Pride, Prose, and Princes: Part Two
Three humiliating rounds later, I had lost. And pitifully so. I’d only won one out of the four rounds, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that he’d let me win that one. Out of princely compassion, or something annoyingly noble like that. Not that I could truly tell. Throughout the duration of our game, Stormington’s visage remained emotionless as ball after ball whizzed away in that diagonal technique of his, while my own face grew hot with frustration. If the game was too boring for him, why was he here, anyway?
When it was all over, he held out his hand and we shook, as was protocol. “Nicely done,” I said, “do you practice much at home?” Not that I really cared. But I needed to prove to him—and myself—that I was a good sport. I mean, it was just a game. Why on earth was I in such a sore-loser mood?
“Yes, sometimes,” was his equally deadpan reply. I expected him to leave me after that, but instead he just stood there, with his elbow sticking out in a weird way. I was about to ask if he’d thrown out his arm during the last round when I realized what he was doing. “Oh! Oh, thank you.” I slipped my arm through his and he “escorted” me off the playing field.
But it wasn’t over yet. Apparently there were still quite a few more pairs of players to go, and nobody on the sidelines had seemed to leave their partner’s side. In fact, it had seemed that pairs remained together until the end of the whole tournament.
I look warily up at Stormington. He seemed to have known this, because he hadn’t moved away from me since we’d left the field. He didn’t exactly look ecstatic about it, either.
Well. We couldn’t just stand here not saying a word to each other, could we? “Er...” I began eloquently, “So. Did you use an Eyrie flight service to get to Neopia Central from Brightvale?”
“No, a Uni one.”
“That’s just as well. Unis are more comfortable, I would suppose.”
Okay. So maybe standing in silence wasn’t quite so bad, after all.
But when it was clear that I wasn’t going to say anything else, he ventured, “I suppose you live in Neopia Central?”
“Yes, on Cairn Close,” I replied, taken by surprise. Perhaps he had some manners built in with his snobdom.
“Is that in the Tightriver district?”
“The Tight--! No, not at all.” Of course not. Everybody knows that’s where the rich people—Oh. Oh Sloth, he thinks I’m from a wealthy family. “It’s in the Bluesun district. Quite a bit down the ladder from Tightriver,” I added wryly. “I’m not a member of the club; I’m here with... with the NPWS.” I felt a tiny surge of pride.
“You write, then.”
“Yes... I write.” I write. For the first time in my life, I felt like my talent was something important. Lindseymaher—the Writer. The Author. I had a brief vision of whirling around the living room with Jordy. Was I really going to be an author? An established creator of literary art?
I snapped back to attention. “Pardon?”
“What do you write about?”
“Life situations, usually. Or a skewed version of life—about what would it be like living in a world with a different norm,” I explained. “Sometimes it verges on a science fiction-like plot, but more often it’s a fairy tale.”
Stormington nodded. “Fiction, then. I approve of a story’s way of expression. It almost seems more close to the truth than real life, sometimes... but I guess it would depend on one’s definition of, ah, the norm.”
“Yes, that’s true.” All right, so I was impressed. But of course he knew about literature. He was from Brightvale, for Sloth’s sake.
“My father... he prefers a more realistic view of things.” Stormington shrugged. “He feels that fiction can be too emotional.”
“Not at all,” I said, carefully. I wasn’t sure how polite it was to openly disagree with a monarch. “Fiction is but a mirror of the emotion in real life.”
“But surely you agree that fiction can be a bit... overdramatic?”
“Of course. But surely you agree, Prince Stormington, that some people can be a bit... overdramatic? There are as many beauty queens, power-mad villains, and emotion-run people in real life as in books. What about Sloth, and Kass, and,” here I flung the back of my hand to my forehead with true stage presence, “the lovebirds we have for rulers in Qasala?”
He smiled. He actually smiled, teeth showing and everything. The Miracle Of His Somber Mouth was gone as quickly as it came, but his eyes still kept a gentle mirth. “You may be right,” he said momentarily.
I smiled, too. “Yep. I mean, I’m pretty sure...” So much for being humble. “That is, I’ve—I’ve given it some thought.”
“I’m sure you have.”
Immediately I felt stupid, but before I could embarrass myself any further, our conversation was cut short. The interruption came in the form of two identical Island Aishas, one in a lime green sundress and one in a bright orange one, each with respectively matching hats.
“Your Highness,” they chirped in unison, both dropping a low curtsy.
Drat. So I was supposed to have curtsied, after all. I didn’t see why. I wasn’t a citizen of Brightvale, so I wasn’t his subject, so why should I have to... oh, Sloth. Whatever my line of reasoning was, I’d messed up, and he’d probably noticed. But he knew I wasn’t wealthy, so maybe he excused my manners on grounds of ignorance. Which, in my opinion, was just as bad as him thinking me rude. But why should I care what he thinks? I thought.
Stormington inclined his head briefly in the Aishas’ direction, and then turned back to me.
“Well?” giggled the orange-hat one. “Aren’t you going to introduce us to your opponent?”
“Where are your manners, Prince Stormington II?” the other one gushed.
Who did these people think they were? You don’t just walk up to a government figure and... then again, maybe you did. The thing was, I really didn’t know; these twits probably knew more about the protocol than I did.
“But of course,” Stormington said, his deadpan tone returning. The light was gone from his eyes. “Miss Lindseymaher, this is Miss Amoura (the one in green giggled) and Miss Aurora (the one in orange giggled) Noki. They are residents of Mystery Island. Miss Amoura, Miss Lindseymaher. Miss Aurora, Miss Lindseymaher.”
“Call me Lindsey,” I said.
“How do you do?” purred Aurora.
“Er... very well. Thanks.”
“How do you do?” purred Amoura.
“Very well,” I repeated. “Thanks.”
They stared at me.
“How do you do?” I said, finally. This seemed to be the right thing to say, because they both responded, “Very well, thanks,” in unison.
Once the formalities concerning me were done with, they directed their focus entirely on poor (yes, I began to pity him right then) Stormington.
“You did so very, very well in the game, your highness,” said Amoura, batting her eyelids.
“Yes, quite,” agreed Aurora, “Miss Lindsey didn’t stand a chance.”
“She was quite overwhelmed,” added Amoura.
“Completely out of her league,” said her sister, not to be outdone. They seemed to forget that I was there next to them.
They looked at each other. “Hopeless,” they said together, with perfect seriousness. “But you were perfect.”
Stormington looked, alarmed, at me. But when he saw that I was on the brink of laughter, his lips twitched.
An inside joke. I was sharing an inside joke with the prince of Brightvale. I let a conciliatory smile escape from me, like the kind I give Jordy when we’ve spent the whole night writing ballads and swigging Dandelion and Burdock (while the others were asleep).
But he didn’t smile back. Instead, his face closed up like an iron safe, and he was Lord Snobdom once more. “Is your owner well, Amoura?” he asked rigidly.
“He’s splendid . Noki couldn’t be better. The silly thing simply refused to come today, though,” Amoura rolled her eyes and made the “crazy” sign by spinning her finger by her head.
I hate the “crazy” sign.
“He said that he was sick,” Amoura jumped in, “something pitiful about a fever. But I think it was just”—
“The weather,” the sisters finished together. They glared at each other.
“Lovely day today,” I said with determined cheerfulness. I looked up at the sky deliberately, as if seeing it for the first time.
“Not a cloud,” droned Stormington.
The Aishas exchanged a look. Then, in what I’m sure must have been a calculated number of seconds, Amoura squealed and pointed to a group of trees in the distance. “Ooh, what a pretty, pretty walk! And the weather is so charming...”
“Oh!” Aurora gave a “screamlet”. “Let’s all go down it!” She pulled a pouty face at Stormington... and then her gaze traveled to me. “Oh,” she said flatly, “I’d forgotten.” She sighed. “The path cannot possibly hold all our party.”
“I don’t have to come.”
“Oh no, I wouldn’t dream of leaving you, dear. Unthinkable.”
Actually, I hadn’t the slightest intention of going anywhere with social-climbing siblings who insulted me and ignored me simultaneously—or a noble whose friendliness only lasted a few seconds. “I’m quite tired, really,” I said brightly. “In fact, I think I’ll sit a while.”
“Might I escort”—
“No, thank you.” I nodded curtly at the lot of them and assumed a lawn chair, a good distance away. A Xweetok a few chairs down elbowed the lace-ruffle covered Kacheek beside her. “Don’t look now,” hissed the Xweetok, “but that Zafara over there was fawning over the prince.”
“That’s not possible; she’s only middle-class,” the Kacheek waved her hand dismissively. “Who knows who her family is?”
My family is worth a hundred of each of you low-lives, I thought. No, five-hundred. A thousand. Honestly, these people were making me sick.
I sighed and let the sun soak into my fur. At least my people weren’t like that. My People, the Neopian Prose Writer’s Society.
I would write them something ingenious—something to blow them away. I imagined their gobsmacked faces as I finished reading it. After they’d gotten over the initial shock, Mariava and the president would fall on their knees, begging me to join full on. I’d hesitate, causing them to panic and offer me an everlasting publication deal, in addition to the membership. Then I’d say yes.
Now all I needed was the actual story. But today had been eventful enough; I’d think about it tomorrow.
For the next two and a half hours I did nothing but lounge in my chair, sip a space slushie, and watch the Bowls. And I think that was the most enjoyable part of the time I spent there. Prince Stormington II won the Bowls, surprise, surprise. I bet the other finalists let him win. Or maybe he was just good—but I didn’t care. Really.
I said my farewells to Mariava and the others, hailed a taxi at the gate, and went home.
The rest of the day was pretty uneventful. I was, of course, the center of attention during supper that night. For a few minutes, at least.
“Who did you sit with?”
“Very nice people from the NPWS. There was the vice president, Mariava, and”—
“Anyone from Twisted Roses?” HasarahLiam, a Christmas Ixi and my younger sister, interrupted.
“I’m afraid not.”
“FireFaerie Fashion editor?”
“I didn’t see her, Annie.”
“Are you sure?”
TarenIvy, a red Eyrie and my brother, suddenly spoke up. “What about, like, Bob-Dude the Crusher? Or Madman Mynci?”
I shook my head. “I doubt there were many extreme sportsmen. But my bowling partner was royalty.”
The entire kitchen was still as I took a bite of orange chicken and washed it down with Neocola.
“So,” Jordy prompted, momentarily. “Who was it?”
“Stormington II.” Everyone looked puzzled except AnnaWillow, who threw down her fork and squealed.
“OMOSH. OMIGOSH. OH. MIGOSH. OH. MY. GOSH.”
“Lindsey, who exactly is Stormington II? And Annie, that’s quite enough,” Jordy added.
AnnaWillow stopped “omigoshing” long enough to take a breath. Then she gushed, “He’s only, like, the MOST FAB PRINCE EVER. He was featured in the 516th issue of Fur, Nails, and Money . He, like, controls all the trade in Brightvale!”
“The prince of Brightvale?” Hasarah opened her eyes wide. “Does he live in a castle?”
“Of course he lives in a castle, dumb-fudge,” AnnaWillow snapped. “Lindsey, was he just dashing?”
“Not at all. He was pretty much an introvert—and a bit snobby, I think.”
“I don’t, like, BELIEVE IT.”
Jordy suggested, “Perhaps he’s just shy.”
“I doubt it. He annihilated me in bowling. It’s not that funny, Jordy.”
“I’m sorry, Linz. But that’s a dreadful reason to dislike him!”
“It wasn’t that,” I protested, “it was...” I pictured his face hardening when I smiled. “I don’t know,” I finished lamely.
The remainder or the meal was passed in a similar manner, with them asking questions and me giving less-than-exciting answers.
No, I didn’t know who had designed his outfit, or what his favorite color was, or if he patronized the Times.
No, I didn’t ask about his father and uncle’s feuds, or if he knew any state secrets, or the amount of his yearly royal allowance.
And no, I didn’t like him, and didn’t think he had liked me.
“Well. We’re proud of you, in any case. The NPWS doesn’t know how lucky they are.” Jordy patted my shoulder and asked Taren to pass the salt.
“13 Day of Hunting, Y9
After the Gourmet Club Bowls, before bed”
“The Gourmet Club Bowls wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be. But that doesn’t matter. There’s only one thing that matters—that the only thing between me and the NPWS is a short story! Just one story! But I haven’t any clue what to write about... I’m so tired. I’ll get some sleep, so I can think about it properly tomorrow.”
I slid my journal under my bed and switched off my lamp, willing myself to wake the moment I’d stored enough energy to write by. I lay in the dark for a while, before drifting to a dream of plain Unis, Ferocious Neggs, and Lupe princes...
Love. Love forsaken for money... no, a lifelong friendship, forsaken... forsaken... no.
I crumpled the piece of paper and hurled it to join its pile of brethren on the floor.
Okay, scratch the lost friendship. What about the trials of war-torn poverty? Orphaned children. Starving elderly. Yeah. With packs of thieves, young and old, stealing to survive, and all because of a power-mad... monarch... person...
Rane, my puppyblew, dodged another paper ball and whimpered worriedly.
“It’s okay, Raney,” I said through gritted teeth. “Lindsey’s just brainstorming.”
Rane hopped up onto my lap and I stroked him, my hands trembling from wielding a pen. I laid my cheek on his head and shut my eyes.
My desk was a demonstration of chaos, with papers strewn in wrinkled layers, sprinkled with broken lead and onyx ink. I’d been up for a half hour, losing myself in the labyrinth of fiction. The first thing I needed was a purpose. Every story worth reading had to have a purpose and a message, or it was “but a spun shadow,” as my friend the Library Faerie would say.
But I had nothing. None of the worthwhile principles were gripping me in a way that inspired something. I’d tried kindness, unconditional love, constancy, self-sacrifice, respect, and honor. I’d tried vices—greed, deception, disgrace, malice. Nothing in my head sparked a tale.
“I’ve got time, though, right?” I whispered to Rane. “It’s only 5:30 a.m.”
To be continued...