The Mutant Prince: Part One
Chapter One: Tarquinn the Vain
The tale of the Mutant Prince began one chilly cloudless autumn morning in the Month of Collecting, Year Eight, in the illustrious kingdom of Brightvale. The day had broken quietly; the sun rose over the lazy green slopes of the land, signalling to all, nobility and peasantry alike, that it was time to greet the new dawn. Not far from the Royal Castle of King Hagan, in an opulent country mansion overlooking the humble western territories, awoke the prince of our eyes -- none other than the famously wealthy and handsome First Prince of Brightvale, Tarquinn de Quincy, the adopted Kyrii son of the King. The great prince raised his head from the multitude of pillows gathered about him and pushed off the thick velvety sheets. He pulled aside the curtains round his royal four-poster bed and yawned. As he stood up and smoothed his nightclothes (which had the letters T. Q. embroidered in gold stitching on the breast pocket), he crossed his expansive bedroom, strolled into the closet, gazed at his beautiful reflection in the vanity mirror, and sighed contentedly.
A few moments later, an Usul valet knocked on the bedroom door and slipped into the prince's room. He opened all the windows, letting sunshine and fresh air stream in, and then helped the prince pick out his clothes and complete his morning routine. As the prince was brushing his long violet Kyrii locks and combing his goatee, yawning all the more, the valet handed to him the morning mail and a clipboard with a long list of important things needing to be done that day. The prince scanned the clipboard with half shut eyes, and then threw it behind his head, having it hit the wall with a loud smack and slide to the floor. He raised his arms high and stretched. Today was another excellent, carefree autumn morning for the incomparable Tarquinn de Quincy.
"It really isn't that bad," Tarquinn said lazily, resting in his favourite crimson armchair in the parlour a few hours later that morning. He held a golden mug of coffee in one bejeweled hand, his deep blue eyes were narrowed with impatience and staring at the disdainful character before him.
"But it is, sir," the peasant, a yellow Kacheek, said. "This summer's drought has completely ruined the harvest! The land is parched, dry as dust, and I'm afraid that --"
"Drought? I don't recall any drought in the summertime," Tarquinn pondered insincerely. "Why, take a look at my Neogarden -- the delicate Songflowers are particularly flourishing, and those need a great deal of watering."
A pink liveried Yurble standing beside the prince's armchair nudged him on the shoulder and whispered quickly into his ear. "That's because most of the water of the nearby river was used on your Neogarden."
"Hmm..." Tarquinn frowned and waved to his servant dismissively. "Thank you, Lella, for that unnecessary reminder."
"What are we going to do?" the poor Kacheek exclaimed. He was becoming more distraught by the minute. "Autumn is here; we haven't produced enough food for winter! The village will perish!"
"Nonsense," Tarquinn said. "If you haven't grown enough potatoes and peas or whatever such vegetables you cultivate, then buy some."
The Kacheek blinked, and then shook his head. "That's impossible, sir. We haven't the money -- we not only grow food for ourselves, but whatever we have no need for we sell at market. Since the draught destroyed the harvest, we have nothing to make money from. It's a complete disaster! We're doomed!"
Tarquinn sipped his coffee peacefully. Lella gasped at the Kacheek's news and said, "My, how horrendous!"
The Kacheek nodded several times, glad that his words had created a response from someone at last. He was undoubtedly very poor, dressed in grey tattered overalls stained with dirt at the knees. He held a wide-brimmed straw hat under one arm and his smell was decidedly not amongst the pleasant perfumes Tarquinn was accustomed to scenting.
"What exactly is your purpose in coming here, peasant?" Tarquinn asked sharply.
"What?" the Kacheek repeated.
The Kacheek gulped, took a deep breath, and said, "The villages are in great need of help, sir. Because of the drought the livelihoods of hundreds are in danger. We, the farmers whom I'm representing in this plea to you, are in need of just a small amount of Neopoints to help us survive the winter and get us back on our feet in the spring. Please, sir, you are the one to turn to, the governor of the western territories."
"Of course we shall help you!" Lella declared. Tarquinn turned his head and glanced at her sourly.
"We shall?" he said, eyes wide.
"Absolutely! Oh, you poor, dear, hardworking citizens, we'll certainly help you through the winter -- don't you worry --" Lella persisted.
"Lella!" Tarquinn cut in loudly, roughly handing her the empty coffee mug. "Take that to the kitchen, thank you."
The Yurble abruptly quieted down, surprised, perhaps, by Tarquinn's sudden request. Then, understanding flashed across her eyes. Her tone dropped and became serious but hesitant. "Tarquinn, you aren't going to --"
"Thank you, Lella." Tarquinn turned his head away from the Yurble and with a stiff wave of the hand pointed her out of the cavernous parlour. Lella groaned dispiritedly, but she obeyed and left. Once the echoes of her footsteps had died down Tarquinn looked at the Kacheek, who had remained silent all this while and wore the distinct expression of a prisoner awaiting his sentence.
"Now, then." Tarquinn smiled with narrowed eyes. He relaxed into the armchair and moved a few stray violet curls of hair from his face. "You surely realise that it is impossible for me to give you and every needy farmer and villager Neopoints."
The Kacheek's nervous expression stretched into one of horror. "No, that cannot be, we don't need much --"
"Ssh!" Tarquinn interrupted. "You see, my sweet, blunt peasant, the wonderful Kingdom of Brightvale is founded upon very important, strict principles. There is a hierarchy, and everyone has their place within it. At the top is the King, my father, Hagan the Wise, and the greatest noblemen and noble ladies. Next come the brave knights and guards. Lower, the rich merchants and traders. Under these honourable folk are the townsfolk and craftsmen. At the bottom we have you, the labourers. A labourer could never receive the payment of a knight, you understand. If he did, our kingdom would tumble into disorder. We must uphold the principles of the hierarchy to keep our land well."
"But, but..." the Kacheek sputtered.
The prince sighed and rubbed his forehead. He had been mildly entertained by the silly peasant, but now was becoming annoyed. "Yes?"
"We must have some help to get through the winter! The villages will soon fall into chaos once the food is gone! We need --"
"Oh!" Tarquinn lowered his head. "Surely, you understand what I have just said to you? You must deal with the consequences, however unpleasant they may be. And don't be so glum, a wise friend once told me that there's nothing quite like the honour of a hungry Kacheek!"
"Bother that," the Kacheek grumbled.
Tarquinn frowned. It was obvious he had had enough. "Well, my unfortunate peasant, I believe I have been quite lenient with you! I have listened to, considered, and replied to your foolish entreaty patiently, in person, and nevertheless, you disrespect me greatly with your pertinacity. I say, you have some nerve."
The Kacheek didn't quite know how to reply. Rage, horror, and fear were bubbling and boiling within him. He clamped his mouth shut tightly and clenched his dirty hands into fists. It was lucky that at that moment there was the distant sound of a doorbell ringing, for the Kacheek might have lost control over himself and uttered any number of unpleasant things to the prince which consequently might have landed himself in a dungeon.
At the sound of the doorbell Tarquinn leapt to his feet, straightened his regal red doublet and exclaimed, "The judges for the Neohome Spotlight are here!" then, turning to a Robo Blumaroo standing sentinel in a corner: "Quick, remove this unpleasantness from my property! Use the back door!"
The Robo Blumaroo glowed into life and swiftly crossed the parlour, taking hold of the Kacheek's shoulder with a strong mechanical hand. The Kacheek glared, distraught, realising that he was the unpleasantness the prince spoke of. He shouted and gasped and cried, but the robotic servant carried him away, through an arched doorway and down the length of a long corridor, through the back kitchens, and at last, the poor peasant was tossed out the scullery's door onto a heap of refuse.
Tarquinn, meanwhile, quickly combed his thick wavy hair and polished the glittering rings on his fingers, rubbing them against the velvety material of his silver cape. He checked his smile in a gilded mirror on the wall, and then glided out of the parlour to meet the newly arrived guests.
It was evening of the same day. Tarquinn was in the long, high-ceilinged dining room, sitting at one end of a shiny oak table, waiting for the chef to finish his dinner and for a servant to bring it out to him. To pass the tedious moments before the meal, Tarquinn filed his nails while ruminating on which outfit he ought to wear tomorrow. Should it be the silky white waistcoat and the plum-colored doublet with silver embroidery and the fine lace cravat? Would that match with his diamond-studded Scamander skin shoes? And the hat! Oh, it was essential that the hat should perfectly match the clothing and shade Tarquinn's face while lifting out all his best features (did he have any bad features? he wondered, bemused).
"Hmm.. what can be taking so long?" Tarquinn thought as he stared blankly at the giant chandelier hanging over the table. His mind wandered to early in the day when the judges for the Neohome Spotlight had arrived, and Tarquinn had led them on a lengthy tour of his not-so-humble abode. For weeks Tarquinn had been preparing his mansion, ordering his servants to clean and polish the floors, the furniture, the windows, till Tarquinn could admire his reflection in every surface. The most expensive cabinets and tables were bought, and Tarquinn tormented himself for days at a time trying to create the perfect furniture arrangements. The nightmares he had that night he couldn't decide whether to place the grandfather clock behind the parlour grand piano or between the rosewood cabinets are simply too horrible to be mentioned!
In the end, the mansion was complete. Everything was in place, and Tarquinn nervously entered the Neohome Spotlight contest. He wanted to win that trophy; his ego demanded it. That empty spot on the shelf in the trophy room, between his Beauty Contest trophies, had to be filled. Now, Tarquinn dreamed, he felt that success was surely his. He had dazzled the Neohome Spotlight judges, had shown them everything: the library, the guest rooms, the fencing room (where Tarquinn obliged the judges by a short display of his fencing talent); and he cut, tore, and danced through every hall and room in between. The judges were left speechless at the sight of the gold ballroom. One of the judges, a beady-eyed Yellow Lenny, actually had tears in her eyes as she gazed at the vaulted ceiling and the romantic frescoes on the walls, depicting the most heroic moments of Brightvale's history.
It was impossible for Tarquinn not to win the Spotlight. He chuckled to himself. What a perfect day it had been. Then, without cause or reason, Tarquinn's mind lightly passed by the memory of the angry Kacheek peasant whom he had had the displeasure of meeting. Immediately, the prince's bright mood changed, and he thought of the farmer's complaints and absurd demands. Foolish, foolish. The Kacheek had sauntered onto Tarquinn's property in the morning, passing by the guards, claiming that he had an important meeting with the prince. Important, indeed. Tarquinn rolled his eyes. He stopped filing his nails as he heard footsteps coming closer. At last, his main attendant, Lella, appeared with a great covered plate. She walked to Tarquinn's side and put the plate before him, uncovering it and so allowing a gust of steam to escape and rise in curls. The meal was fresh roast with baked potatoes.
"Thank you, Lella," Tarquinn said, picking up his fork and knife.
Lella bowed her head politely, and stood in her place beside the prince. There was a vexing silence in the dining room; the only sounds were Tarquinn's.
At last, not being able to take the tension any longer, Tarquinn asked, "What is the matter, Lella? You are keeping quiet, and you never do that unless there is some trouble clouding your mood."
"Oh, dear..." Lella paused for a few heavy moments, but she spoke up when Tarquinn's persistent, demanding gaze landed on her. "I was but thinking of the poor peasant who came this morning."
"Ah... that." Tarquinn looked away with distaste.
"You will give the farmers and villagers Neopoints to help them survive the devastation the summer drought caused, won't you?"
"No," Tarquinn said simply, stubbornly.
Lella sighed. "I thought you wouldn't. Please reconsider. It is for the sake of the villages, the well being of Brightvale!"
Tarquinn did not speak up, only finished his meal silently. Lella continued to speak, describing the situation of the villages as she herself had witnessed it while going out to market for food, speaking of the hard-working farmers and why they were so important to the kingdom, and how Tarquinn was neglecting his duty and only serving himself.
"This will have a terrible end," Lella concluded sadly, "if you refuse to listen to what I am saying."
Tarquinn pushed his chair back, and stood up. He seemed about to say something very angry, but his features suddenly softened, and in a quiet but scornful tone which was somehow much worse than a direct shout, he said: "Lella, you have been my nurse and attendant since I was a baby, and I love you and confide in you all I have in me. Though there are many liberties you have that no other servant or even friend of mine could wish for, including the liberty to speak so candidly with me, I must reprimand you here! You do not seem to realise that I am an adult now, and completely capable of governing the western territories. I am the governor! And yet you speak to me as though I am an insensible, incompetent child; you do me great dishonour. I shall be King of Brightvale someday -- do you really think I haven't already thought, many times, about how this mighty land ought to be ruled? Do you think I have not discussed with my father and his ministers all those subjects a king must know in order to maintain the land? I have -- I know what is best for Brightvale, and there is nothing I am doing wrong.
"How dare you deliberately cross me, nag me about peasants and other irrelevancies, treat me as if I am blind and deaf to all. You do not like that I enjoy a number of leisurely activities? You think I am wrong to make my mansion and garden as beautiful as possible? Well, I am certainly not going to sacrifice my pleasures for a rabble of ignorant peasants who can do naught but beg! Faugh!"
Tarquinn seemed like he could have gone on in this vein for much longer yet, but at that moment a Robo Blumaroo scooted into the dining room, and in a choppy robotic voice announced, "Visitor -- requesting -- presence -- of -- master -- de Quincy."
"I didn't hear a doorbell," Tarquinn said. He looked at Lella, but his faithful friend only stared sullenly at the floor.
"Who is it?" Tarquinn asked the robot. The Robo Blumaroo merely repeated what it had just said. It wasn't a particularly intelligent robot. Tarquinn crossed his arms, and tried to think who could possibly want to see him now. The sun had gone down, the dusky sky was gradually darkening and the autumn wind had picked up. It was not a pleasant night. There would be a storm. At last, Tarquinn curtly dismissed Lella, and then, taking a candelabra with six lit candles off the dining room table, he followed the Robo Blumaroo through the shadowy silent mansion to the front foyer.
The robot opened the front door. Tarquinn was a bit confused by this -- usually he received guests in the parlour. Was someone standing outside the front door, in the cold night? Tarquinn held the candelabra before him. The flickering points of light tried to clearly illuminate the marble doorstep, but the darkness was too thick. It sucked the light into itself and nothing could be seen. There seemed to be no one outside, and the wind blowing the trees' leaves was the only audible noise.
Tarquinn stood on the doorstep, tapping his foot. He turned to face the Robo Blumaroo. "Why did you tell me that there was someone here requesting me? Are the bolts of your brain coming loose?"
The robot was silent. Perhaps the question was too difficult for it to answer. Tarquinn shrugged and shook his head, thinking why, oh, why was he plagued by fools? Just then there was a loud rustling from outside and the sound of swift footsteps on stone, as if some creature that had been lying low in the shadows, waiting for the right moment to pounce, had deemed the current moment opportune, and it rushed forth. There was not much time for Tarquinn to comprehend what was happening, hardly a handful of seconds. He swerved back to face the bleak night, and saw a figure loping towards him! Tarquinn automatically grabbed the bejeweled hilt of the rapier he always carried (mostly for display purposes), and raised the candelabra higher. A sudden wind picked up, extinguished half the candles. Things were happening too quickly for thoughts. Tarquinn braced himself, unsheathed the sword, and when the attacker's silhouette could be defined, a sick feeling of recognition dawned on the prince.
"You!" he yelled, pointing the sword at the height of the attacker's chest, effectively keeping the figure from coming closer. However, nothing could have prepared Tarquinn for what happened next.
A greenish bolt of lightning seemed to break forth from the shadowy creature, a thunderous crack drowned out all other sound, and Tarquinn felt a wrenching paralysing force lift him off his feet and throw him backwards, back across the threshold and into the Robo Blumaroo stationed by the door. The Robo Blumaroo malfunctioned from the strength of the blow; its head tilted to one side, sparks shot from its ears, and it began repeating the phrase "chokato pudding." Tarquinn, meanwhile, lay on his back in the front foyer, his hair and clothes dishevelled and singed. Breath slowly returned to him, and he crawled to a sitting position. Strange cold and hot flashes and dizzy spells kept him down on the floor, but when his eyes connected with the entity by the door, Tarquinn gasped in rage and clambered to his feet. He could not stand for long, but he managed to grab hold of a nearby coat rack to keep himself upright.
The black eyes of the Kacheek peasant, for the attacker was most certainly he, were wide in shock. He was dressed in a scratchy overcoat and in his hands he held a most bizarre artifact: a great jade sceptre which had at one end a large glowing green crystal encased in an onyx talon. The Kacheek opened his mouth, but his words dried out before he could utter them.
Finally, he squeaked, "I didn't think it would be so loud."
These words seemed to spur Tarquinn to action. First, he angrily kicked the Robo Blumaroo to make it stop repeating its inane phrase. Then, in purest rage he shouted: "In the name of everything that is sane, what have you done!?"
The Kacheek muttered something unintelligible, and Tarquinn promptly unleashed a volley of such sulphurous threats that he nearly fainted from the exertion of all the shouting. The prince was truly horrible when this vituperative. However, now he was too weak; he sank to his knees, but still clutched the coat rack. The sword was on the other side of the room, the candelabra was nearer. All the candles had gone out.
The Kacheek peasant burst into a tear-choked explanation once Tarquinn had been forced to quiet down by the headache his anger was causing.
The Kacheek cried, "Sir, I didn't intend to do this for the longest time, for I am not naturally vengeful or cruel, but you have really pulled the final straw, repressed and completely forsaken us! Now you will see the price of your gross self-indulgence and vanity! Your hideous behaviour shall at last be mirrored upon your face!"
Tarquinn sneered and crawled across the floor for his sword. "What is this twaddle you speak of? You are mad! Guards! Guards! Help, I am assaulted by a dangerous maniac plotting against me!"
At these shouts the Kacheek's face went pale. He looked around, but no guards were yet in sight. "It was the only way," he said hastily. "This... is the sceptre of Jhudora the Dark Faerie..."
For a brief moment Tarquinn's eyes were wide with terror, but then he laughed dryly. "Mercy, how you do prattle on! So, the Queen of the Dark Faeries bestows invaluable artifacts upon dirty commoners, does she? Ha, what lies!" The prince reached his sword and waved it about, slicing the air threateningly, though the Kacheek did not move. The peasant was, however, clearly frightened; a mixture of desperation and rage had driven him to attack the prince with the strange jade staff; the desperation which stemmed from his own unfair poverty, and the rage from Tarquinn's injustice and snubbing of the villages. Desperation and rage gave the Kacheek a firm determination, and he stood with a hardened expression looking at the prince lying on the floor, now not at all a picture of perfect royal virtue and poise, but rather, a seething, frowzled ball of hatred.
"I'm not lying," the Kacheek said, "as I am sure will become evident tomorrow."
Tarquinn opened his mouth to retort, but, thinking of the Kacheek's words, he instead glared distrustfully. "Rabble, I demand you tell me exactly what you speak of or I promise I shall give thee a thrashing like none ever before experienced by anyone!"
The Kacheek wisely stepped back a few paces at this threat, out of the prince's immediate reach. In a firmer tone now, he said, "For months you have oppressed the villages, taxed us, ignored us, refused to help us through the drought -- instead of fixing the irrigation system, you had built a great pump that led from the river to your castle, just so your garden fountains could continue to sprinkle water. Now, everyone is left poor because of the harvest's devastation, and you, sir, refuse to help us! You would have us starve! Well, we cannot take this anymore. Something needs to be done!"
At this point, Tarquinn began shouting again for guards to save him. He could not get up unaided, and looked ridiculous as he tried to heave himself to his feet, only to fail and fall down again. Two bulky Eyrie guards appeared at last, dressed in uniform, and when they first witnessed the scene -- the still-smoking Robo Blumaroo, the prince in singed clothes on the floor, and a strange Kacheek in the doorway -- they stood there idly, confused.
"Assist me to my feet, you clods!"
The guards rushed to Tarquinn and lifted him up by the shoulders, and held on to him to keep him from sinking back down. The prince panted, dizzy and sick. He described to the guards the peasant's evil deed, exaggerating only so far as to make the Kacheek seem like a depraved, bloodthirsty assassin by the end of the denouncements.
"Cast him into the dungeon!" Tarquinn ordered one of the guards.
The Kacheek did not run. He allowed himself to be captured and to have the sceptre taken from him. Before he was carried off, he managed to say, "Take care, prince. I care not for what happens to me. I have done what needed to be done. In seven days you will be smug and vain no longer. Oh, in seven days I dare say you will no longer be known as Tarquinn the Vain, but more probably Tarquinn the Unsightly, or perhaps Tarquinn the Revolting."
And with those prophetic words still hanging in the air, the Kacheek was dragged off into the night by an Eyrie guard.
"Are you all right, sir?" the remaining guard asked after a moment's pause. "You must be taken to bed at once. A doctor will be called for immediately."
Tarquinn merely nodded. He did feel horrible, in a peculiar way which he could not understand. His body was sweaty but shivering, his ears rang, and the tips of his fingers and toes were numb. It was as though a malicious wave of sickness were pounding within him. Tarquinn pushed the Eyrie guard away and attempted to cross the room to the emerald-carpeted grand staircase, but he swayed and nearly fainted. The guard managed to catch him from falling, and, as he lifted the prince off his feet and rushed up the stairs to the master apartments, he called out in alarm. "Nurse! Lella! The prince is ill! Come quickly!"
To be continued...