Further Tales of Woe: Part Five
As dusk faded into evening, the street lamps of Neovia slowly flickered to life, washing the cobbled paths in a wan grey light. Gilly sighed, wandering aimlessly around the town. She hadn't seen Reggie since that afternoon - one of the servants said they'd seen the Lupe go out, but didn't know where.
However, everyone in the house assured her that Reginald often disappeared for extended periods of time so that he could have time to think about something, or time to peruse some obscure piece of literature, or time to be away from the stifling atmosphere of the manor house.
It was nothing to worry about.
Gilly shook her head, sitting on the stone rim of the fountain where she'd first met Reginald. It seemed like such a long time ago, it truly did! He was the tall mysterious stranger that gave her a place to stay... He'd been really nice, too, showing her around, and helping her really feel at home. But without him by her side, the Usul felt the loneliness pressing in on her again. And now, in the dull, lugubrious Neovian ambiance, she felt terribly homesick... for what?
She didn't have a home to speak of. Perhaps the Haunted Woods counted, but she had no physical roof to take shelter beneath - nor were there Neopets she could count on or confide in. She thought Reggie could be her new friend, but...
Perhaps he simply couldn't take the place of Bruno.
Bruno was such a wonderful companion, staunch and stoic! He was loyal to a fault, and had such wellsprings of kindness and compassion. His rugged appearance only made him more unique in her eyes, and all the more endearing! Bruno was the sweetest, gentlest Neopet that Gilly had ever met.
The time they'd spent together, dealing with Sophie's temper and working so diligently to break the Neovian curse, had awoken something in Gilly - a need for friendship. She'd never known such gentle warmth, such a contented feeling, before that time - and hadn't found it since.
"Oh, Bruno..." she whispered, feeling tears welling up in her wide blue eyes. "I miss you..."
"Excuse me, miss," drawled a soft feminine voice beside her.
Quickly Gilly scrubbed away the forming tears, stubbornly refusing to let anyone around her see that she could feel sadness.
"Y-yes?" she replied, turning to face a tall Aisha. The Aisha's downy fur was a pastel pink, groomed meticulously to match her pale blonde hair. She wore a long gown of white and crimson silk, colours faded from years of use - like the washed-out ribbon that hung around her thin neck.
"Sorry to intrude," she said with a polite bow, "but I overheard you say the name 'Bruno'... If you mean the Bruno that once lived in the manor over yonder, then I would very much like to converse with you."
Gilly shifted curiously, bushy tail curling with interest. "Are you his friend, ma'am?" she asked, beginning to smile.
But a look of sadness crossed the pretty Aisha's face. Upon closer examination, past her surface beauty, she had a very melancholy, worn-out sort of way about her. Her hair was nearly faded to white, from years of a guilt-ridden solitary life. She gazed down at her delicate paws, finally answering, "I don't know that it would be fair for you to think that. I wronged Bruno, a very long time ago... My name is Lily."
Gilly inhaled sharply, instantly remembering the story that the gypsy Elephante had told her. Lily was the Aisha that Bruno had fallen in love with, years and years ago, before the curse! If the story was true, then Lily had seemingly returned his affections, but one of her suitors had beaten up Bruno, and she gave up on him. That was what inspired Bruno to drink the original potion...
Lily bit her lip, haunted eyes watching Gilly. "See, you know my name... You know what I did... I hurt an innocent Gelert. He was the sweetest thing, you know, and I knew how sincere he was. Oh, if only I hadn't been so selfish, so... so prideful, I... I might've told him how I felt about him, that... he didn't have to prove himself to me. That I didn't want him to change who he was..."
The quiet Aisha blinked back tears. "Many Neovians hate Bruno, you know. They call him a hideous beast, a monster. If I were stronger, I could defend his last shred of dignity, but... Alas, I'm too weak to even do that for him. He deserves better than the fate he got at my hands..."
Gilly's face reddened, and her ears and tail shot stiffly upright.
"Don't be so full of yourself!" she snapped, startling Lily badly. "It's not all about you - even now, you're being selfish! Bruno's got dignity, and he's accepted his fate - he's not a monster. He's still the same sweet, innocent Gelert that you knew! And if you weren't so weak, you'd go look for him yourself, instead of waiting forever for him to come and find you..."
Lily, thoroughly cowed, shrank back against the stone fountain's base. "S-sorry, miss...?" she squeaked, venturing a timid reply. Breathing hard, Gilly suddenly sagged against the fountain.
"No, don't apologize, Lady Lily... It wasn't my place, and you didn't deserve that... I just... I don't know what came over me..."
The Aisha straightened, meekly grasping Gilly's paw.
"Usul... It seems you know my beloved Bruno better than I ever have. Please, continue to treat him kindly... and may you give him the happiness that I denied him, so long ago."
She stepped away and curtsied formally, with a swish of her faded silken gown, and stepped slowly into the night.
Gilly watched the shadows envelop her. She didn't move from her position for a long time. "What did she... what's that supposed to mean? We're just friends; I hope she knows that... Poor Lily looked so lonely. Why did I yell at her? And why would I say something like that, 'go look for him, instead of waiting forever'... Now I'm really confused."
She let her small chin sink back into her gloved paws, and she sat motionless on the fountain's edge, watching the moon's reflection slowly rise across the dark water.
Bruno stood nervously in the fog, hemming and hawing, his spiked tail whipping back and forth agitatedly. Somehow, on his ambling path, he'd ended up outside of Neovia... and he'd overheard a very personal conversation.
The hunchbacked Gelert fiddled anxiously with his gnarled paws, pale green gaze darting in front and behind him. What should he do?
I can't go into town now... Gilly's there! I was eavesdropping, and I shouldn't have heard that!
Gilly... and Lily... Both of them... Both of them care about me. Me, of all Neopets! Lily even apologized for causing me such trouble in the past... when all I wanted to do was apologize for bringing such trouble to her now... I guess maybe she didn't get married after all...
And Gilly, she... She was so sweet, defending me... She gave me so much undeserved praise. I have no dignity. I'm not so gentle; I'm not so honorable. And now I'm the one confused...
It's like... I want Lily to accept how I am now, but I want Gilly to see me for who I once was...
Crouching down, Bruno dug a blunt claw into the soil, idly scratching a design onto the cold ground's surface. Without really thinking about it, the nervous Gelert had drawn a pair of flowerpots.
"One's simple and adapts well because of it... the other is fragile, and easily broken..." he rumbled deep in his broad chest. Then his mismatched eyes lit up with a sudden understanding.
"Oh... I think I know what Sophie meant...! Neither one is bad - it's just my choice, whether I want something to mend and protect, or something I can take everywhere with me..."
Bruno drew his bare knees close to him, huddled over in the darkness. The grey fog swirled about him, blurring and obscuring his features, until he looked like nothing more than a large blue stone.
"But... I can't do that. I can't choose... I'm not meant to have either. I'll just end up breaking both of them. I don't know why I even came here - did I expect to find something happy? Because in Neovia... there's nothing but sad and painful memories for me."
After a long pause, Bruno slowly stood up, squaring his broad, muscular shoulders. There was a dull look in his pale green eyes. "I'll just... go back to the meadow. I'll live by myself again. It's better than bringing misery to those around me... There's nothing for me here."
With a heavy heart, the Gelert turned his back on Neovia's forbidding iron gates, and plodded deliberately off into the trees. His uneven form was swallowed almost instantaneously by the black shadows of the night.
Gilly stiffened, ears shooting bolt upright. From a swirling tendril of fog, she swore she'd heard a voice nearby - a low, rumbling bass voice, with a melancholy undercurrent.
"Bruno!" she exclaimed, banner-like Usul tail spiking into midair. "It has to be him, I just know it! Did he come to see me?!"
Quickly she gathered her patched skirts about her and dashed to the cold iron gate. "Where are you, Bruno? It's me, Gilly!"
A chill silence met her cry. Gilly's wide blue eyes searched the shadows and the fog, illuminated by the silver light of the waning moon. There was no one there. She was too late.
"B... Bruno?" she squeaked hopefully, gloved paws wringing anxiously. But no one answered.
Her face slowly crumpled, and she sank to her knees. She was so desperate to see him again! Gilly was certain she'd heard his voice, but... Perhaps it really was just the wind.
"Everyone leaves me alone... Please... Someone come find me. I can't search for you on my own, because I'm afraid of being alone, of being left behind... Reggie, come back home soon... Bruno, please visit me... Sophie, I miss you too... Everyone... Just don't leave me behind anymore. I want to come with you..."
Gilly buried her face in her arms. She couldn't say for certain how long she remained there, huddled and silent, rocking back and forth just inside the gates of Neovia. All she could say was how fervently she wanted to be with someone at that very moment.
"It's gonna be dawn soon, I think," she finally whispered. "Oh... I can see something moving in the fog... Is it... Oh! Is that you, Bruno?!"
To be continued...