the way so they couldn't see her face. "I know they're talking about me," she whispered to Ylida.
"Don't worry about it," the faerie soothed. "Soon they'll know you're more than able to do this, Vilina- you're just shy, so you're messing up a little in front of these new faces. It doesn't help that they're all giants."
"They are so tall! Taller than father, and I always thought there was no man bigger than da," she said, flustered. "Let's just get to the palace and see Queen Nayulei. I haven't spoken to her in a while- it will be good to catch up."
Drummer and Vivace walked after her, Subito following behind them and scowling at their conversation.
"I really don't think this is going to work out," Vivace muttered. "She's quite a beauty, but have you ever heard of brains in an elf like that? Libba keeps telling me how great her faerie says she is, but I haven't seen any evidence yet, have you?"
"Nope, just a fantastic-"
"That's enough!" Subito said hotly. He pushed between them. "Keep you're faces closed!" He strode up to the gate to stand beside Maebhe who was addressing the guards.
"Hello, we would like to see the Queen, please," she said. "I'm her niece, Vilina Maebhe, and we have important things to speak of."
"I'll need to check this-" the guard said, motioning for a fellow guardsman to come over. "Find Dalanna, tell her the Queen's niece is here."
"You're the queen's niece?" Subito asked with a frown.
"Well, great-niece, but she told me never to bother with 'greats' because they make her feel old," Maebhe explained.
"Vilina!" a lady exclaimed, rushing through the opening gates. They took each others' hands and bowed. "You're face is so plain- why are you dressed like a boy? It isn't time, is it? Oh dear, it can't be! You're not even a century yet!"
"We need to see Auntie," Maebhe said apologetically. "I'm afraid it is time."
"Very well, you lot come with me. Did you get the new bow I sent you for your birthday?" the lady chattered as she led them through the gate and garden, into the palace.
"I did!" Maebhe exclaimed. "I played my last recital with it- the balance was perfect, thank you so much!"
They continued chatting until they reached a beautiful silver door with carvings of different percussion instruments. "The throne room is right through here- just let me announce you." Dalanna rushed off through a side door and a few minutes later the larger doors opened and the four and their faeries walked inside.
She was beautiful- her golden-white hair fell past her narrow waist in waves, contrasting perfectly with flawless, creamy skin and full rose-colored lips carved into an angled face. Her crown was a deeper gold that matched her large golden eyes, and was studded with every kind of gem you could find in the Overture Garden. Tall, slender, and graceful, she was the iconic picture of royalty.
"Your majesty," Maebhe said with a low curtsy.
"Your majesty," Drummer and the other boys murmured, bowing low.
"Come here, Vilina," the Queen said with a sad smile as she rose from her throne. They embraced for a long moment and parted with grief. "That the gods chose my favorite niece is both the greatest honor and the greatest pain I will ever experience," she said with a half smile. "But you are not here for tearful farewells- I hold the first piece of your journey." The Queen stepped away to murmur to Dalanna who stood beside the throne. She handed her a small silver key and Dalanna parted with a bow.
"Let's do this quickly. While Dalanna retrieves what you have come for, I have something already here for each of you. I have received reports on you three, and I know where your talents lie. For you, Vivace Ildore Sharp, a set of knives." Nayulei motioned toward a manservant who came forward with a box. He knelt as he presented it to the player.
"Your majesty, thank you-" Vivace began.
She cut him off. "Thank me by returning my niece to me alive. For Dorian Subito Smith, a sword." She motioned to another who knelt before him in the same fashion, a sword held above his head.
"I would gladly protect your niece, even without such a precious gift from you," the vocalist said, bowing low once again.
She smiled at him before turning to Drummer. "For Drummer Ionian Baker, you were much tougher- since you choose not to fight with a weapon, I could not very well gift you with one, could I?" She motioned to another manservant, who knelt before Drummer with a box. "Still, I always figure something out. All of your gifts are enchanted, but these are special."
Drummer opened the box and grinned. Inside was a pair of drumsticks.
"I know your gift is darkness, so these will enhance that. They will also enhance the power of your faerie, Inina." She paused to bow to the faerie. "These will also help you keep track of each other. You will always know where your friends are."
"Thank you," he murmured, slipping them down the back of his shirt.
"Your sword will never break; it will enhance your powers, and that of Aniko," she said, nodding to Aniko and Subito. "Your knives will always be concealed, and enhance your powers and Libba's powers." She bowed slightly to Libba.
"Now for you, my pet," she said, taking a cloth wrap from a maid. "Come here, Vilina." She pulled the cloth off a magnificently carved long bow and handed her a package of well oiled strings. "You are the best shot I know," she said. "Perhaps this bow can be your equal." She nodded to the maid who curtsied and handed her a quiver as well.
"Thank you so much; it's beautiful," Maebhe said. She handed them back to the maid and threw her arms around the Queen. "I love you, Aunt Nayu. I wish you could come!"
Nayulei cleared her throat and pulled away. "If I could," she said with a smile. "Do you wish to know what is so special about your bow? It's more for me than you, I'm afraid. It will help me keep track of all of you. Of course, it enhances your powers- and I have enchanted to always aim true. You won't miss your mark with this bow." She turned to see Dalanna who had come back with an ebony box with a silver clasp. Vilina stood back, taking her gift from the maid.
Queen Nayulei settled herself back into her throne and placed the box on her lap. "I do not give you this lightly," she said, opening the box. She pulled out a shard of crystal about the size of a man's fist and held it out. "Subito, take this," she said, slipping it into a leather purse. He bowed and hurried forward to take it. "Protect this with your life, with all your lives," she murmured glancing over them all. "Go, and luck be with you." She stood and left the room, back straight and head high, but they had all seen her lips tremble as she spoke. They left, their hearts heavy with thoughts of what lay ahead.
"Excellent," Vivace said when a maid handed them a lunch basket on their way out of the palace garden.
"Share!" Libba scolded, buzzing around his face.
Drummer turned to look back at the palace. "This is going to be some adventure, huh?"