Still thwarting Sloth's mind control... Circulation: 186,904,163 Issue: 171 | 31st day of Celebrating, Y6
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Change of Tune: Part One


by twirlsncurls5

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It had been a dull affair, nothing but discussions on stocks and bank interest. Several traders had been there too, and after seemingly hours of arguing over the prices of Juppies, a particularly wealthy royal Aisha turned towards me.

     "And you Moonabi," he said, smiling sardonically, "what is your calling in life? To what will you devote yourself?" My brothers paled. I knew he was mocking me just as well as I knew how silly my accomplishments looked beside my brothers. Suddenly the entire room was looking at me with their expecting eyes, just like everyone else these days, always expecting. But then I didn't really care what everyone else thought. "I'm going to be a musician," I announced with my head high and heard my brothers give an exasperated groan. "Not this again," sighed Jezak, a glowing Kougra.

     The royal Aisha burst into laughter, followed momentarily by the rest of the room. As a brown Zafara I could feel my ears blushing furiously. "Surly you jest!" That's a job for beggars and paupers, not one for someone of your upbringing!" He pointed to Jazak and smiled. "You put him up to this didn't you?" he teased.

     "Can't get a thing past you Shon," Jezak laughed nervously. I felt his paws digging into my shoulder. "We're leaving," he whispered angrily in my ear, yanking me away from the group of aristocrats. He beckoned to Bell, who waved and said his goodbye's before meeting us outside.

     "At first I thought it was cute, my little brother wanting to be a fiddler," said Jezak, pacing furiously in the brisk night, "but you never outgrew it. You're not a little kid anymore Moonabi, you're too old for this stupid little fantasy!"

     "Jezak-" Bell, a spotted Gelert said softly, his face looking worried. He knew where this rant was going as well as I did.

     "Don't 'Jezak' me," he said, "I'm sick of making up excuses for my good-for-nothing brother." He stormed off angrily and poor Bell, who always got stuck in the middle, looked anxiously at me.

     "He's right Moonabi."

     "No, that's not fair-"

     "I'll always support you-"

     "Liar."

     "Let me finish. Its just time you considered something realistic." And with that he trotted off in Jezak's direction, yelling for him to wait up.

     I'd never been so mad in my whole life. They were supposed to accept me for who I was, weren't they?

     I pulled my violin out of my knapsack (I carried it with me always) and with tears in my eyes prepared to smash it on the pavement. But I just couldn't bring myself to do it. Instead I rested it beneath my chin and brought the bow across the strings. The note was low and haunting, as if in sad farewell. But I couldn't bring myself to stop playing either. I continued, picking the strings and fingerings as I went in a melancholy melody both sad and beautiful, carrying its sorrow far away.

     I don't know how long I'd sat there and played, or how much longer I would have continued to, when I saw the yellow Kyrii leaning against a tree several feet away and watching with a curious half-smile. She tipped her green forest hat. "Very nice," she said coming my way, "but who on earth are you playing for?" I saw something long and silver twinkle behind her back. Was that a sword? By Fyora, I prayed silently, please don't let her rob me.

     "I-I don't understand," I stammered.

     "Where's your crowd?"

     I looked up at her blankly, wondering if she was serious.

     "Oh boy," she slapped her forehead, "are you expecting an audience to come this evening or are you just waiting for your meals to fall out of thin air?"

     "I don't play for an audience," I said.

     The Kyrii was obviously very confused. "Do you mean to tell me you just play for yourself?" she said slowly, as if I was a small child.

     "Yes."

     "What a shame. You're not a minstrel then," she said dismissively. She was clearly disappointed.

     "No, I mean I want to be but-"

     "Then why aren't you?"

     For some reason I was caught off guard. Why wasn't I a traveling musician?

     "I don't know," I replied, "but if you're going to rob me just leave me my instrument and you can have everything else." I started fishing through my knapsack for Neopoints.

     "You think I'm going to what?" she said incredulously. "Are all brown Zafaras this brain-dead?" She pulled out the long twinkling silver from behind her. "You may not be a minstrel, but I am," she held her flute inches from my face. I could see my startled and warped reflection in the metal. "I consider myself to be an artist not some lowlife thief!"

     I felt pretty dumb to say the least.

     The Kyrii angrily shoved her flute back through the belt loops in her tattered tan pants. "I've wasted enough time here," she huffed and started to walk back to the woods, "I've got a king's festival to play for."

     Could she have been going to the King Skarl's festival in Meridell? I knew the event well. Not just because my brothers had received an invitation, but because all of the best entertainers in Neopia attended to impress the not so easily impressed King. Skarl's favorite was given a spot in his court, to play forever in his presence as one of the greatest and most honored musicians to ever live. Neopians would come from all over to hear them play.

     It was then I had a moment of absolute clarity, an epiphany almost. The people who claimed to want what was best for me were merely holding me back from playing in the royal halls of immortality. They didn't know what was best for me because they didn't even know ME. I had too much ability to play for an empty night. I wanted all of Neopia to hear my song.

     In hindsight I was arrogant and stupid, and my following decision was probably based on a little bit of both.

      "Wait!" I yelled. She turned back, almost smiling. "I'd like to come."

      She shrugged, seeming unsure. "I don't know kid," she said, "it's an awful long way."

      "I'll pull my own weight," I promised, "I won't be a problem." The Kyrii pondered for a moment and then stuck out her hand. "I'm Lana."

      I shook it, "Moonabi."

      "Well Moonabi," she said grinning "lets go to Meridell."

      I was smiling from ear to ear as I picked up my violin case but then paused.

     I gave one last look down the path that only moments ago Jezak and Bell had gone down and I looked down the woodland path that would lead me far, far away from them. I was at the biggest (and most literal) fork in the road of my life but at the time the choice hadn't seemed so difficult. I suppose it hadn't yet occurred to me how very, very far away Meridell really was or that the course would be equally far from easy. But then that all goes back to me being stupid and arrogant.

      We entered the forest and the night became darker immediately. Spiny trees cast shadows like claws and the only sound was of our footsteps on dry leaves.

      "So what's your story kid?" asked Lana, stepping over a fallen log.

      "My story?"

      She smirked, her face half shadowed. "You're painted," she stated.

      "So?" I was worried. Were musicians not allowed to be?

      "Only rich pets are painted."

      So that was where this was going. "Well, I'm not rich," I said. I didn't want her to know about my old life, I'd decided. I'd left that one behind at the fork in the road.

      "Only rich pets play the violin," she went on.

      That made me think back to a birthday party Bell had, there had been harpists and poets but there was a fiddler I remembered most of all. He'd blurred the strings and moved his fingers faster then I'd ever seen before. Everyone had danced and cheered to the haggard old Aisha's music.

      "That's definitely not true," I argued hotly, "I've seen tons of poor fiddlers."

      But she just chuckled softly, like I would never understand. "Fiddlers may be poor Moonabi, but violinists are generally not. I heard you play, and you're no fiddler."

      I stopped and she kept walking forward, pushing brush and tree branches out of the way. I wasn't entirely sure if I should be insulted. I jogged back up to her.

      "I don't understand," I said, "I thought a fiddler WAS a violinist."

      "A fiddler is a cheap street performer, a pathetic waste. I needed a real musician," she patted my shoulder, "lucky for me I found you."

      "Lucky for you?"

      "Of course. You're going to play at a Princesses' party for me."

      "I'm going to what?!"

     "You think I'd take some Zafara I just met all the way to Meridell for no reason?"

      Like I said, stupidity. I hadn't even thought about why she'd so readily befriended me. She certainly stood no gain by it. But yet there I was, in the middle of the forest with no idea what I'd gotten myself into.

      "I suppose I should explain," she said, grinning. Her cheeky little expressions had already started to get on my nerves.

      "Yes, you really should."

      "Well," she started, "this Princess is returning home and her father wants to throw her a bash or celebration thing or something, I don't know, whatever it is that Kings do spoil their already spoiled daughters. It must be some spectacular event with all the music they're asking for." She pulled out a folded and yellowed flyer from her pocket. "Here," she handed it to me, "it's been on the notice board for weeks."

      I unfolded it, reading aloud:

     "To all entertainers in Neopia:

     A grand affair is taking place on the first day of the month of swimming to honor my fabulous daughter. Such a fabulous daughter requires fabulous entertainment. Thus performers will be paid as follows:

     Dancers: 500 Neopoints

     Poets: 700 Neopoints

     Storytellers: 750 Neopoints

     Singers: 800 Neopoints

     Magicians: 1000 Neopoints

     Trumpeters: 1500 Neopoints

     Flutists: 2000 Neopoints

     Violinists: 5000 Neopoints

     Cellists: 5000 Neopoints

     Pianists: 6500 Neopoints

     Harpists: 8000 Neopoints

      Arrive at---------

      "Hey, the rest is torn off," I said fingering the ripped edges of the flyer.

      "It's not important, I remember it."

      "But what's this mean? I thought we were going to Skarl's festival."

      "Well, how do you think we're going to get there? We sure can't walk." She was smirking again. "A boat costs money."

      "We're taking a boat?"

      "No, we're going to hitch a ride with a pod of Flotsams. Of course we're taking a boat to Meridell."

      "How much is a boat?"

      "I got a great deal, this old Scorchio is selling me his for seven thousand Neopoints"

      I wanted to kick myself. It all made sense, she'd never have been able to make it to Skarl's festival with the mere 2,000 she'd have made off this party. That was why she'd been so interested in a rookie violinist like me, she'd been searching for a way pay for her 7000 Neopoint ticket all along.

      "So basically you're using me," I said my voice low in shame.

      She smiled. "Not entirely. You do for me and I do for you, that's how it works in this business."

      "What makes you so certain that I need you to do anything for me?"

      She snorted as if the answer was obvious. "Well, do you have an act?"

      "No," I said hesitantly.

      "Do you know how to work a crowd?"

      "I don't think so…"

      "Do you know what minstrels do to others cutting in on their profits?"

      "No," I said at last, not really wanting to know at all.

      She nodded her head. "Well, there you go. That's where I come in."

      It hadn't occurred to me how late it really was until Lana and I walked another hour in the thickening darkness. I'd continuously stumbled and tripped to the point that Lana, who shook her head in disgust, had to light a torch so we, or I rather, could see our brush laden path.

      "Okay," the Kyrii said at last, "here's camp."

      I looked around at the tattered tend and blankets strewn with sheets of music and colorful clothing.

      "I know it's not the mansion I'm sure you're used to," she said sarcastically while sitting down and pulling off her boots, "but it'll do."

      I knew she was pushing my buttons but I was too tired to care. It wasn't until I actually sat down on the coarse, rough blankets that I thought about my Neohome with its plush carpets, marble desks, and my soft zen bed. But as my eyes started to close I was almost happy to be able to sleep without the dim green glow from Jezak's room that came from all his glowing furniture.

      I leaned back and rested myself on my hand but the spot was a little lumpy. I pushed down on the bulge in the blanket and heard a muffled 'Coo' before the lump shot out in a streak of blue cawing and shrieking almost as loudly as I was.

      Lana leapt up. "Melody!" she cried chasing the fluttering blue thing. "Melody, come back!" She jumped but the thing would swoop just out of reach, crying and screeching until it tired and fell into Lana's arms. "There, there," she cooed, stroking the blue bird, "he didn't mean it." She glared icily in my direction.

      "What in the name of all faeries is that?" I asked incredulously.

      "This," said Lana, stroking the thing lovingly, "is my key to stardom. And you almost crushed her." She let her "key to stardom" take flight where it perched on a nearby tree branch.

      "But WHAT is it?" I asked.

      "She's a Beekadoodle."

      "Beeka-what?"

      "Beekadoodle."

      "What's it do?"

      "Why sing of course. I guarantee her song is prettier then anything the Neopian philharmonic could play."

      The Beekadoodle whistled a fluttery tune, high pitched and sweet, as if in thanks for the recognition of her beautiful voice. I was in no mood for fluty little songs. Luckily Lana whistled sharply and the Beekadoodle flew from her perch and onto the Kyrii's hand. "Now if you don't mind," she said, "I think Melody and I have had enough excitement for one day."

      Then the two walked into the old green tent, dropped the cloth over its entrance and left me alone in the quiet night. But before I could think about how much I missed my brothers, how scary all the forest sounds could be, or how I'd never thanked Lana for taking me along on this journey, my head hit the hard forest floor and I was asleep.

      I awoke to whistling in my ear, shrill and sharp quarter notes then two half notes over and over. I groaned. It was that stupid beeka-whatever.

      "Oh good your awake," I heard Lana say from somewhere above me. I looked up, scanning the tops of the bright trees and shading my eyes from the sun that burst through their leaves.

      "Catch!" A ball of blurring red plummeted towards me. The apple knocked me on the head and I almost saw little stars and Beekadoodles flying around.

     "I told you to catch it." I looked up at the yellow Kyrii, sitting comfortably atop an apple tree stuffing a tan sack with the fruit. "Eat up," she said, "it'll be another six hours before we get to the castle.

     I bit into the red apple, wishing for some fluffy faerie pancakes and a choco-strawberry muffin like Bell used to-

     No. I shook my head and continued chewing on the sticky bland fruit. Lana plopped one last apple into her bag and gracefully shimmied down the tree. "I'm glad you like it," she snickered as I crunched loudly in the relatively quiet woods, "because we'll be eating these for a long time."

      I groaned and tossed the apple into a bush of feather weeds.

     -------------------

      We'd packed the tents and blankets in Lana's wide assortment of faded sacks and headed along, with Lana grinning and whistling along with that bird and me wishing I could shut them both up. I'd never walked so much in my life.

      By the time I saw flashes of gray stone through the trees at dusk my feet were blistered and bloodied by hidden rocks beneath the leaf beds and patches of sharp thorny vines that had strayed onto our path.

      I walked, err…limped, past the last trees and let my legs give way. Lana sat down beside me and we both stared silently at the glassy purple glow of the moat at sunset. The castle itself was huge and traditional, pointed keeps looming on its four corners, its walls lit with torches. The ocean lay behind it, dark and deep, almost sinister. It was too big, all too easy to get lost among the shifty waves and forever stretching sameness. But the fastest route to Meridell was the sea. I knew we'd never get there if we walked, and there was no way I was walking through the outskirts of the haunted woods anyways.

      If I squinted I could even see the last of the King's ships sailing into port. I counted seven tied at the docks. They looked like little toys, a King's plaything for a few hours of amusement. Or maybe they were a present for his daughter.

      "Lana, what'd this princess do to get such a great party?" I asked just to make conversation.

      "Ah, I don't know," she said distractedly, "but she's coming back from some card tournament."

      "Card tournament?" I asked sarcastically.

      "Yeah. Oh what was it called…con? No, it was ch-something…"

      I gulped hard. "Ch-ch-cheat?"

      "Yeah, that's it! I don't even think she did very well." It was a good thing Lana was still staring down at the castle or she might've seen me sweating and wringing my paws nervously.

      "Wh-what's her name?" I stammered, praying it wasn't who I thought it was.

      "Ferneypoo."

      My heart stopped. Lana looked over at me. "Hey, what's wrong?"

      "Oh nothing," I lied. "I'm just…uh…really tired. I'm gonna hit the sack." I fake yawned and then walked as normally as I could into the woods. I pulled out some blankets and lay down but I knew there was no way I was going to sleep.

     How could I have been so stupid (again)? My brain was whirring in circles questions bobbing up and down, back and forth:

      Would she recognize me?

     Would she remember what happened all those years ago?

     Would she still hate me?

     But one question still bothered me the most, one that kept my eyes wide open even though I was bordering on exhaustion, leaving me to ponder it into the late hours of the night:

    Would her father still toss me into the moat?

To be continued...

 
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