Redemption: Briccriu's Tale
Briccriu, the pea Chia, sighed heavily as she reached for the jar of white greasepaint on her dressing room table. Unscrewing the lid, she caught sight of herself in the mirror. “How long have I been here now?” she asked her reflection as she started to apply the makeup. “How long have I been alone among the crowds?” Laughing bitterly, she added, “And when did I start talking to myself?”
Briccriu affixed a curly orange wig to the top of her head and a ball nose to the middle of her face. Reaching for a red jar, she finished her transformation into a Chia Clown by drawing a ridiculously large smile around her mouth; a smile that barely managed to mask the despair that she felt on the inside. As she was about to respond to the King’s summons, Briccriu paused to reflect on the path that had led her here.
When Briccriu was but a wee Chia child, she had had a carefree existence. Her parents were cryptographers who delighted in playing word games with their cherished offspring. Her father was a red Chia, her mother was a blue Chia, and they were both delighted when their only child had turned out purple. Being proud parents, they would indulge Briccriu’s every whim, and especially her love of Chia Pops. However, this particular indulgence would one day change the course of the young Chia’s life forever.
One day, after finishing the Faerie Crossword in the Neopian Times, the young family took a trip to the park for a picnic and a game of yooyuball. The sun was shining brightly when they reached the playground and Briccriu ran ahead to the Chia Pop stand. When her parents caught up to her a moment later, the young Chia was in tears.
“Mommy,” she sniffled, “the stand is out of all of my favourites. There’s no Super Sour Shocker, no Juppie Swirl, and... and... and no Tigersquash.” The young Chia ended her complaint with a baleful moan.
“Well, sweetie,” replied her mother, “they must have something?”
This last was directed as a question to the aged white Lenny who ran the stand, who then proceeded to rustle around in the bottom of the freezer cart with his gnarled wing tip. He gritted his teeth and squinched with the strain as he dislodged the last Chia Pop, which had been frozen to the far corner of the icebox.
“Hmmmph,” grumbled the white Lenny, squinting at the Chia Pop and adjusting his thick-lensed glasses, “no guarantees with this here Pop. It don’t even have a label. Been a scorcher today. I’m sold out, and I’m going home. Take it er leave it.”
Briccriu looked up at her mother with hopeful anticipation and squealed as her father passed the neocoins to the Lenny. She held out her small hand to receive the frosty treat, eagerly opened the plastic, and drained the Pop in one slurp. Briccriu smiled at her doting parents whose own faces returned the countenance, but soon their joyful faces were subsumed by horror. They were frozen with alarm as they watched their beloved child twist and turn and metamorphose into a small pea-shaped Chia.
Briccriu, stunned by the transformation, fainted, fell to the ground, and rolled down the path. Her horrified parents ran after the child and, once caught up to her, wrapped her loosely in their picnic blanket and spirited her back to their Neohome. Briccriu regained consciousness while still wrapped in the blanket, and her distraught parents did not realize that she could hear their frantic conversation.
“Whatever will we do?” asked her distressed mother.
“We will lose our positions with the Intelligence Service if they discover we are harbouring a Transmute,” replied her father.
Wrapped within the blanket, Briccriu was stung by the forbidden utterance: Transmute.
“How did that foolish Lenny let this happen? Who sells transmutative Chia Pops in the park?”
“Oh, the Lenny! My dear, he is certain to inform the authorities! Our child will be taken from us. What horrid fate will befall her?”
The progenitors collapsed against each other with a desperate clutch. Racked with silent sobs, Briccriu could feel the palpable despair of her parents. Her father broke the silence with a determined voice, “Our only choice is to release our child on our own terms. I believe I have the solution!”
With that, the young pea Chia was consigned to a new destiny, and within days, she had been delivered to the court of King Skarl.
Briccriu bravely endured abandonment by her parents because in her heart she knew that she had escaped a far worse fate. Among Chia society, “Transmute” was a vile word used to describe the unclean pariahs who were exiled to perform the abominable work that the “Standards” disdained. Briccriu herself had often thrilled to the mental images she had had of the pineapple, tomato, and thornberry Chias who cleaned the sewers and fought the mutants on behalf of their respectable brethren. At least here, in the castle of the notoriously grumpy King Skarl, she could challenge her mental faculties in the position of Court Jester. As a master of wordplay, the young Chia had a talent for amusing others that her parents knew would be appreciated here. And as a pea-shaped Transmute, her parents knew that this was the one place where her physiognomy would add to her appeal.
Briccriu persevered, and her position satisfied her for several years before she began to grow bored. What the pea Chia realized before long was that while the grumpy king required all in his presence to regale him with quips and witticism, there was only one joke that made him truly laugh. It soon became her duty to divert him with this one jape, solely and repeatedly; she waited in her dressing room, day after lonely day, for the King to send for his favourite Jester to tell him his favourite joke.
“What do you do if fierce Peophins has eaten too much tin of olives?” Briccriu would ask.
“What?” would reply the King, already snorting with anticipation.
“You offering a tin of what what what.”
Briccriu would finish the joke with a flourish of her hands, and King Skarl would lose his effort to preserve his dignity every time, eventually rolling on the floor with laughter. The Chia would freeze a rictus on her face and resist the urge to sigh; it was no longer challenging, and the loneliness she suffered here made her question if perhaps she would not have been better off in exile with her fellow Transmutes.
Shaking her head at the image of joining those lost souls from the spooky stories of her now long distant childhood, Briccriu cleared her daydreaming mind and resigned herself to the task at hand; fulfilling her commitment to the amusement of her King.
While striding down the commonway and muttering to herself, Briccriu brushed up against two strangers she vaguely recognized as being among the daily throng of petitioners to the throne; those who hoped to amuse King Skarl and merit the much coveted Jester’s Shield. Through this brief contact, she felt a peculiar, insistent pull from within her. She spun toward the two and felt as though a calm was washing through her core, scouring a shame of which she had not even been aware. The strangers responded to her impulse, and as the three each looked into the eyes of the others, there was a moment of perfect recognition between them; a moment of destiny fulfilled.
“I think we have completed our task here,” said the first of the strangers, an intimidating looking mutant Draik.
“Yezzz, Cavillace,” hummed the darigan Buzz in return, “she izzzz meant to join uzzzz.”
“I don’t understand,” said the pea Chia. “I can’t join you. I am pledged to the service of the king.”
“Anyone, and looking around here it would seem that everyone, can tell him jokes,” replied the Draik, “but only you are the next piece of the puzzle that can complete our clan. Please join us in Brightvale, as a member of our family. This is YourFlyness, and you may call me ‘Cavillace’. I know that it is Fortune that has caused our paths to cross.”
“Fortune? Fortune does not know my name, I am afraid. I am an outcast and a fool, an imbecile who dances and cavorts for the amusement of the nobility who scorn me.”
As Briccriu spoke, she could feel the repressed shame bubbling to the surface.
“I am nothing. I am the joke here.”
The two strangers approached the pea Chia and encircled her in their embrace. The calming wave became a flood, and Briccriu was cleansed of her ignominy. For the first time in years, the word “family” stamped itself on her consciousness, and she knew that if Fortune had abandoned her, surely Fate had sent her salvation.
Briccriu was the first to break off from the embrace, and taking a deep breath, she blurted out, “I must warn you, beneath the paint I am not what I might seem.” Lowering her gaze and her voice, she added, “I am a pea Chia. A Transmute.”
Cavillace approached the Chia and bent to meet her gaze. “Look at me,” said the Draik. “I am a mutant. Look at YourFlyness. She is a darigan. We three have each suffered from the unfair and unkind assumptions of strangers. Come with us and you will never again suffer alone. Our foster mother sent us here in search of treasure, and while I had assumed the Jester’s Shield was the ultimate treasure of King Skarl’s court, now that I’ve met you, I am certain that you are who we’ve been seeking. Join us. It is meant to be.”
“I must go with you, I sense that in every part of me. But what of the king?” asked Briccriu.
“I have been watching you, and I have noticed,” said Cavillace, her voice slowly rising in volume, “that you seem to have a secret jest which never fails to entertain His Highness. Surely there must be one here who would enjoy that secret?”
A blue Blumaroo standing nearby bounced excitedly on his tail, jingling the bells at the peaks of his jester’s hat.
“Oh, me, me please! I have always felt that this is my fate. I live to amuse the king!” bubbled the Blumaroo.
Briccriu nodded and shared the secret joke with the Blumaroo, and the two strangers as well.
“What is a ‘what what what’? Ha ha ha. OK, I am going in and then we are off,” said Cavillace.
The Draik was soon summoned, leaving the pea Chia standing shyly beside the darigan Buzz.
“My name is Briccriu,” the Chia offered.
“I am pleazzzzed to meet you, sizzzzter,” buzzed the other.
“Family,” they intoned together wistfully, and the two fell against each other with helpless giggles of joy and satisfaction.
The distant sound of King Skarl’s laughter preceded Cavillace’s return, and as she joined them in a congratulatory huddle, the Draik removed a cloth from her rucksack and used it to wash the paint from Briccriu’s face.
“Beautiful,” Cavillace declared with a wide grin, “perfectly beautiful.”
The three left the palace together that day and travelled to Brightvale, eager to discover what adventures Fate had in store for them.