Traitors And Warriors: Part Five
At first, I had no reason to suspect that Satkena would be a false friend. In fact, even though we eventually became rivals and enemies, I believe she was a true friend in the beginning. She only turned against me because of circumstances. If things had turned out differently, perhaps we still would be friends today.
I certainly enjoyed our friendship while it lasted. Because we shared her set of rooms in the palace, we spent a lot of time in each other’s company and became as close as twin sisters. After years of being bullied and scorned by Alluvia, it was refreshing to meet a faerie who never insulted anybody. Fire faeries are usually wild and temperamental by nature, but Satkena was neither of these things. She was a sweet, charming little thing with freckles and kind eyes. She only revealed her tough, fearless side when we were on either side of Fyora, always ready to intercept the first signs of trouble.
Satkena could not equal me as a warrior but she could certainly beat me when it came to potions. Alluvia hated deception and trickery of any sort and shunned the use of magic: she tackled problems with her bare hands and had probably never made a potion in her life. As a result, although I was considered very intelligent by the other palace residents, I had little or no idea how to use magic. Alluvia had never bothered to teach me. She thought it was a trivial and unimportant skill in comparison to ‘the infinitely superior ability to hold a sword and use it well’, as she so eloquently put it. As a result, I could make a few basic potions but nothing more.
Satkena, on the other hand, was truly gifted. When we were not accompanying Fyora to various public ceremonies or gatherings, Satkena would go to the palace gardens and gather herbs and flowers for her concoctions. She even told me that she made a special potion which would protect whoever drank it from harm, which she gave to Fyora on particularly important occasions. Satkena confided that this was part of the reason why Fyora had appointed her as a bodyguard. Her talent for creating potions more than compensated for her mediocre fighting skills.
* * * * *
One quiet evening, as I curled up on my bed with a book, Satkena came towards me with a glass bottle. A clear liquid could be seen inside.
“I’ve made a new one,” Satkena said triumphantly. “Look.” And she swirled the bottle’s contents at me.
I lowered my book with a weary smile. “I suppose you want me to test it for you?”
Satkena grinned. We had somehow come to the understanding that I would test all of her concoctions, no matter what the consequences. One particular experiment had turned my skin green. Satkena had found it very funny, and had given me another potion to reverse my unexpected colour change; but I had still had a greenish tinge for a week. Satkena’s servants knew that it was better to stay at a safe distance when she had a new potion in her hand; no one except Satkena knew what it might do. This potion, however, looked fairly harmless.
“This is a different one,” Satkena said, sitting down on my bed and brushing her red curls out of her eyes. “We both have to test it. I’ll go first, all right?”
She uncorked the bottle and drank half of its contents. Then she passed it to me. I drank until there was no liquid left. It tasted very sweet. Satkena dropped the empty bottle onto my quilt and then took my hands in hers.
“We’re not going to turn into Mortogs, are we?” I joked.
“I hope not. Close your eyes.”
I laughed but did as I was told. I felt a strange sensation overtake my body. For almost a minute, I relaxed and let the odd feeling wash over me. Then I felt Satkena’s hands slipping away from my own. I opened my eyes - and almost screamed. Sitting opposite me was an identical copy of myself.
“It worked!” the new Preluna exclaimed, looking wondrously back at me with her blue eyes shining. “I can’t believe I got this right the first time... and I can’t believe how many freckles I have.” She reached out and gently touched my face. “I really do spend far too much time in the sun.”
“What the... ” I began, leaping to my feet and hurrying to the mirror. To my astonishment, I saw Satkena staring back at me. I saw myself with a heart-shaped face and thick red curls. I was a fire faerie.
The air faerie - Satkena - came to my side and gasped, saying in a voice which was identical to my own, “Oh Preluna, it worked... I’ve become you and you’ve become me. We’ve got each other's bodies!”
“Good grief,” I said, hardly recognising my unfamiliar new voice. “I didn’t think that this was possible.”
“Nor did I. The potion takes a long time to prepare. I’ve been brewing it for almost two months.”
“How long will it last? The body exchange, I mean.”
“I don’t know... a few hours, maybe? Come on,” Satkena said, grabbing my hand. “Let’s go and have some fun.”
And so we roamed the Faerie Palace, and everyone of course assumed that I was Satkena and that Satkena was me, and it was great fun. That was why Satkena created many of her weird and wonderful potions - she just wanted to have fun. Only later did I realise that Satkena would use this particular potion for darker intentions.
* * * * *
Months passed. Life went on as usual. I had always imagined that the Faerie Palace would be a hive of activity, but most of the time it was quiet and whole weeks would pass without anything particularly exciting happening.
One day, however, as Fyora was in her throne room, an unknown dark faerie burst in. Somehow she had eluded the palace guards, and she had one single aim - to assassinate Fyora. She darted forwards with a spear at the ready: and in the blink of an eye, I had snatched a dagger from a nearby battle faerie and flung it at the intruder. The dark faerie slumped to the floor and did not move. The uprising was crushed at once.
Fyora was so impressed by my quick reaction that she moved me out of Satkena’s apartment and gave me a set of rooms near her own. Sometimes, if Fyora suspected that someone was plotting against her, she would ask me to stand guard outside her rooms all night. I never succumbed to the temptations of sleep and stayed awake throughout the night, staring into the shadowed distance. Alluvia had broken my rebellious will; she had succeeded in training me to follow orders and do my duty.
It made me proud to think that Fyora trusted me above all other faeries. She certainly seemed to count on me more than Satkena, whose skills as a bodyguard were being questioned after she was humiliatingly defeated in a friendly duel with a novice palace guard. Fyora asked for her less and less when she made public appearances. Instead, I stood at her right hand, armed and ready should anyone cause trouble. And in private, I was also Fyora’s most trusted attendant. I read to her, helped her with her embroidery, and even played music to entertain her. I was a terrible musician, but Fyora was patient and encouraged me to practise. Naturally she was very fond of Alluvia, and together we were able to share stories about her. Our ‘Alluvia Anecdotes’ became a private joke. I was her favourite, her lady-in-waiting, her trusted friend. I had become the companion to a queen and I loved every moment of it.
* * * * *
Throughout the day, Satkena and I trained young faeries for the faerie army. Although very few faeries considered themselves warriors, they would gladly have signed up for the army if Fyora asked it of them. Despite all appearances, faeries could form a vast and powerful force when the situation arose. Satkena and I were in charge of maintaining the faeries’ strong reputation for being good fighters.
Fyora gave us a troop of two hundred battle faeries and we worked them hard. The faeries liked Satkena better than they liked me because she was friendly and full of encouragement. I was tougher and favoured more severe teaching methods: I was not quite as brutal as Alluvia, but I was prepared to intimidate my pupils in order to make them work hard. As a result, although they preferred Satkena, they respected me more.
One day, as we stood on the high walls of the Faerie Palace, watching our soldiers march in their ranks, Satkena turned to me and said, “How long do you think we’ll be friends, Preluna?”
I was surprised by the question. I had never given any thought to the possibility of my friendship with Satkena coming to an end. I said, “I don’t know.”
“Forever?” Satkena asked.
“I hope so.”
Satkena gestured at our guards with her arm and said, “I heard a group of them talking last night. They were saying how skilled you are. One of them said she wanted to be just like you.”
I did not have a reply to this. Satkena continued.
“You know, Preluna, an army cannot be loyal to two masters. If Faerieland was at war, which of us do you think would lead the faeries into battle? You or me?”
“It won’t come to that,” I said quickly.
“Won’t it,” Satkena said with a touch of bitter irony as I opened my wings and flew swiftly down away from her.
* * * * *
That night, I dreamed that I stood on a pedestal which soared high above Neopia. I wore a scarlet cloak which fastened with a silver brooch. I also wore a silver robe. I was sitting on the back of a white Uni, a sword in my hand. I was mighty and powerful and every faerie in Neopia was bowing to me, even Jhudora. And then I saw a ball of fire rising up before me, and it took the shape of a fire faerie... It was Satkena. And as she clasped my cloak in grasping hands, I suddenly turned to fire myself. I was burning up, and nothing could extinguish the flames, and no one did anything to help me... I was engulfed in heat and smoke and there was no escape...
“My lady! Are you all right?”
I opened my eyes with a gasp, finding myself face-to-face with Maruna, my maid. She was an air faerie like me, and her blue eyes were wide with concern.
“Are you all right, my lady?” she asked again, pressing her cool hand to my forehead, clearly thinking that I had become feverish.
“Yes - yes,” I spluttered. “What’s the matter?”
“You were shouting a name, my lady. And then you screamed. I got the fright of my life... It was just a nightmare, Lady Preluna, and nothing to worry about. I’m here now. Are you sure that you are all right?”
“Maruna, whose name did I shout?”
My maid hesitated before saying: “Satkena.”
* * * * *
The next day, I was still shaken by my nightmare when I was summoned to Fyora’s marble hall. I had been there only once before, on my very first visit to the palace. I knelt before Fyora’s silver throne and she said in a grand voice, “Arise, Lady Preluna.”
I got to my feet and stood up tall. Fyora smiled.
“I am very proud of you,” she said. “You show a great deal of promise. You have protected me on many occasions and I hear you are doing well with training a new set of battle faerie guards. You and Satkena make a good team, the pair of you.”
I felt myself blush. I was unaccustomed to praise.
“However, I fear that darker times are ahead,” Fyora continued. “Jhudora has become suspiciously quiet over the last few months and I fear that she has one of her wicked schemes in store. Other dark faeries are becoming restless. They do not listen to authority. I need someone who will inspire loyalty, someone who can give commands which everyone will obey. My army has lacked a general for many years now. And now I am ready to choose another.”
I waited with baited breath, hardly believing my ears. Being chosen as the Faerie General was one of the greatest honours a faerie could hope for: she would be one of the most powerful faeries in Faerieland, almost as high in status as Fyora herself. I felt my heartbeat quicken at the thought.
Fyora smiled again. “I know that Satkena wants the honour of being my general more than anything. She has spent her entire life here, in this very palace, and I know that she can be trusted. She is loyal and I do not think that a single faerie has a bad word to say against her. But you, Preluna,” she continued, “the fearless newcomer to our palace, are another thing altogether. You have been trained by the mighty Alluvia herself - and you have defeated her. So, which of you would be the better general? What do you think?”
I paused before answering. “You are exceedingly generous to consider me. Because of my youth, I feel particularly honoured.”
“You are young - and yet you are so wise and strong,” Fyora said. “I wish you could see yourself now. How like Alluvia you are! The way you talk, and the expression in your eyes... it is exactly like Alluvia. I am greatly indebted to her for transforming you into the gifted young faerie you are now. She has brought you up to be a fine general indeed.”
I was stunned. Fyora wanted me to be general of her army - an army of ten thousand faeries or more. I knew that I could never thank her enough. But only one thing was on my mind: “What about Satkena?”
“She will accept my decision and wish you well, as any true friend would,” Fyora said simply. “Tomorrow a ceremony will be held in your honour. The most important faeries will be there. I am sure they will be eager to congratulate their new general.”
* * * * *
The news spread around the palace like wildfire. Everywhere I went, faeries bowed before me; I felt like a queen. Even Alluvia found out about it, because a faerie Lenny swooped into the dining hall to give me a note one morning. On a square of cream-coloured card Alluvia had written: 'Be the best.'
Satkena avoided me and did not reply when I said goodnight as we passed each other in the corridor outside our rooms. I did not try to say anything else to her; I did not know what to say. I realised that my new status would put a tremendous strain on our friendship.
* * * * *
The next morning I rode through the streets of Faerieland on a white Uni. I had a scarlet cloak flowing out behind me and a crown of red flowers in my hair. My dream had come true; and I kept careful watch for Satkena. But she was nowhere in sight.
My Uni’s name was Starlight. She walked with slow dignity, revelling in the attention as faeries rushed out into the street and threw flowers to the ground before her hoofs. They were all chanting my name.
Afterwards I was taken to the marble hall, with a train of six faeries carrying the furred ends of the silver cloak I was given. Faeries of the very highest rank were lined to watch my procession up to the throne. I knelt before Fyora. She told me to rise and turn, and everyone cheered and applauded. I was now the new general of the faerie army.
* * * * *
The battle faeries bowed before me. They said that they were honoured to have me as their teacher. It was hard for me to believe that these faeries were my age, or even slightly older; they treated me so respectfully. They immediately forgot Satkena, who appeared to have vanished. No one knew where she had gone and I knew better than to look for her. Satkena always liked to be left alone when she was angry.
The extent of her anger had been severely underestimated. Many faeries knew that she had wanted to be general, so they imagined that she was suffering from brief disappointment. I discovered - to my cost - that her fury ran far deeper than that. And I discovered this one morning as I walked to the marble hall. Fyora was going to hold one of her great assemblies where she discussed the affairs of the palace. I was to stand on her right and later I would be allowed to sit on a small throne at her side.
As I walked, I suddenly heard a rustling noise, like the swish of a dress. I turned, but no one was behind me. I continued walking. I suddenly heard the sound again. Whirling around, I looked back down the way I had come - but no one was there. And then suddenly I felt something strike the left side of my head, and I fell unconscious.
I did not realise it then, but this was the beginning of my ruin.
To be continued...