The first thing I heard today was one of the highest possible screams my ears had ever received. Carana was up instantly, looking around in the room nervously, still half asleep. She ran down the stairs to where the scream came from.
"What is it, mother?" I heard my wife's voice coming from the living room.
I slowly pulled myself on my feet and went into the living room, where I saw Carana embracing her mother. The little nest made of covers the princess had used to sleep in was empty. The princess was gone.
Carana's mother sobbed. "It is all my fault, I shouldn't have degraded her by asking her to sleep on the ground. Nobody lets a princess sleep on the ground, but I did. What will happen to me now, Carana? Tell me! Tell me!"
Tartek and Sereliaen arrived from the dining room, both looking rather sleepy.
Suddenly someone knocked. Carana's mother stopped crying instantly.
"I can't open the door like that, please, Carana, do me a favor," she said and ran into the bathroom on the second floor.
My wife looked at Tartek, Sereliaen and me, shrugged, arranged her hair a bit and opened the door.
A man in simple armor and long brown hair nervously grinned and bowed. "My lady! You must be the daughter of this family, if I'm not mistaken."
"Indeed," Carana replied.
"I'm sure you are aware of the situation, that the Princess of Insomida is not in this house anymore", the man continued. He slowly took off his silver helmet and held it firmly with both hands in front of his chest, nervously pressing his fingers against the metal. "The King of Astatik sent me with best greetings. The princess is in good hands."
"She's in your castle?" Carana asked surprised. Tartek grunted and folded his arms, shaking his head.
"Yes, in the middle of the night she literally stormed into our castle, even slapping two guards who dared to actually ask her about her identity. She demanded the king, who was sleeping peacefully and when we refused to wake him she threatened to suggest the retirement of every guard in the castle!"
The guard breathed heavily, stroking through his hair, wiping sweat off his forehead. Carana frowned. "Then we woke the king. At first he didn't believe us, but then the princess herself walked into the king's sleeping room."
"So, our king was of course forced to give her a room with a bed that would fit her standards, which wasn't that easy either," the guard further explained.
"How much of that do you really have to report to us, actually?" Carana sighed.
The guard turned red. "Well, you're right, I shouldn't really tell you about this, but I just had to share it with somebody. I apologize. All I wanted to say is that the princess is in our castle, shall you need to speak to her."
"Very well. Thank you," my wife said.
After a little hasty bow, the guard left and Carana closed the door again.
It actually was a nice change. Finally the princess wasn't around. After all these days trying to protect her and trying to cope with all those word waterfalls she'd summon upon us, our heads and ears were really, really thankful.
We told Carana's mother everything when she returned from the bathroom.
Everyone of us agreed that this little incident would soon stir up the gossip around Astatik. And with so many people coming and leaving every day it surely wouldn't take long until everybody in Insomida knew about it as well. Princess of Insomida - wounded, waking up kings to get a comfortable bed. What was she doing in Astatik? People would talk about her never actually being in the town she was born in. And then the King of Insomida would receive word. He would ask his guards if the princess hadn't been sent to Namtolan to learn some manners. And they would nod and give a positive response. But then, why was she in Astatik? Send out troops to bring her back immediately!
"So what? Our problem's solved then! We don't need to hand her over! She handed her over herself," Tartek said, with both arms high up.
"No, Tartek, this is only the beginning of our problems. The princess will talk about us, how bad we treated her. Carana's parents are involved now as well", I told him with a calm voice.
"And when they find out that we were here and that my parents live in Astatik, who knows what else they will be doing," Carana said.
Tartek mumbled something.
"We can't go away anymore, I don't want my parents to give up their home, just like we did."
Carana's mother started crying again and got hugged by her father, who had just joined our little discussion.
"Now we're talking!" Tartek yelled so loudly that I felt his voice shaking up my whole body. "As I always say, offense is the best defense. We won't wait until they get us, we grab that little princess butt and drag her up to Insomida and deliver her - just like we'd deliver one of those little packages back in the old days! And when we do that, two of us hold the king while I beat the hell out of him." His right hand formed a fist and thundered into the other open hand.
I walked towards Tartek and slowly patted him on his back. "Sure, sure. And all those Insomida Guards will coincidentally look away when we enter Insomida."
"You have a better plan, soldier?" he asked me, with his hands on his hips.
I heard Sereliaen sigh intensely, as if to say, stop it already.
Tartek suddenly marched to the door, brutally opened it, stepped outside and closed the door behind him.
I looked at Carana. "What's he doing?" I asked, knowing exactly what was coming. "Should we..."
"No. Let him deal with it alone," Sereliaen interrupted.
Well, I was quite surprised to hear her voice, and I wasn't alone with that either. Carana frowned, shrugged and stepped away from the door, went into the dining room and sat down at the table. "What's for breakfast, mother?"
Quite a while later, when we were still sitting around the dining table, the door opened and Tartek came in - with the princess in his arms. Unconscious, it seemed.
I think I'm not lying when I say (well, write) that everyone gasped precisely at the same time.
"Did you hit her?" Carana asked, stood up and slowly walked towards him.
Tartek ignored her question. "Let's get out of here. Insomida awaits."
"What about the guards? How did you get inside the castle? How did you get her out?" Carana asked in disbelief.
"She's asleep, alright? The king told me she wasn't able to sleep, so they gave her a very strong tea that makes people sleepy. I just took her out of her bed, saying that we're going to bring her back home," Tartek answered angrily, walking toward the little nest and laid down the princess (not very carefully, I might add). "What are you looking at? Go pack! We're leaving! Now!" Tartek yelled, pointing around in every direction.
"No." Sereliaen walked to her husband. "We're leaving tomorrow morning. I'm feeling sick and I want another night in a warm environment. I hate sleeping in the woods. I hate to collect wood and wait forever until you finally get some fire going. I hate to wake up in the middle of the night to some strange noise somewhere very close to us. I hate it! You hear? We're not leaving before tomorrow morning, understood?"
There she was, I thought. The woman who always fights with her husband, at least once every month, anyway. I noticed Carana was smirking a little. Tartek seemed paralyzed, his head red as fire.
"Whatever", he mumbled and went into the dining room. "Did you guys leave anything to eat for me or am I gonna starve?" he yelled.
Carana's mother quickly ran into the kitchen, followed by Carana and her father.
The rest of the day we listened to awkward and embarrassing silence. Carana's parents went out for a while, probably to buy food. The princess woke up late afternoon. We told her about our plan to leave tomorrow morning and all she had to say was: "About time!"
That's about it for today, I wonder if we will actually manage to get out of Astatik tomorrow. We shall see.