The Sword of Brightvale: Part Two
Briseis and Moira stood outside in the pouring rain, underneath a large tree, while the wind tried to blow off their cloaks. “I hope there won’t be any lightning!” Moira shouted to Briseis, as she looked up at the large tree above them, fearing lightning would strike it.
“Look! There they come,” said Briseis as she pointed towards three blurry shapes running out of the castle and taking the path to the city of Meridell. She grabbed Moira’s hand and they ran underneath the trees, alongside the path, splashing their dresses and cloaks in mud as to not be seen by the three culprits. The two Ixi followed them all the way to a house so small and dirty it seemed as if it would collapse, were it not for the two other houses on each side of it, holding it upright. Above the door a sign was swinging madly in the wind that said “The Jolly Meridell Inn”. The black and brown Ixi nodded at each other, pulled their hoods farther over their faces and entered the Inn.
Inside sat a multitude of Neopets, eating, drinking, singing, laughing, etc. There was a warm fire roaring in the hearth located at the center of the pub, and many of the guests had brought their chairs up to it, to warm their soaked feet and the hems of their cloaks. The two girls hesitantly walked into the common room of the Inn, searching for the red Gelert and the black Lupe. Suddenly, Briseis saw a flash of red disappearing behind a curtain. She tugged on Moira’s sleeve and headed for the curtain. The bartender, a fierce looking Lupe, was luckily immerged in a heavy discussion with a Wocky who refused to pay for his dinner, claiming it was inedible. Moira and Briseis slipped behind the curtain and found themselves in a small circular room with seven doors, each leading to an individual parlor.
Something that sounded like a low growl made them start. It came from the third door on the left, and they crept closer, leaning in to peep through the keyhole. Briseis saw a round table in the middle of the room with three glasses on it. Gavin was sitting in the far corner, next to the chimney, quietly observing his master. Keir sat nonchalantly on a chair, his legs propped on the table, his face dark and serious. The third person in the room was a grey Wocky with an eye patch, chewing on a piece of straw and pacing the room nervously.
“Must be the servant’s cousin,” Briseis whispered.
The Wocky continued pacing, wringing his hands and obviously wondering how to initiate conversation with the stoic black Lupe. Luckily for him, the awkward silence was broken soon enough.
“Do you know where it is?” Keir asked in his low voice.
The Wocky jumped a bit, sat down on a chair, then sprang up again and started pacing again. “I--I have a good idea, yeah,” he answered.
“You need to be sure,” said Keir, “or there shall be no reward.”
The Wocky eyed him nervously. “Look, I can’t be sure; it’s a myth, you know. A story my grandfather used to tell me.”
“Right,” said Keir, getting up. “Come on, Gavin, he doesn’t know anything.” They were coming towards the door. Moira grabbed Briseis by the hand and dragged her into one of the other parlors.
“Wait!” the Wocky cried. “Now wait just a minute. I’ll draw you a map and--and then you can pay me.”
There was a pause.
“I don’t think so. You run off with the money, and us stuck with a map with nothing but your word that it will bring us to it?” Keir let out a long loud laugh. “Don’t mistake me for a fool. It would be very unwise on your part to try and deceive the future King.”
In the next room, Moira gasped and Briseis’s mouth fell open. She had known it. She had known it all along that something was wrong with that dark Lupe. He was too controlled, too stoic, too sure of himself. They were going to find some weapon and overthrow Moira’s father.
“Moira,” she whispered, “we have to do something; we have to stop them!” But before Moira could think of something to reply, they heard the door creak and footsteps going past their door. Briseis opened the door by a crack and slipped out, dragging Moira behind her. They put their hoods back on and followed Keir and Gavin into the shadows of the night. Briseis started running and Moira followed suit, wondering what her friend had in mind. They took a short cut back to the castle and hid near the servant’s entrance.
“Stay here,” Briseis whispered as she pushed Moira behind a tree, before disappearing inside. A few moments later she came out and handed Moira a sword, while she held bow and arrow at the ready.
“Are you mad?” hissed Moira.
“Did you just want to go to bed and ignore what we heard?”
“No, but you could hurt yourself with that thing. Have you ever used a bow?”
“Er--no, but it can’t be that hard.”
Moira rolled her eyes and thrust her sword in Briseis’s hands. She then took the little dagger she kept in one of her boots.
“I’m a princess, people are bound to want to harm me,” she replied to Briseis’s stunned face. She shook her head and pointed to the road where she could see Keir and Gavin walking towards the castle. In the heat of irrational behavior, the girls jumped on the road and brandished their sword and dagger. The Lupe and the Gelert first looked stunned, before bursting out in such a fit of laughter it had Gavin rolling over the ground and Keir seeking support on his knees to keep himself from falling over.
“What’s so funny,” Briseis said indignantly.
“Haha-sorry-but-haha-if only you could see yourselves,” Gavin said. “Two wee Ixi threatening us. Hahahaaaaa.”
“That’s enough, Gavin,” Keir said, straightening his face. “Ladies,” he bowed, “may I inquire as to the reason you see fit to threaten us?”
“We heard you,” said Moira gloomily. “At the Inn,” she added. Keir’s face darkened instantly. “You plan to overthrow the King and probably to bring war to Meridell. We can’t let that happen.”
Keir frowned and sighed. “Could we go inside the castle? Please.”
Briseis lit all the candles in her room while Moira gathered four chairs around the roaring fire and handed out glasses with warm milk. “Trying to put us asleep?” sneered Gavin.
“No. But it if you want to get a cold, being soaking wet and shivering, please do say so,” she snapped. He blushed and sipped a bit of milk.
“Now,” Moira began as she sat down, smoothing her dress. “You were about to tell us a lovely story?” Briseis smiled softly at her friend, sitting and talking with the poise of a Queen.
“Yes,” Keir said in his low voice. “Although it might not be as lovely as you imagine. You should know that my family has been living in Brightvale since its existence. From father to son, we have been part of the King’s council. Alas, many years ago, the last King died and with him the royal line ended. He had no descendents, no more relatives or family. Nobody who could lay claim on the throne. Since then, the council, composed of five Neopets, has reigned over the Kingdom of Brightvale. It’s not an easy task, and some members of the council try to have a bigger share of the power. And they are willing to go very far to get that power. My grandfather and now my father tried to fight the corrupt council members, but it’s not an easy task. While the council fights among themselves, Brightvale is weak prey for pillagers and lords seeking to seize the throne. There is, however, a legend, a rumor... There is said to be a sword, the Sword of Brightvale, which belonged to the very first King. The sword was forged by the protective Earth Faeries of Brightvale, the steel cannot be destroyed, and in the pommel and crossguard there is said to be a gem incrusted. A gem of a green so pure it came from the tears of an Earth Faerie and turned into a gem when the tears fell to the ground. The owner of that sword would be King of Brightvale.” He paused and looked gloomily in the fire.
“But then, why doesn’t anyone take the sword?” Briseis asked.
“Because nobody knows where it lies,” Gavin said.
“Exactly.” Keir nodded. “After the last King died, it disappeared. We believe it was hidden by Faeries in a secure place until someone worthy would find it and claim the throne. You see, anyone who possesses the sword becomes King or Queen. So every thief or crook could become King, if they had the sword. That’s why it was hidden. And that’s what I’m looking for.”
“But why have you come to Meridell?” asked Moira.
“It’s more likely to be hidden here than in Brightvale. It would seem rational if it were somewhere in Brightvale. But the Earth Faeries aren’t known for their rational thinking. Which is probably why no-one has found the sword yet. It’s really rather brilliant actually; who would come looking for the Sword of Brightvale in Meridell,” Gavin explained.
The four of them sat silent for a while, listening to the everlasting rain tapping on the windowpanes. Briseis played absently with the sleeve of her green dress as she sneaked a peek at Keir’s face. Dark and glum. Stoic and wise. She could see in him the perfect King for Brightvale, with all its refined culture.
“We’ll help,” she said. Keir and Gavin looked up at Moira. “We will,” she said again. “You were given a map, weren’t you? And we know Meridell quite well.” She gestured at Briseis, who smiled encouragingly at them.
Keir hesitated, glanced at Gavin, who shrugged, and then smiled softly. “All right,” he said, making room on the round table before them. “Here’s the map,” he said, unrolling a large roll of parchment. “Now, it’s not so much a map as a really unclear mystery. This is the castle,” he said and he pointed to a blue cross on the map, “and that would be where the gem is.” He indicated a green cross at the far end of the map. “I’ve been studying maps of Meridell in the library yesterday, before I was interrupted.” He coughed and looked at Briseis. “But I cannot imagine where that green cross should be. According to me there’s nothing there except for grass and some trees. No castle, no river, no cliffs...”
Moira and Briseis leaned in to have a better look at the map, but their brows stayed equally furrowed as they looked at the green spot on the map.
“There’s only one thing to do,” said Gavin. “It’s following the map to have a look. See if there’s a magical tree or something.” Keir shot him a dark look, thinking it wasn’t a proper time for silly jokes.
“Actually,” said Moira, “there is an ancient legend about a tree, the ever-blooming faerie tree. Briseis?” she asked, turning to her cousin. “Didn’t we read something about that!”
Briseis’ face brightened as she dashed to the corner of her room where an old table stood, its legs nearly bending under the weight of piles of books. She shifted a few dusty volumes and grabbed what was positively the most ancient book Keir had ever seen. She laid the book in front of him and frantically leafed through it.
“Yes, here it is,” she said in a bright voice. “The Faerie Tree of Meridell. This most ancient and magical tree has been in Meridell long before it even existed. Home to the Earth Faeries, it is also their favorite hide-out for everything they think precious. This tree’s main characteristic is that it keeps switching places. One day it can be standing on a mountaintop; the next it will be hiding out in a cave. Rare are those who have seen it. It keeps going on like that, but wouldn’t that be the perfect hide-out for the sword?” Briseis asked excitedly.
“But it’s a fairytale,” Keir protested.
“Fairytale or not, it’s the best we’ve got,” Briseis replied, her cheeks flushed with anticipation of adventure.
And so it was that at the break of dawn the four companions set off in all secrecy, packed with provisions and weapons for safety. Around midday, they arrived at the spot marked on the map: nothing but open field. It had stopped raining and once in a while they could feel a ray of sun warming their faces. The wind, however, did not desist and doubled with fury, making Briseis’ and Moira’s hair fly wildly about their faces, and giving them a feeling of unease.
“So, where is this tree?” Gavin asked, looking around in disbelief. He walked over to a flat-shaped stone, sat down on it and screamed as the stone disappeared and a hole revealed itself underneath, making Gavin fall into it. The others rushed over in panic. “I’m fine, fine.” He coughed, waving his arm to clear some of the dust his fall had caused to rise. “There seems to be a corridor of some sort here.” Keir grabbed a torch from his bag, lit it and handed it to Gavin.
“Maybe this is the passage to the tree?” Briseis said. “What do we do?” she asked, looking at the others.
“We go in,” Keir replied.
They followed the long narrow corridor by the glum light of the torch, once in a while bumping into a sharp rock or sliding away on the slippery underground. After what seemed for an eternity of walking in semi-obscurity the passageway ended and opened into a more spacious cavern, harboring an underground lake. Briseis and Moira gasped as the sight of the enormous lake, stretching out as far as they could see.
“How do we get across?” Moira asked.
“There’s a boat down there,” Keir observed. The three others followed him, climbing carefully down the slippery rocks, towards the boat. When they sat down in it and fastened the torch to the front bow, the boat started moving on its own while the water underneath it started glowing green. Briseis and Moira sat closely side by side, shivering slightly in the damp atmosphere of the cavern. Keir sat by the front, peering into the darkness. Suddenly he spoke and pointed at a green light on their left. The boat made a turn and steered them calmly in the direction of the light. Moira grabbed Briseis’ hand and squeezed it. Briseis shivered. They suddenly heard some kind of ethereal singing as the boat stopped and slightly flipped over, urging them to get on land. So they did and climbed stone steps that had been carved in the rocks and decorated with leaves and flowers.
At the top of the staircase the green light was so bright they had to cover their eyes. After a while, though, their eyes became accustomed and they could see a gigantic tree standing in front of them, glowing with the light of a million Earth Faeries who circled around it in a strange dance.
“What are they saying?” Keir asked.
“I don’t know, they’re singing something, let’s listen more closely,” Briseis replied. The four of them crept closer to the tree and listened to the faeries’ song:
What have you come for?
What have you come to seek?
What have you come to take from our Tree?
What shall we give thee that is already yours?
“Look up there,” said Gavin, pointing at the top of the tree, “it looks like a sword! It--it is a sword.” He started running towards the tree and climbed it as the others stood watching him their mouths open. The Faeries, however, continued circling the tree and singing. Keir could only vaguely see a red blurry shape climbing the tree with surprising agility. Suddenly Gavin yelled, “I have it. I have the sword!”
“Throw it down, so you can safely climb down!” Keir yelled back. But Gavin didn’t seem to hear him and climbed down with one hand, holding the sword with the green glowing gem in the other. “Gavin, throw me the sword!”
The Faeries' dance changed slightly; it became more frantic, more aggressive as Gavin reached the ground, his face glowing and the sword in his hand. “Gavin,” said Keir, “it’s wonderful. The sword.” He outstretched his hand for Gavin to give it to him. But Gavin’s face split into an evil grin and he held the sword more tightly to his body, laughing bitterly at Keir’s dumbfounded face.
“What? You actually thought that now I’m holding the sword I would give it to you? I expected better of you, Keir. You always act so wise; surely you seriously can’t be this naïve.” He laughed again. “Did you really think I was going to play faithful lapdog forever? I have nothing, Keir, nothing. You, you have a title to fall back on, a noble bloodline. As King, I shall show clemency and make you captain of my soldiers.” His face lit up as he imagined all the splendor and magnificence of his future reign. “And don’t even try,” he said as he saw Keir moving towards him, “to take the sword. I shall neutralize you if I have to, dear friend. Because NOTHING shall stand between me and my throne!”
Suddenly a whirlwind appeared at the foot of the tree, causing the faeries to fly away in several directions and hide. Then the whirlwind vanished and a beautiful Earth Faerie appeared, her skin forest green, her hair as brown as the earth and her eyes alight with a pale-green glow. She outstretched her hand towards Gavin, beckoning him to hand her the sword.
“NO,” he yelled, “it’s mine and mine alone. I found it, I retrieved, I-”
“There is no ‘I’ in a good King,” said the Faerie calmly. “The finder of the Sword becomes King, yes. Only if we, the faeries find the aspirant worthy. “ She came closer to Gavin, stroked his cheek with her green hand, and wrung the sword free from his iron grip with her other hand. But he jumped forward, grabbed the sword and thrust it into the Faerie's chest. Briseis screamed. Moira backed away and Keir looked at the scene in disbelief. Being a Faerie, she could not be wounded by any weapon. A single tear rolled from her cheek and fell to the ground, materializing into a gem.
“I’m disappointed it had to come to this,” she said softly as she clapped her hands together. Before he could even move, Gavin disappeared in a loud poof.
“Wha-where is he?” Keir asked hesitantly.
“Somewhere safe,” the Faerie replied. “In a place he can think about what he’s done while working for the faeries, making up for his wrongdoing.” She sighed and shook her beautiful head softly. “Now, I believe Brightvale needs a new King?” She stood in front of Keir, bowed to him and held the sword up to him. Hesitating and with a shy smile, he took the sword from the Faerie. At the touch of the metal hilt with his hand, the gems started glowing green and the Faerie smiled warmly. She bowed once more and vanished herself. Brightvale had a new King.
The boys sat in silence as they gaped at the old Wocky, dazzled by his story.
“How are you related to any of them, uncle?”
“Ah, because Briseis was my great-great-great grandmother.”
“So, Keir became King of Brightvale. Years later Moira became Queen of Meridell. As for Briseis, she became the Royal Librarian of Brightvale and spent her days between books and stories. What more do you need in life? Stories are the food of our youth, of our imagination. We can’t live without them.”