Issue 400: A Confession - Part Two
Also by sariphe
It was amusing to watch Patcheye get hauled out of the room, and I observed with astute interest as the guards dragged him away from the uneasy crowd and tossed him out onto the muddy street. The other royals, of course, were doggedly unamused by the spectacle. They seemed disgusted by the whole display and apparently considered themselves above such petty conflicts. On the other hand, I was very interested in seeing the drama unfold, especially after the doors were shuttered on the cursing Patcheye, and Wrigilet started to chat up the room. It was obvious that the other gala attendees were repulsed by him, but that didn't stop the newly crowned king.
I observed him as he made his rounds. First, he ambled over to King Cyrus and Queen Liesel of Terror Mountain (a white Bori and Aisha, respectively). I pushed up near them, wanting to hear their conversation, but the stuffy couple seemed determined to say as little as possible to the renegade king. Their refusal to speak seemed exacerbated by the fact that Wrigilet appeared to have drunk too much Achyfi. He wobbled as he stood, and his eyes were unfocused, darting around the room; the stench from his clothing was enough to make a Skeith gag. Eventually, much to the joy of Liesel and Cyrus, he gave up his attempt at conversation with them and moved onto Queen Fyora of Faerieland, instead. But she was equally as unreceptive, so he turned his attention to a random baroness from Maraqua (also impervious), and eventually I grew tired of hearing him ramble, so I gave up eavesdropping and shuffled away from Wrigilet and into the depths of the crowd.
It was at this point that I was approached by the woman who would ultimately lead to my apprehension: Lady Zylaa Beck, ghost Zafara, fresh from her home in the Haunted Woods. She was loitering towards the middle of the room, wearing a grey twill pantsuit and practical pumps, looking rather bored. There were dozens of conversations going on around her, but she didn't seem to be included in any, and as I walked by her, she jutted out a hand and curled it around my sleeve.
"Finally," she breathed, "someone normal looking."
I took this to mean 'somebody not wearing a formal gown', so I gave her a tiny smile and said, "Hello."
"I'm Lady Zylaa Beck," she replied, "of the Haunted Woods." She didn't sound posh or high-strung, much to the contrary, actually. Her voice was flat and monotone, almost robotic.
"Lady Elizabeth Branson, of Krawk Island."
"You're related to that bloke... what's his name... Wiggly?"
"King Wrigilet. And yes." I'd initially been planning to pass myself off as a Patcheye relative, but with Patcheye tossed to the curb, that didn't seem like such a hot idea anymore.
"Well, pleased to meet you, Lady Elizabeth," said Zylaa. "It's an honour to be in your--" she waved a cautious hand "-- colourful nation."
It was strange to me that her comment didn't come off as snobbish, because it should have. Then again, unlike everyone else there, Zylaa didn't come across as an upper-class twit. At the same time, though, she had a bit of an unpleasant air surrounding her, and she wasn't particularly nice company. But compared to everyone else at the gala, she was positively wonderful, so I decided to stay and talk with her. After a few more shallow exchanges, she took my arm in a stately fashion, and the two of us took a turn around the room.
"So," Zylaa said as we shoved past King Hagan, who was in a very heated debate with his brother over... potatoes, of all things, “tell me of yourself, Lady Elizabeth."
Right then, I started to get nervous. I had a back story, sure, but nothing as detailed as Zylaa would be expecting. She would want to know about intricate details and petty little nothings, and I would have to wing most of it. Butterflies jumping in my stomach, I cleared my throat as haughtily as I could and began to undo all my careful planning.
"I am a cousin of the esteemed King Wrigilet," I said; Zylaa automatically glanced over at the pathetic excuse for a king. He was currently slumped beside King Kelpbeard of Maraqua, rattling off a wholly unfunny joke. With a deep breath, I added, "I grew up the only daughter of His Majesty's uncle."
"And where were you educated?"
It was a simple enough question, but I gave it the worst possible answer: the truth. "The Swashbuckling Academy," I said, and from the expression on Zylaa's face, I knew immediately that I had made a big mistake.
"How..." She struggled to find the words she needed. "... quaint."
Thank snorkeling Snorkles that Wrigilet chose that precise moment to announce the evening meal.
"Y'all can come through now," he slurred, practically breathing into Kelpbeard's ear; I noticed that he'd suddenly picked up a country accent. "We'll be eatin' in 'bout a minute."
The poorly constructed invitation was a clear affront to the nobles' sense of etiquette. The room fell silent as Wrigilet toddled over to the double doors and threw them open in what he had obviously hoped was a dramatic display. The doors hit the interior wall and rebounded, hitting Wrigilet in the face as he prepared to pass over the threshold. They made a satisfying thwack as they struck him, and the renegade king was thrown to the ground.
Blood dripped from his nose as he raised himself up, turning to face the subdued and scornful laughter of the room. Disgraced and bleeding profusely, he trudged off and let a shifty looking servant give the double doors another try. The royals and nobles and the elite of Neopian society began drifting into the dining hall, and took their seats along the grand table.
Like the reception room, everything about the dining hall reeked of barely patched up neglect. False grandeur made everything look tacky. The tabletop had been polished, yet the table legs were as worn and knotted as any old piece of driftwood. The crystal glasses were obviously plastic, and the silver paint on the plates was beginning to crack and peel. Then there was the artwork, ridiculous oil paintings and modernist statues, each clashing so much with the last one that it was almost laughable. The finishing touch of the absurd banquet hall was the floor itself - a gorgeous cherry wood, painstakingly veneered but then covered with several mismatched, furry rugs. They looked like flattened petpets, plucked straight out of some little child's horror novel, and I felt almost villainous stepping on them. As I took my seat towards the end of the table, next to Lady Zylaa, I briefly wondered who the heck had designed this room, but then I pushed the thought away. Better not to know, when a space like this was concerned.
"This decor is very... interesting," Zylaa said beside me, looking quite perplexed.
"You might say that."
The Zafara gave me a bit of an awkward look and then stared down at her lap, seemingly uncomfortable. Thankfully, I didn't have to say anything else to lighten the mood, because King Wrigilet suddenly staggered into the room, his fur mussed and globby, and took a dramatic seat at the head of the table. Zylaa instantly turned her attention towards the illegitimate king, her eyes cast with disapproval and amusement. I could tell that she very much wanted to be above enjoying the trials and tribulations of a loopy, turncoat king, but was unable to help herself. Even as the rest of the royals showed obvious disgust, my newfound acquaintance simply couldn't wipe the look of nervous enjoyment from her face.
So she watched, and so did I, as Wrigilet made a great show of straightening his silverware (which was actually gold and clashed quite horribly with the plates). Finally, after he was satisfied with the positions of the forks and knives, the Cybunny looked out at his fellow dinner guests, pursed his thin lips, and then promptly burst out into tears.
"Bad news," he choked out, losing the country twang. "I've been ousted."
No one responded for a while; everyone simply looked shocked, and maybe a bit confused. Ousted? What did ousted mean? It was obvious that everyone wanted to ask, but nobody could dredge up the courage. It was an awkward waiting game, each royal staring at another, pleading that it would be somebody else to ask the golden question, please, don't make me be the one.
Finally, Queen Fyora said, "Ousted?"
Wrigilet sniffled and said, "Yar,", and the room took this to mean 'yes', even though it was kind of an ambiguous statement, one that kind of meant nothing and yet at the same time meant absolutely everything.
"What do you mean by ousted?" asked Fyora.
"I ain't the king no longer." Back came the unusual accent. "The ol' king - Patcheye, remember him? - well, he wasn't too happy after gettin' thrown out. So he gathered himself up some mates and came back, and he told me - horrible bloke! - that if I didn't give him back the crown by six tonight--" it was presently 5:45 "-- that he'd take y'all hostage!"
While all of the royals had been defiantly silent up until this point, at the mention of the word 'hostage', a sudden fervor broke out. Queen Liesel of Terror Mountain jumped to her feet and let out a dramatic gasp, while beside her, the prime minister of Neopia Central, a blue Mynci called Bristleboff, let out a dramatic sigh. From his seat at the center of the table, King Skarl warily eyed his empty plate, glanced at his brother Hagan, and then promptly stood up and made a mad dash for the door. This act of exercise from a notoriously sedentary man set loose a whole new degree of pandemonium. Within moments, most of the other royals were on their feet and pushing towards the double doors, fighting and clawing, every man for himself. It was a mass exodus from the banquet hall, all squawking and frantic gait, and after only a minute or so, there were just three of us left in the room: Wrigilet, the not-so-king, who promptly burst into a fresh set of tears; Zylaa, looking rather confused, not frightened enough to join in on the panic; and me, the fake royal, wondering what the heck I was going to say after Patcheye was crowned again.
Zylaa, apparently, thought of this, too. After getting over the initial shock of Wrigilet's announcement, she turned to me and said, "Guess this means you're not going to be attending the rest of the ball, huh?"
My stomach dropped; this was a very crucial moment. If I agreed to her observation, then fifteen minutes from now, I'd have to leave the gala. However, if I disputed the idea that I had to go because my so-called cousin was no longer king, and someone thought this suspicious, then I'd face an even worse fate. It was a catch-22, and frankly, I wanted to scream. Why couldn't I come from a normal nation, where kings reigned their whole lives long, and it was all sunshine and rainbows, and if someone wanted to crash an exclusive ball, then they would only have to manufacture one lie? It seemed wildly unfair that A) the Crown Ball was in Krawk Island this year and B) I'd decided to present myself as native royalty. There was no reason I'd had to do that. It was easier, sure, but easy lies are the ones that get you caught. If I'd blended in with some other land's lesser nobles, then I wouldn't have had this problem. 'Such a shame,' I'd have said when Wrigilet made the announcement, 'These Krawk Island folks are so uncivilised! Good thing I'm from Mystery Island!'. Or Altador. Or Kiko Lake. Rinse and repeat. Just insert any land but this one.
"You gonna comfort your cousin there?" Zylaa said, snapping me from my angst.
And this, good denizens of justice, proprietors of propensity, wicked annoying pets who are forcing me to write this confession... well, this is the moment where I messed up. The moment that led me to this letter and pen.
Because instead of coming up with a meek excuse, brushing off Lady Zylaa's question, I said something really, really stupid. Maybe it was because I was deep in thought; maybe my brain was just on overload. All I know is that I didn't give the inquiry a moment to set in, and I didn't think before I talked.
"What cousin?" I asked, before I could stop myself.
Now give me one big 'hurrah' for the beginning of my demise.
To be continued...