Meridell at War: Part Two
Sally hummed a little tune under her breath as she finished the last of the washing up. It had hardly been a feast of a meal, but farmer’s wives knew how to make a little seem like a lot.
The Usul had changed so much in the years since she had left home. The small farmstead she now lived on near the Brightvale border was a great deal quieter than her family farm, but she liked the quiet.
In fact, that had been the reason she had left home in the first place... the people, and the nightmares. Still sometimes when she closed her eyes she could see them, the jeering Darigan soldiers as they advanced on her...
Sally shook her head, returning to the present. All that was ancient history now, a life she had left behind.
Her eyes drifted to the plate of leftovers on the side.
Maybe not left behind completely...
She tiptoed to the kitchen doorway and peered round the frame. Her husband was busily snoring in the chair; there would be no waking him for the next few hours.
She returned to the counter, picked up the plate, and let herself out the back door.
The farm was deathly quiet, and the pale moon that hung overhead seemed to absorb even more of the silence, as if the entire world was waiting for something to happen.
She placed the plate of leftovers in the same position she always did, just inside the barn door. Then she retreated to a safe distance, and hid herself behind a cart.
She caught a glimpse of a claw reaching out to the plate, and the sounds of frenzied eating soon followed.
Sally smiled to herself.
They had called her mad, the people back at the farm, when she had told them that a creature living in the barn had saved her from Darigan soldiers during the invasion. They had convinced her that it was all a figment of her imagination, a nightmare dreamt up by a child, frightened by noises in the night. For a time, she had come to think it had been madness herself.
But Sally remembered the faces of the soldiers far too clearly for it to have been a dream, and she could still picture the winged creature flying off into the night after he saved her.
No, it hadn’t been a dream, she knew that now. Or at least, she suspected.
Because her imaginary friend was in the barn.
Mr. Scary was back.
Galgarrath sat opposite the shadow Draik, a smile on his face showing off all of the Darigan Grarrl’s needle point teeth.
“It will be a lot easier if you just tell us now,” the Grarrl stated.
“You plan on interrogating me?” the shadow Draik asked mockingly.
“Not I.” Galgarrath smiled.
“Then Vex?” the Draik laughed. “Nothing more than a caretaker! Or perhaps Morguss? I have endured worse magic than hers!”
Galgarrath merely smiled again, before a knock on the door behind him signalled the arrival of a new interrogator.
The Grarrl got up and opened the door, standing to attention as a tall, thin Korbat walked in.
“Lord Darigan?” the Draik questioned.
“Expecting someone else?” Darigan asked. “You may leave us, General, we have much to discuss.”
The Grarrl nodded, and closed the door behind him. Darigan meanwhile took the vacant seat.
“Caught while attempting to sabotage the machinery keeping the Citadel in the air, so they say,” Darigan commented. “The Catacombs are fiercely guarded, and the machinery itself is not easy to operate. That is of course forgetting that you had to first infiltrate the Citadel. I must say, it is something of an honour to finally meet you, Marcel.”
The shadow Draik’s eyes flickered for only an instant.
“A lot of secrets were leaked from Meridell Castle during the two wars,” Darigan continued. “One of the most curious was only a name, but it was delivered with such pride as if the name itself was valuable information. We’ve never had any details of your species, or even colour. It is refreshing to finally put a face to the name.”
Marcel remained silent.
“Of course, I am assuming it is you,” Darigan added. “I hardly think Meridell has any other spies capable of reaching so far into the Citadel.”
“I will tell you nothing,” Marcel stated. “I am trained against all forms of interrogation.”
Lord Darigan chuckled to himself, “You do not need to tell me anything. Your reason for being here is plain. Skarl has ordered you to sabotage the flight systems of the Citadel, and bring us all crashing down, correct?”
Marcel remained silent.
“Or at least, that is what I am meant to think,” Darigan added. “Because you are Marcel, the greatest spy Meridell has – and we caught you. You managed to infiltrate the fortress, reach the most heavily guarded area of it, and we caught you. For someone such as yourself, having reached that point, escape should have been relatively easy. Certainly, you should have at least been able to overpower the first few guards you came across, rather than surrendering to them. We caught you, Marcel, and we should not have. There is only one explanation for this.”
Darigan leaned in closer. “You wanted to get caught.”
Marcel remained silent.
“Now, what are your reasons for this?” Darigan continued. “Are you defecting? Certainly, if you are, remaining silent is a rather foolish way to do it. No, the only option, the truth of the matter, is that you were ordered to get caught, were you not?”
“I will tell you nothing,” Marcel stated.
“Skarl intended for your actions to provoke military force, did he not?” Darigan asked. “The eyes of the Citadel are not blind. We have seen the increase in drafting numbers in the Meridell army. We watched as the armourers increased output. We saw the borders with Brightvale being closed. Indeed, it was most intriguing to learn of Merchant Castle’s destruction, and the death of the last anti-war Lord in Meridell.”
“Your point?” Marcel asked.
“Skarl is preparing for a war,” Darigan answered. “A war with us, even though we have no desire for one. And now, he has given us pretence for invasion. Why does he crave conflict so badly? Why has Skarl changed his opinion so suddenly, and so radically? You have the answers, Marcel, you can prevent this going any further, but you must help us. Tell us what the King is thinking, you must!”
Marcel hesitated, a strange flicker of doubt in his eyes.
“I will not betray my King.”
“But you have noticed something?”
“I could not say.”
Darigan nodded, “Of course you can’t. In any case, you have failed. The Citadel will not be baited. Skarl must find another avenue.”
Darigan stood up. “You will be housed in the dungeons until this is over. If Meridell still stands, we will arrange for you to be returned to your country.”
Darigan seemed to glance to a corner of the darkened room, as if something in the shadows had attracted his attention. He returned his gaze to Marcel for a moment, before opening the door and allowing Galgarrath back in.
Jeran walked through the corridors of Meridell Castle. There were a great deal more soldiers than usual, and the nobility was staying well away. It gave the impression that the Castle was more barracks than palace, and Jeran had no desire to spend time with people who seemed to be interested in the prospect of a coming war. As a veteran of two, Jeran knew all too well that there was no glory to be found there.
Instead, Jeran made his way towards the one area he knew he would find no soldiers. Though, these days he was hardly welcome there himself. He could hear the now almost permanent heavy drum beat long before he arrived at the door with a ‘Keep Out’ sign written in an over the top gothic style. He knocked once before entering, and took in the sight of his sister’s room.
Once, when Lisha had arrived in Meridell Castle, the room had been pristine and clean. Lisha had kept everything in a neat and tidy order as she studied magic. Like so many things in the castle, that too had changed.
Lisha had, to a certain degree, grown up. The little school girl that had travelled across time to find him was gone. What greeted him now was most certainly a teenager.
“What?” the yellow Aisha demanded, the magical sound of drums stopping abruptly.
Lisha now wore a tight fitting black dress, with matching black lipstick and for some inexplicable reason had dyed her hair black as well. The room itself was now plastered with posters for the Twisted Roses and other similar bands, while clothes and half eaten food lay around her unmade bed. Lisha was sat crossed legged on a deep purple rug, near a crystal ball.
“What do you want?” Lisha repeated.
“Are you doing magic?” Jeran asked, gesturing towards the crystal ball.
“As if you’d understand,” Lisha sneered. “It’s not like you really care, anyway; you never care about anything I do.”
Lisha still practiced magic, that much was true, but it wasn’t the kind Jeran was used to. Once, Lisha had focused on spells to ensure good crops or good health, but now she studied a different array of magic. She took pleasure in wilting roses that she picked from the palace gardens, and used her crystal ball to spy into the more unfortunate aspects of people’s personal futures. Though, to her credit she did spend a great deal more time picking out just the right shade of gothic candle to help her than she did actually practicing such magic.
“Listen,” Jeran said. “I need to talk to you about the King, I’m sure something’s wrong with him and I can’t help but feel magic might be involved somehow.”
“There you go again!” Lisha snapped. “It’s always King this and King that; you don’t care about me!”
“Lisha, please!” Jeran snapped back. “This is about the safety of the country; not everything is about you!”
Lisha managed to adopt both a smug look of victory and a scowl of hatred at the same time. “See, I said you didn’t care about me! Skarl’s probably just eaten some off food, now if you don’t mind; I was doing something before you so rudely walked in!”
She flicked her fingers in the air, and the heavy drum beat returned once more.
“Lisha...” Jeran attempted to reason with her, but his voice was drowned out by the beat.
He sighed to himself and shut the door behind him as he left. He kept trying to tell himself that it was just a phase all Neopets went through, but he missed the sweet little schoolgirl Lisha once was.
With the door separating to two, Jeran missed Lisha pause in her magic to glance thoughtfully at the place her brother had been standing.
Out in the corridor, Jeran was interrupted from his thoughts by a soldier running to meet him from down the corridor.
“Sir Jeran!” he gasped for breath. “The King demands an audience!”
“The situation has changed,” Skarl stated in his slow, quiet voice.
“Sire?” Jeran asked.
“Marcel has failed in his task,” Skarl told him. “The Darigan forces have taken him as their prisoner.”
“Marcel failed?” Jeran asked, genuinely shocked that such a thing could happen.
“Indeed.” Skarl nodded. “We were wrong to place our confidence in him.”
For a moment, Jeran thought he saw the shadows flickering behind Skarl again.
“I,” the King corrected himself. “I was wrong. But no matter. The Darigan forces are holding a citizen of Meridell hostage. This is grounds for war.”
Jeran stood in silence for a moment. “Sire? Isn’t it protocol to open up diplomatic relations first? I’m sure Lord Darigan will agree to release Marcel; they don’t desire war.”
Skarl narrowed his eyes at Jeran, and then tilted his head, as if he was listening to someone’s voice.
“There have been further changes of plan,” he announced. “We... I intended for you to lead our troops into battle. This will not be the case. You are being given another task.”
“There have been reports of disturbances at the Brightvale border,” Skarl continued. “You and your unit will investigate them. We do not wish to be caught in a pincer attack should Brightvale side with Darigan.”
Jeran opened his mouth to speak.
“Do you doubt your orders, knight?” Skarl cut across him. “That would be akin to treason.”
“No, sire,” Jeran relented. “I will prepare my unit immediately.”
“Excellent,” King Skarl replied, the faintest smile on his lips.
To be continued...