The Rebel's Heart: Part Twelve
“Lord Darigan. I come bearing news.”
“Yes, what is it?”
“Two spies are being sent into our army. There is an elaborate plan in place that will get them into the ranks without anybody being the wiser.”
“This is nothing new to me. I care only that they can be easily found and brought before me.”
“Of course, my liege.”
“Are there any other reports? Any that are more... interesting?”
“I’m afraid not, sire.”
Darigan growled. “Very well. You know what I am after. They must be stopped. They still want revenge on Meridell. And I cannot let the King know. If he knows, then word will somehow reach them, and I know it. I hate to do this after our treaty, but some things must be done.”
“How do you know that they are not among us? Could they not easily infiltrate our ranks?”
Darigan gave a harsh glare to Tremane. “Do you not think that I would know? They already had dealings with us twice and have no doubt grown weary of our ‘help.’ I only fear what form they will take. I know that they are there. We simply need to find them and hope that the King is wise enough to keep his head in the ensuing battle. Be sure to take as many captives as possible and keep all those with special healing abilities close to the battle. We don’t want to hurt the warriors, but we must find and destroy them. They can be anywhere.”
“How, sire, do you know that they’re there?”
Darigan glared at Tremane again. “They swore revenge. Do you think that they would forget such a vow because their help was gone? They are no doubt trying to weasel their way close to the King. They are likely in place now.”
“Then why did you wait until now to attack them?”
Darigan shrugged. “I wanted them to get comfortable. In retrospect it was not a good idea because now that they are close to the King, as I’m sure they are, it will be hard to get to them. I hope that the two spies will be a valuable fountain of information.”
Tremane nodded and walked away, hoping for good news to relay to Darigan.
“Halt! Stay where you are and explain your presence?”
Amaretta adopted the voice of a cranky young Uni. “We’re deserters, okay? I figure that if my parents want me to fight with pride and honor, it may as well be for the right side.”
The soldier eyed the two girls warily. “And who’s this with you?”
“She’s my servant.”
The Darigan Aisha raised an eyebrow. “A Uni is being forced to fight in a war and she brings her servant with her? Not likely.”
Amaretta snorted in mock disgust. “Yes, because I really plan on fighting. It just gave me an excuse to take some time off for my chores. Not that I ever do them anyway. That’s what Lazy is here for.”
“You call your servant lazy?”
Amaretta grinned wickedly. “I don’t just call her lazy, she is lazy. She is both lazy and Lazy. For the record, that’s Lazy the name and lazy as in she never does anything. She’d probably be better off in the streets, but she hasn’t managed to escape yet.”
Darena looked downcast and tried to avoid the Aisha’s eyes. “Yeah.”
The Aisha didn’t believe the stories, but he didn’t want to turn away additional help. For that reason, he led them to the closest camp.
He walked into his leader’s tent and told the story that he had been told. The yellow Lupe grinned and walked out.
“Hello, Kara, Darena.”
Amaretta and Darena whirled around and saw Tremane standing before them. Although Darena recognized him, Darena had never seen him before.
“Who are you?”
Darena growled, “He’s one of the leaders of the training camp. Clearly, he works more for Darigan than for the King.”
Tremane merely smirked and led the girls to the middle of the camp. There, he spoke to all the warriors sitting around the fire.
“Look well, fighters. Here are two infiltrators. Spies. Weaklings. They intended to spy on us. But we caught them! They will be brought before Darigan as soon as we can get them to him! Then they will get what they deserve!”
The pets cheered as Darena and Amaretta were surrounded and lead away from the camp; deeper into the forested area that was just on the outskirts of Meridell.
“They have been caught, your majesty.”
“Good, bring them in.”
Darigan sat on his temporary throne and watched as a struggling Darena and Amaretta were brought into his tent.
“Ah, girls. It is so good to see you. I was hoping that we would have this chance to talk. Are you hungry? Thirsty?”
Amaretta, who had never before seen the Korbat, was appalled by his grotesque appearance.
Darena had seen paintings, but she did not believe that he was truly interested in their physical well-being. “Why would you care? You’re the one who declared war on us. Why on Neopia would you care if we’re hungry or thirsty?”
“Ah, you must be Darena. Quite spirited, aren’t you? Now, don’t you think that you’re being a bit quick to judge? You don’t know as much about this war as you’d like to think that you do.”
“Then inform me, Darigan. If, of course, you even have a halfway decent reason.”
Amaretta tried to whisper into Darena’s ear. “Uh, don’t you think that we should be a bit more subtle?”
Darigan, however, heard her. “And you must be Kara. I must say that you do take after the Queen. And you are wise beyond your years. However, I cannot blame your friend for her feelings. I would feel the same if I didn’t understand all that was happening.”
“Well then, why don’t you tell us?”
“Very well. Before your time there was a group referred to only as the ‘Three.’ They took joy in power. They got power through their terror tactics and more. It is long and complex, but know that they want revenge on Meridell. They tried to get it through both myself and through Kass. Kass was defeated and I signed a permanent pact with Meridell for peace. However, I have reason to believe that the Three have infiltrated their way into the King’s close circle. I cannot tell the King lest he become too suspicious and tip his hand to our enemies. It is our hope that we can get to the King quickly and find the Three on our own. Does that explain it?”
“But why declare war? Many could die in this war of yours!”
Darigan shrugged. “Simple. A war is the simplest and most efficient way of getting the Three to ensure their hold on the King. Also, as you may not have noticed, all those with special healing abilities will be close to any battling. My men have been instructed to take prisoners and to take good care of them. They don’t all understand, but my men are loyal and they know better than to ignore my orders.”
Amaretta cast a disbelieving stare in Darigan’s direction. “Why should we believe you?”
“You’re alive, aren’t you?”
“That’s hardly a sufficient reason.”
“Very well. I can tell you that many war officials know of my plans. Not on my side, mind you. But those loyal to Meridell. They are more loyal to Meridell than to me, but they understand my position. If I turn on them, they will turn on me so quickly that I am ensured a loss. For that reason, leaders for Meridell also lead my armies, as you saw with Tremane. He is just one of many. I did that so that any from Meridell would know of my sincerity.”
“May I speak with Darena alone, please?”
“Of course. For the purpose of keeping my plans concealed, you will be watched, but I will instruct my men to be numerous enough that you cannot escape, but far enough away that you are not to be overheard.”
“Well, I suppose that’s all I can ask.”
Amaretta and Darena walked into an adjacent room as the room was surrounded on all possible borders by guards.
“Darena, I could give Darigan access to my father. Then they could speak. This war could end without bloodshed, and the Three would be found!”
Darena was hesitant. “I would follow you to the ends of Neopia and back, but I do not think this is a good idea. He could be lying.”
“Yes, but if he wanted to destroy Meridell; he’d have done it when he had the advantage. I believe that he is sincere. It is a risk worth taking. Don’t forget, to do so, I’ll have to reveal that I am a royal. Then I am in danger too.”
Darena nodded. “Very well, Princess. I trust your judgment of character.”
Amaretta and Darena walked out and returned to Darigan.
“Well, girls, what have you decided?”
“We can give you access to the royal family directly.”
Darigan raised an eyebrow. “And how are you going to manage that?”
Amaretta had to take a deep breath before she could respond. “I am the Princess Amaretta Creme. I can arrange it.”
Darigan was even more shocked. “Now I am in the position of disbelief. Why would the King allow his only daughter to be a spy?”
“Well... he doesn’t exactly know.”
Darigan nodded slightly. “That would explain quite a bit. Very well. How are you to gain me this audience with the King?”
Amaretta smirked. “That’s the easy part. All we need is a carriage and a lot of old blankets.”
“Halt! Who goes there?”
“It is the Princess Amaretta Creme along with her servant Darena. They come in a carriage with some blankets from the battlefields. We insist that they be replaced, but first, we would like to rest in my chambers.”
“How do I know that it is truly the Princess? We were informed that she was being protected on a small island.”
Amaretta raised her eyebrows, but she was glad that the carriage door obstructed the young soldier’s view. Her voice turned to ice in less than a second. “You would be wise to know the voice of your Princess when she speaks.”
The guard gulped and allowed the carriage to pass through an elaborate tunnel maze that led to the palace.
Darigan looked around in awe as Darena led the carriage into the maze. “This has been here... all this time...”
“Not quite the whole time. When the palace was rebuilt, this was put in. There is a trick to navigating the maze, but very few know it. Luckily, Darena is one of the few. This will lead us to a room adjacent to the throne room. It should be no problem getting in. However, I must go in first so that I can get father to dismiss all the guards and servants.”
Darigan shrugged. “I just want this to be quick. We need to get this done with as soon as possible.”
“The Princess Amaretta Creme has arrived and is requesting a private audience with her mother and father.”
King Tanis was frightened and immediately called for his guards. Once they were in place, he told the attendant to bring in what he thought was an imposter.
“It’s really me, Father. Call off your guards, please. I simply wish to spend some time with you and mother. These guards make me nervous.”
“Of course!” It didn’t take long for the King to start barking his orders. “Guards! Return to your posts.”
“Where have you been? When did you get back? Are you safe?”
“One question at a time, Dad. But first, there’s someone I’d like you to meet.”
Amaretta opened a secret door and let Darigan into the room.
“Amaretta! Don’t you know who that is?! Gu-”
Amaretta was shocked to see that her mother had put her hoof over her husband’s mouth.
Queen Karalana grinned. “You didn’t think that Darigan was alone in this, did you?”
“But you. and. What?!”
Darigan and Karalana laughed. Finally, the Queen explained. “I knew Darigan from a long time ago. He explained that he would forever be wary of the Three and that if he ever suspected them to be in Meridell, he would declare war on us. It was a sign to me to look for any pet that could possibly be involved in the Three. I am sorry, Darigan, but I’ve not found anybody.”
Darigan nodded. “That is fine. I have a feeling that I may know who it is.”
“But how can you?”
“Let’s just say that the Three are predictable.”
Darigan then addressed the few in the room. “Has anybody here had any encounters with a dark faerie, a Skeith, or a Gelert?”
Amaretta spoke first and she told them all about her encounter with the dark faerie and the JubJub.
“The faerie mentioned Latfta, right? King Tanis, is there anybody named Latfta who works near you?”
“Yes. My servant is a ghost Gelert named Latfta. Surely you don’t think...”
Darigan whispered coarsely. “He must be arrested! He is one of the Three. Now what about a Skeith?”
Darena offered, “I heard the director of the training camp mention some pet named Gortendre. Does that mean anything to anybody?”
The King raised his eyebrow, but he responded to the question. “He’s currently a chef, but he was going to be promoted, the last I heard.”
“He must be arrested as well! He is a ghost Skeith, isn’t he?”
“Well, yes, he is.”
“King Tanis, they are members of the Three, you must arrest them!”
The King was outraged and had both his chef and his servant arrested for treason. Luckily, the two were weak without their dark faerie help, so they submitted themselves to be locked into some of Illusen’s enchanted jail cells. They could only be opened by Illusen. No guard could even enter the jail without Illusen’s permission. The two were depressed over the fact that the other member of the Three never came for them, despite the many opportunities that she had.
“Amaretta, it is time that we spoke. It has been two weeks since we called a truce with Darigan. I want to know everything that happened. Now.”
Amaretta proceeded to tell her story to her father. With each passing second, the King grew more and more agitated. When Amaretta’s story was done, she nearly expected the King to explode like a Mortog.
“You are such a foolish child! You know that I love you, but when you go off on such dangerous ventures as this one, I must confess that I wonder about your sanity! You put your life in danger for a silly, childish whim!”
Amaretta’s tone was biting, revealing the change that had occurred within her throughout her journey. “Father, it was no childish whim. Do you believe that a child could endure what I have gone through? Those camps were hard on pets who farmed every day. I have been waited on for my entire life! It was not easy for me. I worked hard and I endured many hardships. I had to come to terms with who I am and how badly I will work for what I want. I am not just a Princess, Father. I am much more than that. I merely wish that you could see that.”
Days passed and the King thought about his daughter’s words. He was not sure what to do. His little girl had grown up so suddenly that he could not even begin to comprehend the fact that she desired more than just to become a knight. She desired freedom. She desired the freedom that her position would not allow. Finally, he called her back to the throne room.
“Amaretta Creme, you are right. You are more than just a child. You are independent and you deserve your freedom. Darena is no longer your servant. She is free to live here as any other guest would. You are to be knighted tomorrow. And it will be official.”
Amaretta cried and she jumped for joy. Darena stood beside her and laughed with her friend. The two were now truly free. They were free of the bondage of their social status. They were also free of the bondage of their jobs.
The war with Darigan was ended before it had officially and completely started. The Skeith and Gelert still remain in Illusen’s special cells, forever awaiting Zeresh. Zeresh has yet to be seen. When she is found, she will be brought to justice. Until then, she roams free. Without any henchmen, she has given up her vow to have revenge on Meridell. Instead, she simply commits the same foul deeds that other dark faeries commit.
Quiet returned to Meridell while Zaretan and Bithiah remained with their parents. Quiet’s parents were not happy when they learned of her actions, but much like the King, they accepted the fact that nothing could be changed and that they would do well to simply accept what had happened and move on.
And so it came to pass that Princess Amaretta Creme became the second most powerful knight in Neopia; second only to Darena. Together, the two single-handedly defeated many of Meridell’s traitors. The Princess awaits that day that she is called to be the next Queen of Meridell. Until that time, she and Darena fight side by side, as both friends and knights.