The Disappearance of the Heiress: Part Two
The room was covered in ugly brown wallpaper, with dirty white tiles covering the ground. Helene sat on the bed, a hard iron bolster covered with stained blankets. She was not sure of the purpose of the long, discolored mirror on the opposite side of the room beside the door, but there was a small metal flap over the door which could only be opened from the other side. Zoltan unlocked it daily to hand her the day’s food ration.
“Get used to these conditions,” Zoltan had said nastily as she was forced into the room. “This isn’t the AstroVilla.”
She had been here only two days, but that was still sufficient time to muse over the most ridiculous mistake of her life. Despite the rough Zoltan and the sneering Ymer, she wasn’t afraid – she knew her father could pay any sum her kidnappers happened to ask for – but merely furious with herself. She was kicking herself for being so stupid.
She knew that it was Myra’s strict rules about being supervised at all times that had prevented this from happening before. And I thought of her as my gaol-keeper, Helene thought, sighing. I have to be the most unintelligent Draik that ever existed.
All those lectures about not talking to strangers and being on guard at all times – even when there was no chance for anyone to do so. And what did she do? Walk blindly away with the first person who ever approached her, in her first five minutes of independence.
I had a right to trust him, she argued with herself. He knew my name, he knew who and where my father was – he even knew about my governess!
Everyone knows who you are and who your father is, said a nasty voice in the back of her mind. The Terror Mountain business conference is a well-known occasion, and it’s been widely published that your father attends. And as for your governess – why, everyone knows you have one, and he didn’t even know her name! That should have told you something!
The Faerie Draik had been torturing herself these past few days wondering what was happening in the outside world. Her kidnapping would have made headlines, surely. Myra had probably been sacked, she realised with a sinking heart.
Did her father know where she was, or who had captured her? Was this first crime Ymer had committed? He was clearly the brains behind the duo. Zoltan wasn’t at all stupid, but by overhearing the conversations between them, Helene could tell that he wasn’t level-headed and logical like Ymer.
Helene began to hum a tune to herself to pass the time, a song Myra had sung to her when she was much younger. The words made little sense – she had a half-hearted feeling that Myra made up some of them – but the tune was light and pretty. By the time she reached the end, she realised just how homesick she was feeling. She was not quite sure where or what home was – she had never liked to think of the AstroVilla as ‘home’, even though that was where she spent a good deal of her days – but there had been times in her life where she felt safe without feeling confined; peaceful without feeling tedious; there had been places and people to interest her.
Her memory was patchy, but there were small anecdotes here and there; ordinary, random experiences from her life. She remembered tripping over the steps in her father’s home on Mystery Island, and scratching her left wing; making small holes in eggshells, draining the yolks, and painting the empty shells in pretty colours; the time she read a terrifying book about pirates late at night, and could not sleep for three days.
She amused herself for the next hour by trying to remember the characters in the book: their names, their personalities, and plot outline of the novel. By the time she reached the penultimate battle on Krawk Island, footsteps were echoing down the hall and Ymer’s voice sang into her keyhole.
“Miss Helene?” He persisted in using a title for her, meant as a term of mockery rather than respect.
Helene sat up and let her legs swing back and forth over the edge of the bed.
“Have you any idea how long you have been here?” the blue Lenny said sweetly. “Two days, is it not? Of course, it quite possibly seems much longer, when one considers what you are used to. I am sorry your quarters are lacking in hand-woven bed linen and gourmet food – but it has given you plenty of time to think about how foolish you have been.”
“Oh?” the Faerie Draik asked. “Was that your purpose, stowing me here? I thought you were giving me a holiday.”
“You are wrong in assuming this, my love, but take heart in knowing that it is not the first mistake you’ve made. I would say you have already showed some poor judgement when you chose to leave your safe, comfortable hotel with a perfect stranger –”
“Don’t flatter yourself,” Helene said. “I’d hardly call you perfect.”
“Little pitchers evidently have nasty tongues,” Ymer said calmly, “as well as big ears. However, I will gladly remove their nasty tongues if they continue to speak to me in this way, and they may well find it a painful procedure. Are you listening, Miss Helene?”
“I’m all ears, Mr. Ymer.”
“Good to hear it. Now, little golden pitcher, we plan to ask a ransom in exchange for your safety. Do you know how much?”
Helene shrugged, and then realised he could not see her. “No,” she said, “but I don’t see how I could know.”
“True – my compatriot and I would not be as foolish as you as to talk about such things for all to hear – but you have been listening at keyholes, so you must know something. Unfortunately, I shall not grant you the privilege of knowing your price.”
Helene was silent, unsure as to how he knew she had been eavesdropping.
“So,” continued Ymer pleasantly, “once your father – for want of a better term – ‘coughs up’, you shall emerge unscathed. And for both our sakes, my love, do show a little more common sense after your ordeal. I detest having to teach a pupil a lesson already learnt.”
“I should hate to give you the trouble,” Helene said, unable to resist mimicking Ymer’s thick accent and formal speech.
There was a long sigh. “Hold your tongue, Miss Helene. Hold on to it tight, or you may find that you’ll lose it.”
There was a pause, and she listened to him retreat down the hall.
Helene awoke when it was still pitch black in her room. Unable to sleep, she sat up in bed, wondering if they had demanded the ransom yet. She would not put it past them to detain her for as long as possible, but she couldn’t bear the idea of spending another few days here. Her uncomfortable surroundings weren’t ideal, but it was loneliness that was eating her. She hated the phrase ‘I told you so’, especially saying it to herself, but she knew she had taken the company of Myra for granted.
She jumped at the sound of voices in the hallway.
“... and so ‘is reply was... yes, I’m sure.”
“...so to do now...”
Helene scrambled out of bed, and placed her ear against the keyhole. From the sound of the voices she knew Ymer and Zoltan must be at a distance from her door, but she was able to make out most of the speech.
“Are you sure the brat’s asleep?”
“I have checked.” Helene recognised the harsh voice of Ymer’s. “I have been patrolling the corridor for half an hour and she has not stirred. So he has refused to submit the money... well, then...”
“Keep ‘er for a bit longer,” Zoltan suggested, “or lower the price.”
“No,” the blue Lenny spoke sharply. “That would be severely foolish. I am sorry to say that we did not plan this as well as we ought... we should have taken care in releasing our demands. The Defenders are already suspicious of us, and this area... we could not release another message without revealing our location. It seems Neopia, my friend, is not as big as one would think. No, there is only one thing to do.”
There was a pause, and Zoltan said something Helene could not identify.
“Frankly I am surprised too,” Ymer said coolly. “Although he spends very little time with her, I was under the impression he was fond of his daughter... still, perhaps we were foolish. One hundred million Neopoints is a little steep, though I would have thought a father would pay any price for his daughter’s safety.”
“I wouldn’t,” growled Zoltan. “If any girl o’ mine was stupid enough to go an’ get ‘erself kidnapped, I’d let her find ‘er own way out. Maybe the Draik’s got some sense after all.”
“And so now, we must get rid of her,” Ymer said heavily. “I hate to do it, for she’s a pretty thing, but she is of no use to us any longer, and it would be unwise to set her free. No – Zoltan! – not now. Let he have one last night of peace before we set her right in the morning.”
There was a murmur of Zoltan, and they both laughed harshly.
Helene’s legs were beginning to ache from the awkward position she was standing in order to listen through the keyhole, but that was the least of her worries. They were going to rid themselves of her, which could mean nothing good. She had to get out, before the morning came. Helene had examined the room many times for ways to escape, but her efforts had been fruitless.
There’s got to be a way out of here, she thought desperately. I can’t let them get away with this. I have to get out.
Helene stood up and scanned her room. Something they had said earlier had struck a chord in her thoughts: Ymer had watched her for half an hour. There were no windows in the room, only a small, weak overhead light to illuminate the chamber. There was no way they could see in unless they unlocked the metal flap over the door and peeked through, and this always made a loud metallic crash.
But if they were watching her, there had to be a hidden opening of some kind. She looked behind, under, and all over the iron bed, which was the only object in the room besides an empty dish where her meals had been. There was nothing.
As she stood up, growing more alarmed by the minute, she noticed the stained mirror for the first time.
Of course, she sighed. How could I have been so stupid?
She knew it was possible to make one-way windows. On one side they looked like a completely opaque mirror, but on the opposite side they were see-through. She had seen how they worked at a carnival once, in a Hall of Mirrors. She had been allowed to visit the opposite side and see crowds of Neopians pulling faces at themselves, unaware that there was someone watching them. If it was a window, then they must have been able to see her from the hallway.
That was how Ymer knew she had listened in on their conversations – while he was speaking he could see straight through it and watch her pressing her ear against the keyhole. While she had been asleep he had looked through the one-way window the entire time, checking to make sure she couldn’t overhear what was going on.
There was one more thing about one-way windows. They could be broken.
Though every muscle was telling her to rush straight up to the mirror and crash right through it, her brain told her otherwise. If they were watching her at this moment, they would see what she was doing.
The Faerie Draik stood up and listened. All was completely silent outside her room. She turned to approach the bed, and in an attempt to surprise a potential voyeur, quickly jumped and spun towards the mirror, shouting, “HA!”
There was no rustle, no thud, from the hallway outside. She could not be completely sure, but she was willing to bet that they were not watching her.
“Well, if it’s going to be anytime, it’s now,” Helene murmured. Ignoring the rising panic welling within her, she studied the iron bedstead and wondered if it was nailed to the floor.
Please, please, please, she begged silently, and to her delight she was able to lift it, though not without using every ounce from her strength. Her sense of urgency must have given her some kind of superpower, for she was able to push it upwards until it stood on its end legs. She was thankful her room had a high ceiling.
Helene heaved and shoved until it was standing against the opposite wall from the mirror like an ominous metal beast. She looked at the beast, then the mirror, then the beast again, and finally gave it a hard push so it toppled towards the mirror and cracked the surface with a huge metallic crash.
Helene climbed on top of the now inverted bed and unscrewed one of the iron knobs. Ymer or Zoltan would most certainly have heard the racket and she had to move quickly. Using the iron knob as a tack hammer, she struck the mirror again and again until she made a hole big enough to see through. A one-way window was stronger than a regulation one and it took several more hard knocks before most of it gave in. To her delight, she could see the dimly lit hallway and she scrambled through to the hall, cutting her arm on the glass in her haste.
To be continued...