The Mutant Prince: Part Two
Chapter Two: The Curse
Tarquinn de Quincy was conveyed to bed after the desperate Kacheek peasant's attack with the cursed sceptre, an artifact which allegedly belonged to Jhudora the Dark Faerie. For hours the shivering prince was examined by a doctor and tended by Lella and other worried servants. In the end, the doctor professed his belief that the prince had been cursed by a powerful magical weapon. He asked to see the weapon, for perhaps then he would know what exactly the curse consisted of, but the sceptre had been taken by the Eyrie Guards to the storehouse and it could not be reached until the next day. Thus, the doctor could do no more. He suggested the usual remedies for illness -- rest, tea, peace and quiet -- and then he picked his hat off a table and left for home.
The prince complained through much of the night, recounting to his faithful Lella all that had happened. Lella sat beside Tarquinn's bed until he fell asleep. Then she blew out the candles and soundlessly left the room to her own dark chamber, thinking all the while, "My poor prince, how I hate to see you ill, but how I do see the discouraging retribution in the assault against you!"
Now it was morning and Lella was in the opulent kitchen, sitting on a stool beside a long curving counter, watching the head Quiggle chef mix pancake batter. The two were discussing last night's events. Every servant, butler, and guard had learnt of the attack on the prince by now, and whenever they passed one another in their daily errands they paused to whisper and exchange opinions.
"Ah, zat crazy peasant deserves to be in ze dungeon, what a fool 'e was! Did 'e believe 'e could get away wiss 'is scheme?" the Quiggle chef said in his typical, heavy accent. "'Owever, after all is said an' done, zis attack is quite understandable. Ze master is quite an unkind fellow, no? Doesn't concern 'imself wiss ze townfolk..."
In normal circumstances Lella would have disagreed with the chef, and with all who disliked the prince for any reason. She was truly Tarquinn's closest friend and ally, and hated to see him wronged or in despair. As a result of recent events, however, Lella could not take Tarquinn's side in all matters. He really had grown heartless... oh, how she hated to say that of the one she valued the most in all Neopia! But it was true. Lella was torn in her love for Tarquinn; she knew the real prince was actually very sensible, clever, and caring (yes, caring!), but his absolutely thoughtless, sometimes downright cruel actions towards those of humbler social rank left Lella's mind boggled. She sighed, and wondered what in the world could have caused the sweet polite little Kyrii she once knew to grow into an oppressive and vain epicure? She remembered Tarquinn as a cheery young lad, running about King Hagan's court, through the crowds of dukes and duchesses, making young princesses swoon as he gave them fresh flowers and other little gifts; for yes, even at that age Tarquinn had refined the art of gallantry. How innocent he had been as a child, how King Hagan loved him from the moment he set eyes on the baby Kyrii Tarquinn had been when Lella had found him.
That day had been long ago, but Lella remembered it very well. She had been a simple housemaid in King Hagan's castle then, and one morning in early spring she had traveled to Neopia Central on errands. The sky had been cloudless, but the air still bitterly cold; frost coated the grass in the mornings; tiny flowers tried to brave the windy weather and grow. Upon having returned from the vast Neopian marketplace, with all the needed things tucked away in her bag, Lella had decided to take a short walk around the main shops. She had completed her errands quickly, there was much time left before having to set off on the long road back to Brightvale. And so, to idle away the hours with a bit of sight-seeing, Lella had strolled past the noisy auction house, the National Neopian Bank, the large tree-shaped petpet shop. Just out of curiosity, she had decided to explore the Money Tree.
The Money Tree was a boundless dump it seemed at first; it was where everyone donated the objects they no longer had a need for: broken fishing poles, rotten sandals and shoes, old toys and grooming supplies; but amongst the dusty, grimy junk one could occasionally find dropped Neopoints, books, sometimes even neggs and furniture. All these piles of donated junk were shaded by the gigantic overreaching branches of the Money Tree, the biggest tree in all of Neopia. The branches were just beginning to bud then, and so they did not protect the area from the powerful wind sweeping about that spring day. Lella had looked at a few used and broken Battledome weapons, without much interest, before walking along the narrow paths between the junk heaps. She had been passing by an enormous pile of broken toy sailboats and scooters when she had heard a most peculiar sound: a sobbing, high, frightened sound. Lella remembered having been completely astounded at finding amongst the abandoned toys a very real, tiny teary-eyed Kyrii, barely old enough to form words. She had immediately knelt down before the tot, consoled him in the sweetest words while trying to coax out of him information of his origin. Lella hadn't succeeded in learning anything about the little Kyrii but that his name was Tarquinn, and that he was lost.
What Lella had done next was ask all the drifting folk in the vicinity if they realised that a baby Kyrii had been left at the Money Tree? Had they seen an adult with the child? Heads swayed from side to side -- no one could help. Knowing that she could not leave little Tarquinn alone, Lella had picked him up into her arms, gave him a Blueberry Nova Pop to stop his sobbing, and with him she traversed the entirety of Neopia Central, asking all she met if they knew something about a baby Kyrii being left somehow at the Money Tree. She had never said abandoned, for that word had a terrible ring to it, and she didn't want to imagine the malicious character capable of deliberately leaving behind a mere child. Night had quickly fallen and by then Lella had given up trying to find Tarquinn's guardian. She didn't know what to do; she had sat that night on a grassy wildflower-speckled hill just outside the ever-crowded town, and watched the little Kyrii sleep on the soft grass, wrapped tightly in a blanket she had bought for him. Lella knew that there were only two possible choices open to her in this situation: either she leave Tarquinn at the Pound or bring him with her to Brightvale. Obviously she could not have abandoned him. She had spent the day with him, and a bond of trust had already grown between them. Tarquinn trusted Lella, knew she was there to help and protect him -- what would he think if she left him at the Pound the next morning!
It was settled that night -- Tarquinn was to be brought to Brightvale. Once Lella had returned to the kingdom, she intended to call audience with King Hagan to describe to him what an unusual event had befallen her, and to find a new family for Tarquinn in Brightvale, possibly a noble, respected family. Lella hadn't wanted to take Tarquinn to herself since she lived alone and was relatively poor. She wasn't confident enough in her ability to care for another life with such little time and Neopoints -- she was afraid.
King Hagan that day had been sitting as usual in the throne room, listening to the babble of Neopians trying to impress him with their wisdom. Lella had waited outside the throne room, by the elaborate golden double doors, for a stuttering Scorchio to finish his wise saying. "T-There is nothing quite like the horror -- or is it honour? -- of a f-flock of Mutant Lennies," the Scorchio had said, and King Hagan, out of sheer frustration, threw a copy of his biography at the Scorchio's head and ordered him to get out. The King had been having a difficult day. Lella had quietly entered the throne room, Tarquinn in her arms, and hesitantly she told the King her story. Hagan outwardly did not show much emotion, but from the way his narrow dark eyes twinkled one could tell he was quite moved by the little Kyrii's tragic and mysterious tale. When Lella had finished, she asked, "What am I to do with this child? I cannot take care of him alone, my Lord... perhaps one of the noble families of court would like to adopt --"
She had paused then for King Hagan himself had picked up the little Kyrii, sat him on his lap, and looked at him intently. The towering, unsmiling form of the great Skeith hadn't frightened Tarquinn. He stared back, blue eyes clear and wide as ever, and then, while Lella had still been relaying her own ideas regarding Tarquinn's future, the little child rolled into high-pitched giggles, and said, "Bweards is funny!" A stunning silence had filled the room then, Lella was so nervous that she was numb -- never had anyone said such a thing to the King, especially not about his carefully groomed spiky yellow beard. Hagan looked down at the sweetly smiling Tarquinn, and then possibly the most amazing thing that had ever happened in the throne room took place -- the King burst out into laughter! But what laughter! His voice boomed throughout the cavernous hall, rocking the chandeliers and rattling the stained glass windows; his eyes teared, and he could hardly control himself. He had to clutch his stomach and beg himself to stop. For a moment, Lella had actually been quite scared, and she wondered if the King had not lost his mind like his fool brother, Skarl.
"This boy is --- ha ha! -- a genius!" the King had said in between gasps of hilarity. "'Beards are funny!' It's -- hee hee -- the wisest thing I've heard all this blasted day!"
And from that moment on, Tarquinn had remained with the King. Lella had been made the new baby prince's nurse (officially the title was Royal Caretaker of the First Prince), and against this job she had no qualms. All her time could be dedicated to Tarquinn and she had no need to worry about him receiving all he needed -- King Hagan paid for everything.
Lella was lost in her reveries, sitting in the bright kitchen, thinking back to dozens of fond memories involving the young prince. The Quiggle chef, meanwhile, had started to fry the pancakes. In the midst of this lazy activity, a maddened scream of unspeakable terror rang throughout the house.
"Ah so, I 'ear ze master 'as awaken at last," the Quiggle chef said placidly, and continued to flip pancakes.
Lella, however, was not so composed. She immediately jumped off her seat and said, "What could that have been about?"
The Quiggle chef shrugged. He asked if the master would like butter or maple syrup on his pancakes, and Lella said she would go ask him immediately. She went up the stairs to the first floor, down the long hall to the prince's private apartments at the end. In the antechamber to Tarquinn's bedroom there sat on a low crimson divan the confused Usul valet. He had tried to get into the prince's chamber when he had heard the scream, but the door had swiftly been locked.
Lella knocked and asked Tarquinn what the matter was. There was no response but she heard footsteps running about within, as though someone were running a race.
She rapped again, raised her voice a tone, and said, "Tarquinn, what is happening in there? Are you ill? We must be let in!"
"I'm fine!" was the muffled response from the other side of the door.
"The valet de chambre is ready to assist you with your dress!"
"Wait!" Tarquinn called in an unusually high, urgent voice.
A tense ten minutes later, the chamber door creaked open and Lella and the valet stepped in. The prince was already dressed in his highly refined clothes of midnight blue and gold; he even had his boots on, his rapier at his side, and he wore a large cavalier hat with a curly Beekadoodle feather stuck in it. Lella examined Tarquinn and there seemed to be nothing amiss at first. He smiled blandly at her, and inquired about the state of breakfast.
"Why did you scream?" Lella asked, still a bit worried. The prince's eyes had a haunted look about them, as if he had been in the company of ghouls and fiends all last night.
"I... " Tarquinn thought briefly about denying everything, but realised it would be piteously foolish. "I had a nightmare which woke me. It was quite horrible! Imagine, I dreamt that -- ha! -- I had somehow lost... all my wealth and I became an outcast at court. Oh, horrific, this is, I was forced to leave Brightvale and move to a hovel at the edge of Meridell... Ugh! I'm going mad!"
Tarquinn raised his face to the ceiling and uttered a groan of despair. He wrung his hands and started to pace to and fro before his large four-poster bed. Lella and the valet were now very much disturbed.
"You, Ciceroy, you have no need to be here. I have dressed myself this morning as you can see. Leave, please." Tarquinn ordered the Usul, who, with a quick relieved nod (he seemed to know something bad was about to happen which he wanted no part of), scurried out and shut the door.
"Tarquinn?" Lella stood in the prince's path and held out her arms for him to stop his frantic pacing. "There is something wrong, I know it. Tell me."
The prince took a deep breath and opened his mouth to offer some sort of explanation, but at the last moment he shook his head wildly from side to side. In frustration he shouted to himself. "Impossible! This monstrosity will not go unpaid! Yesss, I know it is that scheming blackguard's fault. He will pay so dearly for this, so dearly..." Tarquinn clenched his fists and ground his teeth.
"But I don't understand --" Lella pleaded timidly.
"You don't understand!?" Tarquinn shouted. He ran before the full-length mirror in the corner of the room, and in a fit he tore his hat off. Upon seeing his reflection, however, he began to moan. His wild rage melted into despair, and he sunk into a small chair beside the mirror, crying fiercely.
Lella covered her mouth with her hands once she saw what had been the cause of the prince's frustration -- Tarquinn's long luxurious violet curls, the hair which is any Kyrii's greatest pride, had fallen entirely out! They were replaced by thick choppy blue fur, hideous and mutant-like.
"No, do not console me. It is obvious, I think, that I am beyond help," Tarquinn said, pushing Lella away when she tried to come near.
"What happened!?" Lella gasped. She quickly realised on her own, though, that this was likely an effect of the sceptre's curse. She knelt down before the prince and assured sincerely that there was no need to lose his head, all would be well (though Lella really had no idea what the future held).
"Do stop staring like that," Tarquinn snapped, quickly shoving the hat back over his head. "I cannot go out like this! Not anywhere until this is fixed," and he thrust a finger in his head's direction. "We must straighten this matter out immediately!"
"I agree," Lella said, trying to smile encouragingly. "We'll call the Royal Potionery -- they will find a cure!"
Tarquinn rubbed his hands together. "No, I believe the first thing that must be done, that I must do, is wring the neck of that filthy, vile, conniving... (here Tarquinn was so impassioned that he failed to find words to describe his anger)... unworthy scelerat!"
Lella hurriedly suggested something more peaceable upon hearing this, but the prince would listen to none of her words. In a whirlwind of rage he left the room, and Lella had to run after him.
After a very hasty breakfast, Tarquinn and Lella were ready to leave for the dungeon, which is where the Kacheek had been taken last night after being caught by the Eyrie guards. Tarquinn donned his handsome embroidered frock coat, and urged Lella to hurry herself up. The prince stood impatiently in the grand foyer; when Lella had at last put on her overcoat, he opened the door and nearly ran into the unexpected visitor on the doorstep who was just in the process of knocking.
"Tarquinn!" the young white Aisha smiled, delighted, and took her shawl and gloves off.
"Ah!" Tarquinn gasped in fright and jumped back. The Aisha at the door was the last figure he wanted to see at that moment, especially while in his delicate condition, which he felt so embarrassed about that he dared not describe or show it to a single soul besides Lella. As for the sweet-faced white Aisha by Tarquinn's side, her name was Miss Joséphine Bonnegrace, and she was the prince's good friend. She lived in an old ivy-ridden castle several miles to the east of Tarquinn's estate, the daughter of a rich duchess.
"You didn't expect me, I see?" Fifi said, allowing herself gracefully into the foyer. "I realise your party is only to begin in the afternoon, but I wanted to come earlier. I do love to watch you practice your archery in the morning."
Tarquinn rubbed his forehead. He had only then remembered the small, casual social gathering he had announced to take place at his mansion that afternoon. He looked miserably to Lella. She smiled grimly. Fifi did not seem to take notice of the dismal undercurrents of Tarquinn's exclamation; she merely stood before the prince, innocently, dressed in a royal lavender gown and deep mulberry coat.
"I'm terribly sorry, Fifi, but something urgent has come up, a private issue. I must leave forthwith; as a matter of fact, I am just on my way out with Lella. No, hush, do not question me for I cannot explain -- it is not for you to hear -- however, I assure you that there is no need for alarm or impatience because I shall return within two hours at most and then we can have a stroll around the gardens," Tarquinn said, taking Fifi's hand and kissing it. "Now, please take yourself up in the drawing room, or whichever room you like, and do entertain yourself for a bit. My servants shall be at your command. Good-bye!"
"But --" Fifi sighed as Tarquinn and Lella left. She was suddenly alone, but could hear the sounds of servants walking down distant corridors, opening and shutting distant doors and windows. She dejectedly entered the grand drawing room, the site of most of Tarquinn's famously extravagant get-togethers, and settled down on a soft sofa beside a grand piano. In the far corner of the vast room, on a puffy purple pillow, snoozed a white Kadoatie: Tarquinn's cherished companion, Jewels. Fifi went over to pet it; the Kadoatie mewled as it awoke, and with a happy purr announced its pleasure at seeing her again.
"How are you, Jewels?" Fifi said, gently scratching the petpet behind the ears. "At least you are easily entertained. My, what a strange owner you have!"
The dungeon was an abandoned stone castle to the south. It rested atop a high hill and was surrounded by a dry moat and ancient venerable oaks. The only functioning parts of this forsaken construction were its dungeons, which had remained in perfect gloomy order. The castle possessed a towering donjon as well, crackling and lichenous. In this solitary tower the most dangerous criminals were kept. Here was the Kacheek.
Tarquinn and Lella entered the castle and were led by a tall Grarrl guard up and up the spiraling black stone staircase of the donjon. They were exhausted by the time they reached the top, but Tarquinn naturally did not show his fatigue since that would have been unprincely. Before the heavy black door of the prisoner's room was a small landing. Two wooden chairs and a table where the guards on duty would sit and play cards were set against a wall. Nothing else in the bleak soundless space was worth mention.
"Open the door, I must speak to the scoundrel within," Tarquinn said.
The Grarrl shook his head. "There's actually a visitor inside now..."
"What? I mean, what? I did not allow this peasant to have visitors!"
"Err, sorry, sir. I'll get her out of there right away!" the Grarrl banged on the door and snarled in a deep voice. "Time's up! Get out of there!" He unlocked the door with three different keys and pushed it open, then stood aside to allow the prince and his companion to enter the room. Far to the right of the dim and damp circular space, under the tiny square window carved into the stone wall (the only source of light) lay the fettered Kacheek peasant, and beside him his unanticipated little visitor: a young blue girl Kacheek. The poor girl's eyes were moist and reddened from crying, but when she caught sight of the prince she took a deep breath and stood up straight. She watched him steadily with a frail hope flickering in her eyes, thinking perhaps that Tarquinn had arrived to help.
"Well? Leave, if you please!" Tarquinn said harshly, and with a stifled whimper the little girl whisked out of the room and disappeared down the dark tower's steps. Silence.
The Kacheek looked up at the prince from his position on the grimy floor. The same firm determination that had glowed in his eyes last night shone just as clearly today. He slowly stood up as the prince approached and solemnly inclined his head.
"Ah, so you dare show me your manners now," Tarquinn said, "whereas you had quite delighted in a more ill-bred display yesterday."
"Pardon, sir, but I was not bowing to you, but to my lady," the Kacheek said quietly, and looked towards Lella standing to Tarquinn's right.
"How dare you --" Tarquinn said, outraged. He raised his fist and shook it threateningly. Lella placed a hand on the prince's shoulder and waited for him to calm down. Thankfully he did (partially), and from between clenched teeth he demanded: "Who was that visitor of yours?"
"My daughter, Marina," the Kacheek answered.
"I did not give authority for you to have visitors," Tarquinn said, "so you won't be seeing her for a very long time, if ever again."
The Kacheek looked down.
"Peasant, you are going to tell me right this moment what you have done to me!" the prince said. "I have been supposedly cursed by your foul hands! Is this true?"
The Kacheek refused to speak up. He stared at his shackled feet and tightened his lip. Tarquinn was on the verge of exploding in rage; he had not been master of himself since his initial meeting with the Kacheek, and every second that passed now without violence was a second only leading closer to that eventual conclusion.
"Please," Lella implored. "Please, help us. The prince is under a curse that we have no knowledge of, no cure for... "
"You mean that the sceptre has worked?" the Kacheek asked.
"Worked? Oh, I'll say!" Tarquinn ripped his plumed hat off and pointed detestfully to his mangled hair. At sight of the hideous blue fur, the Kacheek stifled a laugh and coughed.
"Wow, that is pretty bad now, eh?" the Kacheek acknowledged, hiding a smile.
Tarquinn replaced his hat and scowled. "This is your handiwork and you will pay for it!"
"You see," Lella began, "how serious our situation is--"
"Oh? And what about my situation? With all due respect, my lady, what about mine?" the Kacheek questioned. "I fully realise and face up to my actions against the prince and I will also face the consequences, for I believe that what I have done will free the villages from the oppression of Tarquinn the Vain-No-Longer."
Lella sighed. "I understand perfectly what suffering we have caused the villages, and I would like to let you know that we are very, truly sorry. We shall give all those we have wronged -- farmers who have had their crops destroyed in the drought, villagers who have nothing to eat because of the heavy taxes -- Neopoints; enough to keep them safe from the bitter winter and to help them restore what they had lost because of our ignorance and improper behaviour. We promise that from this moment a better future awaits the land."
The Kacheek had listened carefully to these words, as though searching for some snag or hidden trick, but Lella was sincere. He trusted her and some of the fretful lines that creased the corners of his eyes disappeared.
He nodded his consent. "All I want is a fair chance for my family to grow and prosper in safety."
"Yes, we understand," Lella said. "We'll make sure that there will never be problems like these again. Is there anything else we can do?"
"Hmph." Tarquinn turned his head away. The conversation had been difficult to listen to, and he had almost interrupted at the part of giving peasants Neopoints, but Lella had firmly squeezed Tarquinn's shoulder to keep him still. The prince now muttered lowly. "Outrageous, obeying the demands of peasants..."
The Kacheek looked sharply at Tarquinn, then back to Lella. "Well, you could stop calling me 'the peasant.' Call me by my name: Philippe."
Lella smiled. "We will do that, Philippe."
"And I would like to hear the prince's assent to everything, too."
"Tarquinn," Lella looked at him sternly, "please agree to rectifying the mistakes you have made against the villages."
"I have made no mistakes and there is absolutely nothing I need to rectify!" Tarquinn declared.
"Tarquinn," Lella persisted, crossing her arms, shaking her head.
"I haven't done anything wrong!"
"You have, and you know it," Lella said.
Tarquinn refrained from continuing the disagreement. Secretly, he sensed the tiniest bit of regret, but it was fear for his own future and wellbeing, not empathy, which caused him to grudgingly say: "The western territories of Brightvale shall have Neopoints to aid them during the winter and to allow them to rebuild the farms they have lost due to the most recent summer's drought."
"Nicely said," Lella commended.
"You must put this into writing, an edict with your signature and seal," Philippe added.
"Yes, all right, fine. It shall be done the moment I return home." Tarquinn nodded, praying violently that the Kacheek would be quiet already.
Lella heaved a sigh of relief. One major stepping stone had been crossed.
"Will you please agree to help us now?" Lella asked Philippe. "We will right our wrongs as soon as possible. But, Philippe, surely you realise that placing a curse upon the prince was an act equally as wrongful as our neglect of the village's affairs? Two wrongs do not make a right, only cause suffering and sadness for all -- you must know this saying."
Philippe looked gloomily down at the dusty stone floor of the donjon. After a pause he said, "Yes, I know. I agree I have done wrong. But desperation had muddled my reason and morality..."
"A paltry excuse," Tarquinn interposed.
"Perhaps so..." the Kacheek suddenly became deeply downcast and his ears drooped. "I never intended to do what I have done. I'm sorry! No one should ever, ever have this curse looming upon them..."
"But what exactly is it?" Lella asked.
"It's..." the Kacheek paused to gather his thoughts to narrate them in one cohesive whole. "Many months ago, in the middle of the summer drought, I, among a group of desperate farmers, had gone to the castle of King Hagan to request audience with him. We intended to detail the sorry fate we had been dealt with his son ruling our region, but we could not get through -- we were barred from the castle on account of the festivities prepared for the Altador Cup. No one was concerned with us, just the kingdom's Yooyuball team. Alas, we decided to visit Faerieland. We wanted to see Fyora, the Queen of the Faeries, and beg her to help us. But she, too, was away, helping the Space Faerie protect the Space Station and Kreludor from a nasty invasion of Evil Fuzzles. It was by chance that while dawdling in Faerieland we came across Jhudora's castle..."
"Then it is true?" Tarquinn asked. "That staff actually belongs to the Dark Faerie?"
Philippe nodded gravely. "I hadn't wanted to go in, but a Dark Faerie lolling beside the iron gates of Jhudora's castle persuaded most of us; she had said that Jhudora could help us in anything we wanted. And so..."
"She handed you this cursed sceptre to use on Tarquinn?" Lella asked, shocked by the tale.
Philippe again nodded, vigorously, in despair. He cried, "We told her our troubles with the prince, and she suggested this sceptre, this evil artifact which would transform anyone who was struck by its magic into a mutant-like creature within seven days."
"WHAT!?" Tarquinn clutched his chest as though he had been stabbed. He swayed on his feet and color drained from his face.
"That's horrible!" Lella put a hand to her face. "This must be reversed, simply must be!"
The Kacheek gulped and looked away. "I don't know if it can be..."
There followed a brief silence during which the details of the terrible curse sunk in. Then, without warning, Tarquinn grabbed the dirty front of the Kacheek's coat with his bejeweled, manicured hands and shook the peasant repeatedly, shouting threats and insults all the while. Lella had to intervene -- she latched onto Tarquinn's arm and pulled with all her strength. The prince was too strong to be moved, but he dropped Philippe once his own lividity had given him a headache.
"Tarquinn, oh, don't! We will find a cure!"
"But there isn't one," Philippe said in a choked voice. He patted down his coat to see if it had been torn somewhere. Luckily it remained in one piece, albeit it was very ruffled.
"The Royal Potionery will surely have -- " Lella was interrupted in her assurance by Philippe's strong head-shaking.
"Don't tell me I am to become some sort of despicable creature!" Tarquinn cried, stamping his foot, tearing and clawing at his beautiful face.
Philippe bowed his head in remorse. After a moment's heavy pause, he said: "Jhudora could help, I reckon. She said the curse was irreversible once the transformation was complete. There are still seven days left."
Tarquinn moaned. He was beside himself with rage and despair and it was not possible for him to think straight anymore. It was a wonder he didn't crawl into a dark corner and weep and groan and yell till too weak to go on. Lella pulled the prince's hands away from his face and held them tightly, reassuring him that there was no need to fall into an apoplectic fit.
"What can we do?" Tarquinn moaned again. "This is the end, I know it. Oh, the injustice, the horror!"
"We could visit Jhudora?" Philippe suggested carefully amid the prince's refrains of despondency.
Lella agreed. "We will go to Jhudora's Cloud, the three of us. You will be freed from the donjon this evening and allowed to return home, Philippe. Tomorrow at dawn we shall meet at the road to Faerieland."
"And the sceptre? I must return it," Philippe added.
"We will retrieve it from the storehouse where it is currently being kept. Although I would suggest destroying the evil thing..." Lella said, then, after a brief silence: "It is settled?"
"Yes," Philippe affirmed. The two looked at one another determinedly, and then they both glanced at the prince, whose sheet white face and quivering lip clearly depicted the frame of mind he was in. True regret had finally begun to set in, and what a painful lesson it would carry.
To be continued...