Unquenchable: Part Four
A small Kougra ran up to them. “Just a penny, lady!” he
cried to Aryallis. “All you can eat! Travelers welcome!”
Aryallis beamed a smile at the child. “You mean your friends won’t mind if
we have a bite or two?”
“’Course not, lady,” the Kougra assured her shrilly.
A large, tough-looking Lupe plodded up solidly behind the child. Ryddle’s instincts
told him to be wary, but the Lupe’s expression was pleasant enough. “Bern couldn’t
be more right, milady. Of course you’re welcome to stay the day. Kass’s defeat
is cause enough for all Meridell to celebrate. Now…there’ll be a small price…”
“Oh, don’t speak of it.” She held out a jingling handful of silver coins, which
the Lupe took eagerly. With a wink, he flipped one to Bern.
“On, then, Raquin,” Aryallis commanded in her clear voice, kicking the Uni
forward again. Ryddle followed. He could hardly wait for the feast.
Suddenly a great hush spread over the crowd. Ryddle looked at Aryallis, puzzled.
She didn’t seem to understand either, giving him a nonplussed shrug. He looked
back at the Lupe.
With a shock, he realized that every face was turned toward him. And unless
there was something he didn’t see, they didn’t look terribly kind anymore.
Finally the Lupe pointed at Ryddle, his accusing paw shaking with anger. “You
say you’re a friend – and yet you bring him here. I’m sorry, lady, but
we’re going to have to kick him out.”
Ryddle noticed for the first time what the townspeople were doing on the far
side of the square. A game he had never played, thanks to his owner: Whack-A-Kass.
That was about when he understood that they might be in trouble, and he decided
that the best course of action would be to get away as quickly as possible.
Aryallis, however, was determined not to give up so easily. “Oh?” she flamed.
“And why shouldn’t he be here? What’s he ever done to you? Just in case you
were wondering, he’s not even a Darigan citizen. He’s from Meridell.
So before you start throwing out random accusations, scruffy, I suggest that
you think about what you’re saying. If you know how.”
“My name’s not Scruffy,” growled the Lupe, with as much dignity as he could
muster – Ryddle could see that Aryallis was getting to him. “It’s Warrin, and
for your sake, I hope you don’t forget it again.”
“Forget it again?” she retorted. “How in Neopia could I forget it again
when I never knew it? How was I supposed to know your name
when you hadn’t told it to me?”
Warrin took a step back. “Just get out of here, and don’t come back! Or we’ll
have something new to play Whack-A-Kass with.” He shot Ryddle a meaningful,
suspicious look. Ryddle got the picture, and, hoping that Aryallis did as well,
he hurried out of the square.
Reaching the edge of the small town, Ryddle sighed in relief as he heard Raquin’s
hooves pound the cobblestone just behind. He couldn't catch much of Aryallis's
expression in the scant second that his head was turned, but he could see that
her reaction was entirely different from his own. She looked outraged; he merely
felt depressed. There was something else, too, an unfamiliar sadness. Quite
different from the pain he had felt at losing Phantom, the villagers, Illusen.
Although at the time he would most likely have admitted to be sorrowed for his
own sake, at the agony of missing one who might never come back, he discovered
that it was incomparable to be upset at something you could never shirk.
"That was close," he muttered, more for the sake of conversation than because
he wanted to talk.
Aryallis's chocolate eyes, however, were not focused on him. "Watch out!" she
Ryddle spun around just in time to avoid the marrow that was slicing through
the air towards him. A small yellow Ixi, obviously the offender, tossed her
head defiantly at him, her lip curling at the annoyance of missing.
He felt a choked feeling rising in his throat, the bitter taste of bile. Why?
he thought sadly. Despite her malicious actions, the Ixi looked like a kind
child. Ryddle felt instinctively that she would never have done such a thing
of her own accord. So why did she stoop to violence now, against one so clearly
Ryddle's head hung low as he strode slowly out of the town.
They continued solemnly down the path, as silently as before. This time, though,
the silence served not as a barrier between them, but as a bond of sympathy
and compassion that they shared. Ryddle would never have guessed that the hot-tempered,
fickle girl he had met at the Darigan Citadel would turn out to have such a
strong sense of justice. Aryallis was... Ryddle searched for a word. Special?
No, almost everyone was special. A thought flashed unbidden into his mind: was
she special to him?
Ryddle shook his head. What an idea! Perhaps he was just in shock from the
encounter with the hateful townspeople.
"What are you shaking your head at?" questioned the ever-inquiring Usul.
A deep sigh escaped his chest before he could quell it. "Oh - nothing," he
Aryallis raised an eyebrow. "I'm sure. Certainly I believe you. Come on, I
know as well as you do what it's like - well. It's just common sense that nobody
should be treated like that, no matter if they served under Kass himself."
Ryddle wondered for a split second what she had been about to say, but the
thought slipped from him and was lost. He felt more like himself, hearing her
words - the voice that had become so very familiar, even over a day or two.
Not that that was surprising.
"What if I'd committed some terrible act of treachery?" he quipped half-heartedly.
"Then would I deserve it? Is there anything worse than someone evil who passes
unnoticed and unpunished?"
Aryallis shifted in her saddle to reach for a water bottle. She took a sip
before replying. "Well, then perhaps you would deserve it. But you haven't,
Ryddle hadn't intended his simple, thoughtless argument to spark a philisophical
discussion. But now that it had started, his interest was caught. He pondered
the imagined situation.
"Besides," she added lightly, "evil has many faces, and you can never truly
pin it down. How can you know that Lord Kass meant to do the harm he did?"
He opened his beak to remark upon what Darigan had told him about the Three
- yet something prompted him to snap it shut again. Perhaps he would wait until
he knew Aryallis a little better before confiding in her on the subject of his
conversation with Darigan. Not that Darigan had specifically asked him to keep
it to himself. Still, somehow Ryddle wondered if he hadn't told him indirectly.
In any case, it didn't really matter. "Well, as he's dead now, I suppose it
doesn't really matter what he did or didn't do," he said rather abstractly.
Evening fell; whether or not it had been a long day, Ryddle was at a loss to
say. With the rhythmic pounding of Raquin’s hooves on the makeshift road, and
the chirping of the birds, it was impossible to distinguish one minute from
the next. Time dragged on, unchanging and unremarkable.
The monotony was brought up short by a fork in the path. Finally, it seemed,
they had reached the point where their ways parted. To the east lay Meridell
Castle, and to the west lay the village – and, Ryddle realized, Illusen’s Glade.
He simply couldn’t live never knowing what had happened to the kind faerie.
Both were silent for a moment. Then Ryddle said bleakly, “I guess this is it.”
It was strange – a day ago, he would have given anything to arrive at this moment.
Now it seemed as though this was one more thing that he was to lose. He had
a strange impulse to alter his direction and follow her to Meridell Castle,
but he knew that was absurd. Impossible.
Aryallis looked at him coyly from under her long lashes. “Maybe you’re right.”
"I hope you'll travel safely - where are you going, Meridell Castle? If I didn't
know you a little, I would say that that's almost too dangerous for a girl.
Not meaning any offense," he added hurriedly, momentarily forgetting his surprising
regret in the realization of what he might have just prompted the fiery Usul
to do or say.
"I'm sure I won't have any trouble along the road. Some of us can take
care of ourselves, you know," she said, a little haughtily. Then her expression
relaxed. "I'm sure it won't be as difficult as you think."
Ryddle offered her the brightest smile he could manage. “Yeah, well, maybe
we’ll see one another again.” The words sounded hollow, even in his ears.
“That does it, Ryddle!” she said furiously. “You just can’t take care of yourself,
can you? You can’t even lie convincingly. I suppose I’m going to have
to come with you to your silly village, or I won’t get any sleep!”
“Thank you,” whispered Ryddle. Somehow those few phrases meant everything to
him, and he thought, for the first time since that fateful letter had arrived,
that perhaps he could learn to trust life again.
To be continued...