Braving Brightvale: Part Four
Kinsley’s eyes grew wide as she realized that the mysterious outline was looking for her. The stranger lit a candle and started down one of the hallways, grumbling something about not being paid enough.
Just then, the Xweetok felt a creeping sensation along her left leg. She yelped in response, jumping up to shake the slimy unknown creature off of her. The noise echoed down every dark hallway, and soon enough she heard frantic footfalls coming from the corridor the stranger had descended.
“Hey!” a deep voice called out to her. She started running in the opposite direction, down a different hallway. She no longer cared about the milk that was splashing all over her red dress, she merely cared about getting back to Mufflecrump Merridew’s office, which seemed so cozy compared to these dark, dank halls of the servants.
The heavy footsteps got closer and closer to Kinsley until she felt like he was nearly breathing down her back. “Heyyy! I have something for you if you would just slow down!” the voice called.
She stopped, taken aback. “Wait... what did you say?”
A shadow Techo in servant’s clothes came to a stop, leaning on his knees because he was out of breath. “I’m a messenger. I’m supposed to be delivering this package to a pink Xweetok named King-sly?”
She sighed, exasperated. “It’s Kinsley. That would be me. Listen, I’m so, SO sorry...”
He shoved a white box with a blue ribbon on it in her direction. “Just take it, seriously.”
“Thank you, sir,” she squeaked out, embarrassed. He ran back up the winding staircase while she stood there, two half full glasses of milk in left paw, milk stains splattered all over the bodice of her dress, and a beaten up white package in her other paw. She felt ridiculous. Not to mention, she was in a pitch dark servant’s hallway during lunchtime. No wonder the courier thought she was crazy.
She made her way rather rapidly back to Mufflecrump’s headquarters, where she recounted the whole episode. Mister Merridew smiled as she retold her frightful encounter, reprimanding her only slightly for not taking the courtyard passage. If she were ever to be caught, he said, sneaking around in servant’s hallways she would be in much trouble.
“Now, what about that mystery package? Are you going to open it today or wait until the next full moon comes around to unwrap that thing?” He laughed and leaned forward, obviously intrigued.
Kinsley put it in her lap. She genuinely wondered if perhaps, in his haste, the messenger had made a mistake for there wasn’t anyone at the castle other than Mufflecrump who cared about her right now. Then again, there weren’t many other pink pets in the castle... especially not named Kinsley. She carefully unwrapped the silky blue ribbon and opened up the white gift box, revealing a muffin. On a plate.
She burst out laughing, automatically knowing who had sent this. Attached to the muffin was a gift tag with a note:
I sincerely apologize for our argument yesterday. Because I don’t have anyone else to talk to, I figured we had to make up eventually. Just kidding. I really am sorry, I had no idea you were Meridellian. While I realize that ignorance is not an excuse, I truly regret my actions and am rethinking my opinions concerning Meridell. I hope you can forgive me.
Sincerely, your friend Percy McGlade
Of course she would be able to forgive Percy, what was he thinking? She hoped he didn’t get in trouble too for her rash actions the previous day.
“Kinsley? What is the meaning of the muffin?” Mufflecrump looked at the baked goodie like it was a puzzle piece that required solving.
“It’s an inside joke. Percy was apologizing for bringing up a sore subject yesterday and... gave me a muffin as a consolation gift.” She stifled her laughter.
He nodded, pleased. “Well, I believe it’s time for us to head over to lunch.”
Later that night, she retold the day’s events to her mother. “And then he handed me a wrapped present, still totally mad at me, and turned around and ran up the stairs! It was hilarious, Mom.”
Daisy Cabot grinned. Of course her mischievous daughter would believe someone was following her, and not think of a more realistic reason. She sometimes wondered why her daughter was not becoming a fantasy writer, which would be a healthy use of her wild imagination.
“So, what was in the package?” she inquired.
Kinsley took a muffin wrapper out of a pocket in her dress. “Oh, just a muffin,” she explained casually.
“...a muffin? That’s it? Well, who was it from? And why a muffin? Was it from an anonymous admirer?” Her younger sister Malia was clutching the bottom of Kinsley’s dress, deeply engrossed in the retelling of her older sister’s story.
“It’s an inside joke I have with Percy. You know how Percy and I call my mentor, Mufflecrump, by the name of Muffinsmoots? When he’s not around, of course,” she asked.
“It was from Percy. He was apologizing for our argument yesterday, so he sent me a muffin, as in Muffinsmoots,” Kinsley continued.
“Ohhhh!” The younger Xweetok howled with laughter and rolled around on the rug in front of the fire dramatically.
Their mother also laughed heartily. “So, you and Percy are friends again?”
The pink Xweetok nodded. “Which is a good thing, because I had no idea who I was going to eat with at lunch today!”
It was the last day of Kinsley’s apprenticeship, and she expected it to go by like any other. A few hours of meetings, a quick lunch in the courtyard with Percy, and another briefing or two. After that, she’d be home free—not that she didn’t like the castle, but she wanted to have more time for her other friends and for her sister.
But something was definitely up when she walked into Mufflecrump’s office that morning. Ever since they’d shared their secret with one another, the aged advisor had become like a grandfather to her. Yet today he seemed different, incredibly tense.
“What’s up, Mufflecrump?” Kinsley asked casually, being seated at the plush gray armchair that had become her home for the past few weeks.
He grumbled, clearly frustrated. “Well, for starters we had an unexpected arrival this morning at the castle. It doesn’t help that he also just so happens to be the King’s brother, and the reigning King of Meridell.”
“King Skarl is here?” the petite Xweetok practically shouted. Her pink tail swished furiously. “Did he bring all of his advisors, too?”
Mufflecrump nodded somberly. “This means one colossal meeting between all of Hagan’s advisors and all of Skarl’s advisors. We haven’t seen a confrontation like this in ages, considering Skarl prefers to do his talking on the battlefield.”
“Ugh, and we haven’t written up an agenda yet because we didn’t know this was going to happen!” Kinsley sighed and whipped out a sheet of paper to begin.
“I’ve already got most of it done, and they’ve probably already started so we need to get there right away. But, I must say I’ve taught you quite well, Kinsley!” the advisor exclaimed.
The tension in the room was thick when Kinsley and Mufflecrump entered, their seats saved on King Hagan’s end of the long, wooden meeting table.
Skarl sat there like a contented child with a lolly. He and all of his equally shady advisors looked pleased with themselves, as if they took joy in ruffling the feathers of his more successful brother. None of Hagan’s advisors bothered to make friendly conversation with their Meridell counterparts, as the situation was clearly past the point of required polite manners.
With the arrival of Mufflecrump, wise King Hagan rose to begin. “I would like to thank you all for coming on such short notice, and I would like to welcome with open arms the high King of our brother kingdom, Meridell.” All of the advisors clapped courteously and waited for him to go on. “I suppose I will begin by giving the floor to my brother in flesh and profession, the always amiable King Skarl."
The great blue Skeith harrumphed at that statement. “I regret that I was unable to send a messenger earlier, however I assumed that with all of your immense knowledge you would somehow already know that I was on my way. I believe I overestimated your intelligence in that case.”
Kinsley grimaced. Skarl was being downright vicious to his overly hospitable brother. No wonder Brightvale hated him and his kingdom so.
King Skarl continued, “Alas, here we are. I have come to request increased funding and supplies for my kingdom in the form of books, money, scrolls and potions. I believe that through these means we can hope to achieve half of your greatness, my dear brother.” He grinned, revealing numerous jagged teeth.
Hagan stood up, not waiting for him to finish. “I will do no such thing and you know it, brother! I refuse to fund your frivolous war efforts and dishonesty any longer!”
The banter continued in the same manner for hours. Kinsley found herself becoming increasingly exasperated with the Meridellian advisors and King Skarl, shocked that her home kingdom could act so rudely.
Eventually, Hagan called the meeting to a close for lunch. The Meridellian advisors went to their own conference room and the Brightvale camp to another. Percy approached Kinsley during the break cautiously. “So... how’s your last day?”
“Hmph. It’s decidedly less pleasing than I was expecting. I can barely keep my mouth shut during the meeting, it’s so difficult!” The pink Xweetok could barely eat the lunch set before her.
The green Bori shrugged. “Then say something. It’s your last day; it doesn’t matter if you get kicked out now.”
Kinsley was momentarily intrigued, but shook her head. “But... I don’t want to make Mufflecrump disappointed in me...”
“Well, it’s now or never. See ya after the meeting.” Percy patted her arm reassuringly and went back into the conference room.
The pink Xweetok spent most of the next session infuriated, unsure if she would say anything.
Eventually the meeting began winding down, with both groups tired of arguing for hours. But Kinsley was just getting fired up. Skarl droned on, “If only we could come to an agreement, preferably in my favor, then the citizens of Meridell would stop moving to Brightvale, causing an influx of unwanted immigrants...”
That was enough for Kinsley. She stood up without thinking. “Excuse me, Skarl. But I think you have your facts wrong. I may only be an apprentice to Mr. Merridew, but I know enough to know when you need to be quiet.” Mufflecrump tugged on her arm at this point, indicating that she was out of line.
Kinsley ignored the tug. “I am an immigrant from Meridell. I know no one here knew it, but I’ve been sitting here listening to you all talk about how much Meridellians don’t want to learn, don’t deserve to learn and can’t read. But I want you all to know that we do want to. My family uprooted itself from our family farm in the Meridell countryside and moved to a tiny house in Brightvale just so that I could go to school here.
“Maybe, Skarl, if you stopped for a second and thought about someone other than yourself for once, like perhaps all of your citizens who are counting on you, then maybe your wise brother would help you out once and awhile. Thanks for listening.” She stood up and walked out of the conference room, stunned expressions on the faces of all but one. Mufflecrump Merridew, high royal advisor to the wise King Hagan of Brightvale, was smiling.
Kinsley sat down and leaned against the wall outside the room, waiting for guards to come and throw her out of the castle for her little outburst. She felt relieved to get that off her chest, but also a little mortified. She’d just yelled at two of the most powerful monarchs in all of Neopia. Not many people could say they’d done the same.
Suddenly, Mufflecrump appeared at the door. He held out his hand and grinned, helping her to the ground. “My dear, I believe you have bewitched the entire court of Brightvale!”
“Wh..wh..what?” the apprentice stammered, confused.
The aged royal advisor simply chuckled. “Your bravery was admired by everyone in the room. Except perhaps for Skarl and his minions, who are clearly rethinking their dirty ways. You really told them! Imagine what the newspaper will say tomorrow morning! ‘Young girl tells off old King Skarl!’ and ‘Skarl runs back to Meridell, tail between his legs!’”
Kinsley was still confused. “You’re not... mad at me? Why aren’t I being thrown out for speaking out of turn?”
“After that performance, I’ll be surprised if you aren’t given a medal! Not that I suggest you go around yelling at world dignitaries on a daily basis, but—” Mufflecrump trailed off. “Anyhow, your presence is required in the conference room at this time. The advisors are all dying to know your other thoughts on the situation, as your experience could be greatly helpful to them. They believe a student program between Meridell and Brightvale may be just the thing to stop Meridell from becoming as corrupt as its unpopular king!”
“I’d love to help out,” Kinsley said sincerely, reentering the conference room to the applause of every Brightvale official.