Traitors And Warriors: Part Two
Within an hour, I had been sent to the Faerie Palace. I had packed my belongings away into an old canvas bag and returned to Miss Jopherra for instructions. She had chosen another air faerie, Mayanna, to accompany me to Queen Fyora. As one of the oldest and most responsible students in the Faerie School, Mayanna’s job clearly was to prevent me from getting into trouble.
We flew high into the air, where no one could easily see us, and flew to the palace in silence. We descended when we saw the high turrets and distinctive flags of Fyora’s domain come into view. Together we landed on the white steps which led up to the palace doors.
“You’re not to say anything at all unless you’re asked a question,” Mayanna said sharply. “There’s to be no back-talk or rudeness. You must curtsey and address your queen with respect. Are you listening?” she demanded, pinching my arm.
“No,” I said, wrenching my arm free. I would have hit Mayanna had the palace doors not opened, revealing a pair of battle faeries armed with spears. Mayanna waved a letter from Miss Jopherra at them and claimed that we needed to see Queen Fyora for official business until the guards stepped aside and let us pass. Once we were inside, standing in a beautiful hall decorated in shades of scarlet and gold, a light faerie approached us. Mayanna waved the letter again and claimed to be an official emissary from the Faerie School. The light faerie smiled helpfully and led us through the palace, down corridors and up stairs, and through several very beautiful rooms, until Mayanna and I found ourselves in another hall. It was a lovely room with a marble floor and statues of beautiful faeries against the walls.
At the far end, Queen Fyora sat upon a silver throne. I had never seen her before, and she was even more radiant than I had imagined. Her attendants, clad in violet and silver, stood at either side. They were as still as the statues. The light faerie smiled again at Mayanna and then at me, and told us to approach the queen. Then she left the room, closing the double doors silently behind her.
Mayanna strode up towards the throne, furiously hissing at me under her breath about good behaviour. I did not listen; I stared at Fyora, transfixed. I had never seen the Queen of Faerieland before. She was so very noble and beautiful.
“Your Majesty,” Mayanna said, respectfully bowing low once she was five yards away from the throne. I awkwardly dropped to one knee.
“You may rise,” Fyora said in a smooth voice. When Mayanna and I had risen to our feet, she said, “You are both very young. Should you not be at school?”
“Yes, Your Majesty, under ordinary circumstances we would be having lessons now,” Mayanna said. “But Miss Jopherra, one of our honoured and respected tutors, requested that you read this.”
She moved timidly towards Fyora and handed over the letter. Fyora read it carefully and said to Mayanna, “I understand. But this letter does not mention you at all. Have you come solely to escort your young friend?”
“Yes, Your Majesty,” Mayanna said humbly, even though she was no more my friend than Jhudora was a good faerie. “Miss Jopherra sent me.”
“You have done your job well. Return now to the Faerie School. I do not wish to deprive you of learning,” Fyora said.
Mayanna looked a little disappointed at being dismissed so soon, but she did not dare make a fuss of it. She bowed again and then hurried out. I was now left alone with the queen and her attendants.
“So you are Preluna, then,” Fyora said.
“I am,” I replied firmly. Fyora’s eyes widened in surprise at my boldness until I remembered to add, “Your Majesty.”
“Do you have any relations? Any family at all?” Fyora asked.
“None that I know of, Your Majesty,” I said meekly. “My mother died when I was too young to remember her. I do not have any known relatives.”
“Then you are truly alone in this world.”
“Apparently so, Your Majesty,” I said, suddenly overwhelmed with the greatest feeling of isolation I had ever known. I had never had friends, but someone had always been there for me: usually it was Miss Jopherra, or the occasional kind student who let me sit beside her in class. But now I understood that I was truly, truly alone.
“Your teacher, Miss Jopherra,” Fyora continued, “has outlined your present situation in this letter. Am I to understand that you have fallen foul of Jhudora’s protégée?”
“I believe so, Your Majesty.”
“Miss Jopherra fears for your safety,” Fyora remarked. “She describes you as ‘distant and reserved’. She also adds that you ‘appear to be unaware of the dangerous situation’.”
“Oh, I am aware of the danger, Your Majesty,” I said coolly, “but I am not afraid of it.”
“You are quite fearless then,” Fyora observed. “I wonder if you would be so calm if Jhudora herself were standing before you now? She would turn you to ash in a moment.”
“I don’t doubt it,” I said in a level voice. “But I tell you, I am not afraid.”
“And why is that?”
“I am not afraid to suffer the consequences of my actions; I’m proud of what I did.”
“Proud?” Fyora repeated. “Then why did you run away from school for so long? The letter says that you fled.”
“I did not flee; I just thought it would be wise to stay out of sight for a while.”
“And where did you go?”
“I did not leave Faerieland, if that is what you want to know,” I said. “I have never been to the world below in all my life. But I have seen it from the edges of the clouds.”
“The very edges of the clouds,” Fyora said, clasping her hands together. “You must have flown a long way, Preluna, to reach such distant corners of Faerieland.”
“It did not seem far,” I said.
“Perhaps not,” Fyora said quietly. “Although it does make sense to fly a long, long way after what you have done. But Jhudora does not take humiliation lightly. You are aware, I suppose, that Sharrabah has gone to Jhudora’s cloud?”
“Long may she remain there,” was my reply.
Fyora looked so intrigued that she evidently forgot to be angry at the fact that I had not addressed her as ‘Your Majesty’ for quite some time. My words had seemed to stir something inside her. After a pause, she said, “Your teacher thinks you will be safe in the Faerie Palace. What do you think, Preluna? What would you like to do?”
“I am in no position to decide,” I said. “I leave the final decision with you.”
“I could hide you away within these palace walls where Jhudora would never find you,” Fyora said, “but I fear you would languish with boredom. Palace life is not exciting enough for a feisty young thing like you. I think I will send you away. Forget the Faerie School, Preluna. Would you like a proper education? I have someone in mind, someone who could take good care of you. Would you like to make the very best of yourself?”
“Yes,” I said without hesitation.
“Then come with me,” Fyora said, rising to her feet in a smooth gliding movement. “I shall make the arrangements for you.”
Together we made our way to one side of the hall. Fyora’s servants followed in a long obedient line, but she waved them away and said that she wanted to be left alone with me. Feeling oddly privileged, I followed her into a side room. It was empty apart from a silver pedestal in the centre of the room, where a round globe was balanced. It was perfectly clear, as if it had been made from glass or crystal, and it was about as big as my head. Fyora smiled mysteriously at me and said, “I am going to ask a favour from a friend of mine. You may watch, but please do not speak.”
She rested her long slim hands on either side of the crystal. For almost a minute, nothing happened. Then the clear glass clouded and turned a hazy, smoky purple hue. And then, much to my surprise, a face appeared in the globe. It was the face of a faerie. With her dark violet hair and eyes, I guessed that she was a battle faerie. Her face was thin, and her mouth was a straight disapproving line. She did not look like the sort of faerie who should be angered; and yet, in spite of her severe expression, she was one of the most beautiful faeries I had ever seen in my life. Fyora regarded her for a few moments before saying, “Alluvia, I have a favour to ask. I have a young faerie here and I am not certain what will become of her. Will you welcome her into your home and take care of her?”
“Is she of noble blood?” the battle faerie asked, and I was surprised that she did not address Fyora as ‘Your Majesty’.
“I do not know. Nobody seems to know,” Fyora replied. “She appears to have no living family and no connections at all. She seems to prefer the lonely life. In that respect, she is rather like you.”
“What sort of faerie is she?” Alluvia asked.
“An air faerie.”
“Then you must surely be aware that I will refuse,” the battle faerie said simply.
Fyora smiled. “Do you believe air faeries to be beneath you?”
“Most certainly, Fyora.”
“Then I urge you to let yourself be proved wrong. You will be pleasantly surprised by this particular air faerie, I think.”
“I still wish to decline.”
“Who is the Queen of Faerieland?” Fyora gently reminded. “You or I?”
“You hardly have to remind me,” Alluvia replied with a hard little smile.
“Then why do you refuse my commands?”
“With all due respect, Fyora, you rule everything within the borders of Faerieland. And I have lived outside those borders for many years, as we are both aware.”
Fyora smiled. “You always try to outsmart me. I will leave you in peace if you take this faerie as your student and your guest. From the account I have had of her, she is very skilled and accomplished. She certainly has character. I think you would like her, Alluvia.”
“I wouldn’t imagine so,” the battle faerie said disdainfully. “I want solitude, not a prattling girl-faerie with nothing intelligent to say.”
“Alluvia, you have served me well all these years, despite your sharp tongue,” Fyora said. “We are old friends, are we not? And considering that I have borne your insolence and lack of respect, and granted you the privilege of a secluded life, do you not owe me one favour? All I ask is that you look after this air faerie and help her achieve her full potential. I want you to educate her, train her, and teach her to be as strong as you. If you don’t think you’re up to the challenge,” Fyora added airily, “I’ll find someone else.”
Her words had their desired effect. Alluvia, who clearly never backed down from a challenge, now felt obliged to accept me as her student. She was silent for a while before saying, with undisguised reluctance, “Send her to me.”
And then the battle faerie’s face grew dim. The purple haze dissipated and the globe turned clear again. Fyora took her hands away from it and smiled at me.
“Well, that went surprisingly well,” she said. “It could have been worse.”
“Who is she?” I asked, horrified at the brazen, disrespectful way in which Alluvia had addressed the Faerie Queen. I knew that such disrespect was enough to have a faerie thrown into prison, but Fyora had hardly seemed to care.
“She is my cousin, Preluna. But more than that, she is my friend. We have been through a lot together. I know she seems very unpleasant and disagreeable, but she is as true as steel. She keeps to her word. I have rewarded her loyalty many times. Alluvia likes to do things her own way and has never got along very well with other faeries. That is why she does not live in Faerieland, but on a separate cloud, rather like Jhudora. Since Alluvia’s cloud is not really part of Faerieland, she is in many respects free of my commands. That is why she is allowed to do what she pleases and speaks to me any way she likes. Although,” Fyora added with a smile, “even if Alluvia had been born as a lowly slave, she would probably still speak to me as if she were superior.”
For the first time in my life, I was growing afraid. Did Fyora really want me to go and live on a remote cloud with this arrogant cruel-voiced battle faerie? What sort of student would I be? What would Alluvia teach me? As I opened my mouth to ask these questions, Fyora smiled again, as if she could guess my thoughts.
“Give her a chance, Preluna, just as she will give you a chance,” she said. “Alluvia will teach you to be the very best you can be. You will understand when you meet her.”
* * * * *
And so, Miss Jopherra’s plans for me to hide away in the Faerie Palace all came to nothing. After consulting her crystal ball, Fyora took me back into the main hall where she dictated a letter to Miss Jopherra, thanking her for sending me to the palace and outlining my future. I was particularly alarmed when she said, “I believe that Preluna will spend the next few years in the care of my cousin and friend, Lady Alluvia.” Spending years with the formidable battle faerie was a terrifying prospect.
Afterwards, I was allowed to forget all about Alluvia for a short while. Fyora sent me away with a servant who led me to an exquisite bedroom. I was accustomed to cold, draughty dormitories with hard and narrow beds, and I had never seen such a wonderful room in my life. The bed was warm and soft, and there was a dressing table with perfumes and combs, and a wardrobe filled with the finest dresses. The floor was lowered in one corner of the room, and there was a bathtub there. Fyora’s servant filled it with hot foaming water, and pulled an ornate screen around the tub so I could get undressed and bathe. I gladly stripped off my grubby school uniform and slipped into the bath with a happy sigh. The servant said something about finding new clothes for me and went away.
I lay in that bath for almost an hour, soaking to my heart’s content, until the servant came back. I reluctantly climbed out of the bath and Fyora’s servant passed me a soft gown made of sky blue silk. She helped me fasten it with a wide silver sash. I twirled around and admired myself in the mirror. I looked like a proper lady, and I hardly recognised myself.
We waited until my mop of unruly blonde hair had dried, and then the maid brushed it vigorously and sprayed me with perfume. Then she led me out of the bedroom and down countless corridors until I found myself in a dining room. It had a very high ceiling even though it was not very large. Fyora sat at the head of the carved table and the other places were taken by faeries of high rank. I quietly took an empty chair at the far end of the table as a way of showing deference to the others. Miss Jopherra, I realised, had been right after all; I was learning to be respectful.
After three courses of delicious food, Fyora smiled at me and told me to get a good night of rest in preparation for my long journey the following morning. The maid escorted me back up to my bedroom and found a silk nightdress for me. With my head spinning from my luxurious surroundings, I climbed into the soft bed and fell asleep within minutes.
* * * * *
I woke early and found a set of clothes draped over a chair for me. I had been provided with a pair of long, sky blue trousers, a close-fitting white shirt, and a beige jacket which tied at the waist with a belt. I also found a pair of black leather boots and a bag made from royal blue satin. Delighted, I got dressed and tried to make my hair look presentable. I was ready for adventure.
Breakfast was brought to my room on a tray, and afterwards I was told to go down to one of the courtyards to meet Queen Fyora. I felt less excited now, because I knew that I would have to go and stay with the battle faerie named Alluvia. I began to drag my feet. When I saw Fyora, looking as serene and beautiful as ever in the centre of the northern courtyard, I felt a lump in my throat.
“All ready to go?” she asked brightly.
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
“Good. Then I hope you have a safe journey. Alluvia is expecting you. Her cloud lies directly to the north. Fly in that direction and by evening you will reach her. I wish you the very best of luck, Preluna, and I hope you will work hard. Alluvia will not be easy towards you but I trust that she will not be unkind. Do your best.”
“I will,” I said, and spread my blue-tipped wings. Fyora watched as I rose into the air, up and up, over the turrets of the Faerie Palace. Then I flew north. I had a compass in my bag, so I knew that I was going in the right direction.
I left the Faerie Palace far behind, and then the Faerie City. The little buildings grew fewer and fewer as I went further north. It became colder too, and I was glad of my jacket. I let myself fly down and rest every hour or so. After all, as Miss Jopherra had told me, I was not very strong yet.
I left Faerieland far behind. The only clouds around me were the vast, water-filled clouds which caused rain. I could not land there; I would have fallen right through. I could only land on proper faerie clouds. And I could not descend to Neopia and land there either, since all I could see beneath me was ocean.
In the early summer evening, I finally saw a cloud ahead. It was a faerie cloud, so I could land there safely without sinking through it and falling. As I approached, I was overwhelmed by what I saw.
The cloud was surrounded by a bronze wall. Inside the walls were beautiful gardens: I saw long, neatly-clipped lawns, ornate fountains which sent sprays of water high into the air, winding pathways, old trees, and even a lily-scattered pond, its glassy surface shimmering in the evening sunlight. A long, straight, sandy-coloured road, shaded on both sides by tall trees, led up to the front door of a house.
The house was just as beautiful as its gardens. It was made from rich creamy white marble which sometimes seemed tinged with blue. The roof was covered with jet-black tiles. The front door and window frames were made of dark wood, perhaps mahogany. A back door led out into a large courtyard. I did not know much about architecture, but I knew that this house was built in the Shenkuu style. Curious, I flew right over the roof and descended down to the courtyard’s flagstone floor. It was a wide space, perhaps forty yards across.
As I looked around wonderingly I suddenly heard a click. Turning, I saw the back door close. Standing in front of it was the battle faerie I had seen in Fyora’s crystal ball, dressed in a long cream-coloured robe with wide sleeves. It was a battle robe, the sort which I had seen warriors from Shenkuu wear in books. Tucked under her right arm was a long straight sword in a black scabbard.
Alluvia was very tall and her long beautiful face had an even crueller expression than I remembered. I was unable to guess at her age: she was not very young, but she was certainly still in her prime. Her violet eyes glittered sharply like jewels, and I suddenly felt very afraid.
Alluvia approached me with long, slow strides and stopped nine feet before me. She looked at me with an expression of absolute contempt. I knew she would show me no mercy.
To be continued...