Traitors And Warriors: Part Four
One morning, before the sun had risen, Alluvia threw my bedroom door wide open and marched in. She shook me awake and said, “Get up. Today is an important day.”
I was still half asleep. I sank back into my pillows and closed my eyes as Alluvia swept out of the room with her long battle robes swishing. Five minutes later she returned, threw a bucket of cold water over me, dragged me out of bed by the hair, and told me in no uncertain terms that if I refused to get up, she would pour scalding water over me as well. She certainly knew how to wake a sleepyhead.
I washed and dressed, putting on a black and silver battle robe in the Shenkuu style. By the time I was ready, Alluvia seemed to have disappeared. I searched the entire house for her before looking in the courtyard. Alluvia stood there, two swords in her hands.
“You know, Preluna,” she said, “I grew up in the Faerie Palace. Fyora is my cousin, as you are aware, and that makes me of royal blood. I was treated like a princess. I lived in luxury and I had everything I could ask for. But I despised the faeries around me. The courtiers, the ladies-in-waiting, and even the lowliest servants... They were all the same. They all gossiped and teased each other, and agonised over stupid decisions like what to wear, and had petty arguments over the most trivial things. I knew that there must be more to life than that, and so living in the palace never suited me. No one seemed sincere. I was solitary, like you, and longed to make a difference in the world.”
I took a step forwards, listening carefully.
“I became a warrior,” Alluvia said simply. “I was taught by faeries, by anyone with skill. I spent many rewarding years in Shenkuu, as you can probably guess from the style of my home. Shenkuu is an ideal haven for any aspiring warrior. The weapons there are the finest in Neopia. This,” she said, holding up her sword, “is Shenkuu steel. Fyora had it made for me. Over the years, I had achieved great fame and showed unfaltering allegiance to my cousin and queen. Fyora chose to reward me. She commissioned seven of the finest sword-makers in the world to create my sword... I’ve had it for years and there is not even a scratch on the blade. It is the finest steel in Neopia.”
I took a few steps forward as Alluvia lowered her voice.
“It was Fyora’s intention for me to give the sword to my heir--to the faerie I saw fit to inherit everything I call mine. It is the most precious thing I own. Its value is greater than this house, greater than all my possessions, and greater even than your miserable life, Preluna. Do you understand?”
“I think so.”
“I show you no mercy,” Alluvia said, circling me with a glint in her eyes, “because I want you to succeed. I have pushed you hard, have I not?”
“You haven’t made life easy for me, that's for sure,” I said with a smile.
“You don’t deserve an easy life,” Alluvia said. “You deserve an infamous one.”
She suddenly threw her other sword at me. I caught the hilt in a practised movement, suddenly making the realisation. Alluvia was putting me to the test. This was the final fight--the final battle for supremacy. If I defeated Alluvia, I would become the greatest of all Neopia’s faerie warriors.
The thought made me shiver. It made me feel so alone.
And now, this was it. We had become strangers to each other. We were no longer a tutor and student--not that morning. She would not spare me. This was not a fight to the death by any means, but I knew that Alluvia would do everything in her power to defeat me. This was the ultimate test.
Her beautiful violet hair looked particularly dramatic against her white robe. Her trousers, her sash, and even her shoes were white. I was a sharp contrast in my black battle gear. Alluvia had chosen a good sword for me; she said that it was her second-best. I believed her because I knew that Alluvia, if nothing else, was honest. She would not give herself the upper hand through deceit and trickery. She wanted this to be a fair fight just as much as I did; in fact, she probably wanted it more, since this was her first and perhaps only chance to see who truly was invincible.
We met at opposite ends of the courtyard. It began to rain as we slowly moved towards each other and bowed stiffly as a sign of mutual respect. In our training sessions, Alluvia had always insulted me before a fight to make me angry; making me angry made me passionate enough to fight back. Now she was silent. Neither of us needed any encouragement and we knew it.
Our swords struck at the same time, making a cross in the air. I pushed back with all my strength but Alluvia merely turned her wrist and sent me spinning back. She smiled. She thought that this fight was going to be easy for her. Remembering my first disastrous attempt to defeat her, I was determined not to give her that satisfaction. When she lunged at me, I turned a somersault back away from her and turned suddenly. Now it was her turn to leap back, in defence rather than attack. She leapt up and kicked me in the face--right in the face. I stumbled back and then I pulled myself together. My time had come to be the best, and I was going to make the most of this opportunity... I moved like a machine, my mind empty of all thoughts except one ambition--victory. Our fight was like a recurring dream. Alluvia punched, kicked, slapped, flicked her sword, swung her sword, jumped up, sprang back... I matched every move as if I had seen it coming.
The final moves were the most devastating. Alluvia swung her sword at me but I used my own weapon to turn the blade down to the ground. Whilst my strength was focused on keeping the sword down, Alluvia used her free hand to punch. I grabbed her wrist and swung her away from me. Alluvia opened her wings and soared up into the air. I flew upwards, turning round in the air like a top, and Alluvia brought her sword crashing down. It easily broke my sword in half and the shattered pieces fell to the ground. I dropped the hilt and Alluvia smiled in triumph.
But then I did it--I won.
As Alluvia lunged towards me, I let the blade of her sword skim my side harmlessly... I held my hand against her white throat. Alluvia froze, the only movement coming from her wings. She had a sword but I was pinning her sword arm to my side so that she could not use it; I had my other hand at her neck, and could stop the blood flow in her arteries with one finger pressed down if I had wanted.
For a moment, we were perfectly still, with the only movement coming from our wings as we hovered together in silence. Finally Alluvia let go of her sword. It clattered to the ground. Alluvia looked at me, her soaked hair over her face, and I saw submission in her eyes. You’ve done it, her eyes said to me now. You won. I lost. You’ve done it.
And I suddenly felt more alone than I had ever felt in my life. I had always been a nobody, a friendless nobody of no consequence; but now I had defeated the most powerful faerie in Neopia. Alluvia was famous for her heroic acts in battle, for her ability to defeat anyone single-handed, for her superior sword-mastery. If I had become better than her, what did fate have in store for me? Would my reputation be greater than that of the famous Alluvia? Would Neopia ever have a hero to match up to me?
Slowly we descended to the wet ground. Alluvia knelt, picked up her sword, and stared at the ground. Then she stared up at me, still on her knees. Her voice was quiet but I could hear every word perfectly despite the rain pattering on the flagstones.
“To be a hero is to be alone,” she said, as if reading my thoughts. “To taste victory is to taste loneliness, bitterness and loss. You will experience wonderful things, Preluna, but you will also endure sorrow. Those who achieve fame can never escape it.”
“I almost wish this had never happened,” I said.
“No,” Alluvia said, and she rose to her feet and touched my cheek lightly. “You understand your powers and you cannot live without them now.”
Something about her voice and expression told me that this was a goodbye.
“Alluvia--” I began.
“Go,” she said simply.
“Go,” she repeated. “It’s time for you to leave.”
“You’ve grown up,” was all she said. “It is time for you to go. This goodbye is one of many you will make in your life. You cannot stay here forever. Nothing lasts forever.”
That was how she said farewell. Alluvia was far from being sentimental and I knew that I would not receive a tearful goodbye from her. I was feeling a little tearful myself, but I knew that I had to hold my head high and not show my sadness. I was no longer a student. Alluvia had taught me everything she knew--and she was supposed to be invincible. I no longer needed her. And though I felt sad at leaving the only guardian I had ever known, I was filled with a strange sort of happiness too. I had earned my freedom, and I had my entire life stretching away from me like a long and winding road with new adventures at each turn.
And years later, many years later when I was alone, either happy or sad, I would remember Alluvia and hear her voice in my head: ‘Nothing lasts forever.’ I never heard wiser words in the entire course of my life.
* * * * *
With a heavy heart, I packed my clothes into the same canvas bag I had brought from the Faerie Palace eight years ago.
And then I flew away. I kept looking back at Alluvia’s cloud, even when I was too far away to see it. The rain came down in a sleet and disguised my bitter tears. Yes, I had grown up. It was time for me to return to Fyora and discover what destiny had in store for me. But still I was overcome with sadness. I did not know if I would ever return to Alluvia’s home again; I did not know if I would even see her again. Cold, glacial, proud, beautiful Alluvia, her eyes like fierce diamonds, had never been my friend, yet I felt closer to her than anyone I had ever met.
I flew the long miles in silence, and in the late afternoon I reached the Faerie City. It was early evening when I landed in Queen Fyora’s rose garden, lying to the west of the Faerie Palace. Fyora herself was in the garden, filling a basket with roses with her attendants at her side. The roses were whiter than snow and I stretched out my hand, running my fingers over their velvet petals as I swooped down.
“Preluna!” Fyora exclaimed as I landed, and I was surprised that she was even able to recognise me. “You have returned!”
“I have, Your Highness,” I said, bowing with deep respect.
“You must be exhausted,” Fyora said, and turned to her attendants. “Take this lady’s things at once. Run a hot bath in Satkena’s chambers for her. And make up a bed,” she added, seeing the weary shadows beneath my eyes.
The servants nodded and took everything I was carrying, and then flew quickly back to the palace. I was very surprised, since I was more accustomed to being ordered about than being waited upon. I smiled faintly when I remembered how I had hated being Alluvia’s bullied servant.
“You have forgotten what palace life is like,” Fyora said, smiling affectionately. “You have been away so long. I imagine that Alluvia has not kept you in luxury. It will be refreshing to live here and to have servants ready for your needs and wishes.”
“Yes, it will be quite a change, Your Highness,” I said.
“And you can stop calling me that,” Fyora replied. “Call me by my real name. Just Fyora. You have earned your place as my friend.”
We returned to the palace, and I knew that Fyora was looking carefully at me all the while. She had not seen me for eight long years, and I had changed almost beyond recognition. I was no longer an unkempt faerie child with a childish disdain for others. I was a tall, pale, glacial being, with blue-tipped wings which matched my resolute eyes, and sleek blonde hair. I looked sophisticated, to say the least. I walked assuredly and had an enigmatic smile. Fyora certainly seemed impressed.
“You know,” she remarked as we entered the Faerie Palace, “I truly am stunned by your likeness to Alluvia. You two look as different as different could be... and yet you are so similar. You truly have learnt a lot from her.”
“More than I ever expected to learn,” I said, thinking only of the hot bath which awaited me. I was also thinking how strange it felt to return to the palace, and to the company of other faeries, after so much time.
I was taken through the palace to a carved door. Fyora knocked and it opened to reveal a fire faerie standing on the threshold. She was exceptionally pretty, with red hair tumbling down her back in fiery curls.
“Satkena, this is Preluna,” Fyora said. “She has returned to the palace after an absence of some years and I was hoping that she could lodge with you until some rooms are found for her.”
“Oh--yes--certainly. Come in,” Satkena said, moving back and allowing us to enter. Fyora smiled at me and retreated down the corridor after closing the door behind me. I found myself in a pretty sitting room decorated in autumn colours. Fyora’s servants were there, and they bustled me into another room, a tiled bathroom, where they quickly filled an enormous bathtub with hot water. They all chattered and asked me questions about how long I had been away and whether I was hungry and how I had endured the famous fiery temper of Alluvia for so long. I was relieved when they all went away and let me bathe in peace.
When I finally emerged from the bathroom the maids surrounded me again and gave me a gown to wear, and then I was led downstairs--with the wide-eyed Satkena in tow--to a spectacular dining hall to eat. I was being treated like a queen; I had received a hero’s welcome. I wondered what lay in store for me now.
* * * * *
Fyora soon decided my future for me. I was to become a bodyguard, her own personal bodyguard, to accompany her to all public events and gatherings. I remembered my old teacher, Miss Jopherra, suggesting the very same career to me several years earlier. Little did she suspect that Fyora would take the request seriously, eight years later when I had grown up.
Fyora already had a bodyguard--Satkena. Fyora was very fond of her and had given her a set of nine rooms in the palace: this was a great honour, since other faeries, even those of high rank, were only allowed six or seven each. Satkena had sitting rooms and studies, and a bedroom with a beautiful carved bed, and no fewer than five servants to order about as she pleased. She had her own dressing room with mirrors around the walls, and countless cloaks, robes, sashes, shoes and jewellery, all in the latest fashions, and all of them made from the finest satins and silks in Faerieland.
Satkena had a beautiful smile, and I knew at once that we would be friends. A spare bed was moved into her bedroom and I lived in her set of rooms as if they were my own. Together we accompanied Fyora everywhere, both of us carrying slender silver-tipped spears. We were respected and admired by everyone.
Naturally, since Satkena was a bodyguard like me, I expected that she would be a good fighter. Fyora had an impressive armoury, and we often played about with the weapons we found there. One day, I took Satkena out to a courtyard with a pair of swords and jokingly challenged her to a duel. We fought each other as if we meant it and I defeated her easily. She was a good fighter, certainly not mediocre; but at the risk of sounding arrogant, I must say that she was no match for me.
Satkena did not seem particularly bothered; she knew that I had been trained by a battle faerie with a fearsome reputation. I was bound, she said, to be talented with a sword. But sometimes I suspected, in spite of our close friendship, that Satkena resented me. The way she looked at me seemed to suggest that perhaps she did not always take her defeats in good humour. I tried to ignore this feeling. I told myself that Satkena was a gentle, kind-hearted faerie despite her jealousy.
Looking back on my life in Fyora’s service, perhaps I should have trusted my instincts. Satkena’s secret envy, I later discovered, proved to be my downfall.
To be continued...