LILLIA AND TREIZE – LAKE OF THREE KINGS

CHAPTER ONE:

There was a gentle knock on the classroom door before it slid partially open. In the middle of writing a formula on the board the teacher glanced over to see the Principal motion toward him and he walked over to the door for a quiet conversation. Frowning, the mathematics instructor turned back toward the expectant faces of his class.

"Mr. Treize and Miss Lillia, the Principal would like to see you in his office please. You can get your homework assignment and notes from your friends later."

Lillia glanced over to Treize, frowned and quickly shook her head. He lifted his shoulders in response. They rose, gathered their books and satchels, then left the room with all their fellow students staring wide eyed at them as they closed the hall door behind themselves.

In the hall the Principal looked uncomfortable as he pursed his lips in disapproval. "I have a guest waiting for you in my office. And I must tell you that I greatly disapprove of this most irregular disruption of your school day." He turned and started down the hall toward his office.

Lillia leaned over to whisper to her husband as they started to follow the Principal. "Do you think something came out about our summer vacation?"

Treize switched his satchel to his left hand and reached out to pull Lillia closer. "I don't think so; our trip wouldn't require someone to come see us."

The Principal reached his office door and waited for the couple to catch up to him. Again he shook his head and pursed his lips in disapproval. "I just do not approve of this at all. I want you to find out what the gentleman wants and then return to class." He slid the door open and stood aside for Lillia and Treize to enter first. Inside a Major in Sous-Beil uniform stood by the Principal's desk, near the door a Sergeant stood at ease, a pair of flight bags by his feet. Both went to attention as Lillia and Treize entered and the Major saluted. The Principal stepped in the room after them and the Sergeant moved to stop him from coming in further.

"I'm Major Sonnenberg, Military attaché for the Sous-Beil Embassy. I need to speak with you both in private." He looked over to the Principal. "Sir, I will need to use your office for a while, if you would be so kind as to step outside."

The Principal's eyes had gone wide and he started to sputter with indignation. "I most certainly will not abandon my office or my students." He straightened himself and his face hardened. "I do not care if you are with the Embassy or not, this school is in Roxche and I am in charge of it." The Sergeant had put out his arm to stop the Principal from moving forward.

Major Sonnenberg smiled gently and glanced over to Lillia and Treize. "I will leave it to you, do you wish to have Principal Mulvany to stay and hear what I say?"

Treize looked at Lillia and nodded slightly, she nodded back. "All right Major let him stay." This time it was Treize that smiled. "Of course, he will be covered by the Act, won't he?" Lillia frowned at her husband.

Major Sonnenberg nodded at Treize. "Certainly, Your Highness." Turning back to Mulvany, whose mouth had dropped open on hearing the honorific. "Principal Mulvany, under the Official Secrets Act co-signed by the Kingdoms of Sous-Beil and Roxche, any information that is disclosed in this meeting to anyone outside of those present, will be covered by the said Act. Any person disclosing the information will be subject to immediate incarceration, trial or final disposition." The Major's eyes stared at the Principal, who had turned pale. "Do you understand the meaning and consequences of the Act?"

Principal Mulvany had started to perspire and was barely able to nod his head and stutter. "I understand. May I please sit down?" He looked at the chair behind his desk.

The Major was no longer smiling. "Certainly you may, Principal Mulvany. Sergeant, will you please stand guard outside the door." The Sergeant went back to attention and stepped outside the room. Mulvany was trying to pour himself a glass of water and the bottle rattled against the glass as he poured.

Sonnenberg turned back toward Lillia and Treize and went to attention then bowed and straightened back up. "Your Highnesses, Princess Matilda sends her personal greetings and is sorry to not be here in person today." At his desk Principal Mulvany had turned even paler and had trouble moving the water glass to his mouth. The Major swept his hand toward the couch near the wall. "If you would care to be seated I will go over the message the Princess has sent you."

Lillia reached over and grasped Treize's hand tightly, then followed him to sit on the couch. Major Sonnenberg ignored the shaking Principal and sat in a chair across a low table from the couple. He reached into a black brief case that was leaning against the table leg and pulled out several envelopes.

"This entire operation began from a conversation you had with the Princess the other month. You mentioned that you had seen a strange lake while flying toward the base at Bergheim. Specifically it was a lake that appeared to be no longer there." The Major looked at Lillia and Treize. "Do you recall that lake?"

Treize nodded his head. "Lillia was piloting while I was navigating. I noticed a lake that had a dog-leg but no water except what could have been a river. It was pretty far away but visibility was good and the bare ground between the tree line and water showed up." He turned to Lillia. "Remember, it wasn't very long after we left the lake where we had been camping."

Lillia nodded. "I remember you seeing it, but I only got a quick glimpse of it." She looked confused and turned back to the Major. "What's so important about a lake in Sous-Beil that you have to come see us?"

The Major gave a half smile. "That, Your Highness, is a strange story. There is the remote possibility that that was the legendary Lake of Three Kings. I must stress that it is a legend only, but an important legend to Sous-Beil." Before he could go one the Principal broke into the conversation.

"I know of that legend." Principal Mulvany shrank back into his chair as the three across from his desk turned to look at him. "I'm sorry, but I studied old legends in university after the famous mural was found." Major Sonnenberg smiled and motioned for Mulvany to go ahead speaking. "There was supposed to be a great palace somewhere in what is now Sous-Beil that was the seat of the High Kings and was filled with gold and other treasures. The legend says it was destroyed by the gods for some wrong done to them. The location was then wiped from the face of the land." His eyes looked between his students and the Major. "I'm sorry, but that's what I was taught." He shrank back into his chair.

"Excellent, Principal Mulvany, that sums up our knowledge very well, thank you." Major Sonnenberg turned back to Lillia and Treize. "Frankly, your report was of interest because there is no record of a lake with a dogleg, but the legend mentions the palace being located at the sharp curve of a river." He smiled at the couple. "And Princess Matilda would like you to retrace your flight to find that lake. Will you be willing to do that for her?"

Treize was hesitant and after glancing at him Lillia sat forward on the couch. "Major, my husband and I will be most happy to make the trip for the Princess." She grinned at him. "When do we leave?" At his desk Principal Mulvany's eyes opened wider as another revelation about his two students came out.

Treize frowned at his wife. "Lillia, don't we need to discuss this a little before giving the Major an answer?"

Still grinning Lillia gave a playful punch to Treize's arm. "No way, dearest husband, it's been almost two months since we came back from our vacation. I'm getting bored with classes, and I know you are too." Treize rolled his eyes.

She looked back to the Major. "So can we leave tomorrow?" Treize shut his eyes and slowly shook his head.

The Major smiled at her. "Actually you will leave today. But first we have some matters of paperwork to take care of."

Lillia's face fell a little. "Paperwork? What kind of paperwork? We can't just go home to pack then fly out?"

Still smiling the Major reached into his case and brought out a stack of papers and envelopes. "I have just a few things we need to take care of first, and then you will leave." He placed a stapled set of papers in front of Treize and Lillia, and set a pen beside each. "If you will sign this first please." Flipping to the last page of Lillia's stack he pointed to a signature line. She immediately picked up the pen and signed.

Treize's eyes got big. "Lillia, you didn't read it first! You have to read it."

Lillia looked at him with her "do as I say" look. "I don't care what it says as long as we get to do something exciting." She put the pen in Treize's hand." "Now it's your turn my husband." Treize rolled his eyes as he signed his copy of the papers. Lillia smiled back at the Major. "What next, Major?"

Waiting until Treize had finished signing his paper; the Major smiled again and placed a small book in front of Lillia and Treize. "These are your military pay books, Lieutenants. You will need to keep them with you at all times while in Sous-Beil."

Treize's eyes went wide and he shot forward on the couch. "Wait a minute, wait a minute! What do you mean calling us Lieutenants?"

With a straight face Major Sonnenberg looked at Treize. "The papers you just signed enrolled you in the Sous-Beil Air Force with the rank of Lieutenant for this mission."

His mouth fell open and Treize slumped back on the couch. Slowly he shook his head as he looked at Lillia. "I told you to read what the papers said first."

Lillia ignored her husband and still had her grin as she opened the pay book to see a picture of herself in an Air Force uniform. She closed the book with no comment and looked back at the Major. "Okay, what's next?"

Smiling again the Major brought out more papers from his satchel. "These are your official orders for your mission, which is a series of routine reconnaissance flights throughout the country. Also is has the authorization to use your Princess Lillia as an auxiliary aircraft of the Sous-Beil Air Force." He started a stack in front of both new recruits. "This is a copy of your orders for your true mission." Another piece of paper on the stack. Treize still leaned against the back of the couch looking like he had just eaten something that didn't agree with his stomach, as Lillia eagerly leaned forward to scan each paper. "These give you authority to requisition fuel and supplies from anyone in the Kingdom of Sous-Beil, also lodging and food from individuals. This one allows you to requisition supplies from any military base in the Kingdom." He put them in the stack. Holding up the next sheet he waved it. "This is most important as it gives you authorization to investigate and if necessary supersede and override any actions at our military bases as you find necessary in the fulfillment of your duties." This time he smiled at Lillia as he laid the paper on the stack and reached into his case for two black identity cases, opening one he showed it to the pair. "Your official identity cards and badges use them wisely." He placed more in the stacks. "These are just housekeeping requirements; you can look them over later." He sat back in his chair. "Any questions so far?"

Treize folded his arms and grunted. "I'm beyond questions myself."

Lillia looked expectantly at the Major. "Now do we get to go?"

"Almost, Lieutenant Benedict, we're almost ready to leave." Standing he went over to the flight bags near the door and brought them back to Lillia and Treize.

"Now would be a good time to change into your uniforms so you will be wearing them when we go on base." He set a bag in front of Lillia and the other in front of Treize. Lillia immediately grabbed it, stood up and left for the ladies room down the hall to change.

Treize finally stood and put his hand on his bag, and then he looked at Major Sonnenberg. "You knew we would do this didn't you?"

The Major nodded. "Both Princess Matilda and your sister said you would. And I believe Principal Mulvany will be happy for you to change in his private toilet room." From his desk the Principal nodded quickly. Treize slowly shook his head and made his way out of the room to change.

After Treize left the office Principal Mulvany opened his lower desk drawer and brought out a bottle of whiskey. Major Sonnenberg smiled and shook his head. "I would be careful Principal; liquor does sometimes have a tongue loosening property." The bottle disappeared quickly back into the drawer, and the Principal never touched it again until after the new school year started the next spring.

The office door was opened by the Sergeant for Lillia to enter and then he shut it again behind her. Not only had she put on her new uniform but she had taken her wedding ring from the chain around her neck and put it on her ring finger. Treize came out of the Principal's private toilet dressed in his uniform but he wasn't as happy as Lillia. Both uniforms were of better than normal material and cut, on the left shoulder each had a similar unit patch, the front of both carried pilot badges as well as copies of their bravery awards. A red, white and black ribbon was attached to the top button hole. Lillia touched the ribbon. "What is this for? I recognize the others."

Sonnenberg smiled again. "Meritorious Service Medal for actions at the Port of Brixby." He nodded toward their shoulders. "That is the unit patch for the Imperial Guard. You are under the direct orders of the King and Princess Matilda."

"Now can we go?" Lillia was like a small child almost bouncing to get on her way out the door.

"One more thing before we leave. Did you try on your flight jackets?" Treize and Lillia both reached in the bags and pulled out black leather jackets and put them on over their uniform coats. Like the uniforms they fit perfectly. Major Sonnenberg nodded. "Excellent, now to give you these." He reached into his satchel and brought out two boxes. He handed one to Lillia and the other to Treize. "I believe you both know how to use one of these, you need to learn to keep it with you at all times, there is a built in holster in the jacket made for it." Treize opened his box and found a P5 pistol and frowned for a second before checking it out, putting the clip in, loading and fitting it in the holster. Lillia nodded and completed the same check then slipped it into her jacket. "Excellent, now we can leave, Lieutenants Benedict." Sonnenberg turned to Principal Mulvany and saluted. "Thank you for the use of your office, sir. We will be leaving and your two students will have excused absences for an undetermined period of time. I assume that will be all right with you?"

Principal Mulvany stood and held to his desk. "That will be covered in their records and their absence will not affect their graduation in the spring, Major." He tried to grin but had trouble doing so. "I'm happy I could be of assistance and I wish you good luck on your trip, uh, Miss Lillia and Mr. Treize." He gave a quick bow and sat down shaking as soon as the Major left the office and the door shut behind him.

CHAPTER TWO:

"Lillia, let's find somewhere to change out again, its cold back here." Treize moved the fur collar of his winter flight jacket a little higher on his face and shifted his body a little more out of the airstream.

"Roger, my husband, next time you see a big enough lake we'll land. Besides I'm getting hungry for some lunch." The Princess continued to drone on into the mountains of Sous-Beil.

Treize lifted the new high powered binoculars to his goggled eyes and scanned the mountains and valleys in a sweep from port to starboard. "Lillia, you realize we could be in a nice warm classroom if you hadn't gotten us into this."

"And you would be bored to death, dear Treize, just as I would. You're just upset that I have seniority over you. Besides we don't have to worry about getting jobs after graduation since we are already employed." Lillia paused as she looked back to port. "Treize, those clouds in the distance at ten o'clock are lowering below the mountain tops. Check the map for somewhere to land if we need to ride out another storm.

"Junior Lieutenant Navigator leaving his station and moving forward, be ready. Let's see, we've been gone eight days, two to get to the mountains, three days grounded at different places for weather and all of three days actually looking for our lake." Treize moved to his navigation desk, unfolded the map and plugged his headset back in. "Lillia, there are two lakes we could get into, one to port and one to starboard. The clouds may beat us to the portside lake, but we should be able to make the other in time." He checked his compass. "Steer a course of 075, and watch for a pair of high mountains with a low pass between them."

Lillia made the course change and the nothing was said for a few minutes. "Treize, what is that in the distance at three o'clock? Looks like the whole side of the mountain slid down."

Treize picked up the binoculars and looked out his starboard window. "I see it and it does look like the whole mountain slid down. I see a waterfall on one side of it." He looked out the port window at the clouds in the distance. "Lillia, why not fly toward that notch by the rock slide and let's have a look." He looked at his map again. "I don't show any rivers near that mountain."

Lillia changed course. "Treize, you might want to go back to the observation seat and take some pictures. At least we can show the Major we did do something while we were here."

After moving to the back of the cabin Treize was able to see ahead and took a picture. The closer they flew the stranger the scene grew. Treize took a picture of the waterfall and tried to get one of the stream below the waterfall but lost it in some trees. "Lillia, circle around and help me follow that water. Like I said the map shows no rivers here." Smoothly the Princess began a turn and straightened out facing a cliff maybe six kilometers in front of them.

"Dear, I see the water going into a cave or something at the base of that cliff. See if you can photograph the opening when I bank and follow the cliff side."

Treize took several pictures as they flew past. "Lillia, fly toward the waterfall, it looks as if the mountain side came down and blocked the stream, then something opened up a part of the blockage to make the waterfall."

The Princess rose up and suddenly the other side of the waterfall was visible. What had been a lake that had lost its water was in front of them. "Treize, isn't this what you saw last summer?" Before them stretched a river, or lowered lake level with bare shores. The water turned to the right about three kilometers up stream. Treize quickly took pictures as they flew between the hills on either side he estimated the width of the valley as maybe one half a kilometer, the river or lake as about one hundred to one hundred fifty meters. At the end of the lake there was a no stream or river visible coming in. Lillia made a turn and circled.

"This has to be what you saw! Do you really think it is the Lake of Three Kings?"

"It must be, I have never seen anything like this before." Treize twisted around and took as many pictures as possible. Suddenly the angle of the light changed and he saw something on the shore about two thirds of the way down the lake. "Lillia, fly down this north side, I see something like steps coming out of the water. And slow down as much as you can."

"I see what you're talking about, but are those steps or sandstone ledges? Flaps coming down, do you want to land?"

The steps swept by and Treize took more pictures. "Looks like a cave near the cliff wall. Let's go on and land; then pull up near those weird 'steps'. We need to be down before the clouds come in anyway, and this is as good as anywhere else." Treize frowned. "I don't see any indication of wind, make another pass and I'll drop a smoke float." He climbed down and pulled a smoke float from a box near his post, and then climbed back up as Lillia slowly flew down the middle of the water and tossed the float out. The smoke went straight into the air. "No wind at all, you can land on the next pass."

Lillia's landing was smooth and they taxied up to a spot about twenty meters from the supposed steps. Treize jumped from the pontoon to the shore and pulled the anchor out to set it further up on the beach. After the engine cut off only the cooling metal was heard, there wasn't even the call of birds.

Lillia climbed down the ladder to the pontoon and walking to the end she jumped off. "Feels good to stand up." Stretching she turned around taking in the view. "I almost feel like we flew into a place where time stands still." She laughed and looked at Treize. "Better watch out for the 'Blond Monster'."

Treize walked out to the pontoon storage compartment that held their camping equipment. He opened the hatch and rummaged a second before pulling out a small shovel. Jumping back on the beach he looked over at his wife. "I'm not scared of the 'Blonde Monster' it's the 'Auburn Monster' that packs a punch."

Lillia took a martial arts position. "You had better be scared of the 'Auburn Monster' my husband! And here I was planning to help you stay warm tonight. Instead I may have to let you freeze."

Treize was walking toward the so called steps with the shovel and looked back at Lillia giving an exaggerated sigh. "Where oh where is my little sister when I might need her." A chunk of dirt hit him between the shoulder blades.

"And I need to have a good talk with our little sister about crawling in bed with my husband. What are you doing?"

He had reached the steps and dug down into the dirt. With a clunk the blade of the shovel stopped about eight centimeters down. Treize moved the blade toward the next "step" and dug down again until the clunk was heard. Moving the dirt he exposed a worked stone step and riser. "This isn't natural, it looks like cut marble."

Lillia came up and bent down to touch the stained white stone then she looked toward the cliff. "Steps to the palace do you think? Would the palace be inside the mountain?"

Treize shoved the shovel in the ground and stared at the area where he thought he had seen a cave. "Remember that your parents and my dad found the mural hidden far back in a cave." He looked thoughtful for a moment. "But that cave must be over two thousand kilometers or more from here. Why would this palace be so far away from that cave, assuming it is a palace?" Treize looked at the mountain side where the newly found steps disappeared. "Look at that mountain side; it looks like there was a slide from the top all the way to the bottom, just like where the river had been blocked. These steps disappear where the dirt begins."

Lillia had climbed back into the Princess and brought out some sandwiches and drinks for lunch. She stood on the wing, frowned, then put her ungloved hand out and wiggled it. "Dear, have you noticed it feels a lot warmer than it ought to be for this altitude?"

Treize frowned and removed his own gloves then walked to the water edge, stooped and put his hand in. "This water is warm! Do you suppose the lake is formed from a hot spring source?"

Lillia sat down on the wing leading edge with her legs dangling over. "Here's your lunch." She reached a sandwich and drink down to Treize and he sat on the end of the pontoon. "Do you think we could develop this as a hot springs spa? Maybe build a hotel into the mountain." She waved her sandwich toward the cliff.

Treize shook his head as he took a bite of his sandwich. "And how do people get here? No roads, no towns, and no sights to see once you are here. We would have to have a shuttle service with airplanes." He chewed slowly as he contemplated about what would bring tourists to the site. His thoughts were broken as Lillia's boot tapped him on the shoulder.

"Didn't you see a cave somewhere near the cliff? I don't see an opening anywhere."

Treize frowned again as he scanned the cliff. "It must be hidden by the rock fall. I saw it as we flew down the shore." He stretched out his arm and pointed at a spot near where the steps disappeared. "It should be about there. Let's check it out when you finish eating." He looked up at his wife. "Bring both our flashlights and I'll get out the lantern." She nodded as she finished the last bite of her sandwich and washed it down with a sip of her drink.

Treize pulled out the lantern and an extra bottle of fuel from the pontoon storage compartment and waited for Lillia to come down. She had a cookie in her mouth and held out one for him to bite. "You really love these don't you?" All Lillia could do was nod her head and grunt as she chewed.

They walked up to the rock fall following the steps and then Treize went to the side looking for the cave entrance he had seen from the air. The fall seemed to have no breaks in it. He frowned as he surveyed the rocks. "I know it was here somewhere close. Stay here while I climb up to that big rock."

"Careful dear, I don't need to nurse you with a broken leg." Lillia watched as Treize found a way to climb up the rocks.

"Found it! There's an opening behind these rocks. Come on up and bring the lantern with you." He had a big smile as he pointed toward the hidden opening. It looks like there is a cave back here!"

Lillia climbed up and flashed her light into the hole behind the rock. "It appears to go in pretty far too." She put out her hand for Treize to help her slide down the built up silt behind the rocks. They ran their lights over the walls of the cave and noticed something that wasn't normal. "Treize, these walls look like they are carved from the rock, they aren't natural."

Treize ran his light over the walls, ceiling and floor. "This is almost a perfect rectangular opening, and that is definitely not natural." His light went in a little further and picked up two objects lying across the floor. Moving over to the closest one he reached down and brushed the slight build up of silt from the top. "This is a statue." He brushed more off and revealed carved armor and a helmet. "Looks like they were some sort of guardians for the cave entrance." Then he noticed a slight difference between the two. "Lillia, look, this one has a sword and that one looks like it has a spear."

She went over and brushed the silt from the spear and cleaned the head to show a helmet. "They are like the mural, except the mural shows torches and not weapons." Her eyes were wide as she looked over at Treize. "Do you suppose this really is the palace of the High King?"

Treize blew out a breath. "I don't know, but I say we need to explore deeper inside." He bent down and pumped up the lantern after checking its fuel supply, then lit it. The lantern was strong enough to light up an area more than ten meters around them. At the edge of the light were two more statues still standing on their bases. Treize turned off his flashlight and put it in his jacket pocket, then reached for Lillia's hand. She put her light away and gripped his hand with both of hers. "Shall we see what wonders await us my Princess?"

"How can you be so calm? What if something is living in here?" Her eyes were wide and she gripped him tightly.

He looked down at her and smiled. "First, there are no animal tracks anywhere in this tunnel. Just like there were none on the shore, and I did look. Secondly, you and I both have our pistols and I taught you how to shoot two years ago, plus you are a good shot. Third, I have the 'Auburn Monster' accompanying me and that should scare anything that lives here, so I feel quite safe."

She frowned and punched him on the arm. "And the 'Auburn Monster's' husband is going to be very, very cold at bedtime for a long time into the future." She shook her head. "Idiot husband! Well, let's see what we've found." Still holding to each other's hand they moved on down the tunnel.

Treize estimated that the tunnel ran straight for about thirty meters then it opened into a large interior where the lantern light couldn't reach to the sides. Their flashlights revealed a circular room that was at least thirty-five to forty meters in diameter. They stood in silence as their flashlights revealed ten carved stone chairs in a semi-circle facing two chairs mounted on a one step dais, with a third, larger chair on a dais of three steps slightly behind the others. Mounted on the wall above the middle "throne" was a two meter circular shield with a spear and sword crossed in the middle. Silt had not stuck to the shield and it looked like weathered bronze. Along one part of the wall were five statues holding swords, across from them were five statues with spears. To either side of the central throne were five statues holding both a sword and a spear.

Lillia finally broke the silence in a whisper. "Treize, this is definitely a throne room. Did we actually find the palace?" She pulled on his hand. "Those are three thrones up there." Her light moved to the statues. "One side is holding swords of Sous-Beil, the other side the spears of Roxche." Her light settled on the center medallion hung on the wall. "And a single king over both, a high king, with the combined symbols of the countries."

Treize's flashlight moved around the room until it shown on a set of stairs leading upwards to a flat landing. Behind the landing were four openings that had been filled by fallen debris. "And there are the windows that allowed light to come in. You're right this has to be the palace." His light fell on a square opening under the stairs. "Come on, we aren't doing anything else, so let's see what's in there."

The tunnel opening ran only a few meters and ended at a stair going upwards. They climbed and came to a landing with a room on either side. One room was an armory with shields, swords and spears fallen on the floor covered by a thin layer of silt. The other room may have been a library as there were niches carved into the walls. Any books or scrolls had long ago disappeared. Climbing higher they passed more landings and empty rooms until there was a definite water line on the steps. Treize pointed to it. "That's as far as the flood water went. From here up we should find dry rooms." Lillia just nodded and held to his jacket sleeve.

At the next landing they were confronted by a closed door. Treize reached out and touched the wood and part of it fell down. He hit it with his fist and the rest collapsed to the landing. The pair stepped over the rotted wood and continued up the stairs. The next landing was the last; there were three doors with heavy locks instead of more steps. Treize reached out and hit the left door but this time it didn't break apart. He tried the other two with the same result. "Different type of wood?"

Lillia looked closely at the locks then stood back and kicked out at the left door lock. With the crack of wood the lock fell off. She smiled at her husband. "See, no problem, I just imagined I was kicking my deserving husband."

Treize looked at the broken door then down at his wife. "I have recently told you that I love you haven't I?" He slowly shook his head and gave Lillia a quick kiss before pushing at the remaining part of the left door. The door hinges looked like bronze and the door opened. Inside the lantern light was reflected by gold. Both Treize and Lillia sucked in a breath. The room was filled with gold plates, cups and decorative objects. "A treasury?" Lillia could just nod her head. "Okay, let's try the next door." The middle door opened on a room filled with black objects. Treize frowned and picked up what look like a plate and rubbed the rim. The black came off on his hand to show a dull gray metal under the black. "Well tarnished silver, this entire room has silver in it." Lillia's eyes couldn't get any larger. With a sigh Treize went to the door on the right of the landing. "Well, what do you think this one holds?"

Lillia was finally able to speak. "It has to be jewels, royalty has jewels and there weren't any in those other rooms." She gave a giggle and looked at Treize. "Okay, so some royalty has jewels and the rest of us don't."

Treize shook his head and grimaced. "One day I'll get you something pretty to wear my beautiful Princess. Meanwhile why don't you push this one open?" He nodded at the still closed door.

Lillia pushed and the door opened to reveal stacks of metal boxes on one side of the room and bronze objects on the other side. They went in and brought the lantern close to one box. There wasn't a lock on it so Treize lifted the lid to reveal jewels both unmounted and mounted in gold brooches, rings and pins. "Guess you were right, royalty has jewels." They turned to the bronze pieces on the other wall. On one decorated plate lay a beautifully designed pendent about ten centimeters in diameter hung from a bronze chain. The design was an interlocked series of what appeared to be stylized animals. Lillia picked it up and held it close to the lantern.

"This work is beautiful; I don't think I have ever seen anything like it." She turned it and found even the back was worked. "Treize, this looks like writing!"

He leaned down and looked closely at what Lillia called writing. "I think you're right." He paused a second. "Bring that one with us, I haven't seen any other writing on anything and it may help identify where it came from." Treize stood up and surveyed the room and across the landing at the room of gold. "I don't want to bring out anything else or the historians will go crazy." He sighed loudly. "Dear, just who do we tell about this treasure trove, Major Sonnenberg, the commander of the nearest military base, the King or Princess Matilda?"

Lillia stood up and put the pendent's chain around her neck and dropped the pendent inside her uniform shirt. "Let's fly to the nearest large base and have a signal sent to the Princess. Major Sonnenberg said we were Imperial Guard and fall under the control of the King and Matilda." She looked around the room again. "Do you think the lantern can give enough light to take pictures of everything we've found?"

Treize nodded. "We can try it on the way back downstairs." He reached into the left pocket of his jacket pulled out the camera and opened it. "I guess we were supposed to be taking pictures from the air so a flash unit wasn't included. You do the honors with the lantern and I'll take the pictures."

Lillia held the lantern up while Treize took a picture of each room they had found on the stairway. In the main hall she held the flashlight beam on the wall medallion and raised the lantern up high enough to see the statues.

Finally they made their way back to the tunnel entrance and Treize put the camera away. He stared back into the darkness and shook his head. "I guess you were right dear Lillia, this is more exciting than sitting in classes."

Lillia wrapped her arm around Treize's. "You are awfully slow sometimes. Your wife is always right and you need to learn that." She turned and looked up the dirt slide and frowned. "How long have we been in here, it looks dark outside?"

Treize looked at his watch. "Maybe three hours is all, it shouldn't be night yet." Detaching Lillia from his arm he climbed up the slope to the outside entrance. "It's fog! The fog is so thick it has gotten dark. Looks like we'll be here for the night."

Lillia scrambled up after him and looked outside. "I can't even see the bottom of this hill. Do you suppose the warm water of the lake and the front we saw coming in caused it?" She slipped down to the ground below and Treize was right behind her. "Treize, let's spend the night in the Princess and get an early start tomorrow. This place is creepy!"

Treize turned off the lantern to get more visibility but it didn't really work, the fog just swallowed the daylight. Even the flashlights weren't much help and the visibility was only two meters at most. "Just follow the steps to the water and then we'll find the Princess." He took Lillia's hand in his and they went toward the water. "There's something else that is bothering me about this area. We haven't seen any animals; there aren't even tracks where an animal came by and the tunnel would have made a perfect den. Plants aren't growing on the exposed ground and they have had months to germinate. And I haven't seen or heard a single splash from fish feeding." He squeezed Lillia's hand tighter. "This place is more than creepy; I'm thinking we need to take turns standing guard tonight."

Lillia looked up at her husband's serious face. "You are scaring me you know."

He smiled at her, and then pulled her close to him in a hug. "I don't want to scare you; I just don't want to lose the most important thing in my life, if that's all right with you." He kissed her.

Lillia pulled back slightly and grinned at him. "You just want the Auburn Monster to keep you warm tonight."

"That's always another possibility." He kissed her again. "Now let's find the Princess and get our things together. I may even try to fly out tonight if the stars will come out and the fog clears enough to see the banks of the river."

Later that evening after the camp stove had been put back into storage Treize settled himself on the bow of the starboard pontoon with one of the rifles across his lap. The darkness had fallen as if a light switch had been thrown. There was no light at all, and even the flashlight Lillia was using inside the Princess wasn't visible.

"Treize, do you want the blanket?" Lillia was looking over the wing edge at him.

"No, you keep it to wrap up in, and then when it's my turn to sleep it will be warm and remind me of what I'm missing." His grin was visible in her flashlight beam.

"Don't you want to sit in the cockpit to keep watch? At least you'd be closer to me if something happened."

He shook his head. "No, I may need to move around to stay awake, and I can do that on the beach without disturbing you."

Lillia climbed down the ladder and came out to Treize, leaned down and kissed him. "Good night, dear, wake me up when it's my watch." She climbed back to the wing and entered the cabin leaving the hatch open, wrapped up in the blanket and fell into a fitful sleep.

The night went by slowly with Treize and Lillia taking two hour watches. Sometime during Lillia's last watch the fog cleared enough to see both wingtips of the Princess but it never lifted enough to fly out. Most noticeable was the total lack of any normal sounds during the night. Treize had the last watch as the fog seemed to darken and the wingtips disappeared again. Suddenly he thought he heard the splash of water and bringing up his rifle to the ready he stood and quickly looked both directions along the shoreline.

"Drop the rifle, flyboy, now!"

Treize spun around and saw two figures in the fog advancing on him, one with a rifle the other with his pistol drawn. He hesitated a second then slowly laid his rifle on the ground and raised his hands.

The man with the rifle smiled. "Very good, very good, flyboy, you must have had to do that before. Charlie, get his rifle." The man glanced up at the Princess. "Anyone else in there, flyboy?" Treize stood silently and watched for some kind of opening to attack. "Charlie climb up and check it out." The muzzle of his rifle never wavered from Treize's chest.

"My navigator is asleep on board." The man called Charlie had reached the top of the wing and was getting ready to open the starboard hatch but stopped when Treize had spoken out.

"Stephan, how do you want me to handle him?"

Just then Lillia opened the hatch and climbed out blinking the sleep from her eyes. "Treize, what's going on out…" That was as far as she got before Charlie brought down his pistol on her head and she fell on the wing.

"Lillia!" Treize started toward the pontoon when Stephan punched his rifle butt into his stomach. He dropped to his knees and bent over in pain while holding his middle.

Stephan gave a crooked smile. "So you have a cute girl for a navigator? The boss may like her as a present to go with this nice airplane, what do you think?" He shoved Treize with the rifle muzzle. "Well, flyboy, what do you think?"

Treize gasped for breath and tried to stand. "She's my wife and she is not anyone's present." He staggered to his feet and sat heavily on the end of the pontoon.

"Ohh! She's your wife is she? Then you might like to be of use to our boss to keep her safe." Stephan looked up at Charlie. "Anyone else besides her in there?" Charlie leaned over and looked inside the Princess.

"Looks like it was just her, Stephan, she was sleeping on the floor alone."

Stephan looked back at Treize. "Very good, flyboy, now here's the deal. Our camp is two ridges over and has a small lake. The leader has always needed a good airplane and you have one. If you play nice and fly this to the camp you might be asked to join us." His grin was menacing. "Don't you think that's a good deal?"

Treize's face was dark with anger. "Sorry, but we can't fly out of here with this fog." He coughed. "And my wife is not part of any deal."

"Can't fly out because of the fog?" Stephan's grin never left his face. "Well, then we don't need to fly out today, but we can pull this down to the other end of the lake and save it until another day." He looked up at Charlie. "Bring the woman down and tie their hands up."

Charlie managed to get Lillia down to the lake shore and tied her hands together with a piece of rope from his coat pocket. She was regaining her senses and sat quietly as Treize was also set down near her. They both received the same gruff command. "Sit still and be quiet."

Stephan looked the Princess over then turned toward Treize and Lillia. "Hey, flyboy, any ropes on this machine?"

"In the pontoon front hatch are our tie downs." Treize glance over to Lillia and whispered. "They're bandits from a camp two mountains over. They got me before I knew what was happening." She nodded and watched the pair's every move while trying to loosen the rope around her wrists.

Stephan found the tie down ropes in the anchor compartment and tied one to the forward strut of the port side pontoon. Climbing out the pontoon he tied another on the rear strut. Then he tossed the free end to Charlie on the shore. "Pull the plane around sideways." The Princess drew so little water that she was able to float only a few feet from the shoreline.

"Charlie, bring the flyboy over here so he can do some work and earn his pay." Charlie pulled Treize up from the ground by his arm and pushed him to where the front rope lay on the ground. "Okay, here's the plan, you help pull your airplane to the end of the lake and you live. You then join our little group of friends and fly the boss where he wants." Stephan's grin was not humorous. "All nice and friendly like, right?"

Treize stood rubbing his wrists where the rope had been. "What makes you think I'd do that?"

Stephan looked at the ground then pursed his lips and nodded his head. "Well, I guess so you would live long enough to get your revenge, flyboy."

Treize frowned. "Revenge for what, trying to steal my plane?"

"No, no, something more than that, flyboy." Stephan looked at Charlie. "Shoot her."

There was no hesitation or question as Charlie lifted his pistol and fired twice at Lillia. The first bullet made her upper body jerk back, the second turned her sideways as she fell and lay still with her feet in the lake.

Treize's eyes opened wide as his mind reacted to what he had just seen. A patch of blood was coloring her white uniform shirt, and one hand had loosened from the rope binding it. His voice began almost as a whisper as he shouted her name out. Then Stephan rammed his rifle butt into his stomach, and he doubled over breathless.

"See, flyboy, you want to live long enough to see me dead, preferably at your own hands." Treize couldn't speak as he looked up at the bandit smiling down at him, but the tears in his eyes weren't caused by the pain from the rifle butt. "I see you understand now, I'm very glad." Stephan raised his rifle and hit Treize on the side of his head with the butt. Silently Treize fell over and lay still. Stephan flipped him over with his boot. "Charlie, tie him to the strut where we can watch him. Leave the girl and let's head back to the trail. We can pull this to that little beach we passed near the trail end."

CHAPTER THREE:

Treize tried to open his eyes but his head hurt so much he couldn't manage it. On top of the pain in his head from being hit by Stephan's rifle butt, he kept running over the sight of Lillia being shot as if seeing it in a dream. Over and over the sound of the shots preceded her body jerking backward and then the patch of blood forming on her chest. Always the vision was in slow motion and he still couldn't accept it as real. His mind kept saying it was a dream, just a bad dream and not real. It had to be a dream or he would lose his mind. He thought that he remembered movement, but he wasn't sure. His arms were pulled out and tied over his head and his body was stretched out on something. But that was just what he thought he felt; he didn't really care one way or the other.

Finally he half way opened his eyes and saw a solid surface above him. Trying to get his thoughts together he recognized the underside of the Princess's wing. He must be stretched out on the pontoon. His arms hurt from being tied to the struts, and his feet were wet because they hung over the pontoon sides into the water. Slowly he turned his head and saw it was getting dark and there was still a heavy fog. In front of him the lantern was lit giving light to a small section of beach and someone sitting on the blanket eating. His eyes closed again because it hurt to keep them open.

"Did I see you're awake, flyboy?"

Treize opened his eyes enough to see the one called Stephan eating a sandwich from the cooler on board the Princess. "I hope you choke, you bastard." He managed to turn his head enough to look directly at the bandit. "I pray the demons of this valley catch you and take you away!"

Stephan took another bite of the sandwich and snorted in derision. "Demons? The only demons are men, flyboy, and since it's only you and me I don't think I have anything to worry about." He laughed again and shook his head slowly.

Treize shut his eyes and rested his head on the pontoon deck breathing deeply. "Can I have some water, or is that against your rules?" He opened his eyes and rolled his head toward the bandit again. His mouth was completely dry and it was hard to speak.

The bandit picked up a cup he had been using, drank the last of whatever was in it, then stood and walked toward Treize. Smiling he dipped it in the lake and stepped into the lake to hold the cup toward Treize's mouth. "How about some nice fresh lake water?" He poured it over Treize's face. "Want some more, flyboy?" Treize licked what he could from around his mouth then nodded. This time Stephan dipped the water and held the cup so Treize could drink from it. "You like that, flyboy? Charlie will be back with someone from our camp tomorrow. Then we'll see if you are really needed." He laughed, and made his way back to the blanket.

The water had a strange taste as Treize licked the remaining moisture from around his mouth. The drink helped waken him from his semi-unconscious state and he looked around the lit up area. Finally he looked at the man that ordered Lillia's execution. "Stephan, aren't you going to give me that chance to kill you before your buddy comes back if you don't need me?"

Stephan smiled at Treize and picked up his rifle from the blanket and stood. "I don't think so, flyboy; maybe I'll just shoot you right now and put you out of your misery." He pulled back the bolt and made sure the rifle had a cartridge in it then shoved it forward again. "Can't think why I need you." The muzzle of the rifle moved toward Treize.

"You might not need me but your boss needs a pilot to get my plane flown out of here and that would be me." Treize managed a crooked smile.

Stephan nodded and lowered the rifle. "You may be right, flyboy, you may be right." He looked at Treize and smiled again. "But if he doesn't need you then your life is mine."

"No, YOUR life is mine!"

Stephan spun around toward the direction the voice had come from and started to bring up his rifle. Three shots rang out and he blinked as he looked down at his chest. Slowly he fell to his knees as a figure stepped from the fog with its arms held in front of it. His eyes finally opened wide in recognition as four more shots hit him and he fell over on the beach.

Treize had trouble realizing that this was reality as he watched Lillia walk over to the fallen bandit, remove the empty clip from her pistol and replace it with a full one. She stared down at the dead bandit then kicked the body.

"Lillia, is that really you?" Treize tried to focus through his tears. "How can you be back from the dead?"

Lillia put her pistol back in the jacket holster and turned toward her husband. Moving slowly and holding her left arm tightly against her side as if she was in pain she smiled and came down into the water. She leaned over and kissed Treize then reached for the knife in her inner jacket pocket to cut his bonds. "You just can't keep the Auburn Monster down can you, dear?" She kissed him again after the rope was cut and his arms could reach around her in a tight hug. She yelped in pain. "Watch it husband, I think I have a broken rib or two."

Treize was able to sit up on the pontoon facing Lillia. He ran his hands over her face and body as if making certain she wasn't a ghost. "How did you stay alive after I saw you get shot?" He leaned forward and cried with his face on her shoulder. Lillia slowly rubbed his back with one hand.

"I guess you have to thank the metal smith that made that bronze medallion. It took the shot and pushed my Royal pendent into my chest cutting me. The second shot apparently hit the medallion and went into my travel journal." She reached into her inner pocket and pulled out a notebook with the bullet lodged in the cover. "I was knocked out and couldn't breathe for a while. Then when I could move without hurting too much I followed the footprints around the lake. I'd say I made it just in time too."

Treize managed to swing his legs around and with Lillia's help was sitting on the pontoon with his feet in the water. With his head in the light of the lantern Lillia could see a huge lump on the right side. "What did he hit you with, his rifle butt?" She reached up and gently touched it, her fingers coming away with blood on them. Quickly she patted her pockets and found a handkerchief that she dipped in the lake and tried to wipe off the dried blood. He flinched and she stopped cleaning. "Can you walk to the beach?"

"I'm not sure, sometimes everything spins, but I'm willing to try." He stood in the water with Lillia supporting him and together they moved to the blanket spread on the beach. Every so often Lillia grunted as her injured ribs seemed to move.

"I need to wrap that wound to stop the bleeding." Treize sat leaning over with his eyes shut from vertigo. Lillia thought a minute then removed her flight jacket and blouse. She cut one arm off the shirt, dipped it in the lake and made a pad of it. "Now hold still, dear, this may hurt some." She quickly unsnapped her bra and wrapped it around the damp pad and Treize's head. Then she snapped the hooks to hold the pad in place and put her shirt and jacket back on. "All done, does that feel better?"

With his eyes still shut Treize gave a laugh. "It feels better, but if you did what I think you did I hope no one sees me." His head dropped forward and he groaned. "I wonder if I have a concussion, I still feel sick."

"By the looks of that bump you could have one." Lillia looked over her handiwork wrapped around his head and smiled. "You know, that could be a new clothing fad, maybe I'll take a picture to show at school. Blood stained bras worn like cat ears could catch on and sell thousands.

Treize still kept his eyes shut but he reached up his hand and Lillia took hold of it. "Thanks for saving me my wonderful wife, I love you." He squeezed her hand tightly and was quiet. "Lillia, are you okay with that?" His other hand waved in the general direction of Stephan's body.

Lillia put her head near Treize's so she could whisper in his ear. "That 'thing' over there ordered my execution and was getting ready to shoot my most beloved husband. I don't feel anything for it, any more than I would if I slapped an insect that bit me." She paused for a second. "One day maybe I'll think about it differently, but not now, so I'm okay." She hugged him and he gently nodded his head.

Lillia stood up and looked around the lit up area. "Have you eaten anything, I'm starved?"

"Stephan was eating one of our sandwiches so I don't know if there is anything left. And no, I haven't eaten. Also, he mentioned that Charlie had left to go to their camp and bring back some more people. We need to get out of here before then."

"Sit still while I check the Princess out, I hope they didn't destroy anything in the cabin." Lillia looked at the fog. "All we can hope is that it clears tonight so we can fly out. I have an idea of the layout of the lake since I walked the shoreline. There is the jog left and then it is straight toward the waterfall area so we can make it." She touched Treize's shoulder. "Be right back."

He reached out and grabbed her arm. "No, take me with you and I'll sit on the wing." He squinted at her and smiled. "Let's say I don't really want you out of my sight for a while." With a boost from Lillia he stood up and started to walk to the pontoon.

They went out the pontoon and Treize slowly climbed the ladder to the wing. Lillia found the hatch open and took a look inside with her flashlight. "They must not have had much time to rummage around in here, only the cooler is open. " She disappeared through the door and Treize heard rustling inside the cabin. In a few minutes Lillia popped her head back out. "We're in luck; they left a couple of sandwiches and the water jug." Treize took an offered sandwich and waited for Lillia to come out of the plane to sit beside him.

Treize took a bite of the sandwich and chewed slowly as he looked around in the dark fog. "Do you think it looks a little clearer now?"

"I can't really tell much yet, both wingtips are visible and that's better than it was earlier." Lillia sighed and looked up. "What I wouldn't give for a full moon and clear sky right about now." She leaned against Treize and he put an arm around her and she smiled. "Remember the train trip when you wanted to do this?"

"Uh huh, and my dear sister hit me with a pillow to keep my hand off of you." He dropped his hand slightly and put it on her flight jacket over her breast. He grinned. "I do like this married business at times like this."

Lillia pulled his hand away and held on to it. "You have become a real pervert you know. Not to mention you probably have a concussion and I may have broken ribs." She kissed the back of his hand. "I'd whack you on the head if it wouldn't damage you more. Just wait until we both feel better, okay?"

Treize mumbled something as his head fell forward and his body pushed Lillia over slightly. She realized he was asleep and laid him back on the wing and kissed him. Even though she tried to stay awake and on watch her eyes closed and she fell asleep beside her husband.

CHAPTER FOUR:

Lillia woke suddenly and looked up at the three quarter moon. She stared at it until its importance sank in. Sitting up quickly she looked around and saw there was still fog on the lake but the sky was clear. Gently she shook Treize awake. "Look the fog is disappearing; I think I can make it out!"

Treize blinked as he slowly raised his head and could clearly see the wing tip of the Princess. He stood up and could see the visibility was at least fifty meters. "It will be dangerous, sure you can do it?"

"I can see the tops of some of the ridge line; I know we can do it." She pushed Treize toward the cabin. "You get inside and get things tied down. I'll get the blanket and lantern put away and push us off the bank. If you can focus check the map for the nearest military base. We'll fly there and get us both checked out, then contact someone about what we've found." Lillia slid down the ladder and almost ran along the pontoon then jumped on the bank. As quickly as she could she shook out the blanket, folded it and threw it on the wing. The lantern had gone out and was cool so it went back in the pontoon compartment. Finally she went over to the body of the bandit and stood quietly for a second, then reached down and picked up the rifle he had dropped. "I don't think you need this and I sure don't want any of your friends to have it." She slung the rifle over her shoulder and pulled the anchor out of the ground then stowed it in its compartment. With a stab of pain from her ribs she pushed the Princess away from the bank and turned it sideways to point toward the waterfall, and jumped on the pontoon. Climbing up to the wing she looked into the cabin where Treize was reading the map with his flashlight. "Got us a destination yet my favorite navi?"

Treize grinned at her. "Looks like we get to see General Steiner again at Bergheim. That's the closest base with provision for seaplanes."

Lillia nodded. "Then Bergheim it is." She took the rifle off her shoulder and handed it down to Treize. "Put this somewhere, it belonged to that bandit."

"One of ours is missing so that just fills the gap." Treize clipped the rifle in place. "It works but it isn't new like ours was."

Lillia had climbed onto the pilot's seat and shut the door. "Buckle in; I'm not hanging around here for very long." Then she started the motor and the Princess began to move forward slowly. She leaned over and shouted down to Treize. "I can see the bank of the lake and every so often I see the ridge line. We'll be okay. Are you buckled in?"

Treize nodded and smiled at her giving her a thumb up sign. His helmet wouldn't fit over his improvised "bandage" so they couldn't communicate by intercom. The motor went to full power and after a short run the Princess lifted off into the clear sky and flew over the ridge near the waterfall. Looking through his window Treize could see the lake area was a foggy cauldron but the rest of the land was snow covered and clear sky. He tapped on Lillia's seat and handed her the map with his finger on the base at Bergheim. The Princess made a course change and flew toward Bergheim in the almost daylight conditions from the bright moon on the snow.

The sun had risen by the time Lillia saw the now familiar Sous-Beil military base in the distance. She flew toward the seaplane lagoon and once she saw a few people near the ramp opened her canopy and fired a red flare. With a feeling of relief she watched several of the people run for a line of emergency vehicles and then saw them start for the ramp. Her landing was perfect even with the jabbing pain from her ribs. As the Princess edged her pontoons up to the ramp for the ground crew to tie her down a weapons carrier skidded to a stop and a young officer jumped out.

Lillia had climbed out of the cockpit and was kneeling on the wing telling one of the ground crew that there was an injured man onboard and to hurry with an ambulance. As the crewman turned the officer ran up waving a pistol at her.

"This is a restricted area and you are not a Sous-Beil Air Force aircraft. Hands up, I arrest you in the name of the Kingdom of Sous-Beil." The Lieutenant stood pointing his pistol at Lillia. As three soldiers ran up from the weapons carrier he turned toward a Corporal. "Jaeger, check that plane for anyone else hiding inside."

Corporal Jaeger snapped a salute then moved closer to the Princess with his rifle at the ready. Suddenly he stopped as his eyes got big. He turned back toward the Lieutenant. "Lieutenant Engel, I think we may have made a mistake, Sir!"

Lieutenant Engel's face started to turn red. "I order you to arrest that woman, Corporal, that is an order! And if you don't obey it I will have you put in the guard house with her."

The Corporal sighed and rolled his eyes once he had turned away from the Lieutenant. He walked up to Lillia, who was sitting on the wing edge shaking her head slowly, and slung his rifle over his shoulder. She reached into her flight jacket and pulled out the black case and held it open for the Corporal to see. He nodded at her, went to attention, saluted, and in a soft voice greeted her. "Good to see you again Princess, I see your papers are in order." He saluted again and turned toward Lieutenant Engel. "Sir, the pilot's papers are all correct."

An ambulance turned the corner and came down to the water's edge, medics immediately jumped out and ran toward the wing of the Princess. Lillia ignored Lieutenant Engel and pointed toward the cabin. "My navigator has been injured, he may have a concussion." She unzipped her jacket and showed the blood stain. "I will be with you too; I may have a broken rib." She turned back to the Corporal and smiled. "Good to see you again Corporal Jaeger, maybe we can have another cup of coffee together when things settle down." He grinned and saluted her.

Engel had come down to the water's edge still with his pistol aimed at Lillia. "Let me see those papers and be quick about it, pilot." He glanced at Jaeger. "I'll deal with you later Corporal."

Two medics were bringing Treize out of the cabin holding him under his arms. It was obvious that the three were trying not to smile. Lieutenant Engel's mouth fell open and he stuttered. "What is that on your head, mister?"

Lillia had already climbed down and stepped up beside the Lieutenant. "That's my bra holding his bandage on. And this is my authorization, Lieutenant Engel." She waved her identification case at him, and then held it out for him to read. It was with great pleasure as she watched his face turn pale.

Quickly he holstered his pistol and saluted at the same time. "I'm terribly sorry, Lieutenant Benedict, if I may be of help to you in the future please ask." He saluted again and marched back to the weapons carrier while calling the other soldiers back.

Lillia shook her head and muttered. "That man is an idiot."

Corporal Jaeger stood watching as the Lieutenant climbed into the carrier. "Yes, ma'am, I have to agree with you. I would have thought he would recognize you and the airplane from your last visit." He turned back to Lillia. "Is there anything I can do to help you, Princess?"

One of the medics had stepped up to Lillia and was looking at the blood on her shirt that was revealed by her unzipped jacket. "Ma'am, may I take a look at that injury?"

She was startled by the medic, but smiled at the Corporal. "Please make sure no one gets on board the Princess, Corporal Jaeger. I'll get with you for that coffee later, and thank you." She turned toward the medic. "I'll go with you in the ambulance." She waved at Corporal Jaeger and smiled as she followed the medic to the open doors of the waiting ambulance and climbed in beside Treize. Jaeger had gone to attention and saluted before heading back to the waiting weapons carrier.

CHAPTER FIVE:

Major Sonnenberg knocked on the closed door, waited for the response then entered and came to attention. "General, I have the debriefing from the last mission." His eyes dropped down as he smiled at the man across the table from him. "It was more than a success General. The original objective was obtained and we also found the location of a bandit troop that has been harassing the northwest mountains." He laid a thick folder on the desk and the General reached out and pulled it toward himself. The Major waited as the General flipped through pages of pictures and writing.

"Do the historians really think this is the High King's Palace?" He held a picture of Lillia holding a lantern high enough to illuminate a circular shield with a crossed spear and sword.

"Yes, sir, they do. The writing on the pendent that saved the life of the Princess also was astounding to them. Apparently it is the earliest writing to survive from that period."

The General slowly went through other pictures. "And both the Prince and Princess will recover fully?" His eyes bored into the Major's and his hand was still.

"Yes, sir, the Prince needed surgery for the head injury and is well on the way to recovery. The Princess sustained only bruised ribs but no breaks and a bump from being hit on the head with a pistol. She will have an upside down fishhook scar from where the Royal medallion cut into her skin. I understand that she stays in the Prince's room at the hospital but both are well on their way to full recovery. They will be able to fly their plane back home the end of this week. Both will be awarded Wound Badges for injuries sustained in action."

The General nodded slightly. "I had hoped they never received one of those." He looked up at the Major. "And what about the bandit camp they reported?"

"Special Operations sent in several teams as soon as the Princess gave us the information. The bandit main camp was found and an operation is being prepared to eliminate them. I might add that the rifle they brought back has been traced to a Corporal Stephan Koenig, last reported as having deserted from the Fifth Mountain Division years ago."

The General paged through several more pieces of paper then stopped and picked up one. "This Lieutenant Engel, what has been done with him?"

The Major allowed a slight smile to escape his stony face. "The Lieutenant has been transferred to one of our more distant posts." He coughed into his hand. "It seems that the Lieutenant was not only present both times the Prince and Princess arrived at Bergheim and tried to arrest them both times, but on the train to Lillianne he and two other officers attempted to harass the Princess and Lady Carlotta. His next Post will not have women on it."

The General nodded slightly before looking at more pictures from the file. "Both the Prince and Princess mentioned the strangeness of the lake and surrounding valley. Is there any explanation for that yet?"

"This has been a hard question, sir. Some scientists feel that the water is contaminated and kills what it touches." The General looked up with his eyes wide. "I'm sorry sir, but that is just one theory and it isn't the generally held one. The Prince was given the water to drink and had no side effects. Another group thinks that due to the blockage of the warm water spring by earthquakes there is a buildup of poisonous gas that is periodically released killing whatever life is in the valley. Any work done there will have to be done under strict monitoring for poisonous gas. And, yes, the Prince and Princess were probably lucky that none was released while they were there if that theory is correct."

The General leaned back from the table after closing the file folder. "I wish I could see this cave myself." He sighed. "Think of the history we will learn from this discovery." He shook his head and looked back up at the Major. "How is publicity being given out?"

"It will be reported that a reconnaissance plane accidently found the lake and used it for an emergency landing. No names will be given of course. All information has been turned over to the University in Soufflestos for examination and the setting up of any expeditions to study the complex." The major smiled. "After the Prince and Princess graduate from school and their public persona is given we will quietly release the fact they discovered the cave, if that meets with your approval, of course."

The General leaned forward and clasped his hands on the table. "I will think about that. They may be happier if it isn't known publicly about their discovery." He looked back at the Major and smiled. "And it will let them keep a lower profile for our work don't you think?"

"Certainly, sir, and I do think you made the correct decision to enlist them in our service. They both can think quickly and work well together." He smiled. "If there isn't anything else I'll take my leave."

"Thank you for the information, Sonnenberg, I'll go over everything and will meet them at the seaplane lagoon when they return."

Major Sonnenberg stepped back a pace. "Yes, sir, I'll see you then." He turned slightly toward the other person in the room. "Major, I'm glad to see you again." Turning around he left the pair standing in the office.

The General shut his eyes and took several deep breaths before reaching up for the Major's hand that he felt on his shoulder.

"Allison, I don't know if I've done the right thing getting Lillia and Treize involved in this kind of business. It can be too dangerous."

Allison leaned over and kissed Wil on the cheek. "You did right; our daughter takes after me in some things, you in others." She smiled at him and squeezed his hand back. "I think they will be very happy not doing the same thing every day." She shook her head slowly and sighed. "And I'm sure you will get to go to the cave and enjoy yourself very soon. And of course I will be going with you to keep you in line my dear. Fi and Benedict may want to see it also and then we can make it a family affair." She reached down and hugged Wil giving him another kiss.

END