The Mutant Prince: Part Five
Chapter Five: A New Understanding and a New Plan
Jhudora's castle of nightmares was quickly left behind. Tarquinn de Quincy, Lella, and Philippe again beat their way through the tangled wild rose patch outside the castle's gates and returned to the bright, breezy grounds of Faerieland with thankfully nothing but a few cuts and scrapes. The utter failure of the visit to the Queen of the Dark Faeries was only just then fully apprehended, in the misty tranquil peace. Tarquinn stopped atop a soft hill facing the many little distant cottages and homes. He leaned against the trunk of a giant Candy Floss Tree and crumpled into a sitting position. It is needless to describe his misery and desperation in detail. A thought, a breath, a heartbeat -- all seemed futile to him now that the curse had not been cured.
Lella and Philippe stood before Tarquinn, hesitant about what to say or do. They both felt terrible, Philippe especially, for now the Kacheek perceived the cruelty of his own hasty action against the prince. Certainly, Tarquinn had needed to be a taught a tough lesson in compassion, but cursing him in such a way was an abominable act, not in the least helpful to anyone. Time drifted by in the same swift manner as the clouds in the immaculate sky. To satisfy hunger, branches were torn from the Candy Floss Tree and the pink fluffy floss was quietly munched on. No one had an idea about how to progress from here, and the tension steadily grew along with the afternoon shadows.
Lella at one point suggested returning to Brightvale and asking the Royal Potionery to try to concoct the potion Jhudora had described -- a detransmogrification potion. She added that if the potioneers didn't succeed, they could call every scholar in Brightvale to attempt to solve the problem. Brightvale was the most intelligent kingdom in Neopia -- someone amongst the multitude must know how to cure Tarquinn!
Tarquinn, however, quickly shot down this idea. He would perish if word got out to a single soul in Brightvale that he was under a curse. He could see the sneering, cold reaction of the aristocrats to this news already; Tarquinn couldn't bear being shunned or disrespected. He wouldn't stand anyone knowing that he, the First Prince of Brightvale, the picture of success, wealth, and charm, was undergoing a transformation which would have him end up as a repulsive mutant!
In the afternoon a group of passing Faeries returning to their cottages after a day spent in Faerie City stopped before Tarquinn, Lella, and Philippe. The Faeries had noticed the prince banging his head repeatedly into the Candy Floss Tree's trunk, and they asked if there were anything they could do to help. Lella briefly described Tarquinn's sad fate, and the shocked Faeries immediately insisted that the three follow them. Tarquinn, Lella, and Philippe were thus brought to the small cottage of a kind Air Faerie, given a proper meal (though Tarquinn was too miserable to eat much), and allowed to rest in the cozy, quaint den. Faeries crowded around the prince, appalled at learning of the curse and the complicated tale leading up to it. When Philippe was mentioned as the original perpetrator, the Kacheek cowered, fearing that he would be heavily reprimanded. He wasn't, though; the Faeries understood the situation clearly and saw that the prince was not the only victim.
At the mention of Jhudora, the Faeries immediately became saddened and frustrated because they knew that they were faced with very powerful and possibly irreversible dark magic. They began to argue about how best to help. The Earth Faeries tried their own potions on Tarquinn, but none of them came close to working. Fire Faeries insisted on visiting Jhudora together and forcing her to give them the cure, while the Light Faeries interposed that the best thing to do would be to call upon Fyora, the Faerie Queen. The suggestion by the Light Faeries seemed the most respected; the only problem was that Fyora was still off with the Space Faerie, helping save the orange Grundos of Kreludor from an attack of Evil Fuzzles. No one knew the precise location of the Queen; she could have been anywhere at all in space. And even if Fyora's location were known, an Earth Faerie noted, it would be impossible for the messenger to reach her, tell her the prince's urgent problem, and have her return with a certain cure -- all in five days.
After this proclamation, another argument broke out, and the idea propounded by the Fire Faeries gained greater acceptance. But then, a Light Faerie announced that she would leave that instant to find Fyora in space. The Light Faerie was as quick as lightning -- the fastest of all the Faeries -- surely she would succeed. Though some doubted her, the Light Faerie did not change her mind. She urged Tarquinn to trust her, and then she picked herself up and left, in the flash of an eye.
All afternoon and evening the kind Faeries busied themselves, trying to find a cure themselves. Spellbooks had been opened and paged through meticulously, ingredients were mixed and boiled, but to no avail. A brave group of Fire Faeries, in the meantime, risked a visit to Jhudora and tried to impel her to give them the potion or at least the recipe. The Fire Faeries returned a couple of hours later covered in red scratches. Jhudora had set her vicious Bartamus flock on them.
How determined the Faeries were to help the unfortunate, depressed prince! It was in their nature -- they were kind, generous beings, one and all, and they would cross any boundary to keep the world's good Neopets safe from harm. Lella and Philippe were amazed by their constant attention to the problem at hand, and sparks of hope rekindled in their hearts. Tarquinn was not so easily uplifted. He spent the hours lying motionless on the couch before the fireplace, his large hat over his face, his gloved hands placed over his chest. He imagined moodily that he was a corpse on a bier, and all those around him were mourning at his funeral.
The stars had been out for hours by the time the Faeries were made to give up because of their own exhaustion. The Air Faerie who owned the cottage they were all stationed in sadly ushered everyone out and closed the door. Tarquinn, Lella, and Philippe were to spend the night in the comfortable low-ceilinged den since the prince refused to return to Brightvale.
Now it was very late at night. The Air Faerie had retired to her own chamber, and in the den the only motion was that of a weak fire burning in the brick fireplace. Tarquinn still lay on the couch, his hat over his face, his long cape acting now as a blanket. He appeared to be asleep. Across from him were Lella and Philippe, each on their own cushioned makeshift bed. They were definitely not asleep -- they were staring at the fire morosely. Tarquinn's companions couldn't rest. Lella because she was horrified of what tomorrow might bring, Philippe because his own conscience was tormenting him. He greatly regretted ever having visited Jhudora.
Philippe sighed, and began to bang his fists into his forehead. "I feel horrible! Ugh!"
Lella turned her gaze to the Kacheek. She had to blink many times before the bright orange and yellow spots the fire had created in her vision disappeared. "It's not your fault. You mustn't start to despair now, too."
"Don't -- it is all my fault. I can't believe I was actually capable of doing such evil to someone..." Philippe groaned. "I've ruined the prince's life; no matter that he is a selfish coxcomb, wrongful acts are wrong no matter who they are against. I haven't made anyone's life better by this."
As Philippe denounced and reprimanded himself, Tarquinn's pointed ears pricked up, and slowly a bright blue eye peeked out from under his hat. He wasn't sleeping, after all, but he remained unnoticed by Lella and Philippe. The prince listened to the Kacheek's harsh self-criticisms for a few moments, and then he replaced the hat over his face and did not move thereafter.
Philippe abruptly ended his tirade with a smack to his forehead. He sighed, shook his head, and looked gloomily at the fire.
"I understand how you must feel, Philippe," Lella said quietly. Her voice was steady, but internally she was just as distraught as the Kacheek. "But we cannot torment ourselves about past mistakes. We must concentrate on how to fix them."
Philippe did not respond, but the words calmed him a tiny bit.
"If only Brightvale could see Tarquinn as I know him..." Lella said, relaxing her head on a pillow. "You'd be very surprised -- he is not at all uncaring, cruel, or spiteful, as you believe. To his friends he's the most wonderfully charming, attentive individual; he isn't forgetful of important birthdates or anniversaries, he keeps in touch with all his acquaintances, he always puts a great effort into pleasing everyone any way he can. If only others would understand how much he cared..."
Philippe sat up straight at Lella's words and vigorously shook his head. "No, you are completely mistaken about one thing! No one hates the prince, that's absurd that you should think that, my lady. All the land, all the townsfolk adore him -- really!"
Lella looked at Philippe, surprised.
"It is true, we don't hate him," Philippe urged. "Ah, how could I ever forget those times when the prince was a young lad, when he wasn't vain like he is now. Whenever he passed through our villages in his rich carriage or with the Brightvalian knights by his side, all the common children would run out into the streets just to catch a glimpse of him. Yes, children all dreamt about being close friends with the prince. The boys wished they could practice fencing and archery with him and accompany him on his adventures around the world; the young girls imagined 'the great Tarquinn de Quincy' inviting them one night to King Hagan's castle, to a ball or a play. Is this really so surprising, Lella? As a lad, Tarquinn was a carefree, adventurous spirit, positive and joyful. He waved and smiled to all those who came to see him. Even my daughter..." Philippe hushed suddenly and turned to the not-entirely-sleeping form of the prince across from him. The Kacheek lowered his tone. "Even my daughter, Marina, wished she could only meet him one day."
"Your daughter? The young girl we saw visiting you in the dungeon?"
Philippe nodded. "My dear Marina loved the prince. Any time there was news about him, she would excitedly run to me and say 'the prince was sailing to Mystery Island to negotiate trades with the islanders' or 'the prince was Doglefox hunting in Meridell with King Skarl's knights' or whatever it is the prince was doing. So many times did she run to me to say these things. It drove me mad sometimes!" The Kacheek laughed weakly. "But then... as the years went by, and for some reason unknown the prince's bright attitude dimmed, our town's opinion on him changed.
"When he passed by our homes, he wouldn't greet those he met on the streets; he wouldn't smile at the children crowding around him. For a while we remained quiet about his sudden change in behaviour, thinking the prince was just having a bad day, but he gradually got worse. He would smirk and laugh sarcastically when one of 'the rabble,' as he calls us, would dare speak to him. "My word! Who, I dare say, who gave you permission to speak to me, peasant?" -- I remember him saying to a young Usul farmhand who once looked up to him.
"And furthermore, I remember distinctly a gross incident that happened some summers ago, the very summer the old governor of the Western Territories had passed away and the prince had become governor in his stead. That morning, the prince and his glittering retinue were taking a visit through the villages he now controlled for a look-over of their general states. Not far from my farm is the weekly food market, and there I had witnessed a group of vicious Wocky youth beating down on a defenseless young Pteri. The boys had wanted to steal the food the Pteri had bought in market, a bag of fruit and a big apple pie. I had been quite far when I saw the events take place, still, I began to run through the crowded market to stop the fighting. At that very moment the prince and his entourage arrived before the sea of vendors, followed by dozens of interested lookers-on. The prince was casting the market a disdainful, dirty look, and whispering jokes into the ears of a noble friend of his, while the Wockies wrested the bag of goods from the young Pteri, laughed, and knocked him away -- right into the prince! The Wockies dove into an alley and disappeared, and the Pteri began to cry that his parents would be angry at him because all the food he had been sent to buy had been stolen. The prince, instead of giving the poor Pteri a few Neopoints to buy himself food, pushed him away, so forcefully that the boy fell into a mud puddle. The prince then brushed his coat down and said, "You buffoon! Watch where you are going! You have gotten mud on my new boots!" At this, the prince's friends guffawed and smirked, and they all left, completely ignoring the pleas of the unfortunate little Pteri in the mud."
Lella looked down tiredly. She didn't know whether she could defend Tarquinn's obviously indecorous actions in this case, so she kept silent.
Philippe continued. "One great misunderstanding: the villagers may dislike the prince now because of his cold behaviour towards them, but if at any time he needed support or help, we would come to his side immediately. We do like him, we always did, and we are, or were, glad that he would someday become King of Brightvale.
"However, there are some things that Tarquinn has done which I find nearly unforgivable. And that is that he has abandoned, disappointed, and shunned all those who once loved him. All the children who wanted to grow up to be as great as the prince, all those who looked up to him, dreamt about meeting or talking to him, being his friend -- all these children were cruelly betrayed when the prince no longer noticed them. He was very nearly their idol! How my heart hurt when my Marina came in one day with tears flowing from the corners of her eyes, wondering why in the world the prince didn't wave to her when he just passed her by. She had called to him, but he had ignored her completely. I can't ever forgive Tarquinn for causing my daughter such grief. This was one of the greatest reasons I took such a desperate step towards finally stopping the prince's cruelty... I hated him for his betrayal of the villagers, but alas, the curse was not such a good idea after all."
There was a light cough from Tarquinn, and Lella and Philippe nervously looked at him, worried that their conversation had been overheard. But the prince did not move and he seemed to be peacefully asleep. Lella and Philippe decided then that it was time to try and get a little rest; their minds were wide awake with worry, but their eyes could barely remain open. They pulled their blankets to their heads, found the most comfortable position, and shut their eyes. The fire continued to softly burn and crackle.
In reality, Tarquinn had heard all that Philippe had said, and the effect it had on the prince's conscience is not difficult to guess. He did not feel very good about himself and regretted more deeply than ever his heartless attitude towards the townsfolk. If only he hadn't been a mean brat, if only he had shown a bit of compassion and attention to the villagers' troubles, if only... He shook his head. These mental maunderings were futile. The curse was gradually getting worse -- the curse, which was such a fitting but painful reward for his monstrous actions. What better than to make him into a monster? The prince hid himself under his cape and curled into a ball, hopeless and teary-eyed.
Philippe, meanwhile, stared at the low shadowy ceiling, racking his brains for an idea about what to do tomorrow. He had decided to obey Lella's wise words and search for the solution to the problem he had caused rather than complain fruitlessly. Try as he might, though, no useful ideas came to mind. He had thought about remaining in Faerieland and hoping that the Faeries could find a cure in four days or somehow make Jhudora give them the right potion. He didn't feel that this was sufficient -- he himself needed to act! He couldn't just sit idly by and wait for a miracle to happen. And so, Philippe thought about going to Brightvale or Meridell for help, but the prince was too terrified of returning to Brightvale, and everyone knew that the potions of that ghastly land, Meridell, had a better chance of turning one into a three-headed Meerca than curing any specific ailment. Philippe turned and tossed and even had a short nightmare of being eaten by the Turmaculus after trying to ask it to help the prince. After his mind had traveled to and examined each and every land in Neopia an idea at last came to him. It excited him so that he couldn't remain lying on his back another second. He popped up, wide-eyed, and jumped before the fireplace. He hopped from foot to foot and waved his hands as the entire idea materialised.
"My lady, Prince Tarquinn!" Philippe gasped.
Lella sat up quickly; Tarquinn slower and more grumpily.
"Where is the place where all the greatest sorcerers, magicians, and potionmakers of Neopia live and congregate and learn?" Philippe said, still hopping before the fire like a maddened Mystery Island shaman during Gadgadsbogen.
The question took a while to be answered for Lella and the prince were too disturbed to do anything but stare at the Kacheek's insane jumping.
Then, Lella spoke. "The place? The Haunted Woods?"
"Yes!" Philippe stopped his dance and sighed, satisfied, holding a hand against his excited heart. "The Haunted Woods -- it is a day away; while the Faeries are trying to help we could go there and attempt to find a witch or someone who might know the cure to this curse. The Faeries don't know the cure maybe because they are unfamiliar with dark magic. The denizens of the Haunted Woods surely have broader knowledge on this. They could help perhaps?"
Tarquinn's fine eyebrows furrowed and he looked about to say something mean, but when he spoke it was with the steadiest voice yet directed at the Kacheek. After overhearing Philippe, the prince seemed to have forgiven him, or at least found it in himself to respect him a bit more. "I cannot bear the thought of wandering outside when I look like this... I would much rather stay here and wait, but..."
"You don't have to come with us, Tarquinn," Lella said. "I think Philippe's idea is great! I am definitely going."
"Right, the idea is quite... " Tarquinn stared at Philippe, "admirable, er..."
Philippe looked surprised. Had the prince just said the word admirable in connection with him?
Tarquinn couldn't find words to express his thoughts. Finally, he waved a hand in frustration and agreed. "The Haunted Woods, then. I am coming as well; it would be dishonourable of me not to accompany you on this serious mission. We'll leave first thing tomorrow."
The three exchanged positive glances, and then tried to go once more to sleep. It was easier for Lella and Philippe to let their minds drift into comfortable dreams now that a plan had been formed, now that hope had been restored; however, for the prince sleep had never been so difficult. He was wary of visiting the Haunted Woods. He had invariably avoided that land because of the nightmares. For years, ever since he had been the smallest child, the prince had been haunted by nightmares: always about escaping a deep, swampy wood. There was a town beyond the swamp, a town of eerily familiar tall mansions and narrow cobbled alleys where horrible things had happened once, and it had become necessary to flee from hordes of rampaging mutated shapes and shadows that overtook the night. Tarquinn forced himself not to shudder. Now, he supposed, he would have to face his recurring childhood nightmares and perhaps meet their cause, if there was one. What a world a suffering this curse had opened up, what a twisted Spyder web this trip was becoming...
To be continued...