Royally Educated: Part Two
Lira looked up in surprise. The figure moved even closer, and Lira saw that it was simply a Blue Ixi, who was clutching a bunch of fruit that she had just picked up. She extended a hoof for Lira to grab on to, and the Zafara reluctantly accepted the gesture. Once she was on her feet again, she brushed dirt off her dress.
“W-who are you?” Lira managed to say. Her voice shook.
“My name is Elle,” The Ixi said. “And you are...?”
Lira froze - she realized that giving away her identity would not be a good idea. For now, she was simply a lost Zafara in the woods.
“My name is... Kaylie,” Lira said. It was the first name that popped into her head.
“Well, Kaylie,” the Ixi answered, with a hint of a smile. “Let’s get you dried up and fed.”
“You mean at your house?” Lira asked.
“I don’t think my father would approve,” the Zafara said quickly.
Elle smirked, though not unkindly. “I’m sure he wouldn’t want his daughter shivering in the middle of a forest, either,” she said. “You’ll catch cold.”
There was nothing Lira could say to that, so with a shrug, she stepped onto the path and grabbed the bottom of her dress in a fist.
The two pets reached the Ixi’s house shortly. It was located at the edge of the woods, and Lira could see a small spiral of smoke rise from the chimney. Beyond the cottage lay bigger houses clumped together, and past that, Lira could see a line of shops.
“What are those?” she asked.
Elle gave another one of her amused smiles. “That’s Meridell,” she said. “Did you receive a bump on your head as well as a soaking tonight?”
Lira laughed stiffly, but resolved not to ask any more questions as she followed Elle through the door.
Her eyes widened when she walked inside. She’d expected that the cottage would be a mess; instead, there were stacks of neat clothing piled up against the wall, and three beds in one corner. A pot in the fire bubbled merrily.
A second later, Lira saw a small creature run across the room.
“What’s that?” she said in horror. She assumed that the creature was simply an escaped petpet; she had had her share of Yullies dart around the castle.
“Oh, that’s my daughter!” Elle responded. “My baby Ixi. Come here, Alyssa,” she called louder.
A small Ixi crawled out of the shadows and smiled shyly at Lira. As Elle walked over to tend the fire, what Lira had assumed to be a mass of blankets stirred on the bed. Then the mass aroused itself, and Lira realized that it must be another one of Elle’s children. The pet was a Red Ixi, who stopped when she saw Lira.
“Who’s this?” she asked. Her dark eyes surveyed the new arrival.
Elle looked up from the pot. “This is...” She looked to Lira for help.
“Kaylie,” the Zafara finished. “My name is Kaylie.”
“You look familiar,” the Ixi said. Her gaze didn’t move from Lira’s face.
“Sometimes I walk around town,” Lira said. “You probably saw me there.”
“Maybe,” the Ixi said, but she didn’t look convinced. “Anyway, my name is Merille. Feel free to call me Mer, or whatever you like, really.”
“All right,” Lira said warily.
“Do you mind sharing a bed with Mer tonight?” Elle asked. She dipped the ladle in the pot, and sipped at it carefully. “Perfect for breakfast tomorrow,” she said. The ladle dropped back into the mixture.
“No, not at all,” the Zafara answered. She looked at Mer, who didn’t seem as thrilled about the thought.
Despite the sleeping arrangements – or because of them – Lira found it hard to drift off. As she had done the night before, she simply stared at the ceiling above until she allowed herself to fall asleep and await whatever the morning had in store for her.
“Time to get up!” the Zafara heard Elle say after what felt like a moment later. The bed shook as the Ixi tried to pull the covers off.
Lira closed her eyes forcefully; she felt like she hadn’t slept at all.
“You’re going to be late for Neoschool,” Elle said.
“What?” Lira asked. She sat up suddenly.
“I said, you’re going to be late for Neoschool! Now get some clothes on and eat breakfast.”
“I don’t... go to school,” Lira said.
Mer stifled a laugh. “What are you talking about?” she said. “Every pet goes to school.”
“Well, I don’t,” Lira said defensively. “It’s bad for my, um, health.”
“No,” Elle said as she pulled the curtains apart. “What’s bad for your health is sitting around in bed all morning. Guest or not, I will not tolerate laziness. It’s time to learn and study today, and over the weekend you can relax.”
Mer yawned and crawled out of bed, and Lira saw her wince as her feet touched the cold floor. The Zafara reluctantly did the same, and Elle smiled in satisfaction.
Mer and Lira walked quickly to the Neoschool so as not to miss the starting bell. Since Alyssa was too small to go to school yet, she stayed home.
“So, where are you really from?” Mer asked as they walked on the path.
“I’m from Brightvale,” Lira said.
“Really? I go there a lot. Which street are you on?”
Lira was surprised at Mer’s sudden display of interest.
“The street is called... Blueberry Row,” she said. In reality, Lira had ventured into town so little that she couldn’t think of any of the names.
Mer frowned. “I’ve never heard of it,” she said.
“Well, it’s very small. Almost no pets live there.”
They continued walking in silence until they finally reached the school. Lira gulped as she noticed the massive entrance, but Mer walked right on in and let the door slam after Lira had slipped through.
“This is it,” she said. “I’m assuming that you’ve never gone here before, so you can come to my classes. Our first one is here.”
Mer opened a door directly to their right, and Lira followed. The door closed with a click, and the class immediately looked up.
“Mr. Keaver,” Mer said, “This is a new student. We found her last night in the woods.”
“In the woods, eh?” the Scorchio asked. The class chuckled along with him. “And what’s your name?”
“Lira,” the Zafara answered.
“I thought your name was Kaylie,” Mer said sharply.
“Oh, it is,” Lira said. “It’s Kaylie Lira, actually. My parents couldn’t decide between the two, so sometimes I go by both. But you can call me Kaylie.”
She saw Mer wearing the same smirk that Lira was so used to seeing on Elle.
“All right - Kaylie,” Mr. Keaver said. “You can sit next to Mer.”
“And has anyone seen Bella?” the teacher asked. He scrolled down the piece of paper he was holding.
Lira looked up at the name. She remembered meeting her uncle’s children at one point – and she knew that one of them was named Bella. An image of her cousin flashed through her head, and her eyes shifted nervously around the room.
“No, King Skarl sent a message that she was sick today,” squeaked a Lenny in the back. Lira breathed a sigh of relief.
“Let’s get on with the lesson then. Today we will be studying...” Mr. Keaver flipped through his book. “Tyrannia,” he said.
By lunchtime, the class had gotten noisier and rowdier. Mer often chatted with a pet next to her, whom Lira couldn’t see. Though Lira knew all the answers to Mr. Keaver’s questions, she hardly dared raise her hand. Even though Bella wasn’t there, she wasn’t sure who might recognize her. Towards the end of the period, she saw Mer close her eyes and begin to go to sleep.
“His class is so boring,” she said once they’d been dismissed. “Half the people fall asleep in it and he doesn’t even notice.” As they walked up the steps to Mer’s next class, she stopped suddenly.
“Hey,” she said, “where DID you go to school? I’m sure they have millions in Brightvale.”
“Well, yes,” Lira admitted. “My fath – I mean, the king – is quite strict about that.”
Mer nodded, prodding Lira to say more.
“I used to go to school,” Lira said. Her brain worked furiously to think up a story. “About a year ago, I fell sick, and I had to stop going. It was quite unfortunate really. But my mom tutors me, and when I’m better I’ll be able to go back.”
“You seem fine now,” Mer said.
“Well, looks are deceiving,” Lira said, and ran up the stairs before Mer could ask more.
Once Art class was over, Mer walked with Lira to lunch. The Zafara found that Mer was opening up to her more and more; they’d even had a couple of full conversations by the time they reached the cafeteria.
“What do you eat mainly?” Mer asked.
“Fruit,” Lira said truthfully. As she walked by the snack bar, she grabbed as many cakes and cookies as she could, and Mer raised her eyebrows and laughed.
Lira followed Mer to where she normally sat in the cafeteria, and when Lira got to the table, she stopped in her tracks.
“Bella?” she said. The unmistakable Green Skeith sat on one of the chairs.
Bella turned around, and her tail thumped against the floor. “Lira?”
“I thought you said your name was Kaylie,” Mer said, looking between the two.
“I did,” Lira whispered.
To be continued...