Issue 400: A Confession - Part Five
Also by sariphe
"Who would like to start?" I asked brightly, and when no one answered, I volunteered Prime Minister Bristleboff of Neopia Central. The Mynci scowled but staggered to the middle of the circle, anyway, and what happened in the next forty-five minutes was the most convoluted game of charades in the history of Neopia.
Prime Minister Bristleboff was reluctant to give his clues at first. His small gestures of helplessness turned out to be a pathetic attempts at hints. As well as not wanting to act, the royals didn't want to diminish their dignity by guessing, either. To my surprise, it was Zylaa who first proposed an answer to Bristleboff's miniature clues.
"Spread?" she asked. Bristleboff shook his head and made his gesture more obvious. His unwillingness to participate was being overcome by his need to look involved and intelligent. If his clues were to be left unanswered, it would not be because he didn't convey them well enough. He moved his hands again, and once more, Zylaa guessed.
"Placing? Putting down?"
"No!" exclaimed King Cyrus, wanting to prove his own intelligence. "It's a coronation." To the surprise of everyone, including Cyrus, Bristleboff nodded. He then moved onto another clue where he took something from his head and then pointed to many different people.
"Royals," said Chief Umvula.
"The Crown Ball," guessed a baron from Maraqua. Bristleboff indicated that his guess was close but not quite right, and after a few more random attempts, Zylaa got it. She looked at me with a slight trace of contempt.
"Lousy monarchs at the Crown Ball."
Bristleboff nodded and everyone turned to me, watching for a reaction. I decided to play it cool.
"Well done, Prime Minister, and well done to Lady Zylaa. For correctly guessing the prime minister's item, it is now your turn to give clues." Zylaa seemed unperturbed by the notion and moved to the center of the circle, where she began her own set of devious hints.
Like Bristleboff's, Zylaa's clues were also cryptic and scornful. It took a while for anyone to guess correctly, but eventually Queen Liesel of Terror Mountain took a shot in the dark and hit the nail on the head: Krawk Island foolery. The clues and items continued on in this fashion for quite a while, each one a bit more biting than the last, until finally I grew tired of the jabs and called the game to a close. It was early afternoon by this point, warm and breezy, so I decided to take advantage of the fair weather and took everyone back outside. Without a specific plan in mind, I managed to string everyone along for the next several hours in a series of lawn games and menial chatter. It was all really quite pointless, and a bit dull, but I had nothing else in mind, and anyways, I wasn't trying for blatant fun. Nope, my only goal was to maintain this position of power for another day or so, and then get the heck outta dodge. So far, so good. I'd managed to hold the crown longer than Wrigilet had, anyway.
Finally, when darkness fell, I shepherded the nobles back into the palace and sat them down around the large table in the banquet hall. For some reason I can't even explain now, I'd somehow expected for dinner to be cooked and served imminently, but because no one had ever given the order, no food was brought out. So the group of us sat like lame ducks for quite a while, shifting restlessly, before I asked a servant about the status of supper. He nervously informed me that there wasn't any, and although he tried to be quiet, the poor bugger spoke a bit too loudly. And of all people, Skarl heard. And promptly freaked out. And demanded that he get food, now, or else he'd take over the throne, no one else deserved it, anyhow.
So that was how the royals and I ended up in the palace's stuffy kitchen, in what I'd cheerfully dubbed 'hands-on cookery class'. It was an unheard of Crown Ball event, just like charades and lawn bowling, and most of the stuffy nobles flat-out refused to cook. They stood at the periphery of the cramped room, arms crossed, glaring at me. I tried to coax them into just doing small tasks, but the majority of them simply could not be won over. So in the end, it was just me, Lady Zylaa, a countess from Roo Island, and a baron from Shenkuu, halfheartedly stirring pots and kneading dough as the rest of the nobles looked on in disdain. But honestly, what else could I have expected from them? Maybe if I was a well-liked, generally respected queen, then they would have followed my plans more closely. But nope, they all thought I was some horrible joke. It would have been daft of me to assume they'd help prepare dinner. After all, they'd hated everything else about me so far. Why would they change that stance now?
The meal cooked slowly, a time I did not enjoy. We all stood around the kitchen in a silence as stony as the work benches. I tried to make small talk, but the only one receptive of my comments was Zylaa, and even she had turned sour. I'd thought I would enjoy my short stint as Queen of Krawk Island, and I might have if I'd taken the title any other time of the year. But the whole Crown Ball had been a complete debacle.
Eventually, after the food was cooked, we filed back into the Dining Hall and were served our meal by the embarrassed servants. Everyone maintained a thick silence, conveying mutual contempt for me, not even trying to hide their feelings. I shoveled all my food down, promptly burned my mouth, and then spent the rest of the meal trying to figure out what to do after dinner. The Crown Ball. It occurred to me then that there had to be some reason for this name, and that at some point, there should be an actual well... ball. I motioned to a servant, who came forward nervously and seemed absolutely terrified as I spoke to him.
"Prepare the ballroom," I said, my voice hardly above a whisper. He looked frightened and opened his mouth, as if he was about to protest but then thought better of it. With nary a word, the servant nodded and backed away.
The royals finished their meals shortly after that, and we all trudged down the hall. I reached the door to the ballroom and pushed it open. There, I saw a sight which I will never forget. I tried to close the door again, but it was too late. The royals behind me had seen it as well, and they prevented me from closing the door again. More and more of them gathered around me, and more and more of them peered out. Within seconds, they all had seen it, too, and I knew there was no going back.
It was Wrigilet, the second of the kings, lying flat on his back on the shoddily polished floor. He was still wearing his jester's outfit from earlier, although one of the bells had been plucked from his garish hat. But that was not the surprising aspect. No, the shock value came from the fact that he was not moving, at all, and he was absolutely drenched in foul-smelling Achyfi. Now, I don't claim to have a strong sense of smell, but even I could get a strong whiff of it from clear across the room. The jittery royals could, too.
"Is he dead?" a princess from Maraqua asked from somewhere in the crowd. She seemed more confused than concerned, although given the events of the last few days, I really couldn't blame her.
"No," I replied confidently, although I wasn't completely sure. With a sinking feeling in my stomach, I instructed the throng of royals to remain put while I assessed the situation, and then I stepped out into the rank-smelling ballroom, shutting the door behind me. Please be alive, I implored inwardly as I shuffled up to Wrigilet. I had enough problems on my plate to feed a nation. I sure as heck didn't need another one.
Butterflies burst out into my stomach as I drew nearer to the ousted king, and I had to plug my nose to keep from gagging. Cripes, it was as if the humiliated bloke had bathed in Achyfi. How had he even gotten his hands on so much? The stuff wasn't cheap, and it wasn't as if he'd had time to run to the supermarket in the past few hours, not when he was clothed as a jester, puffy pants and jingle hat--
Lost in thought, I hardly even noticed when the downed Cybunny reached out a hand and fastened it around my ankle, definitely not dead and not even unconscious. In fact, I only knew what hit me after I'd faceplanted, no holds barred, my knees giving out from under me and my wrists barely able to brace the fall. The wind all but knocked out of me, I cursed loudly and kicked at the very awake and very calculated Wrigilet, who had sprung up from his planted position and now was trying to pin me down to the floor, yelling like a banshee as he did.
"You traitor, takin' the crown from Patcheye after he'd already takin' it from me after I'd already takin' it from him! You have no right to it, none at all!"
I expected the furious man to continue his tirade, but just as soon as he'd begun to scream, the Cybunny stopped himself in mid-sentence. I think it was because he'd finally taken the time to actually look down at me, and he'd realised that I was not, in any shape or form, the Lupe called Bragalot. This both perplexed and well... okay, it just perplexed him. Not loosening his hold on me, he furrowed his eyebrows and pursed his lips.
"Who are you?" he barked, leaving no room for question.
And what a good question, indeed.
To be continued...