The Pursuit of Knowledge
“Micaaaah! I don’t want you to leeaaave!”
The little green Pteri’s wail echoed off the stone walls inside Brightvale castle, audible all the way down the hall. Micah winced, trying to keep his composure as his adopted niece clung to his robe and screamed at the top of her lungs; it was only natural she should be upset, but it seemed like she’d been crying for days straight, and it was starting to wear.
He took her in his arms as his silver face started to burn with embarrassment, his whippy Gelert ears plastering themselves back against his head; she sobbed, her tiny frame shaking up against his robe as she continued to whine and cry.
He took a deep breath and spoke, trying to keep his tone civil.
“Grace, come on now. It’ll be–”
He didn’t get far.
“Come now, missy–”
“Bwaaah!” Grace pulled away, scrubbing away tears with her wing and gripping her plush white Weewoo for dear life. “Bwaaa-aaah!”
Micah rubbed his eyes with frustration.
“Grace, please!” His tone was sharper than he would have liked. She blinked through her tears, staring up at him with a hurt look in her eyes – but at least the noise had stopped. He breathed again before speaking, softer this time. “Listen, I know it’s a long trip,” he said, “But we can write back and forth – Gordon can deliver letters from anywhere. And I’ll send you lots of souvenirs.”
She hesitated, wiping her face again and cocking her little head to one side as if thinking it over. Micah held his breath – Grace was a bit dramatic, but sometimes those last-minute consolations were enough to calm her, to get her to smile through her tears.
Then she started crying again.
“No!” she shouted. He watched as she seized the Weewoo plushie by its tail and swung it high; its soft plush beak bopped him right between the ears with surprising force. Then she turned and ran out into the hall, still wailing as her pink skirts and floppy, oversized plushie trailed behind her: “Bwaaah!”
Micah blinked, lightly rubbing the spot between his ears. The seven-year-old was never an angel, but hitting people with her toys was a little much.
Still, he should have known she wouldn’t take this well. She was far too attached to him – nothing could make this easy. Now he could hear her down the hall and around the corner near her room, crying to her mother, Dorothea, almost incoherent – and Dorothea’s all-too-typical attempts to soothe her:
“Oh, dear! Oh, Gracie! Did that hopeless brother of mine make you cry again? He’s so dreadfully mean! Yes, I know, I know. Come on, now, fetch your coat and come with me – we’ll go to the bakery and get some pastries...”
Micah was so used to his sister’s insulting comments that they barely registered. Standing up, he sighed, looking out the window and trying to clear his mind. Tomorrow marked the start of his journey, his first time leaving Brightvale since childhood, with only Gordon the Draik at his side as an assistant. Five hundred days of sailing around Neopia. He had long been a scholar of Neopian cultures, but some things couldn’t be learned from a book: local attitudes; subcultures and countercultures; the ebb and flow of everything from fashion, to codes of conduct, to slang and the rhythm of speech. He had fifteen lands to visit, and fifteen volumes of information to record – a journey for the pursuit of knowledge. He had been the one to suggest the trip in the first place, and had been bursting with excitement ever since king Hagan had given it his stamp of approval – but Grace wasn’t quite so enthusiastic.
Either way, it meant nothing. Micah wanted this trip more than anything, but more importantly, he had the anticipation of dozens of fellow scholars, the king’s public support, and generous funding besides. No matter how many tears were cried, nor how many people got bopped with a Weewoo... he was leaving at dawn.
Micah’s eyes opened, and he blinked. The sunlight was streaming in through his windows as he lay sprawled out on the bed; he yawned and rolled over, covering his eyes with one paw. The birdsong outside seemed obnoxiously loud, and he lightly laid a pillow over his head to stifle the sound.
Then he shot out of bed with a cry of alarm. The bedsheets caught his ankles, and he stumbled, hitting the carpet face-first – then jumped up again, rubbing his scuffed cheek. He pawed at the bedside table, searching for his alarm clock – gone. He checked behind the nightstand, underneath it. No sign of it, that little brass alarm clock he’d been using for twenty years. One question was ringing in his mind, louder than the clock ever had – what time was it?
He snatched his best robes off a hook on the wall, flinging them on, brushing his hair in a panic, scrambling for his boots and gloves. He glanced again at the window – the sun was climbing high. What in Neopia had he done with that clock? Did he lend it to Gordon? No – he wouldn’t have. Lending something to Gordon was like tossing it down a hole.
Micah grasped the doorknob, flinging the door open with a bang and hopping on one paw out into the hallway as he pulled his other boot on. He seized the luggage that was waiting just outside and barreled down the hall past blank-faced and startled guards, blathering to himself in a sleepy-eyed panic:
“Oh, for the love of... what in all of... how in the... why... Where’s my... Ohh, how in blue blazes did I sleep so late?”
“Why in blue blazes is that brother of mine so late?”
It was almost ten. Dorothea, a spotted Gelert, stood on the docks outside of Brightvale, shading herself with a parasol as the heat of the day grew more and more intense, seabirds calling out above in the sunshine. A group of perhaps fifteen – friends, family and fellow scholars – was gathered there to see Micah off. Among them: King Hagan himself. He hadn’t commented on the wait, but he was obviously growing impatient – and Dorothea was growing embarrassed. Today of all days, Micah dared to take his sweet time?
Her thoughts were broken when Grace looked up at her, giving an innocent smile.
“He’s so lazy, he’ll miss the boat. Oh, well!” she said, as if she thought that was the end of the entire matter. Dorothea blinked.
“Grace, please. Micah has never been lazy,” she said, “And never been late, either, now that I think of it.”
At this, Hagan stroked his beard thoughtfully.
“Hmm. That’s true – he’s always quite punctual.” He tapped his foot impatiently on the wood below, deep in thought; then he turned to a green Draik at the edge of the gathering. “Gordon. You’re quite speedy in the air, are you not? It may be wise to go back to the castle and see what’s keeping him.”
Gordon stepped forward and gave an overdramatic, flourishing bow – eliciting an eye-roll from Dorothea.
“Yes, sire! Of course, sire! I’ll go at once!” With that he spread his wings, and was off into the air like a stone from a sling. Dorothea shaded her eyes with her parasol, watching him go. Knowing Gordon, he would probably end up dawdling out there long after Micah had arrived. A fine pick for an assistant, indeed.
Grace fidgeted, staring at the ground.
Micah dashed out of the castle, clutching his bags as he ran down the cobblestone street in a panic. The crowded road passed by him in a blur – it was less than ten minutes to the docks. He tried to calm himself as he ran; if he really hurried, then with any luck, maybe he'd only end up a few minutes behind schedule...
Then he caught sight of a large clock decorating the face of a building. He nearly screamed: nine-forty-five. He had been scheduled to leave at eight-thirty. He knew they must be holding his boat – this trip was too important to do otherwise – but how was he going to explain himself? In his mind’s eye, he could already see Hagan looking down his nose, hear the severity in his voice. What kind of scholar was late for something like this, anyway?
Then something caught his eye. He came to a slow stop; something was gleaming underneath a flowering bush, a distinctive brassy shine. He was outside a small bakery – a favorite spot of Dorothea’s. She was forever strolling down here with Grace, who would wait outside in the sunshine, fidgeting around and picking violets while Dorothea went in...
Micah reached under the shrub and seized the smooth object that was glinting in the sun, pulling it clear from the leaves. White face, red hands, that scratch on the back. There was no mistaking it – his very own alarm clock. He paused, drumming his fingers on the warm metal as he stared at it, a twinge of anger rising inside as he realized what had happened.
Then he laughed and stuffed it into one of his bags, turning back toward the docks. At least it made sense now – hopefully Hagan would think the same.
“Micah! Sir!” Micah blinked, looking up and shading his eyes with one paw. Gordon was barreling toward him through the air – he alighted on the ground with a whoosh of air. “Sir! His majesty Hagan sent me to inquire about–”
Micah cut him short. “My ridiculous lack of punctuality, no doubt,” he said. “I’m sorry, Gordon. Would you mind flying me down to the docks?...”
Gordon’s wings strained above as he lowered Micah down toward the dock. Even from here, Micah could see Hagan’s stern stare, and the annoyance on the faces of the entire gathering – this was going to be tough to explain. His feet landed lightly on the wood below, then Gordon released his hands and dropped to the ground, saluting sharply to Hagan.
“Sire! I found him, sire!” He looked quite proud of himself. “He was, uh, messing around with some random bush outside a bakery. Sire!”
Hagan continued to stare at Micah. Face burning, the Gelert tried to smooth out his robes and fur – he must look less than polished after dashing out of the bed with barely thirty seconds to dress himself, not to mention with what he was sure must be a visibly-growing bruise on his cheek from the carpet. Hagan scowled for a moment before speaking.
“Thank you, Gordon – you may board the ship now.” Gordon bowed so deeply he almost toppled over before dashing up the ramp. “Sir Micah, this journey is of the utmost importance to not only yourself, but to all of Neopia’s scholars and knowledge-seekers who will use your writings in the future. So I presume you have an excellent explanation for why you are an hour and twenty minutes late.”
Micah coughed nervously. Talking to King Hagan made anyone feel a bit stupid, even at the best of times; when he was angry, it was that much worse.
“Yes, Sire,” he said meekly. “You see, I suspect I have been the victim of a saboteur.”
Grace emitted a squeak. The two turned to see her darting behind Dorothea, gripping her mothers’ long skirt and trying to hide her face from view.
Dorothea blinked at the sudden stares.
“Excuse me. What, precisely, are you all looking at?” she asked defensively. Micah approached her, reaching into his bag with one hand and pulling out the brass alarm clock.
“Sorry, Dorothea,” he said, “Grace, come here. No, look at me. Come on, now!”
Grace was running in circles around Dorothea, whimpering as Micah circled her patiently, trying to make eye contact – but she kept evading. Finally, Dorothea drew her skirt aside, exposing Grace’s tearful face.
“Grace! Did you... did you do something naughty?” Dorothea asked. Micah fought the urge to roll his eyes; clearly, the idea that Grace was capable of being naughty was a grand epiphany for his sister. He knelt down, raising the alarm clock in one hand.
“Does this mean anything to you, Grace?” he asked. Grace stared at the dock below.
“No,” she spat.
“Grace. You took the clock, didn’t you? You wanted to make me miss the boat, and then you didn’t know what to do with it, so you hid it?”
Dorothea gave him an appalled look, apparently shocked at the accusation – but Grace’s eyes were welling with tears. She hesitated, staring at the clock, then at Micah, then at her mother, as if waiting for someone to defend her – and all at once, she threw her little feathered head back with a bawl.
Hagan winced at the high-pitched sound, and Grace seized Micah so hard that the clock fell, hitting the wood below with a clang – and her Weewoo doll thumped down softly beside it. She sobbed into the chest of his robe, staining it with her tears; and once more, Micah’s whippy ears plastered themselves back, and his face burned with embarrassment. The anger on Hagan’s face faded, but now it was Dorothea who looked livid.
“Grace! How could you embarrass Micah this way!?” She shot him a glare. “...Even if he is a hopeless twit, running around and making innocent children cry!” she added. Micah grimaced and raised an eyebrow.
“Dorothea, maybe you can settle this a little later...” He gave Hagan an apologetic glance. Dorothea didn’t seem to notice.
“Hush, you! Grace, I hope you know you’re grounded! And you’re doing extra chores!... For sixteen years, in fact! My stars, why would you even think to...” Grace was sobbing too hard to speak. Dorothea abruptly stopped, looking down at the crying child; then she sighed, rubbing her eyes. “Oh, Gracie... you just didn’t want your uncle to leave, did you?”
Grace was still clinging to Micah. He sighed and carefully peeled the little girl off himself, revealing the large damp spot on his shirt, and took a handkerchief out of his pocket. He dried her eyes, then he picked her doll up off the ground.
“Grace... I’m going to go on my trip now,” he said firmly. “But I’ll write and send you souvenirs, like I said. And you’ll see me again – that, I promise you.” He brushed the dust off her plushie, then placed it in her arms. “...And I’ll make you a deal. You like these petpets, right?” he said, “The last stop on my route is going to be Krawk Island. And if you’ll see me off with a smile... and promise me that you will never do anything like this ever again... I’ll bring you one of your very own when I return. A real, live white weewoo. Fair enough?”
Grace blinked. She hesitated; she wiped her face and cocked her little head to one side, as if thinking it over. Micah held his breath; one of those last-minute consolations.
And finally, she smiled through her tears.
Micah waved from the deck of the ship as it cast off; and the small crowd of friends and family waved back, paws and hats and handkerchiefs aloft in the air. The island slowly receded onto the horizon as the breeze whistled in Micah’s long ears; he took a deep breath of the salty air and turned to the bow, looking out over the water. Five hundred days – days to study everything he’d always wanted to study, to write and record. To further not just his own knowledge, but the knowledge of every scholar of Brightvale. First the recovering Faerieland, then mighty Shenkuu. Roo Island, Kiko Lake, Tyrannia...
“Micah, sir!” Micah turned to see Gordon popping up from below deck. His voice was full of excitement. “Sir, I found a big barrel of Thornberry Brew down there. It’s absolutely delicious!” Gordon smiled cheerfully, gripping a red jug and a pair of drinking glasses. “You know, we should have a toast to the trip. The sailors tell me it’s good luck, and all that rot!”
Micah smiled, already a little worn out by the morning’s events.
“Ah... sure, why not.” He took a glass as Gordon popped the cork out of the jug, then filled both glasses to the top. Gordon coughed nervously.
“Hm, all right, ah...” he raised his glass high over the deck. “To Brightvale!” he declared. Micah smiled; if nothing else, Gordon was always enthusiastic. He raised his own glass.
“To King Hagan!”
“To Grace and Dorothea!”
“To the pursuit of knowledge!”
“And to the pursuit of white Weewoos,” he said, then put the glass to his lips.
Gordon looked at him like he was crazy.