Pride, Prose, and Princes: Part Six
I cracked my window open and leaned out into the cold morning air. The slight breeze was moist, and smelled of perfume mallows. Somewhere a Beekadoodle was singing, and the entire world seemed at peace.
It was finished. I’d barely slept the past week for working on it. Last night I’d forsaken sleep altogether—it was like the last stretch in a sprinting race; you’re almost there, but then you have to run harder than ever. I’d broken through the finish line, and now... I turned to look behind me. There it was, sitting on my desk. I approached it as if it were a sleeping child, and then, suddenly overcome by an odd giddiness, flipped through it at random. Passages jumped out at me as I turned each page:
...as if time had stopped, he stood, surveying the dunes before him, letting their vastness, their mysteriousness, capture him entirely...
...a promise, she’d made a promise on her very life—but then, her life wasn’t worth very much, was it?
...she wouldn’t accept his pity. She’d accept his money, and even his heart, but never his pity. No, she was far too proud for that...
I sighed happily, and after one last look, slipped the stack of papers into a large brown envelope. I’d take it to the copier’s later this afternoon, after Stormington came. Yes, today was the day. I’d put the event in a far corner of my mind, managing to forget about it in my story-writing zeal. Now that the story was written, though, the event loomed ominously over my head, casting a shadow over the rest of the day.
“Don’t be silly,” I said aloud, setting the envelope on my desk. “It’s not like the family’s going to act crazy. Annie’s a radical fan, but she always behaves elegantly with company. And Jordy’s only crazy in front of us.” Taren was out surfing, so the only people I would really care to worry about were Lili and me. But he’d already met my little sister, so her oddities wouldn’t matter. I guess that just left me, then. Well. I could behave myself, couldn’t I? No matter how much I didn’t like him.
I went to my dresser, rummaged about for something suitable, and settled on black trousers and a grey embroidered blouse. Not very fancy, but I felt silly putting any more effort into how I looked. I dressed and freshened up, and then went downstairs and into the kitchen, where I found Jordy and Annie busy at the stove.
“Take this to the entry hall, will you?” Jordy handed me a tray bearing tea cups, a pot of Strawberry Spice Tea, and a platter piled high with mini chokato sandwiches. “And come back for the plates and napkins.”
“Sweet Jhudora’s Cupcakes, whatever for? He’s only coming to take a picture.”
“He’s a guest, nonetheless. Don’t you want to be polite?”
But if we feed him, he’ll stay longer, I brooded. After a moment, though, I dismissed the selfish thought. I did want to be polite, no matter how much he irked me.
“Besides, it’s only fair,” Jordy added. “He bought lunch for you and Lili, didn’t he? So he can’t be all bad.”
“I never said he was all bad,” I protested, “but he’s so—so proud. His every action seems to be driven by his high opinion of himself—even his good actions.”
“Hm. Well, whatever he does,” Jordy concluded, “we Neopia Centralites treat our guests right. Right?”
“Totally,” Annie sighed dreamily, checking her appearance in a shiny platter. As usual, AnnaWillow had managed to look stunning without looking like she’d tried at all. Which she had, of course. My sister wore a light blue jean skirt that matched her eyes, and a wispy pink top that flattered her gold and white fur. Clearly satisfied, she winked at her reflection and followed me into the entry hall. The moment I set the tray on the coffee table, the doorbell rang. Before I could blink, Annie had raced to the door and opened it.
“Good afternoon,” greeted Annie, in a voice that I heard often, but was always surprised to hear again. Her shrill “fashionista drawl” had disappeared, and in its place was a low, melodic murmur. This was the voice she used with everyone, only excepting us (her family) and her closest friends. “You must be Prince Stormington. Do come in.”
It was, of course, Stormington, but he wasn’t alone. Along with him a Scorchio, a Kougra, and two earth faeries trooped into our home, each clearly “of society.” The prince’s entourage, I assumed.
“Good afternoon, Miss Lindsey,” said Stormington, when he saw me. “How do you do?” After I had I answered properly (“How do you do?”), he introduced me to the others. The earth faeries were Gaia and Demeter, the Kougra was called Maxillian, and the Scorchio, Heathcliff. The latter was the most gallant of the bunch, and after a sweeping bow in my direction, asked the name of the “enchanting sweet maiden,” meaning (who else?) Annie.
“This is my sister, AnnaWillow,” I said.
Annie dipped briefly in a beautiful curtsy. “Do sit down,” she murmured, gesturing towards the sofa.
The entourage looked to Stormington, as if for permission, but the prince shook his head. “We are most obliged, Miss AnnaWillow,” he told my sister, “but we would not impose longer than necessary. If you could only direct us to the lift, Miss Lindsey, we will be gone as soon as possible.”
“You needn’t feel that way,” I said, guiltily remembering how I’d felt about feeding him. “You’re not imposing at all. Please, make yourselves comfortable.”
The prince considered. “Oh come on, Storm,” Heathcliff urged, gazing longingly at the tea and sandwiches. “We won’t be long.”
“The lift couldn’t hold all of you, anyway,” Annie pointed out.
“Very well, then,” decided Stormington, “I will go with Miss Lindsey to the lift, while the rest of you stay here.” I bit back a smile at his serious demeanour, and how easily he ordered his train about. He controlled the courtiers as easily as he controlled Vincent, even to the point of their sitting down. But his entourage obeyed cheerfully, occupying the sofa and armchairs while Annie poured tea. When Stormington and I left them, Annie and the courtiers were already chattering like old friends.
I led Stormington through our Brightvale-themed living room, on which he commented politely, and into the kitchen, where the stairs were. Here he met Jordy and acted with frustratingly perfect manners, thanking her for “tolerating the intrusion of her lovely home.”
Oh, Sloth. Why did he have to act all humble now ? It made me look rather foolish, after I’d told Jordy what a snoot he was.
“Don’t worry about it,” Jordy replied cheerfully. “You’re more than welcome. Lili will be delighted to see you again, and Annie was simply dying to meet you- wasn’t she, Linz?”
“She was indeed, Prince Stormington,” I mumbled, mortified—so much for Annie’s elegant cover.
But he only smiled. “Please, call me Storm, both of you. You shouldn’t have to stand on formality in your own home.”
I willed myself not to be impressed. “Storm” and I mounted the stairs, and I waited until he was ahead before looking back at Jordy. My owner only raised her eyebrows, wordlessly, but I could guess what the look meant—“He isn’t anything like you said he was.”
Lili met us as we arrived in the hall, and immediately barraged our guest with questions about his latest princess-eating monster campaigns, and if he’d found any fat ones, etc. He answered with the same convincing seriousness as before.
“I sketched a picture of you,” Lili informed him. “Wanna see it? It’s in my room-- that’s my room,” she pointed out her doorway. “It’s next to Lindsey’s; hers is made of cloud, but mine is made of chocolate, which is way better. Lindsey’s has a moving bed, though, an’ it goes round an’ round an’ round until you get really dizzy an’ fall off. It’s fun; you should try it—but first you gotta see my picture, kay?” She dashed off to fetch it.
“Does that,” he asked after she was gone, “lead to the lift?” Storm indicated the second flight of stairs.
“That leads to the petpet nursery. The lift is on top of that.”
We climbed further. I signaled for him to be quiet once we reached the nursery; three of the four petpets were fast asleep. Taren’s cobrall, however, was wide awake. She slithered toward us soundlessly, and, before I could stop her, wound herself around Storm’s right leg.
“Illusen’s Comb, get it off me!” Storm yelled, hopping around the room helplessly and almost dropping the camera bag and tripod. He shook his leg wildly but in vain; Dudette clung fast.
“She’s harmless, really,” I managed to say, in between my peals of laughter. “If you’d only stay still a moment...”
It took me two minutes to get Storm to stand still, and even longer to stop laughing. I pulled Dudette from his leg, and she wound around my arm with a friendly hiss, tickling my face with her narrow tongue. After coaxing her back into her playpen, I helped a slightly shaken Prince Storm up a ladder bolted to the wall. Rane and the other petpets, all having waked after Storm’s yells, observed us from below. I unlatched the trapdoor, pushed it open, and was greeted with a burst of cool air. Light flooded the dim nursery.
“Well, here we are,” I said needlessly, once we had climbed through. The lift was a small metal rectangle, about four by three paces, with black iron railing. “You’d better hold on.”
He did, and I pulled the bright red lever in the control box. The lift grumbled and then, with a wail, jolted into motion. We ascended rapidly. I snuck a glance at Storm to see if he was getting nervous, but his face was as unperturbed as ever. When we were about thirty feet from the roof, the lift halted abruptly.
“That’s as high as it goes. Will that be enough?”
“It is perfect.” Storm came to the front of the lift and grasped the railing, drinking in the sight below. “Amazing.”
He was right. From where I stood, I could see everything from the rainbow tents of the marketplace, to the gold searchlights of the NC Mall, to the silver turrets of the Tightriver district mansions. Streets wound over the ground like black and yellow ribbon; pets and humans seemed nothing more than quivering dots.
“You’re lucky,” said Storm, presently.
“I said, you’re lucky,” he repeated. “It must be great, being able to come up here any time you like.”
“It is pretty nice,” I admitted, “but Brightvale Castle’s got higher turrets, I’m sure! I can only imagine the view—all those lovely green hills.”
“Indeed,” said he, setting up the camera and tripod, “and if one looks a bit further, one can see more hills, and even further, more hills. Yet further than that, even, are—”
“Precisely. With apparatus, though, such as binoculars, one can spot—”
“Bigger hills,” I finished, with a grin.
Storm looked up from the camera, surprised. “No,” he said, “no, actually, I was going to say ‘Meridell.’” He resumed taking snapshots. I noticed that his shoulders quivered in an odd way, though, as if he were suppressing something. Like laughter.
Within a moment, though, his shoulders were still. Serious once more, he concentrated on his task, sometimes changing the camera lens and moving the tripod. “Almost done,” he said, finally. “I only need a closer shot.” He moved the tripod to the very front of the lift but, unsatisfied, picked up the camera and came to the front himself.
“Careful,” I warned, as he leaned precariously over the railing.
“Won’t be a moment more.”
“I know, but—Sweet Jhudora’s Cupcakes, be careful for Sloth’s sake! Don’t— Storm—Storm, wai—”
And then he pitched over the edge.
To be continued...