Chapter Ten: Betrayal
"Thirty minutes, girls."
Phyllis glanced at each of the four girls in turn, carefully gauging and approving of what she saw. "You look good. Now, just make sure you damn well play good too, huh? This show is going to go off without a hitch! The curtain will be going up in thirty minutes, and you have to be ready and prepared to play your song."
"I thought that there was going to be some boring long opening speech first." Nancy rolled her eyes. "And besides, we don't play till fifth after the intermission, Aunt Phyl!"
"The introductions will be done in four or five languages, since this show is being broadcast live on air in at least seventeen countries." Phyllis replied impatiently. "But that won't take so long as you might think. Just keep focused, all right?"
Her gaze fell on Sylva.
"Are you damn sure you can sing?"
"I'm fine, Phyllis." Sylva nodded her head. "It was just a bump on the head, and I feel okay today. Ready and raring to go."
"Well, make sure you are." Phyllis told her abruptly. "I have to go find my seat in the audience. Remember who you're representing tonight - don't let me down."
"As ever, an inspiring and confidence-boosting pep talk." Nancy grimaced, once the executive was well out of earshot.. "I kinda wish we weren't on fifth. I'd rather play first and be through it already. There are a hell of a lot of people here."
"Yeah, thanks for the reminder." Sadie muttered. "I feel sick too, you know. Syl might be fine, but I've got chills. This is my song...I'm dreading it going wrong."
"Well, it won't. I'm singing it, and I won't let it go wrong." Sylva promised. "And I feel safer here tonight. The security has been stepped up since Queen Adreana is in the audience with her family and everything, and I can't help feeling we're gonna do good here tonight. I can't explain it, but I feel a buzz."
"Something tells me you hit your head harder than we thought." Nancy teased. Sylva grinned.
"Yeah, maybe." She acknowledged. "But I'm determined to do the damn best I can tonight, and I'm serious about that. I'm mad that anyone tried to interfere with our practice yesterday and if it was Nat, well, to hell with him. He's not going to ruin our gig!"
"Well said." Copper grinned. "There's not much else we can do, but give our music everything we can, and hope for the best."
"I'm gonna skip off and get a soda, before the lights go down and I fall over something." Sylva decided, glancing at her watch. "I won't be a sec, and if I do it while it's still lit up in here, I'm not gonna come to any harm."
"Grab me one too, will ya?" Copper tossed a coin her friend's way. Sylva caught it deftly, nodding her head.
"Sure thing." She agreed. "Back in a sec!"
"You think she's okay, going off like that?" Sadie wondered, as the keyboardist headed out to find the vending machine. "I mean, after all that's happened..."
"She's right, though. There are so many people about that someone would see anyone skulking around backstage." Nancy shrugged. "For once, she's talking sense. Once the lights go down, we'll be sticking together like glue, but I should think she's safe enough at the moment. A non-performer would stick out with security like a sore thumb, and there's no way Syl is gonna go anywhere near Jesta."
"Good point." Sadie acknowledged.
"If you ask me, too, I think Syl's still trying to get her head around all of what's been going on." Copper twirled a drumstick contemplatively. "Don't you think?"
"It might help if we knew what we were dealing with, but I suppose we'll be out of Morvania soon enough." Nancy remarked. "It won't matter then."
"All ready to play?"
A fresh voice interrupted them, and Sadie cast Nadia a smile.
"Hi, Nadia." She said warmly. "And yes, we pretty much are."
"Syl's just gone to get soda - I can't believe that this place is still full of smoke from yesterday's rehearsals." Copper remarked. "What about you guys? Ready to rock?"
"Yes, but feeling sick to my stomach about it." Nadia blushed. "I always get stage fright before I perform, but I know we will be fine once we begin."
"Well, it's in front of the home crowd for you lot." Nancy observed. "Lots of luck, huh?"
"Indeed." Nadia dimpled. "And may the best band win! I must go find Mischa and Semela and make sure we are ready!"
"At least some of the competition is civil." Nancy rolled her eyes, as Jesta shot them a poisonous look from where she was setting up ready to play. "Atom have a decent sound - they could really make it big in the states."
"Maybe one day they will." Copper agreed. She frowned. "Don't you think Syl's taking a while with the sodas?"
"She'll be back in a sec. She's probably chatting up a young and sexy security guard." Nancy grimaced. "There are enough of them around - you can almost smell the testosterone."
Sylva, for her part, had retrieved the drinks from the machine, and was making her way back towards the stage. Despite her earlier apprehension, she was comforted to see the number of men in uniform that were dotted around the venue.
"Noone will make a move tonight, with all of these guys here." She decided. "Sadie was right - we just need to pull off the best ever show tonight, then we're out of Morvania as soon as can be. What am I worrying about? C'mon, Syl, get a grip. Whatever happened yesterday was probably some sicko trying to grope you or something - forget about it. And even if it was Nat, well, he's not gonna get through all of these guards, so I won't even have to talk to him. Might as well forget about him and get on with my job."
As she paused to adjust her boot, she felt a hand on her shoulder, and despite herself she started, swinging round and meeting Nat's playful grin with a glare. Her fear replaced by anger at his forwardness, she shoved him away from her, putting her hands on her hips.
"What the hell do you think you're doing - stalking me now?" She demanded. "Only the performers are supposed to be back here!"
"I slipped through." Nat looked confused. "I thought you'd be pleased - I promised to hear you play. Are you angry about yesterday?"
"Yes, I'm damn angry about yesterday." Sylva's brows knitted in a dangerous scowl. "So you'd better damn explain yourself before I call security and have you kicked off the premises!"
"But nothing! Why did you grab me in the dark? What the hell do you want from me, huh?"
"Grab you? Why would I grab you?" Now it was Nat's turn to be startled.
"Oh, don't play games with me. I know it was you - you were limping and I kicked the jerk who grabbed me pretty damn hard. Did I put up too much of a fight for you?" Sylva was seething.
"I can't believe you would think that I would hurt you!" Nat's own eyes sparked with anger.
"Well, then answer me this. Why did you have that girl ransack my room, and why did you take my picture, huh?" Sylva demanded. "What are you, some psycho stalker?"
"Photo?" Nat stared at her, then, "You are out of your mind. What photo?"
"The one you took!" Sylva exclaimed. "I know it was you - you even talked to me about my mother, but I never mentioned her to you! Well, whatever your game is, you can leave me alone, else I'll have security on you!"
"Do that, if you wish." Nat's eyes narrowed angrily. "I doubt they'll listen to the deranged ramblings of some American rock singer. I came here tonight to hear you play, and nothing else! If you don't believe me, well, that is your problem! I have business to attend to!"
And with that, he was gone, leaving Sylva staring after him.
"Well, I sure told him!" She decided, although inwardly she felt strangely deflated. "I told him not to mess with me all right, and he didn't even have any good excuse to clear his name, so I guess I was right and it was him after all. Jerk. What is it with me and guys at the moment? Dammit, I was never this bad at picking a guy in High School? Hrm, or maybe I was...I just didn't stick at it long enough for it to matter."
She frowned, heading slowly back towards the stage doors. Deep in thought, she did not see the figure waiting in the shadows, and before she knew what had happened, strong arms had grabbed her, gagging her tightly with a large fist and dragging her into the darkness. Unable to see her captor, Sylva struggled against his grip, but this time he had her measure, and her efforts proved fruitless. She found herself shoved into a dark room, and, even in the pitch black she was aware of someone else slipping rope around her wrists and ankles as her original captor held her firm. Finally, they looped a length of cloth around her mouth and the unfortunate Jewel found herself pushed against the wall so hard that she lost her footing, tumbling to the floor.
In the blackness, she heard a muffled voice, but she did not understand the language in which it spoke. Another voice answered, in a harsh, brusque rebuttal, and there was once more silence. Fear pierced Sylva's heart, as light filled the room, and she saw her captors for the first time. Her blue eyes widened with horror.
"You needn't try to struggle or call out. You are tightly tied, and the more you fight your bonds, the more they will hurt you." A voice told her sharply. "Just stay here and behave yourself. You think you can manage that?"
Tears filled Sylva's eyes, and a silken glove touched her cheek, mockingly wiping them away.
"You Americans, always so emotional." A second voice observed. "Don't waste your tears, Sylvina. You will not be getting out of here alive. Just as soon as we've finished our business here, we will return and dispose of you. When your friends come looking, we shall take care of them also. There is no way out. You are trapped."
"Okay, Syl should definitely have been back by now."
Sadie tapped her fingers anxiously on the edge of her guitar, casting a glance at her watch. "The show begins in less than five minutes, and she's been gone more than twenty. It doesn't take that long to get a drink - I think something's up."
"I'm starting to think you're right." Nancy frowned, glancing at Copper. "What do you think? Is this just Syl on one of her flirting kicks, or has something happened?"
"Syl wouldn't let Jewel down. I think something must have happened." Copper bit her lip. "I also think that we should go look for her. We don't play for a while yet, but even if that wasn't the case, her safety is more important than us winning the competition. It was dumb really, letting her go. I mean, even with the security people buzzing around the place, we know she was attacked yesterday. Stands to reason that they'd try again."
"I s'pose they must have been desperate to stop us from playing." Nancy glanced at her hands. "I wish I knew what we were involved in, guys. Should we get Aunt Phyl, or do we handle this ourselves?"
"Ourselves." Sadie said firmly. "Finding Phyllis might take time, and we can't waste that. Besides..." She trailed off, her expression becoming grim as she spotted a familiar face in the crowd. "I think I just saw prime suspect number one slipping through the crowd. If you'll excuse me, Tough Girl Sadie's gonna go have a few words with Nat."
"Sadie, wait!" Copper called, but it was too late. The blond girl was already gone, and exchanging helpless looks, Nancy and Copper set down their instruments, slipping back into the main holding area in pursuit.
Sadie, meanwhile, had located her prey and had launched herself at the unsuspecting young man, pulling him out of view of the milling musicians and pinning him up against the wall. Taken by surprise, Nat could only stare at her speechlessly, meeting her furious blue eyes with bewildered ones of his own.
"What in hell have you done with Sylva?" Sadie demanded. "And don't tell me you haven't, because I'm angry, and I will hurt you. Jewel are going to play this show, whether you like it or not. Understand?"
"I understand your words, but I think you are as deranged as she is!" Nat recovered some of his composure, trying to pull free, but Sadie held firm. "First she accuses me of attacking her yesterday, now you assault me! What is going on?"
"Well, let me see." Sadie's eyes flashed dangerously. "Sylva went to get a drink, and she didn't come back. And, surprise surprise, you're here, right where you shouldn't be."
"I'm sorry. I didn't realise there were rules." Despite his predicament, Nat's tone was full of scorn.
"Don't play the smart alec with me." Sadie's eyes narrowed, and her grip on the young man's collar tightened. "Syl is my friend, and I want to know what you've done to her, so you'd better be in the mood for talking, hadn't you?"
"I don't have a clue where Sylvina is, and that's the honest truth." Nat shot back. "Let me go, you silly girl. You understand nothing!"
"I understand that someone I care about has vanished, and that sometimes actions speak louder than words when it comes to getting results." Sadie snapped back. "I'm not in any mood for your silly games, and you do not want to antagonise my temper. It's time for the truth - so talk!"
"I have told you the truth!" With some difficulty, Nat wrestled himself free. "The last time I saw Sylvina was when she yelled insults at me and stalked off in the direction of your stage. If someone has abducted her between there and here, it was not me! I give you my word!"
"And what makes you think I'm gonna take you at your word, huh?" Sadie demanded. "Time is ticking, Nat, and I'm not in a patient frame of mind. I am not afraid to use my fists if you don't start telling me what I want to know. What are you doing back here, anyway? If your motives are as innocent as you say they are, explain that! Only the performers are supposed to be back here!"
"I must have missed that memo." Nat snapped back. "I was aware that this was a public concert."
"Yes, but people backstage have to have one of these." Sadie flashed her security pass at him. "And I don't see you waving one around. I don't know how you got past the security guards - maybe you bribed them or threatened them, I don't know - but your game is up!"
"I got past the security guards because I am Crown Prince Anatole of Morvania." Nat drew himself up to his full height. "I came to see Sylvina play, because I like her very much. I do not know why she has disappeared, or who attacked her yesterday, but I assure you that I had nothing to do with it. Contrary to popular beliefs about our Royal Family, we do not take to assaulting visitors to our country." He eyed her coldly. "I do not need a security pass to enter or leave backstage, since my mother and I are it's patrons whilst it is staged in Morvania."
"The...Crown Prince?" Colour drained from Sadie's face and she took a step back, realising as she did so that Nat bore some fleeting resemblance to Queen Adreana herself. "You're kidding me."
"I don't kid about something so important." Nat said quietly. "Not when the fate of my country is so delicately in the balance."
Sadie shook her head.
"I don't believe you." She whispered. "Crown Princes don't just sneak about town and show up unannounced. They...they have escorts or something...don't they?"
"Not me." Nat shook his head. "Not when I can evade them." He shrugged. "You can believe me or not, Sadie, but I give you my word it is the truth."
Sadie stared at him blankly for a moment, then she cursed.
"Oh God, I'm in real trouble now, aren't I? Assaulting royalty! I thought...but Sylva's vanished, and you're here...and..."
"Tell me what happened." Nat, his temper cooling in light of such obvious confusion and embarrassment, put a gentle hand on her shoulder.
"She just went for a drink, and never came back." Sadie murmured. "I didn't know you were the Crown Prince, I...I swear. I thought..."
"You thought that I would hurt her." Nat said gravely. "No, Sadie. I would not do that. I like her too much for that. But I cannot blame you for what you thought. This is partly my fault, since I have not been honest enough to tell her - or any of you - the truth in all this."
"But you were limping...Syl said so."
"I fell from my horse." Nat looked sheepish. "Corvin took me riding...I am a poor horseman. I fell."
"Oh." Sadie glanced down. "And...but...Syl's mother...?"
"My mother remembers well the last time Americans were in Morvania." Nat smiled. "I have always known about Mary Phillips and Phyllis Gabor - my mother never tires of the story."
"I'm sorry I attacked you." She said at length. "I hope I didn't hurt you?"
"No, just took me by surprise." Nat assured her. Sadie bit her lip.
"Phyllis is going to send me back to England for sure when she finds out about this." She murmured. "Syl's vanished and I've assaulted the crown prince. Oh God, I should never have come to Morvania!"
"Maybe I can help you to find her?" Nat offered. Sadie cast him a surprised look.
"Before or after you throw me in irons for jumping you?" She asked apprehensively. Nat laughed.
"I will do no such thing." He promised. "Though I must say, you are strong! But nobody need know...you were concerned for your friend, and I am concerned for her also."
"Sadie!" At that moment Copper and Nancy converged on them, and Nat held up his hands.
"Not more of you!" He exclaimed.
"Guys, Nat isn't the guy we want." Sadie said slowly. "He...didn't take Syl."
"Then who did?" Nancy demanded. "And where is she? We have a show to do!"
"I did not abduct Sylvina, but I would like to help you find her." Nat said quietly. "Morvania is not always a safe place, and I am afraid for her safety. It might help to have someone who speaks Morvanian along with you, also. Corvin has often said that he fears the uprisings mean another plot on the throne, and I can't help but wonder if Sylvina was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I fear by associating with her I have unwittingly put her in danger -and that is a wrong I must put right. But come on! We have not much time before you must perform!"
Prologue: Morvania, 1987
Chapter One: Los Angeles, 2014
Chapter Two: At The Airport
Chapter Three: Laviana
Chapter Four: The Competition
Chapter Five: The Queen
Chapter Six: Ransacked!
Chapter Seven: Anatole
Chapter Eight: Nerysa
Chapter Nine: A Frightening Realisation
Chapter Ten: Betrayal
Chapter Eleven: The Truth
Chapter Twelve: Heartfelt
Chapter Thirteen: Home