Our getaway driver this week is Nova Blake (tomorrow: moi). A sample from her 15-Day story is here. You can find more Nova at novablake.com.
The Prince stood up and then stepped down the three stairs so that we were on the same level. He offered me a hand lined with age, and it was only now that we were closer that I could see the rest of the tell-tale signs.
He was getting to the end of his days. This would make him even more keen for obtain whatever it was he desired, which was great for my pockets.
I slipped my fingers into his and let him lead me to a smaller, more intimate area in the room with two comfy chairs and a coffee table.
“Please, sit,” he said, indicating one of the chairs. He took the other and waited until I was settled before speaking again. “I appreciate you coming,” he said.
“And I appreciate the invitation.” I glanced around the room, noting that the rest of it was covered in the rich tapestries one would expect in a palace, replete with statues and sculptures and other things of cultural value. Yet here in this little corner it was decidedly plain. Sure, the rug was thick and decadent, and the furniture was plush to sit in, but it was so stripped back in comparison. “Is this your favorite corner?” I asked.
He smiled, sending a ripple of wrinkles across his face. “You’re very perceptive, though I had expected no less. I’ve done my research. I know what you can do.”
It always made me pause when they said that. Made me wonder if they were the first to actually know; the first to have figured out that it was magic rather than skill.
I mean, there was skill involved too, but the magic made it all so much easier.
“My reputation does seem to precede me,” I acknowledged. “Do you want to tell me what it is you’d like me to find?” I arched an eyebrow and waited as the Prince shifted in his seat. He glanced down at his hands, which I noticed were shaking ever so slightly. He licked his lips and locked his gaze to mine.
“I need you to find the Fountain of Eternal Youth.” He said it without any pretext, but I understood immediately – he wasn’t ready to pass on.
The Fountain’s existence had been rumoured for a long time – for all of time some might say – and the fact that no one had ever found it made me think it was probably just a legend.
“Okay,” I said slowly, exhaling a breath. “That’s a pretty tall order. Not sure I can deliver on that one, but I’m happy to take a stab at it. Any hints on where I can start?” I kept my face serious, needing him to know that I wasn’t making fun of him. If he had any clues, I genuinely wanted to know.
There was a noise from across the room and his eyes slid in that direction. I turned to see a man entering with a tray of nibbles, and what smelled like very good coffee.
“Jacques, thank you. Just leave it here and I’ll call for you if we need anything else.” The Prince gestured to the table, and his chef placed the tray down, not even glancing at me.
“Your Highness,” he said, his French accent thick. He left us to it, and it wasn’t until the door closed behind him that the Prince turned his attention back to me.
Or rather the table. He poured himself coffee, and picked a slice from the tray, nibbling at it, and gesturing for me to help myself. So, I did. It would be rude not to, right?
We sat there, eating in silence for a minute or so, and then he put his mug back on the table and dabbed his lips with a napkin.
“I’ve had people looking into this for a number of years now, and I believe I’ve found something, an angle other’s haven’t looked at.”
“Do tell,” I said, raising an eyebrow and leaning forward. I couldn’t help but wonder what this monarch felt he’d discovered that no one else had.
“The small country of New Zealand has remained a relative unknown, despite global travel being a norm these days. Even pre-cataclysm it was a place of mystery, but the fact that it’s known history is so short means that no one ever thinks to look there for hidden artefacts.”
“New Zealand…” Well, it would never have occurred to me either, so this was going to be interesting. “Carry on.”
“There is a legend there that speaks of a fey-like creature, with white skin and red hair and eyes. They hide in the mists, in the forests, and in the deep south of the country. Their lives were rumoured to be incredibly long and I wonder… I wonder if there is truth to that legend.”
I leaned back in my chair, assessing this slice of information. He wasn’t wrong about legends being truth sometimes… But I knew very little of New Zealand, and certainly nothing about their myths or legends.
But, this was a perfect excuse to explore an unfamiliar country.