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Quill's Travelogue: the Maiden of Evercopse Hill


by scarrift

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Before I begin I must first admit that I once held no love for the creatures known as Werelupes. I now realize that as no two people are alike, so too are Werelupes and I must humbly apologize, especially to the special person I met and of whom I now put pen to paper for.

The leaves of fall fell heavily about us as we tracked across the well-travelled dirt path, already covered in a carpet of reds and browns. The towering oaks rose like walls on either side of the path, their steadily depleting crowns allowing scattered patches of yellow sunlight to dance about the forest floor. A warm breeze wafted through the hollows and among the branches and ancient trunks, stirring up the forest floor with a light crackle of swirling leaves.

     Ah, such beauty of nature one cannot get from Neopia Central - and even so only once a year - a fact that did not escape the notice of my eyes.

     My nephew on the other paw had a different opinion.

     "Unc', like, why'd you have to drag me all the way out here?" complained the young Kyrii as he kicked noisily through the leaf-covered path.

     I chuckled and shook my head. "No one forced you to come, Danny," I answered lightly.

     "Like, FYI you totally need me to keep you safe," Danny pointed out in exasperation. "And, like, because of you my best shirt's dirty!"

     "Come now, Danny." I laughed good-naturedly, waving my arms out. "There isn't a soul around for miles who would comment about your clothes."

     Indeed, 'old geezer' as I was, I knew that the Disco Kyrii's baggy floral patterned shirt with matching scarf, oversized pants and stylish bandanna was the 'in' thing among the youngsters. He even, to my chagrin, traded one of my Easter presents for a pair of classy - and expensive - sunglasses now perched atop his bandanna.

     The young Kyrii sulked. "Not like you bother about your wardrobe, Unc'," he retorted, his arms folded across his chest.

     I had to concede the point. Unlike Danny I was about as presentable as a scruffy thief at a Royal gala; not that I intentionally tried to appear so. My garb consisted of a simple, well-worn white button-down and a pair of comfortable tan-coloured pants, the former which lay untucked out over the latter, and a wide brimmed fisherman's hat (minus the bait of course) on my head. About the only thing that stood out among my drab wear was a shiny, golden quill stuck into one side of my hat; my pride and joy. I had received it as a reward from my editor for an article well done.

     "Oh, I do care about my wardrobe, Danny," I chuckled. "I just don't spend as much as you do every month."

     Danny sighed theatrically and proceeded to plod along yet again. "Like, whatever Unc'," he muttered over his shoulder. "Wait, I just remembered! What are we doing here? And, like, don't change the subject this time!"

     "Heh, very astute," I complimented, chuckling good-humouredly. "Anyway, to the point, we're headed for Evercopse, a pretty secluded hamlet, at the edge of the Haunted Woods to be exact," I explained, resuming my casual stroll down the path. "I hear it has some very beautiful gardens over there, not to mention that their Autumn Festival's just started and the food is said to be quite delectable."

     At the sound of the word 'food' Danny immediately perked up and set off down the path, stirring up the fallen leaves. "C'mon, hurry up Unc'!" he shouted, suddenly impatient, jogging in place farther up the path as he waited for me to catch up. "Hurry up before we, like, miss dinner or supper or whatever they call it!"

     I laughed heartily at Danny but nevertheless I was content to amble along at my own leisurely pace, ignoring the exasperated looks on my nephew's face. After all, I said to myself as I surveyed the passing scenery, a picture perfect vista like this comes but once a year.

     ~*~*~*~*~

     We did indeed reach the hamlet of Evercopse a little after nightfall, much to Danny's annoyance, convinced that they - meaning the inhabitants of the fair village - had started eating without him. I would have pointed out that no one was expecting us and thus could not expect anything specifically for us but I let the matter lie. Instead I turned my attention to the landscape around me.

     Although the full moon was only just peeking over the dark tops of the Haunted Woods beyond the rolling hills, Evercopse, even in the twilight, was as picturesque as people had described it.

     The wide expanse of trees stretching for miles gave the small cluster of low hills a wide berth; the dark, convoluted oaks of the Haunted Woods bordered the western side while the verdant, evergreen pines, for which the hamlet was named, bordered the east. And at the centre of the eye, so to speak was Evercopse itself. The homely cottages and lush gardens, as if plucked from a child's storybook, spread out all over the sides of the gentle slopes, the half dozen peaks dedicated to the few stately homes and business premises that the town possessed.

     A shallow, pebbly stream wound its way lazily among the many knolls, cutting through the hamlet before disappearing into the pine forest beyond. It was a path along this stream that we took, admiring the water lilies and indigenous Starflowers blooming in the young rays of moonlight along the banks as we headed for a brightly lit structure up ahead situated just beside the running water.

     The signpost beside the door loudly declared "The Laughing Quiggle" and, true to form, even from the outside boisterous laughter and lively chattering could be heard coming from beyond the yellow-tinged windows.

     But before I could push open the simple wooden door of the tavern a large, calloused paw pulled it inwards and dragged me roughly inside; Danny following a split second later. Before either he or I could protest, wide paws clapped us both on our backs and brought us face to face with their owner; a large, able-bodied yellow Gelert.

     "Welcome to the Laughing Quiggle!" he announced in a gruff but warm voice, his beige eyes twinkling with mirth. "Ye must be travellers coming for our Autumn Festival!"

     "We are indeed," I replied, recovering quickly. At that, the Gelert laughed so loudly I swore it shook the rafters.

     "Ho, news of our festival travels far! Come partake our delightful fare - we have food aplenty - and join in our dancing for the night is young!"

     "Right on!" Danny yelled ecstatically. If there was anything my nephew loved as much as food it was partying. I soon lost him as he happily disappeared among the revellers while I, worn-out and hungry, went for an empty table. No sooner had I plopped down onto the wooden stool, the Gelert whom I met earlier occupied the seat before me, grinning unreservedly.

     "Drake at your service," he said loudly to make himself heard over the noise.

     "Quillian at yours," I replied in proper custom, glancing around the crowded hall. "Is there anything to drink around here?"

     "Ho, straight to the point I see. Two Apple Juices here, Tania!" Drake hollered. An Usul appeared a moment later and dropped two large mugs before the both of us. I thanked her profusely but it was all but drowned out by Drake's laughter. "Very polite for a traveller, aren't ye!" he laughed before draining half his mug. "So how do ye like our festivities thus far, master Quillian?"

     I finally took a moment to admire the festive atmosphere. The tavern was warm and brightly lit; the blazing fire in the large fireplace set into the far wall, shielding the revellers from the autumn chill. A regular medley of pets of all ages and sizes talked, danced and laughed from every corner of the drinking hall; their lively, good-natured chatter not the least bit unpleasant. A small band of musicians were also spicing up the merriment with their instruments, striking up new tunes every few minutes and prompting new rounds of impromptu dancing among the partygoers.

     Taking a sip of the juice, which proved to be quite sweet and well aged, I answered the Gelert brightly. "It's better than I imagined it. The host receives my utmost compliments for such a grand undertaking." I could see that this pleased Drake mightily and he was about to open his mouth to reply when cheering erupted several feet away. I craned my neck and saw that a female Lupe had leapt onto a table and was presently bowing gracefully to the gathered crowd.

     She wore a simple earth-brown top and snow-white frock much like a common peasant girl, though an intricate maple leaf patterned shawl adorned her slender shoulders and a bluish crescent-shaped charm sparkled on a chain around her neck. Nevertheless, despite her simple appearance, I was captivated by her beauty: her lithe form; her warm, friendly smile; her bright, playful brown eyes; her silken, dark hair that fell lightly about her shoulders.

     A Quiggle violinist suddenly struck up a lively ditty and the female Lupe, with a melodic giggle that made my heart leap, began swirling and dancing animatedly to the tune, her lilting voice carrying over the crowd as they clapped their paws and tapped their feet to the tune.

           "The full moon arises,

     The treetops be silvered!

     The stars be a-twinkling,

     O'er meadow and hill!

     Light feet be a-dancing,

     And song be a-singing,

     For hither come the maiden,

     Of Evercopse Hill!

     "Come all ye good people,

     Come dance and be merry!

     For yellow hath come,

     And white will a-follow!

     So drink to ye fortunes,

     The Sharp-teeth hath cower,

     For hither come the maiden,

     Of Evercopse Hill!

     "So ho! Hey!

     Be glad and be merry!

     For hither come the maiden,

     Of Evercopse Hill!"

     That was but a fraction of her delightful song and I would have heard more had it not been for Drake's booming laugh. I wrenched my eyes away from the charming Lupe and saw the big Gelert grinning at me.

     "That Lynaris is something isn't she? Makes one feel young again," he laughed. I flushed slightly, recognizing the pointed remark and embarrassed at the lightness of my heart.

     "What do you know about her?"

     Drake looked thoughtfully up at the wooden ceiling, as if struggling to arrange his thoughts in the festive atmosphere. "Well master Quillian," the Gelert began finally. "There's not much to say about her frankly. We rarely see the lass, and even so only once a year during the nights when the moon is full."

     My inquisitive nature overrode all other emotions and my ears perked up at the peculiar statement.

     "Ye see master Quillian there's a Werelupe roaming the woods at the edge of Evercopse. We once holed up in our homes every night, fearful for our lives ever since some lads spotted the beast.

     "Then the lass, Lynaris shows up a few weeks later outta nowhere, just when the moon was full and we were all worried sick, and the blighter, the Werelupe I mean, just up and vanishes!" Drake concluded with a snap of his fingers. "Lynaris jests that it's her charm and wit that's scared the beast off but methinks it's that trinket she wears around her neck." He winked conspiratorially before laughing. "Whatever the reason, we have her to thank for our merriment and we're more than happy to entertain her as best as we can during her stay here, though, as you can see, she's trying her best to return that as well."

     I nodded and gulped down the last of my drink. Lynaris was quite fascinating, not to mention lovely. A great addition to my article, I decided. Fatigue suddenly reared its ugly head and I made a feeble request for a room as I struggled to keep my weary eyes open. Drake, ever the gracious host, led me upstairs to a small, neatly furnished room at the end of a hallway.

     "Good night, master Drake," I yawned as Drake closed the door with a snap. Gladly I threw myself down onto the warm, soft sheets and listened to the muffled sounds of revelry filtering through the floorboards before drifting off to a strange dream of dancing Werelupes.

     ~*~*~*~*~

     Early the next morning I awoke to find no trace of Danny. Venturing downstairs I found him snoring soundly in one corner of the now empty, but tidy, hall; a senseless grin on his face. But my concern for my nephew was short lived; my growling stomach suddenly reminding me that I had not eaten anything since the night before. As if sensing my predicament, Drake emerged noisily from a back room with two steaming bowls and a large loaf of bread balanced on a wooden tray.

     "Top of the morning to ye! Break some bread with me!" the large Gelert greeted cheerfully. I was only too glad to heed the invitation, leaving Danny - who grunted and turned away from me, still fast asleep - in his chair. As we ate the delicious breakfast, I suddenly remembered about Lynaris and, putting down my spoon, asked Drake where she was.

     "Aye, gone she is, always disappears before dawn. Ne'er stays the night here; says she likes staying outdoors, being a wanderer and all," he replied with a shrug. "My guess is she camps out in the pine forest, keeping a lookout fer that blasted Werelupe."

     "Mmm," I mumbled, taking another spoonful of chowder before pushing back my stool. "Well master Drake, I hope you don't mind but I plan to see more of your lovely village. I hear it's much nicer in the sunlight."

     "Indeed it is, master Quillian!" Drake exclaimed as I rose to my feet. "I'll be seeing ye at this evening's feast."

     I nodded and strolled out into the bright sunlight, marvelling at the sprawling meadows stretching in all directions, rising up from the low, rolling hills on either side of the bubbling brook. The rest of my morning was spent wandering over grassy hill and forested dell, taking the quaint cobblestone paths the inhabitants had laid and admiring the well-kept, if slightly disorganized - as if their caretakers had preferred them wild - flowering gardens. A few early risers greeted me as I wandered past the low stone walls marking their boundaries, graciously accepting my occasional compliments.

     The sun was setting when I finally decided to return to the Laughing Quiggle. Like the evening before the inn was well-lit and low humming, a promise of things to come I mused, emanated from the windows. I entered the inn, on my own accord this time, finding Drake and his assistants bustling about preparing the place for the festivities. I waved to the huge Gelert before taking a seat at a corner table where my groggy-looking nephew sat, nursing a steaming mug of thick, earth-coloured liquid.

     "I see you've, like, had fun without me," he grumbled, taking a sip of the substance and cringing. "Urgh, this is strong coffee."

     "As had you, I imagine," I pointed out. A sudden laugh rang out behind me; not Drake's unrefined, guttural bellow but a very familiar tinkling, carefree chuckle. I turned to see Lynaris skipping lightly through the door, greeting the yellow Gelert innkeeper with a flourish. A flood of chattering patrons filed in soon after - as if no party could properly start without the Lupe maiden. As the dancing and feasting got under way, I searched among the crowd for Lynaris, hoping to ask her a few questions. I spotted her at the counter, laughing at some joke Drake had made, and was just about to get up when something I noticed held me in place; despite her toothy grin her chestnut-coloured eyes were sad and clear, as if she was burdened by despair she did not wish seen.

     I settled back in my chair, my eyes following the Lupe as she moved about the hall entertaining the patrons, an equal mix of curiosity and compassion surfacing inside my mind. Why should she be unhappy among such adoring folk? After all, the party was partly in her honour. The night marched on and the crowds grew rowdier and still I kept my eye on Lynaris, even ignoring Danny, who had wandered upstairs to catch a nap.

     Unexpectedly, as the next pair of revellers entered the inn, Lynaris slipped out inconspicuously behind them and I immediately got out of my seat, pushing my way through the crowd. As soon as I got out the doors I glanced about quickly and barely caught sight of a flash of silvery, moon-gilded fur vanishing into the forest. I quickly gave chase, forging through the tree line in hopes of catching up to her.

     It was only a while later that I realized that I was well inside the Haunted Woods, hopelessly lost amongst the gnarled and menacing oaks and dark, winding paths. The Haunted Woods, creepy during the day, was downright frightening at night. I was on the verge of hysterics, my red fur all askew, when a familiar voice floated towards me, banishing my panic with its serenity.

     Till this day I am still perplexed at what happened next. As if moving on their own accord, my legs drew me in the direction of the low, enchanting voice. I moved slowly, mesmerized, up a slight gradient and soon found myself in a moonlit clearing. In the centre of the moon-silvered glade was Lynaris, sitting upon a smooth stone, her gaze drawn towards the full moon directly overhead.

     "Lynaris?"

     The white Lupe inclined her head, gazing at me sadly. "Greetings master Quillian, how nice to see you out on night like this."

     "Who are you?" I blurted unconsciously.

     Lynaris smiled. "The villagers know me as a simple wanderer, albeit one with the ability to chase away Werelupes." Her eyes twinkled with mirth. "Though I'm sure you have your suspicions."

     "I thought you were a Werelupe," I admitted sheepishly. "But that's impossible; the full moon …"

     "You're half right, Quillian, as I will shortly explain," she replied, her voice growing sombre. "I was once a well-travelled bard; talented but recklessly bold and it was by my own folly that I was scratched by a Werelupe on my birthday. Ever since that night I've been wandering the Haunted Woods in the horrible form of the dread creatures, fearing the torches and pitchforks of angry villagers, the silvered nets of Werelupe catchers; fearing every rising moon." She stared down at her paws. "And fearing what I could do to others," she added softly.

     "I tried to join with my Werelupe 'brethren' but they rejected me just as everyone else had. They must have sensed that I was different somehow and didn't want any part of me." Lynaris' ears drooped. "Consigned to my lonely fate, rejected even by my own kind, I hid deep in the Haunted Woods where no one could find me, moaning about my miserable fate."

     Then she turned to face me, a twinkle in her chestnut eyes. "But I found out something that made my life almost bearable. As the full moon rises in the sky, I turn back into my former self, just as you see me now. Imagine how overjoyed I was; to be myself again after so long! Released at last from this never-ending nightmare, ready to return to my family at long last! "

     Then the fire in her eyes faded and the sadness returned. "And then I realized my folly, my naivety in thinking that my curse was ended. When the full moon waned so did I revert back into the stuff of my nightmares, the accursed form of a Werelupe. Dejected, I retreated even farther from civilization, venturing deeper into the Haunted Woods, only to receive loathing looks from the Woods' denizens, Werelupe or otherwise, wherever I went. And so it went on for years, the endless wandering and loneliness, my singing the only company I had on those nights when I became myself again."

     Life suddenly sparkled again like gems in her brown eyes. "Then two years ago I came across -"

     "Evercopse," I concluded quietly, realization dawning upon me.

     She nodded with a smile. "Some of the villagers saw me when I was passing through the outskirts of Evercopse. They fled and hid in terror and I knew that Werelupe hunters would soon follow. But then I realized that the full moon was waxing and I made a leap of faith. The next night I entered Evercopse, looking more like a lively traveller than a creature of the night. I convinced the townsfolk that, for as long as I linger, their Werelupe would trouble them no more, which was true if you come to think about it." She gave a small chuckle at the memory. "My timing couldn't have been more perfect - their Autumn Festival being the highlight of their year as well as being my birth date - and they received me with open arms, forever grateful for my deed."

     Lynaris smiled warmly at me. "Those were the happiest nights of my life, enjoying the company of the friendly townsfolk, dancing and singing just like the old times before my troubles started, being able to laugh and feel joy in my heart again." She gave a sad chuckle. "And so it came to be that I settled in the forests of Evercopse Hill, turning up every month as I had promised, especially during their Autumn Festival, and occasionally showing my Werelupe self to remind them of my presence and their Maiden of Evercopse's promise." She sighed. "I can only wonder what would happen if my ruse were to be discovered, what the villagers would think of me."

     I thought for a moment and chuckled lightly. "What if they never find out?"

     Her familiar bright smile returned. "Thank you," Lynaris said softly, reaching for my paw. She opened it and placed a small gem into my palm. "Do me a favour, Quillian. Take my birthstone, the last birthday present I ever received, and return it to my family. It is all that remains of my past, of the fond memories with my family and that's how I want to be remembered; as the pretty Lupe bard they were proud of."

     The teardrop-shaped sapphire sparkled briefly before closing my fingers over it.

     "But how will I find them?"

     A smile lit up her face. "You already have the gift to find them. Your words are the very beacon that will light your way, for as long as the tale of the Maiden of Evercopse Hill prevails in the outside world will it eventually guide you back to where it all started … to my family.

     "Now I must bid you adieu," she declared abruptly, the slightest hint of sadness tingeing her jovial voice. "Dawn approaches and your company is unfortunately overdue, I'm afraid. Until we meet again, master Quillian. Farewell."

     The last thing I remembered before my memory failed me was the gentle yet sad notes of Lynaris' song. When I finally regained my senses, I found myself sitting on the riverbank near the Laughing Quiggle, my toes skimming the surface of the clear brook. The sun rose over the distant mountains, warming my tired face as I thought about all that had transpired the night before. Suddenly I heard a shout and I turned to see Danny coming towards me, stretching his arms and yawning, a silly grin on his face.

     "Good morning Unc'! You're up early," he greeted as he plopped down next to me. "Anything interesting happen while I was asleep?"

     I felt the cold yet comforting edges of the sapphire nestled within my palm and smiled. "Nothing. Nothing at all."

The End

 
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