Fate of a Kingdom: Part Two
Taking in their surroundings, Melyn and Llewyn were slightly dazed after another seasick ride through the portal. But they could hardly afford that. No, not with so much at stake. This time the portal had spat them out just outside Brightvale Castle, its stained glass windows dimly aglow with the dwindling light. Sunset. Time was slipping away. The Neopets jerked up. Llewyn galloping, Melyn beating her wings furiously, they raced into the city. Melyn was glad to be flying in the open again – the crisp air was refreshing after the dank, musty confines of Elspeth Castle.
The shop was not hard to find. Llewyn rapped briskly on the door, which creaked open slightly. From behind the door peered an old Kyrii, bright green eyes regarding them warily.
“We are closed,” he said dryly.
“Please! This won’t take long.”
The Kyrii glanced down at the wooden box. “We don’t make refunds,” he said, pushing the door closed. “Save your breath.”
“We must speak with you!”
“Save your breath.”
“This will not wait,” Melyn insisted. “The princess will not wait. We think – we know she is in grave danger.”
The shopkeeper paused. Melyn flicked open the box, revealing the little dancer trapped inside. Her face twisted with anguish, but she uttered not a word. The Kyrii stiffened, eyes widening with shock. He let them in.
“Where did you find this?” he demanded.
“An old castle. That is the princess trapped inside,” Melyn said. “Is it not?”
“But... in her own music box? Who would do such a thing?”
The Uni snorted, shaking her head. “Never mind who. The question is, why? We think they trapped her in there so they can take over Brightvale.”
“We saw them!” Llewyn added franticly. “A Draik, a Mutant Lenny. They are scheming as we speak, plotting to overthrow the royal family... with the princess imprisoned, the Draik can pretend to be her and take over...”
“We can stop the impostor,” said Melyn. “Only with your help. Sir, did you make this box?”
The Kyrii nodded sadly. His voice came in a distant whisper, barely audible. “Many years ago... I carved it with my own hands. I presented it, as a gift the young princess Araluen. She hid her secrets and treasures in it... it was safe for keeping things in. Alas, but it breaks my heart to see it misused. My own creation...”
So it was made to hide secrets, thought Melyn. It makes sense. The box could easily be converted into a prison – with dark magic.
“Do you know how to unlock it?” she asked.
“Yes. The box will release whatever it holds, when the princess commands it to. It will obey only her voice. No other.”
Melyn’s face fell. Llewyn crumbled onto the floor in defeat. They didn’t have a chance to free the princess. She couldn’t talk. She couldn’t order the box to release her. The Zafara in the box was tortured, but she suffered in silence. They must have stolen her voice too.
“Tell me about the people who did this,” said the Kyrii. “What do you know of them?”
Llewyn described the culprits. He explained everything from their portal to their sinister plot to destroy Brightvale. “The girl can change form,” he added. “She can change into any Neopet at will. I think that’s how she impersonates the princess.”
“A Shapeshifter.” The old man nodded. “They are rare, and it’s just as well. Wherever there’s a shapeshifter, there’s trouble. But they have one weakness – in another form, a shapeshifter cannot speak without lending the voice of who they impersonate.”
Frowning, Melyn pondered at this. The princess, at the mercy of her own voice! Lilith was a genius. If she had stolen the girl’s voice, she would be trapped forever. The situation seemed hopeless.
Then suddenly an idea struck Melyn, and her hope began to reignite. The plan unravelled in her mind. It was simple, but daring. They just had to act precisely.
“I know how to free the princess.”
“Are you sure about this?”
For the tenth time, Melyn nodded wearily. Clutching the wooden box, she sat on Araluen’s regal four-poster while Llewyn locked the door. He deliberated, and pushed a heavy armchair against it for good measure. Perfect. Now it was all up to Lilith.
They waited. Melyn quietly marvelled at the room they were in – the fine crystal chandelier, antique furniture, and the heavy velvet curtains draped around the bed. It was a room befitting royalty. No doubt Lilith was thrilled to occupy the princess’ chamber. The impostor would soon arrive here. Of course she would find the door locked.
“What?” said a puzzled voice.
Melyn started. Lilith was outside! The locked door rattled as Lilith tried to get in. So far, so good, thought Melyn. Lilith rapped smartly on the door, and it shook again.
“Let me in,” she ordered. “Let me into my room!” Furiously she beat the door, but to no avail. “I know you’re in there! Get out of my room! Now!” she shrieked, her cries climbing to a crescendo.
Melyn and Llewyn jumped back. They both eyed the door anxiously, hoping Lilith’s shrill cries wouldn’t draw attention to them. At any minute she could summon the guards. What then? Llewyn unlatched the window, ready to fly should they be discovered.
Melyn gasped. Triumphant, Llewyn’s face stretched into a grin. Yes! This was what they needed. Melyn held the small box close to the door. They needed to catch Lilith using the princess’ voice, saying loud and clear—
“Open! Open up!” Lilith shrieked again. “OPEN!”
Melyn held her breath. The little wooden box trembled on its own. Responding to the command, the lid swung open. Then a brilliant light flooded the room, twinkling scarlet and gold like the vivid colours of autumn leaves. Illuminated in the magical glow was a Royal Zafara, her face glowing with joy. The princess was no longer trapped. And her voice was her own again.
“If I could possibly repay you...” she stammered her thanks.
“No need,” Llewyn said.
“We must flee now!” said Melyn. “Both of you, climb onto my back.”
Araluen mounted the Uni, and Llewyn clambered up after her. The Uni reared, then sailed through the open window. Stretching her wings, Melyn let the wind lift them upwards, soaring. The castle and all of Brightvale fell beneath them as they climbed higher and higher.
The princess said, “Thank you again, miss...”
“Melyn, Your Highness. And this is my friend Llewyn.”
“Thank you. That Mutant Lenny is a sorcerer. He enchanted that box... so it wouldn’t let me stop dancing.” The princess slumped onto Melyn’s back, exhausted. “And I had no voice, so I couldn’t ask Father for help. I fear for him,” she added. “His illness has wasted him so.”
Llewyn asked just how ill the king was. “So very sick, they fear for his life. Perchance his reign is coming to an end.”
“And in that case, you’d be the only heir?”
The princess nodded grimly. Now Llewyn saw just how crucial it was to expose Lilith’s sinister plot.
A tear trickled down Araluen's face. “I have failed Brightvale.”
Llewyn tried to comfort her, promising they would stop Lilith. But truly, he knew this was little more than a feeble hope.
“Alas, the impostor has them fooled. They will crown her queen soon.”
Melyn landed softly. The riders alighted onto a sandy, white shore. The beach was isolated, far from the castle. Lilith would not find them. At last, the princess nestled into the soft sand and lapsed into a deep slumber. But Llewyn and Melyn slept little. They still had a villain to catch, perhaps the most terrifying foe that ever Brightvale faced.
“Where are they?”
The old Kyrii paced nervously around the courtyard. Around him the crowed buzzed with excitement. And what a crowd it was! When the old Kind Hagan was pronounced dead, his daughter Araluen inherited the throne. She was to be coronated before all her subjects – every nobleman and commoner in the land was summoned to the occasion.
On the grand balcony stood ruffling his feathers, a haughty Mutant Lenny. Beside him was a Royal Zafara. Old Owen was the only one who saw her for the impostor – the false princess – she was. He would be as ignorant as the rest, had it not been for the clever children he met yesterday. Where were they? Were they not planning to expose this terrible plot? Above, the Lenny hungrily eyed the crowd – he knew that soon, Brightvale would be to his command.
The Kyrii’s fist clenched. He would not let the traitors deceive Brightvale! Furiously he pushed through the crowd, and stumbled up the grand steps.
“People of Brightvale!” he said, much bolder than he felt. “The girl you see is not the true princess. She is an impostor! Pray, listen to me.”
They did not listen. The people murmured uncertainly. Then they burst into fits of laughter, mocking the old man. Owen seethed with indignation, and held his head high.
The voice came from behind him. A Spotted Uni stepped forward as disbelieving whispers swept through the crowd. To their astonishment, she was followed by a Royal Zafara. She was identical to the one on the balcony.
“What nonsense!” scoffed the Lenny from the balcony. “There is no way you can prove that is the princess. Your true queen stands here!” He gestured to Lilith. But Melyn saw him shift uneasily. Puzzled, the people looked from the Zafara on the balcony, to the one below, and back. Which one was the princess?
“No way you can prove it, fool!” the Lenny spat.
“Oh, but there is.”
Suddenly, Lilith tipped forward. For a moment she teetered dangerously on the edge of the balcony. Then with a shriek she slipped and fell... it was a sheer drop from the terrace to the ground. But she didn’t just fall – her body writhed violently, changing, shifting. Her fur became scales, sickly green scales like murky water. Her face twisted and a pair of leathery wings unfurled from her back. Inches from the ground, she pulled up sharply, beating her new wings. The shapeshifter had saved herself from falling. But now it was obvious the Mutant Draik, now her true form, was no princess.
Two Draik guards chased after the impostor. Lilith began to fly, but the guards were quicker. They seized the Mutant Draik, pinning her to the ground. She was dragged screaming, twisting, breathing fire, to the dungeons.
Melyn flew up to the balcony. She chuckled when she found Llewyn there. The Blue Ixi was glowing with pride.
“It was nothing,” Llewyn gushed. “All I did was sneak up on her and push...”
“It was enough to save the kingdom.” Indeed, Llewyn’s quick thinking had saved them all. Melyn had been determined to expose Lilith for what she was, but it never occurred to her that they could force Lilith to revert to her true shape. “Now, Araluen may take her rightful place as queen.”
Regal trumpets sounded. A messenger declared pompously, “His Royal Majesty, King Hagan of Brightvale!”
The crowd made way for the royal procession.
“Father!” cried Araluen.
Melyn gasped, “The King! King Hagan is alive!”
“And look,” said Llewyn. “By Fyora, it’s my owner!”
Llewyn’s owner approached them, chiding Llewyn for running off. “I was worried sick,” he said, shaking his head. But he didn’t punish the Ixi at all, delighted as he was. He had achieved what few had done before him – he impressed the wise King Hagan. The King was impressed with the miraculous little potion he had created. Indeed, for it cured Hagan’s sickness! Since then Llewyn’s owner served as the official Doctor for the king. Llewyn always said his owner was a good doctor.
“That means... I don’t have to be queen?” asked the princess.
“No, child,” said Hagan, “That time has yet to come.”
Araluen was relieved. Then turning to Melyn, she added, “Before I forget. Melyn, I have no need for this. I want you to keep it.” She held out the ornate wooden box. It had, once upon a time, been her binding prison. She gave it to Melyn. Melyn fingered the intricate carvings on the wood, deep in thought.
“Thank you, Your Highness.”
“Small price for my freedom. Truly, I thank you.”
There was much to celebrate that night. Never in the history of Brightvale had there been so much reason to be merry – the princess had returned, the King was alive and well. Melyn joined the royal court in feasting and dancing through the night. Until at last, the sun warmed Brightvale with its first glow. The kingdom was awakening. The new sunlight played on each one of its stained glass windows, every flower and blade of grass.