The Royal Meridell Garden Party: Part Two
“I knew that alternate world rubbish was all stuff and nonsense!” Mel hissed loudly.
“Go to sleep, Mel!” Violet snapped grumpily to her sister. The four of us were piled into the one bed, which, although large, was not large enough for all of us plus three petpets. Violet and Geena were the lucky ones, actually being able to sleep with their heads on the pillows. Mel, as the smallest, had been placed at Violet’s feet, and I ended up between them with my head at the foot of the bed, barely pillowed by my folded blouse. The petpets were somewhere in the bed, but aside from an occasional nip, were behaving themselves very well. Besides, we had other things to think of.
After going back upstairs with Jeran and an unrepentant Kento, finding Karmapa and Mel, and explaining the whole situation to them, we decided to take Kento’s advice, while keeping a sharp eye on him and being ready to make a run for it at the first sign of royal displeasure. Then we all went off to bed, hoping to get a bit of sleep.
“Look at the bright side,” Geena said cheerily, “at least we don’t have to share a room with Kento. Poor Karmapa...”
“Poor me, getting kicked every time you roll over,” I grumbled. “Your hooves are sharp!”
“Sorry!” she snapped, rolling over again and kicking me once more.
Soon everyone was sleeping except me. I was dreadfully uncomfortable, and being without a pillow didn’t help. Squirming around, I pulled Mel, who was snoring, toward me. I laid my head on her soft fur and sighed. At least she was a better pillow than my blouse...
“Get up, Explorer; breakfast is ready!” I barely had time to comprehend that I wasn’t in my own bed in the tower on Magical Road, and that the voice shouting in my ear was not that of Freefall, but of a very annoyed Mel. Before I could properly remember what we were doing here, I found myself being unceremoniously dumped on the floor by Violet and Mel.
“Come on and have something to eat,” Geena said through a mouthful of roast Lemon Squash. “The maid brought this stuff ages ago.”
The “stuff” she was referring to was plates of Lemon Squash, Pea Stuffed Peppers, cheese, more Aubergine Surprise... and a large plate of that nasty fish. Some breakfast!
“I haven’t a clue how we’re going to dress up,” Mel said as I dug into the Aubergine Surprise. I was about to respond by saying that I didn’t think that the most important thing in the world right now, when the door opened, admitting a pompous-looking green Uni with a hamper balanced on her back.
“I am Red,” she said with an amazingly straight face, “and I have come to dress you for the garden party.” I couldn’t help but laugh at her totally unfitting name, but she ignored me. “Please help me open the hamper and I will show you your clothes,” she said.
Soon we were all being dressed up in the best Meridell style. Violet was clad in a flowing white dress with red sleeves. Mel wore an elegant silver tiara. Geena had been coxed into donning a long black dress with gold flowers on it, along with a deep purple cloak. I was the only problem.
“I can’t wear that!” I shouted, throwing a hideous black cloak onto the bed. “The dress is bad enough,” I said as I looked down at the awful red gown I had been dressed in, “but I’m not wearing that! I hate black!”
Red smiled sweetly. “You’d better put it on,” she said in an even sweeter voice, “or you won’t be allowed into the garden party.”
“Oh, fine then...” I put the cloak on.
Soon it was Violet’s turn to complain. “Don’t you allow makeup here?” she whined as Red snatched her compact of eye shadow out of her hand.
“His Majesty doesn’t want his guests to look like a bunch of clowns,” was Red’s simple answer as she proceeded to douse us all with large amounts of an extremely strong perfume. It seemed that spray bottles hadn’t reached Meridell yet. “Of course, you are a bunch of clowns anyway... Brush your hair!”
Well, the boys had it worse. I couldn’t help but smile at Kento and Karmapa’s bizarre appearance as we crossed the drawbridge to the field in which the party was being held. For some reason, both wore thin gold circlets, of which Kento seemed ridiculously proud. The fact that he was wearing a red tunic that looked like it had been made for an overweight Skeith only made him look sillier. Too silly for comfort, in fact... I was glad that Karmapa was keeping a wary eye on him... when he wasn’t pushing his own circlet further up his head and trying to stop his white tunic, which although too tight, was also far too long, from getting dirty as he bounced along.
I was glad for my cloak now, ugly as it was. A sharp, cold wind was blowing up, and the air smelled like rain. Not the best weather for a garden party! A cold drop of rain landed on my head, and I looked worriedly at the rapidly clouding sky. All we needed now was for the party to be spoiled by rain, something that would be sure to make Skarl furious. Besides, I didn’t want to get wet!
Skarl was already furious by the time we got to the site of the party. “Tomato sandwiches, and they’ve been squashed!” he roared from the tables of food. “Bean soup, and it isn’t even fresh! And how dare you serve Durbage here?” He threw the offending vegetable at the nearest servant, who quickly ducked.
“I ordered sophisticated food!” Skarl went on, screaming now. “Chewing gum, lollypops...” Kento burst into understandable, but very ill-timed, laughter, but luckily Skarl was too busy screaming to hear him.
“But we couldn’t do it, sir!” a brave little JubJub yelled over him. “We don’t know how to make that stuff, and we didn’t have the right ingredients! Would you rather have burnt, icky candy? I’m sorry about the sandwiches being squashed, but we did our best...” Skarl stopped screaming only long enough to fling the ladle from the pot of bean soup at the unfortunate JubJub.
That’s when it started to rain. No, not rain. Pour would be a better word, but still not strong enough to describe the deluge that cascaded from the sky to the accompaniment of loud rumbles of thunder and flashes of lightning. Did I mention the wind? It had picked up to such an extent that some of the tables were tipping over, and my cloak had suddenly decided it wanted to go to sea. Well, it must have, since it was imitating a sail very well! Since everyone else was dressed in billowing clothes too, the garden party bore a strong resemblance to a field of balloons about to take off. Karmapa’s circlet blew off and rolled merrily around until it got tangled in someone’s clothes.
“Forget being ladylike!” Geena shouted over the noise. “Let’s ditch these things and get inside!”
Unfortunately, we also forgot Kento. It was only when we regrouped, cloakless and with our other clothes soaked, in the main hall of the castle, that we discovered his absence. Of course, by then it was too late to find him, and going out into the storm would have been impossible anyway. Not that it was much drier inside, with all the dripping guests huddling around, or much quieter, with the guests arguing and Skarl throwing a loud tantrum in his throne room, but at least we didn’t have to worry about wind and lightning.
“As soon as the storm blows over we’ll go looking for him,” Karmapa said, shivering and trying to wring out his tunic while wearing it.
“He might be inside,” Violet said hopefully, just as Kento stepped into the hall... with Ray, the purple Poogle, following him.
“Where is King Skarl?” Ray asked snobbishly.
A chorus of shouts rang out. “In the throne room! Follow the noise! Make him be quiet!”
“Thank you,” Ray said, as she swept out, Kento following.
“Stop them!” I yelled, trying to push through the crowd. It was no use. We got out and to the throne room just in time to see the doors slam after them. A moment later, Skarl stopped screaming. Instead there was the sound of quiet conversation... Ignoring the evil looks the guards were giving us, we sat down to wait for them to come out.
We didn’t have to wait too long. Suddenly Skarl’s voice rose to a furious howl. The doors banged open, and Ray and Kento raced out. Ray was past us in a flash, but Kento was just slow enough for Violet to grab his oversized tunic. They scuffled, and in seconds, Karmapa and I had joined in.
“Cut that out!” a guard snapped, as two others tried to pull us apart. Then Skarl was standing in the doorway, staring at us with a look so evil that I was afraid it would singe my fur.
“Traitors!” he shouted. “You brought them here... You will pay!”
“You’ll have to catch us first!” Karmapa yelled back. “Let’s go!”
That was easier said than done. Within minutes, the halls were swarming with guards, and we were lucky to find an empty room to hide in. Unfortunately, it was windowless, so there was no way to get out of the castle.
“You betrayed us!” Karmapa snarled at Kento, who had followed us.
“I didn’t mean for you to get in trouble,” Kento said, looking at the floor. “I just meant...”
“Okay, enough of that,” Karmapa snapped. “We need to get out. Explorer, do you have your staff?”
Oh no! In all the confusion of leaving home, I’d left my magic staff in the vase! “I’m sorry... I forgot...” I whispered.
“It’s okay,” Karmapa said sadly, “I just wish I hadn’t left my wand in the pocket of my shirt. I didn’t know where to put it in this thing, so I left it... We could have transported ourselves out of the castle, but I wouldn’t like to try it without a focusing device.”
“We’re doomed!” Mel wailed.
“No, we’re not!” Karmapa said sharply. “When I open the door, I want you to run. Run, understand?”
“But...” I started.
“I’ll stay behind and cause a distraction,” Karmapa went on, with only a slight quaver in his voice. “You... Kento, I want you to get the girls out of here. No tricks!”
“No!” I shouted, seeing what he was going to do. “You’d be giving yourself to save us!”
“She’s right,” Kento said. “It was my fault. I should stay behind.”
“At least you can do one good thing!” Geena shouted.
“No,” Karmapa said, “and that’s final. I don’t know if we can trust him. If he acts funny, you get out of here and leave him. Understand?”
There was no other way out. “I guess so,” Violet said, and although none of the rest of us spoke, we knew Karmapa was right.
“Don’t worry,” he said, trying to be cheerful, “I’ll head out as soon as I’ve made enough fuss. I can swim across the moat if I have to... Oh, one more thing, Explorer... You know your pack?”
“I don’t care what you did with it!” I said, trying not to cry.
“I didn’t,” he said. “Lee ate it.”
“What?” I gasped. “I am going to make that Grarrl sorry when we get home!”
“That’s why you have to get home,” he said as he turned the doorknob. “Now... GO!”
We bolted toward the main doors. Three guards ran after us, yelling, but Karmapa bounced into their path, shouting something.
I was just getting up from stumbling over my wet dress when I remembered Condi. “The petpets!” I yelled.
“I’ll get them from outside!” Violet shouted back from where she was flying with Mel in her arms. “Hurry! They’re trying to raise the drawbridge!”
Geena stopped running. “Quick, help me tear the skirt off this thing,” she said, yanking at her dress.
“Why now?” I asked.
“I can’t gallop in it!” she snapped back. “Hurry!”
I got a claw into a seam and soon half the dress lay on the floor. “On my back!” Geena snapped as she dropped to all fours. I quickly obeyed.
An instant later I found myself clinging to her mane as she took off at a terrific speed. We got to the drawbridge just as the rusty chains finally started to move. Ignoring the shouts from the castle, Geena raced up the slope and made a flying leap to the other side. It would have been very graceful if the bank hadn’t been turned to slippery mud by the rain. As it was, we slid down the bank and soon found ourselves in the dirty water of the moat.
Still, there was one good point. The guards were too amused by our splash landing to bother to try to stop us when we got back on land. Following Violet, who was hovering in mid-air a safe distance away, we hurried away from the castle.
“I wonder how Karmapa is,” Geena said quietly. We were sitting under a hedge near Meri Acres farm.
“I wonder how Somber is,” Mel said from her feet. Violet had, true to her word, flown back to retrieve our petpets from our rooms from the outside. She’d also promised to look for Karmapa.
We’d lost track of Kento during our escape, and, frankly, I didn’t care at all. I stared at the cloud-covered sky and tried not to think about anything. Everything was just too unpleasant.
“Hey there,” Violet said, landing next to the hedge with an armload of petpets and a grim look on her face. “Good news is that I got the little ones with no trouble.”
“Bad news?” Mel asked.
“I saw Karmapa get tossed into the moat,” she said sadly.
“What?” I leaped out from under the hedge. “Why didn’t you help him?”
“I couldn’t deal with this lot and him both,” she said, putting down the petpets. “And... well, he didn’t look very good. But I’m going to get him now.” She took off at once.
I took Condi in my arms and sunk back to the ground. Suddenly my mind was filled with memories of Karmapa. I remembered the day Freefall had brought him home from the Pound as a yellow Nimmo. I remembered how he’d been a Mutant Kacheek for a while after drinking the potion Freefall had got him for. I remembered how he’d become part of the family, finally even getting to try the Lab Ray when we got the map. I smiled as I thought of all the changes he’d been through before deciding to stop as the Tuskaninny he now was. I stroked Condi and remembered how he’d given me the courage to take her to the Petpet lab, turning her from a Devilpuss into the Tasu she now was. All the pranks I’d been so furious at him for at the time he did them... all the broken plates, the glued-down bedding, the attempts at cooking... they all were fond memories now. Just part of having a little brother... How I wanted him back!
“There’s Vi!” Mel shouted. We scrambled out from under the hedge as she landed. Karmapa lay limply in her arms, his tunic torn and covered with mud.
“Just like Jeran and that faerie!” Mel squealed.
Silently, Violet laid Karmapa on the ground.
“Oh, Karmapa,” I whispered, kneeling beside him and smoothing back his wet tuff of red hair.
From what seemed like miles away, I heard Geena’s voice. “He was a hero,” she said. “He saved us...”
I blinked away the haze of tears blinding my eyes. Karmapa’s face seemed to be changing colour, growing paler and paler. No, it wasn’t the tears... his bright colours were fading! Only his hair stayed bright red... I covered my face with my paws so I wouldn’t have to see anything more.
“He’s green!” Mel’s voice broke the shocked silence. I opened my eyes, to see that it was true... Karmapa really had turned green! Only his hair was still defiantly red.
But then his eyes opened, and they too were red. A deep, rich, red, a red the same as his hair. He looked at me for a long time. Then he grinned that old grin, and asked, “Worried about me, Explorer?”
“Worried? You bet I was worried!” I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. “I was afraid you were...”
“Heroes never die,” Mel said prissily, “and we Neopets don’t either. I could have told you that... but you made too nice a scene there. Jeran will be jealous... you did a great copy of his scene. Rescuing Faerie, grieving sister, and all...”
Geena sighed. “Do us a favour, Mel,” she said. “Just keep your mouth shut for a while, okay?”
Karmapa was looking at himself unhappily. “Freefall is going to be so mad at me for washing out all those lab zaps it took to get Striped,” he said sadly. “I was afraid the spell might backfire that way... It would have worked if I'd had my wand!”
I almost asked what spell he’d tried to do, but decided I didn’t really want to know. Karmapa, after all, was... well, Karmapa. “She’ll just be glad we’re back,” I said. “Speaking of which, let’s get moving. I don’t want to stay here longer than we have to.”
Karmapa tried to sit up, but flopped weakly back to the ground. “Sorry,” he gasped, “I’m still weak...”
“I’ll carry you,” Violet said, scooping him up again.
“You’re going to carry me!” Mel screeched loudly.
“Walk on your own two feet, you lazy troublemaker!” Violet snapped at her sister.
“I’d rather sit here in the rain!” Mel said sulkily, sticking out her lower lip in a pout.
“Cut it out,” Geena said, going on all fours again. “Explorer, put Mel on my back, will you? We need to get home.”
It was a long, wet, and extremely gloomy trudge home, broken only by the ferry trip back across the river. Violet had left her purse at the castle, but the Eyrie took us across for free in exchange for “all the gossip about Skarl’s tantrum” as he put it. News of scandal travels fast in Meridell!
By unspoken agreement, we trudged slowly back towards Magical Road after we got off the ferry. I hoped Freefall wouldn’t get too upset at the sight of us...
Mel started to wail as we went past the large house near the end of our block, one I thought was haunted, but just being on our block cheered me up as we walked faster into the gathering dark.
Just when we got to the edge of the yard, the door banged open. A moment later, I found myself in Freefall’s arms. “What happened?” she asked. “Why were you so late? I’ve been watching out the window all day...”
“Freefall, get inside right now, before you freeze!” I shouted, with good reason. She wasn’t even wearing a coat!
“Who’s that?” she asked, looking at Geena, as we headed for the door. “Never mind, I’m sure you’re all hungry...”
“Real food!” I shouted in glee, as Freefall poured hot water into our mugs of instant soup.
“I’d rather have candy!” Mel groused, but none of us paid her any attention. We were too busy eating our soup as fast as we could without burning our mouths. All except Freefall, that is, who offered Mel some raisins, which she refused rudely.
Freefall tried to get some explanation of what had happened in Meridell, but we were more interested in the rice and vegetables she was warming up. Anything more than a quick introduction of Geena and Karmapa’s reassuring Freefall that he was fine (she was far too frenzied to care about his colour change) had to wait until our mouths were not otherwise occupied with eating.
Much later, when Karmapa was ensconced on the living room window seat with his favourite Rainbow Elephante Toy and Plushie Kau Plushie (“Even heroes need squishy friends,” as he said) and the rest of us were gathered on chairs, cushions, the table, and the rug, did we finally tell Freefall of our misadventures in Meridell. As I’d expected, she freaked. It took cake to calm her down, so we all decided to have some dessert. That made me remember something...
“Where’s Lee?” I asked.
“I sent him and Saffier out looking for you lot,” Freefall answered through a mouthful of cake.
Revenge would have to wait, I thought.
Or not. The door slammed, there were footsteps on the stairs, and Lee and Saffier dashed in.
“We didn’t find them,” Lee said, “but we did get you some chocolate.”
“And candy canes,” Saffier put in.
“And chocolate covered candy canes,” Lee went on.
“Ahem,” I said loudly. They both jumped and saw us for the first time.
“Ah... Nice to see you back,” Lee said.
“Nice to see you too,” I said. “Enjoy eating my backpack for breakfast?”
Lee looked as if he wished I hadn’t returned.
“I think we need to talk,” I said.
Freefall smiled sweetly. “I leave it to you, my dear,” she said “you seem quite good at dealing with trouble. More cake, anyone?”
“Some of that chocolate would be good too,” said Geena.
“And candy canes,” said Violet.
“And chocolate covered candy canes,” said Mel.