Life is cruel. It is constantly playing tricks on you, trying to get you to break. It gnaws at you like a Meepit, and then you realise that that wasn’t just a simile. Or maybe you don’t, but I’m sure someone has had that happen to them at some point in time.
But life isn’t just trying to destroy you. It’s trying to challenge you, to make you fight against it, because it is trying to give you purpose. Or maybe it just likes a challenge; I wouldn’t know as I have yet to ask it.
Unfortunately, life can’t always be fought.
* * *
Greigor trudged towards me over the mud. That’s the one thing I really hate about winter. It’s wet, and muddy, and rainy, and very, very miserable.
I just wish that for once it would snow. I have never yet seen a white Christmas. One day I might just quit this job and move to Terror Mountain. But I can’t yet, because unlike over at Meridell where the guards get a small portion of everything left at the end of the week, here at Brightvale you get a hundred Neopoints and a wise saying from the king.
Not that I’m complaining, of course. I like this job. I get to stand around outside and the only time I ever have to do anything is when someone wants to enter the castle. And even then I get to growl at them and make life awkward before I can lift the lance. And it wasn’t hard for me to get, what with being your standard green Draik, born and raised for the job.
I don’t think the other guards particularly liked me for this. They were all from families which didn’t go so heavily into any particular jobs. Greigor, for example, was a Glowing Poogle from Neopia Central, whose father wanted him to be a doctor. He had had to work hard to be able to work for the king, fighting opponents and passing observation tests. I just had to give my last name and a reference from my uncle.
Of course, if I’d known all of this before I signed up, I might have gone to be a guard at Meridell instead, like everyone else in my family. But most of my cousins considered me to be a bit of a runt compared to them, and being a girl didn’t help that. I would’ve been stuck with all the bad jobs.
“Well, patrol over and I didn’t find any ladders or other such suspicious equipment lying around,” Greigor said. “Anyone come by?”
“No. Pity, I was looking forward to being able to boss someone around.”
“Yeah, well, that’s life for you. I bet ten people come along now.”
Unfortunately, he was wrong. Nobody came by for about twenty minutes, at which point...
There was a large crash from inside. A loud shout of “Guards!” I quickly flew up and over the wall, holding my lance high so that none of the guards in the towers thought I was an invading flying pet and decided to shoot me with crossbows.
I flew in through a high floor window, into someone’s room. They weren’t in. I ran through the door and then looked left and right to see where the shouts were coming from.
The throne room.
I was the first to arrive, and I didn’t really like the discovery. A Nimmo, whose choice of black garb made it impossible to determine his colour, let alone his identity, had a sword. And he was standing very close to King Hagan.
The squad captain was next to arrive, probably because he patrolled the corridors. He looked first at me, then at the king, then at the Nimmo. He recoiled from the shock of what had happened, and then looked back to me meaningfully. Great. It is the luxury of squad captains to pass on all the dangerous and otherwise simply bad tasks on to those of lower rank, and it is a luxury which Captain Timir happened to enjoy.
Although now I took a proper look at the situation, perhaps I was better for the job. The captain might be a bit slow to the mark, as is usual with Elephantes. But I’m a Draik, and Draiks are fast.
I took one last look at the angles, and decided it was more than worth the risk. Act now, or things can only get worse.
And it helped that the Nimmo was... well, he hardly looked professional. He just stood there, sword in a mildly threatening position. He didn’t look like he was going to do anything, and that meant that doing anything would take him just that little bit longer.
I darted straight at him. Well, not quite. A little bit in the king’s direction, to allow for some movement on his part.
He didn’t, however, actually move. This meant I caught him on the side; flinging his sword away from his hand and making it crash into the wall. He staggered back, and then ran towards the window and jumped out of it.
Seconds later he was seen by both Captain Timir and myself getting away on the back of an Eyrie with a few arrows following but missing by inches. I looked to the captain, asking with my eyes whether I should chase them, but he shook his head rather sternly.
King Hagan was unconscious. At first I wondered when it had happened, but I realised that perhaps he had been unconscious the whole time, but I hadn’t noticed because of the Nimmo.
That Nimmo... was weird. What had he been doing here anyway? Anything he had wanted he would have been able to do, right? But nothing spectacular had happened, beyond the obvious.
A pink shape blocked my view of the king. Captain Timir. I looked up at him. His face was unusually red...
Oh, he didn’t, did he? I’d always thought that he shared the feelings of the other guards, that I had obtained my job unfairly. But... he couldn’t actually blame me for all this, could he?
Yes, he could. Somehow. According to his theory, I let in the Nimmo while Greigor was out on his patrol.
“What?! Nobody came to the gate while he was on patrol! And anyway, couldn’t Greigor just as easily done it?”
“No,” said the captain. “Firstly, he spent all of his patrol time patrolling, and anyway the only way in other than the front gate is over the wall, which the rooftop guards would have noticed. And please don’t say they could have been on it too, Safim.”
He’d used my name. That wasn’t good. Timir usually referred to guards by their rank. If he’d used my first name, he’d already decided I was guilty.
“Oh, and why shouldn’t I? Don’t I get the chance to try and prove myself innocent?”
“Yes, you do. But not until your trial, and the only reason I wish to discuss this now is to decide if you are going to one. And let me tell you, Safim, it doesn’t look good.”
“What, just because I had the opportunity to let someone in?”
“No, because you are the only person with both opportunity and motive.”
I pulled a puzzled face, aided by the fact that I actually was puzzled.
“Oh come on, Safim, we both saw the way the Nimmo acted. The only reason it would have wanted to do nothing was to prove that it could in fact get inside. This is down to the throne room argument again, isn’t it?”
I opened my mouth to, in short, tell him he was being stupid, but I was cut short by King Hagan, which startled both of us.
“What throne room argument might this be?”
“Well... Your Highness, Safim here believes that we should have hired two more guards to cover this room.”
“That seems very reasonable. I am rather surprised you did not listen to her.”
“Well, I didn’t exactly see the point, Your Majesty, in spending the extra money. The guards outside are supposed to stop anybody from getting in without permission. Although it seems I was wrong, because things like this can happen.”
I smiled. “See, I told you it was a good idea.”
All of a sudden, Timir rounded on me. “Exactly my point! This whole escapade was just a way to prove a point! But it still constitutes treason, because you let somebody in who did not have permission to enter.”
“Captain, this is ridiculous.”
King Hagan decided to have another say in the events. “No, it is not. The captain’s arguments, or more specifically those concerning your guilt, seem to be very convincing, and as of yet you have provided us with nothing that might acquit you. Captain, arrest her on grounds of treason. She will be put in the dungeons for six months, and then banished from Brightvale.”
“Give me one piece of evidence that makes you look innocent, and I will give you one. Otherwise it would be a waste of time.”
Nothing would come. Facing an argument like the one I was, I couldn’t see anything convincing. Not that the argument was particularly good, it was simply... biased. Because I’m a green Draik, and even Hagan seems to think there is something wrong with the system.
As I said, life is cruel. It likes to take you and throw you around a bit. This was one of those times when life won over, when there is no way to fight it.
But most of all, life likes to have its little jokes in its cruelty. You see, the walls of Brightvale castle are white.
So, it seems, life decided to let me see a white Christmas.