Final Preparations

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          Atamar had worried that Uncle Ulap would veto her plans, so she had carefully prepared her proposal.  She said that for safety's sake, this year's race would only be open to the palace youth, not even the princes could participate. 

The palace guard would carefully comb through the caverns the day before the race and then set a constant guard over the only entrance.  In this way, they could guarantee Atamar's safety. 

She did point out that Hamori and her other guards could not be with her as she hid because there was no way that she could hide well with multiple people. 

However, she suggested that Hamori and the guards go with her to find the perfect hiding place and make sure that it was perfectly safe.  They could even enter the caves with her before the race started but then return to the entrance after conducting her to her hiding spot. 

After presenting her plans, Atamar could tell that Uncle Ulap was unsure.  Knowing that he must agree to the race, she threw down her final bargaining cards.  "Uncle Ulap, I know that you worry that something terrible might happen to me.  However, hasn't the mysterious Tepry warned us about every attack before it happened? 

If someone thought about attacking during the race, she would warn us, and if that happened, of course we would call off the race.  So, please let me do this.  I haven't participated in the race for the last 10 years. 

I decided it was fun to watch, but I realize that this might be my last race.  By next year, I will likely be married and living in a different kingdom.  I don't want to lose this last chance to have a part in the race." 

    Atamar could tell she had won the battle even before Uncle Ulap spoke.  She smiled broadly and gave him a big hug when he said, "Very well, Atamar, I won't deny you this opportunity to participate." 

Uncle Ulap smiled back, glad to receive the hug and to see her so happy.  However, he had more to say.  "But, if the mysterious Tepry does bring a warning, you have to promise not to complain if the race must be canceled." 

    "Oh absolutely, Uncle.  I give you my word." Atamar replied quickly.  Then she hurried off to spread the good news. 

        The time slipped by quickly as they worked on perfecting their plans and finishing their preparations.  Someone even came up with an idea for how to help the centaurs escape in the midst of the disappearances of the questing party. 

Atamar was itching to get started, but she knew that her quest would be a short one if she didn't stick to the plan.   She wasn't the only one who was eager.  It was hard for all of them to control their excitement. 

It was also hard to keep quiet about their plans.  The teens frequently talked about them when others weren't around.  The thing that was hardest for them was to remember not to say anything in front of Prince Crenip.  He seemed like one of their group, and yet, he wasn't.  If he found out, wouldn't he feel obligated to tell somebody? 

    Several of the teens worked with Nehat's ogre friend Nelia to clear an opening in the tunnel to the back entrance at the waterfall.  They made sure some of the siege supplies were stacked in front of the opening so that it would not be spotted. 

Every time one of them went to the waterfall, they carried something with them to leave for the trip.  In this way their supply pile grew but their activities went unnoticed. 

Yt and Jandor listened to every scrap of conversation they could to try to find out any information about the royal family's disappearance.  Several of the best artists among the teens worked on carefully recreating the various kingdom maps.

The girls peppered Ijema, the palace seamstress with questions about foreign fashions.  By the time race day arrived, everything was ready and all that was left was to carefully execute their plans. 

    As the months passed, Atamar kept hoping that it was all a mistake and that her parents would show up and laugh at her worries.  However, her 18th birthday finally arrived, but her parents didn't.  When she woke up that morning and realized that her family was truly gone, her confidence crumbled along with her hopeful dreams. 

She stared out her window and wondered what she had been thinking. 

How could she possibly help her parents? 

What skills did she have? 

And how could a group of teens succeed where adults had not? 

What did they know? 

And how could they hope to stay hidden and remain safe with so many out to find them and harm them?  

Her parents had been missing for months? 

How could they hope to follow a trail that had
grown so cold? 

She wondered if she was doing the right thing.  Should she call off the quest? 

How could she be sure she was making the right choice?...

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