Further Tales of Woe: Part Three
The hulking Gelert stooped over to fit through her doorway, smiling sheepishly.
"Sorry to intrude, little sister. I know how much you hate company, but I wanted to see you... there's something I'd like to get off of my chest."
Sophie brushed stray pollen off of Bruno's tattered suit, steering him to a more stable bench than the chair she'd been seated in.
"Oh, Brother, you know I enjoy your visits. You're the only intelligent one I get to speak to anyway."
Bruno settled down with a contented grunt, mismatched eyes twinkling at Sophie.
"But you know Reggie is far smarter than me - and you can speak to him whenever you'd like. You always know where to find him."
Bruno found himself staring at the one of her petpets. It wasn't a Meowclops like all of Sophie's others... Rather, a twisted variant of one, all slime-coated and rather undesirable. Instantly Bruno felt a kinship. He knew what that was like, to be the odd one out in a family...
She snorted, chasing her gamboling petpets from the kitchen with a broom before offering a reply.
"In that accursed library of his, right. More smart-mouthed, you mean. Arrogant little whelp needs to be taught a lesson in manners, with his better-than-thou attitude..."
The large Gelert smiled now, amused by Sophie's blustering mannerisms. She had a sharp tongue, but a kind heart.
"You must still be jealous of him, Sister."
"Oh, enough with your teasing, Bruno! You said you had something to discuss? If you only came here to play games, I ought to turn you into a Slorg simply for disturbing me."
Huffily, the witch crossed her arms and looked away, staring intently at the wall.
Still smiling, Bruno acquiesced.
"Yes... There's something bothering me, but I can't quite explain it."
His pale green eyes took on a misty, faraway quality.
"There's this feeling - I can't shake it, no matter how hard I try - that I should be in a different place. Like there's something I was supposed to do, but I can't recall what... Last night I had an odd dream, that I was hoping you could interpret for me."
Sophie was now watching him, a serious look reflecting in her viridian gaze. She nodded silently, agreeing to his request. She hadn't heard her brother be this philosophical in many years...
"There was this room. It was all dark, so I couldn't see anything in it - except these two flowerpots. I know, kinda strange, but..."
He paused, biting his lip. Sophie glowered at him until he quickly continued again.
"Er, yes. Each of the pots was different. The one on the left was made of crystal - really pretty, all fluted and fancy - except it had a big ugly crack running through it that messed up the design.
"The second one, on the right, was plain clay. It was really simple, but there was nothing wrong with it. That one had a wildflower in it, some kind of daisy. The crystal one... it, erm, had a white lily."
He looked down, fidgeting with his paws. He suddenly felt very nervous, like he was divulging a secret. It was just a dream, right?
Swallowing hard, he finished: "The only thing I remember after that was that I was watering them. The water all leaked out of the crystal pot, but the clay one was fine. Then the daisy bloomed really big."
Sophie was silent for a long while. Finally she stood, disapproving frown etched firmly on her countenance.
Worried, Bruno squeaked nervously, "...So, what does that mean? What is it?"
She pursed her lips at him. "If you didn't understand that blatant symbolism, than I'm not going to explain it to you. I'm sure you'll figure it out on your own time, and stop wasting mine."
The Gelert struggled awkwardly to his feet, whining, "Aw, come on, Sister, that's not fair! If you know what it means, why can't you just tell me? If I knew what it was, I wouldn't have bothered you -"
Sophie dropped a large dusty book onto the table, leafing through the yellowed pages, before poking at an illustrated passage. "Here - that's the only hint I'm giving you."
And true to her word, the tall witch stepped out of the room, quietly shutting the door behind her.
Bruno sighed, leaning clumsily over the volume. It was an encyclopedia of wildlife, full of inked illustrations of various plants. Aloud, he read the paragraph Sophie had indicated.
"'One variety of daisy is often located in or around swamps, and is commonly nicknamed the "Gillyflower"'."
Over the span of that afternoon, Reginald found himself more and more interested in his new houseguest. Gilly was such a bright, optimistic, compassionate person... She seemed to truly care about the welfare of others above herself. She had awoken early that morning, and taken the liberty of sweeping and dusting their entire downstairs - without having eaten any breakfast.
When Reggie had tried to explain that they had a maid to do cleaning, and the chef would be happy to feed her first thing in the morning, Gilly insisted that this 'was the nicer thing to do' and that it would be 'a pleasant surprise' for their house workers.
Despite her ravenous hunger, the Usul had barely eaten anything at their breakfast spread, explaining later that she wanted to be 'certain to leave enough for everyone else' and that she'd pick some up later. She never did.
His parents were absolutely thrilled to have another Neopet under their roof again, and happily donated Bruno's room for her use, as well as a full wardrobe of clothing, a chambermaid, and her own personal bathroom. The modest Usul had attempted to refuse all of these offers, claiming to be 'perfectly fine sleeping outdoors', since that's what she was accustomed to. His parents insisted that she accept, and she reluctantly gave in.
Why would an impoverished waif such as Gilly turn down a chance at an easy life?
Reggie had given her a full tour of his expansive home, not only pointing out the various furnishings and decorations, but also offering a historical background and anecdotes where applicable. Little Gilly had absorbed it all, paying rapt attention, hanging on his every word.
It was a kind of attention that Reggie wasn't accustomed to.
As a middle child, he was often overlooked in favor of his adorable little sister, or his handsome older brother. And when his siblings left home, his parents became very distant... In a very real sense, Reginald raised himself. There weren't any Neopets his age around, so he'd become obsessed with his literature. It was a new experience, to have someone on his level - to have a true friend.
The slim red Lupe turned over from his precarious perch on the roof. Normally he welcomed this tranquil escape from the shadowy house, but today, even beneath the scudding clouds and the warm southerly breeze, Reggie found himself wanting to go inside... to be back with her.
She was such a clever Usul, and he loved hearing her down-to-earth opinion on matters he'd long since written off in his mind.
Slowly he stood, brushing the dust off his tailored trousers.
When Brother Bruno had last visited, he'd gushed on and on about how sweet his new friend Gilly was, and how she made everyone around her happy and trusting. Reginald had assumed Bruno was boasting, since the simple-minded Gelert could never find a complaint about anyone but himself. But now...
He realized that it was the honest truth. Already he was happier and more at peace with himself than he'd been in a very long time. It was such a sudden change she'd wrought, and Reggie wondered how this could be. He'd only just met Gilly - how had she have caused this unfamiliar feeling, that chased away his loneliness?
Sighing in defeat, he slipped off the roof, landing lightly on the lawn below. Reggie then strolled nonchalantly past the garden, pretending not to see Gilly squatted down beside a well-tended flower patch.
"Oh! There you are, Reggie - come here for a moment, please!" she called with a bright smile, beckoning him over.
"...You don't have to be so polite, you know," he murmured awkwardly, stepping closer. "There's no need to say 'please'."
Gilly grinned impishly up at him, her bushy Usul tail curling happily. "But there's no need to be rude, either!" she chimed. "It's always better to be nice, I think, than always inconsiderate! Here, this is what I wanted to show you. These flowers are so pretty! It looks like some wildflowers snuck into your fancy garden here - there are these daisies growing with the lilies and roses. The colours look so nice together..."
She reached out a gloved paw to cup some more soil around the bases of the plants, patting down the little mounds to ensure their healthy prospects.
"You... Do you like flowers, then?" Reginald asked mildly, lime-green eyes following her movements.
"Yes, of course!" she exclaimed without hesitation. "I - I guess it's that I like colours in general. The Haunted Woods is a wonderful place to live because of all the rich colours - the costumes, the tents, the trees, the fairgrounds - everything's bright and cheery!"
Reggie stared at her for a moment.
Only she could describe the most haunted land in Neopia, home to all manner of ghosts, villains, cheats, and witches, 'bright and cheery'...
"Reggie... Where you live, Neovia... It's kind of gloomy, to be honest," Gilly continued, looking down at the ground. "Everything is grey. The streets, the houses, even the grass here is kinda dull... And the townspeople don't have much spirit..."
Reginald swallowed hard, paws clasped stiffly behind his back. "So, you want to leave, then?" he asked gruffly. "That's fine, I can escort you out -"
"No, no, that's not what I meant at all!" Gilly exclaimed quickly, standing to face him. "What I meant was, well... I'd like to bring more cheer here! Neovia needs some happiness, so that the Neopets living here won't be so gloomy! If we can add some colour to their lives, then everyone will be the better for it!"
Reggie blinked, swimming in her intense azure gaze. "You want to add... colour?" he stammered incredulously. He'd lived here for all of his life, and never once did he consider changing the way things were. Neovia was a quiet backwater town, trapped in ancient traditions and grief. How could an outsider take one look at their situation... and come up with a plan as farfetched as this?
It would never work. Reggie's logical mind presented that statement immediately. And yet...
If one day with Gilly had turned his heart... Surely she could work her magic on others, too.
"I... believe in you, Gilly," he whispered, before turning away. "I'm sure that you can do anything."
To be continued...