The First Taste of Meridell
For the past ten years, my daily schedule had never been altered.
Every morning, I would awaken at precisely 7am to the harmonious chirps of passing Beekadoodles. Most days, the rising sun would glare through my arched window as I changed from my nightgown and braided my floor-length hair. My trusted butler, Bellamy, would be ready in the kitchen at 8am with my breakfast regular: tea, crumpets and porridge. The Quiggle would greet me with a smile, then turn to the grand piano to play melodies while I ate. I would then either choose to quietly read a book in my basement library, or go back upstairs to delight in company with my one companion: my Faerie Drugal, Merilyn.
Every afternoon, I would first take a midday stroll in my back garden. My gardener, Jamia - a darling Plushie Kacheek - would wave from the greenhouse as I inhaled the pleasant aromas of the poppies and pineflowers. Bellamy would bring my lunch – tea, biscuits and a hearty salad – at 1pm, to the picnic area where I usually sat with Merilyn to admire the radiant sunshine reflecting from our sparkling fountain. I would read the latest Neopian Times, and then proceed to participate in a sporting activity with my personal trainer, a rather fetching blue Lupe named Franklin. Lately, Frumball has particularly taken my fancy, but dear Franklin always keeps me on my toes.
And every evening, I would feast upon my dinner around 6:30pm. Bellamy always surprised me with a new dish he had been given the recipe for by his rather healthy brother, Quinton. With feasts ranging from Lobster Berry Surprises to Carrot Pie with Peppers, I'm never left bored or hungry. And, by the strike of 9 o'clock, I would be tucked up and ready to sleep, with Merilyn purring at the foot of the bed. I would turn off the light and close my eyes, and let my mind overflow with anticipation for the next day.
One day, however, I opted for change.
* * *
The Beekadoodles were singing as I rose one Tuesday. The sun was gleaming through my curtains. Merilyn was yawning at the end of my bed, before hopping up to my pillow to make sure I was awake. I smiled as I noticed the refreshing sunshine that has graced us that day.
"Perhaps today is the day, little one," I whispered, and she purred in my ear.
* * *
"Good morning, Madame Evalynde. I trust you are well." Bellamy greeted me at the bottom of the stairs, his cheeks glowing under his pink skin as he bowed.
"Hello, my dearest Bellamy. And indeed, what a fine morning it is," I replied, with a heart-warming smile. I continued down the stairs and through to the kitchen, where my breakfast regular awaited. The tea was exhaling milky steam, as was the porridge. I savoured the familiarity as I settled down to sip my morning beverage.
"I was thinking, Bellamy, that I might take a walk into the enchanting land of Meridell today." I spoke softly, in between gulps of the sweet tea. Although Bellamy had only begun playing the piano, he ceased abruptly. He gazed in my direction with complete shock.
"You cannot be serious, Madame!" he spluttered, throwing his fragile arms in the air. "It's far too dangerous for a Royal like you out there. You'd be pushed and shoved and pointed at and goodness knows what else, Madame Evalynde. For your own safety, you're much better sticking to your schedule. And I beg your pardon, Madame, I mean no offence at all."
I fluttered my eyelashes, before taking another sip and replying, "None taken, Bellamy, but you need not worry. I will take uttermost care on my travels today; I just feel it is finally time that I see what is out there, in the humble land that I dream of every night."
Bellamy sighed, and nodded. "I understand your thirst to explore unfamiliar places, Madame, as much as it displeases me. I suppose I can, unwillingly, trust that you will be careful today."
Certainly, I could see that Bellamy was not best pleased with my sudden decision to venture in what he assumed to be a land of no return, but curiosity had got the best of me. For years, every morning I had looked out of my arched window to see glorious sunshine beaming onto fields of green; a mysterious land of secrets and delights unknown. An area of pure innocence and happiness that I would frequently wish to visit, but I was always too afraid to take those first few steps out of my towering, yet tranquil Neohome. This morning's sunrise brought new hopes, though; after a fascinating dream about mingling with the friendly citizens of Meridell, and participating in activities I could never have imagined consciously, I knew I was ready to explore.
After I finished my cup of tea, I rose to collect my coat and kiss Merilyn on the head, before heading to the large oak front doors where Bellamy anxiously waited for me. He bit his lip as he hesitantly opened the doors for me to leave.
He cleared his throat and avoided eye contact, whilst saying, "Do take care, Madame. No dilly-dallying - I expect you back home at no later than 6:30pm, for tonight's dinner."
I nodded, gave a quick curtsey to my blushing butler, and swiftly stepped out of my Neohome and paced down the river of stairs to the garden.
"...away from that Skarl character too... apparently, not such a nice Skeith..." I vaguely heard Bellamy muttering before watching me walk away from the familiarity and comforts of my humble home.
It took a few minutes to pass over the bridges that separated my home from the rest of civilisation. Water trickled beneath my walkway, whilst all the new, beautiful surroundings seeped into my memory. The sky appeared much more blue and crisp outside of my seemingly foggy garden view, and was dotted with several wispy clouds. I hummed a cheerful tune as I began to gather thoughts of what today could bring. New friends to discuss the current affairs mentioned in the morning paper, or perhaps potential Neopets to invite to join me for a cup of afternoon tea. New opportunities, such as a new sport I could suggest to Franklin, or a game that may surprisingly intrigue me. Gusts of wind softly blew my hair around my face as I walked down and off the bridge, and soon, I was stepping onto patches of sharp green grass. I could see Meridell getting closer – the shabby stalls were coming clearly into view, and the shrieks of baby Neopets began to echo throughout the lazy afternoon air – it was all new to me, but it was breath-taking.
The safety and security of my Neohome had left me fairly content for several years. But now, not having left the confinement for so long, it was rather dazzling to be outside with utmost freedom. To finally breathe in extravagant clear air, instead of the perfumed scents I had grown to be so desensitised to. To hear the cheerful laughter of passing Kacheeks on the way to what seemed to be a market stall, instead of the creaking floorboards of my long corridors. The buildings surrounding me all appeared to be homemade, boarded together with crooked wood and bent nails. All of them were sign posted with planks of wood and scruffy inked handwriting; "Ye Old Petpets", "Rubbish Dump", and the most captivating, "Merifoods".
This "Merifoods" shop appeared to be causing a slight catastrophe amongst the Meridellian citizens, for reasons unbeknownst to me. Even from a fair distance, I could see the agony of the Neopets flooding outside painted on their faces. Shock, anticipation, boredom, anger – every possible uncomfortable expression I could think of, were joined together in this tormented array of Neopets. Before I'd even begun to edge any nearer, I pondered on what this could be.
I'd heard of restocking before, but little did I know what emotional distress it could cause.
As I dared to step closer, the crowd seemed to getting larger, tighter and more excited. I could hear casual chatter as they all squeezed into the shop in a compounded bundle.
"Mum, Mum, do you think we'll get one today?" a small baby Usul squeaked, as she tugged on the hem of her mother's dress. The mother beamed back at her.
"I'm positive we will, sweetums. We've been waiting five hours; we deserve it the most!" she reassured her jumping child, as she squeezed closer towards the fierce shopkeeper. I looked over at the shopkeeper, a purple Meerca; I immediately felt as uncomfortable as the rest of the mob, without the unnecessary physical tension. Needless to say, he looked ten times more distressed than the whole crowd put together. There were forced lines across his furry forehead from what I could only imagine to be years of enduring this stressful situation we were currently amongst.
And suddenly, the room fell silent. The Meerca had hopped down from his ledge, and emerged almost immediately once more. Everything was the same, except for one minor something.
A coveted Darigan Draik Egg was now perched in the palm of his hand.
The room erupted. Every Neopet ran forward to the Meerca's desk, shouting haggle numbers and stretching their arms out towards him in a plea for mercy. The carnage of screams and shouts and loud, excitable discussions completely threw me off, and I inevitably had to leave the shop in a state of horror.
As my first experience of Meridell – no, my first experience of society – this was not what I had expected. The bond between the mother and daughter had been heart-warming, to say the least, but now evidently, they were stuck in a mess of neopoint-hungry fiends and fellow Draik-loving families.
I shuddered to think that they would struggle to breathe in the compacted cacophony, but I decided to block out the unwanted thoughts and proceed with my day. The sunshine was blazing, true Meridell style, and I took the opportunity to engross in a new activity. I'd passed Meri Acres on my travels, which seemed fairly interesting at first; however, after a second glance, I wasn't so sure of myself. Potato counting, guessing the weight of marrows and picking berries didn't sound like the most titillating games invented, so I gave them a miss. On the other hand, I had strolled past another shabby looking building with the messy sign, "Turdle Racing Course" – this peculiar title enticed me straight away, and so I stepped inside for a deeper exploration.
Inside was a small corridor, only about two meters wide. The walls were plastered with posters of advertisement – bands playing in Tyrannia, sales in Neopia Central, winning Turdles, Turdle campaigns, and many posters that were so old, they had gone white with age. At the end of the corridor, there was a bright light. There was distant screams, but not of fear or distress. I followed the noise towards the light.
"Care to place a bet, Miss?"
I twirled back round to see a Starry Scorchio in a ticket booth, with a toothy grin and eager eyes. He looked rather surprised to see me, but nonetheless persistent. "The race begins in two minutes, so you better be quick, sweetheart. Maximum best of 1,500 neopoints, and you can toss in any spare food items to your chosen Turdle, if you wish, ma'am."
"As much as I appreciate the offer, I think I'm just going to spectate today, if you don't mind. Thank you, sir." I nodded, and continued on my journey to the bright light, away from the rather bewildered Scorchio.
As I approached the light, the screams became louder and clearer. The Neopets making the noise appeared to be cheering and supporting what I could assume to be the stars of the show – the Turdles. There were bursts of encouragement, as well as shrieks to dishearten the opponents. I stepped into the arena, and my theory was confirmed. There were already Neopets hanging over the edge of the seating area, shaking fists and waving banners at their favourite Turdle. The whistle blew, and the ‘race' began.
A gaunt blue Ruki was gazing at me two seats to the left of me. Perhaps this was what Bellamy was warning me of; unfamiliar Neopets staring and wondering who I was?
"My, oh my! What brings a beautiful Royal Kyrii like yourself to the Turdle Racing Course?" he stammered, apparently in awe of my presence. "You really don't fit in here; look at you! You're a pristine and exquisite Neopet, and should be at home, pampered by her butlers... not here in a broken Turdle stand, Miss! Did you perhaps place a generous bet, Miss?"
Blushing, I pulled my hair around my frame to hide my pink cheeks. I smiled, but was somewhat distracted by the boisterous audience.
The hundreds of Neopets were yelling louder than ever as the Turdles struggling to free themselves from the beginning circle. Spectators threw random items to their preferred Turdles to encourage them, but they seemed to be more frightened than anything else. It was only then that I realised this wasn't the fun sporting event I had expected – it was glorified cruelty to unknowing petpets.
I wondered if the PPL had ever been informed of such antics. I'd heard of another sport similar to this, Poogle Racing, but I'd presume that they are professionals who agree with competing. This, however, appeared to be a horrific ordeal of poor petpets being forced to race, so that greedy gambling Neopets can bet away their earnings.
The rabid fans were shouting louder and fiercer, as the terrified Turdles edged further away from the starting circles, towards the finishing line. I couldn't bear to watch as the Blue Ruki near me spat in excitement as his Turdle was taking the lead, waving his betting slip and bouncing up and down. I couldn't take it anymore – yet another terrible part of Meridell had lowered my expectations of my supposed pleasant day out. I stood up to leave in disappointment, and left the greedy cheers behind me.
As I stepped outside of the ticket booth, I gazed around me once more. Nothing seemed to captivate me anymore. Meri Acres hadn't become any more appealing than before. There was a large purple, green and orange beast that looked half asleep, but would probably be lethal if anyone were ever to disturb him. There were the other shops around Merifoods, but I certainly didn't want to go through that 'adventure' again. The only apparent thing left was a royal-looking, white castle straight ahead of me, trimmed with gold and topped with red turrets. The Meridellian flags flapped proudly on the roof.
Again, curiosity overcame me, so I cautiously sauntered into the majestic castle.
After getting lost amongst the thousands of corridors, carpeted with red mats, I was suddenly in front a large pair of oak doors, much like my own at home. Peeking around the edge of them, I could see the sunshine again. Thinking it was a backyard of sorts, I stepped through the doors.
I suddenly faced two very different species, about fifteen metres away from me. One was a Neopet, an obese, angry blue Skeith. Topped with a crown, he was apparently the King of Meridell, and I automatically curtseyed in his presence. He did not look too pleased with my unexpected arrival, but nonetheless continued with his apparent dispute. He was bickering with a faerie – a magnificent creature that I had only heard of in folklore. She was more beautiful and charming than I could have possibly imagined. With long, flowing red locks and deep brown eyes, she wasn't an unpleasant sight at all, compared to the raging Skeith before her.
Although I was bewitched by the faerie's unmistakable beauty, I couldn't help but overhear the argument they were engaged in.
"If you had one ounce of decency left in you, Skarl, you would listen to me. I don't ask much," the red-haired faerie said, rather sternly for such an elegant being. The Skeith, who I had to presume was Skarl, replied in an angered tone.
"Don't be ridiculous! You're always round my castle, complaining about minute issues. It's either, 'Oh, the games here are terrible, we have no visitors!' or 'My, oh my, will you please keep Jhudora out of Meridell?' – today is nothing different! The environment, Illusen, really?"
Illusen appeared to shuffle her feet in embarrassment. "The litter here is atrocious, Skarl, believe me. Have you been around my glade recently? People complete my quests, I give them an item I spend hours of my time creating, and they simply toss it away outside my home! Isn't there any way of solving this problem? The environment is in grave danger if things continue the way they are, and you're the only..."
"Nonsense, Illusen! Meridell is in terrific state, and we need none of your absurd accusations to cause panic across our fine citizens! You will leave my castle, Illusen, and come back only when there is a real crisis struck upon our land!"
"But, Skarl, please—"
"Leave NOW, Illusen!" Skarl boomed, pointing his thick finger towards the exit I stood in. Illusen closed her eyes and scampered away from the scene, only to bump into me in her hurry.
"Oh, I'm so sorry! I was a bit flustered from a disagreement... well, I'm going to guess that you heard it all, anyway. I'm ever so sorry for rushing into you like that, though." She paused, before smoothly questioning, "May I ask what brings you here, Miss... err..."
"Evalynde. I am Evalynde. And I'm just here on a... day out. I'd like to call it a nice day out, but I've never really been outdoors before, and it seems to have been a tad disappointing."
Illusen snorted. "Meridell certainly isn't the most pleasant land to visit for your first taste of society, Evalynde. You ought to rush back home and lock the doors, as this place can be a very boisterous, yet boring place. The only reason I stay here is to get away from my rival, the dark faerie Jhudora, and even then, she still finds me."
"Sorry to hear that. But I guess you're right; I should be getting home – my butler won't be best pleased that I stayed out for so long in the 'wild'." I smiled, and waved back to Illusen as I made my way back to my secluded Neohome.
It appeared that I had taken more time than planned in Meridell – the sun had begun to set, and the fierce Meridellians were making their way back to their homes for the night. I trotted home faster than I had arrived; whether it was to make sure Bellamy wouldn't be waiting for me any longer, or to escape quicker from the chaos of Meridell, I wasn't too sure.
"Madame Evalynde, your highness! Did you forget to check the time? It's certainly past dinnertime... I was beginning to worry," Bellamy exclaimed, flustered, as I walked through the oak doors. I nodded at his distress with a pleading glance. He took a second to calm himself, before continuing. "Erm... I trust your day was well, yes? I expect you took utmost care around the shops of Meridell, Madame; I hear they can be a bit raucous at times... oh, and Meri Acres, I heard that was kept in terrible condition nowadays..."
I smiled and hung up my coat whilst Bellamy murmured about the many rumours he'd gathered over the years. I turned to him, and to his astonishment, grasped him and hugged him. In fact, this was the first time I had ever hugged him. He hesitated, but patted me on the back all the same.
"Today was an adventure, I'll say that, dearest Bellamy," I whispered with a sigh, "but it certainly was nothing compared to the admirable company I have back here, in the charming place I can call home."
I felt Bellamy beam next to my cheek, and I stepped back to admire my butler. He has never once let me down, unlike the failure I can now call Meridell.
"I now know, Bellamy, that home really is 'home, sweet home'. And, pardon me, I do apologise for my slight lateness too," I whispered, giggling quietly. I took a minute to cherish my surroundings: my vivid paintings I had gathered over the many years of my living here, my ornate statues that decorated my corridors, my maze of stairs onto the second floor, where my Merilyn awaited. All these things I had taken for granted in the past, and now I truly realised how lucky I was to have such peace and tranquility in one building.
Bellamy cleared his throat before proceeding, "So, Madame Evalynde, what would you like for dinner tonight? You have a selection of Chicken with Vegetables, Cheesy Broccoli Bites... or perhaps you would prefer something else, Madame?"
I turned to face him, and once again, his cheeks flushed. "Just a cup of tea would be perfection, Bellamy, thank you."