Prince Moonrise waited and then called again: “Lantana!”
For a moment there was only silence. Then he heard the rest of the search party calling her name in other parts of the castle.
His five-year-old daughter had been missing for two hours now. It didn’t make sense. She had been sitting on the sofa in the game room next to his 7-year-old son Weyland, who was absorbed in playing the Infinite Joust game on the crystal ball. Moonrise was going to say something about the boy’s obsession but decided to leave it for later.
Lantana liked to watch the older kids play the game. At least it would keep her out of mischief for a little while. The prince handed Lantana her dance clothes and told her to get dressed for her ballet class at the sugar plum fairy’s studio. Then Moonrise went to meet with the royal gamekeeper to discuss a problem with a gryphon in the woods. When he came back 15 minutes later, she was gone.
“Where’d Lantana go?” said Moonrise.
Weyland just shrugged and said, “How should I know?”
The boy’s eyes never left the giant crystal ball in the center of the room while he whirled around and slashed at the air with his control wand. He was obviously in the middle of a battle with multiple adversaries. There was no hope in getting more information from him. A discussion about the game would have to wait.
Lantana was probably in her room getting dressed for dance. But when Moonrise went to her room, she was nowhere to be found. The prince began checking likely places. After he had gone through half the castle, he summoned the older kids and dispatched them to search every corner, closet, and crevice of the place.
Two hours later, Lantana was still missing, and Moonrise was beginning to feel frantic. Could she have the power of invisibility? He’d heard stories of a great-great grandmother of his who had it, so invisibility must run in the family line. Lantana was exactly the kind of impish little child who would think watching everyone search for her was a fun game to play.
Then there were the dark possibilities. What if she’d been abducted by a witch or warlock using a teleportation spell? In theory, all known practitioners of black magic had been driven out of the realm many years ago during the reign of Moonrise’s grandfather. If Lantana didn’t turn up soon, the prince would have to file a missing person report with the shire-reeve and send an urgent message to Trellia, who was off on a business trip to slay a dragon in a neighboring realm.
Lantana had run off before but never for this long. Moonrise retraced his steps, trying to control his rising anxiety and forcing himself to look more methodically in every place he had already been. Eventually, he found himself in his master bed chamber. It was one of the first rooms he’d checked, although he did it in haste and wasn’t very thorough about it. But after searching it again, he still had no clues to her whereabouts.
Thinking through possible scenarios to explain the girls’ disappearance, he absent-mindedly began to sit down on a pile of laundry that was heaped on the bed. For many noble families, a laundry pile would have been unthinkable, but Moonrise and Trellia had a different philosophy. Rather than have the servants do everything for the kids, they believed the children should learn discipline by folding their own laundry and putting it away. It was easy for children of noble families to get spoiled and grow up to become helpless wasters. He’d seen it happen to some of his old schoolmates. For good measure, to set an example, Trellia insisted that they fold their own laundry. Moonrise occasionally wondered what they had servants for.
As he lowered his weight on the bed, the loose mound of clothes didn’t give as much as he expected. There was a large bony lump underneath it.
“Ow!” squeaked a high-pitched little voice.
Moonrise jumped up from the bed and spun around to see Lantana’s head emerging from the pile with one of Trellia’s bras draped over her head.
“Where have you been?” he said.
“I was taking a nap.”
“Under the laundry?”
“It was comfy.”
“Why would you have the idea to do something like that?”
“Well, I was sleepy.”
“And you fell into a sleep so deep in only 10 minutes that you couldn’t hear any of us calling your name for two hours? Did you eat something tainted with a sleeping potion?”
She giggled about the potion. “I could hear you, but I couldn’t wake up,” said the girl.
Moonrise studied her. She clearly wasn’t telling him the truth.
“Were you hiding?”
“I was just hiding before I was just taking a nap.”
“You were supposed to be getting ready for dance.”
“I didn’t feel like going.”
Suddenly, without warning, Lantana burst into tears and wailed, “I miss momma!”
Now it all made sense. Trellia had always been the one to take Lantana to the sugar plum fairy’s studio. It was probably a rare and precious time when the girl didn’t have to share her mother’s attention with any of her siblings.
Well, the princess would have to deal with it when she got back. Lantana obviously didn’t want to accept her father as a substitute, and the ballet class would be nearly done by now. A sensation of relief began to flow through him as his nervous system stood down from crisis mood.
At that moment, Weyland walked into the room looking troubled.
“It’s alright,” said Moonrise. “I found her. Go and tell the others to call off the search.”
“That’s not what I came for,” said the boy, walking over to wear Moonrise stood.
The prince sighed in exasperation and looked down at his young son. “What’s the matter now?”
Weyland clutched his stomach with both hands and bent over. There was a burbling, groaning sound, and then a stream of vomit poured out of Weyland’s mouth and splashed over Moonrise’s pants and boots.
The boy looked back up and said, “I feel like I’m going to be sick.”
And then the boy turned invisible.
“Holy pixie dust!” said the prince in astonishment. Apparently, invisibility really did run in the family, skipping a few generations.
“What’s happening to me?” said Weyland in a frightened voice.
“It’s alright,” said Moonrise in a consoling voice. A faint, ghostly image of the boy remained, so the prince could see where he was. Moonrise knelt down to comfort him.
And that’s when another explosion of half-digested chunks splattered the prince point-blank in the face.
To be continue . . .