In a far corner of King Hagan’s castle, he was having tea with King Skarl. The relationship between the two brothers was fragile, to say the least, but for reasons relating strictly to his public image, King Hagan had initiated the routine of this monthly tea. Of course, simply sipping a beverage in each other’s company could not make the two get along, and nor could it strengthen the weak bond between their kingdoms. As such, the same scene seemed to play out at each of these get-togethers: each was trying to convince the other their own land was better.
“Brightvale,” King Hagan was saying, “is full of intelligent scholarly Neopets in seek of wisdom and higher enlightenment. In the meanwhile, Meridell” – he said the name with a slight bit of well-mannered disgust – “is full of talentless young Neopets who are content to poke an over-sized petpet with a stick and go through manure fields with a basket in search of the ripest berry.”
“At least our berries are edible. You think yours are so perfect you just keep them in a display case.”
During these discussions, it was often King Hagan who put forth the cutting remarks and closely-worded insults. King Skarl often contented himself with gorging himself on his brother’s delicious food and offering up lame comebacks to keep his brother talking. As long as King Hagan was rolling on with his high-minded chatter, King Skarl could use the opportunity to eat one more cream-filled biscuit.
“Considering your berries are grown from the poorest of manures,” King Hagan replied curtly, “I see no reason why they deserve any better than that farm.”
“Pick Your Own brings in lots of visitors!” Skarl’s loud objection was slightly muffled by the pastry in his mouth. After a long chew and a swallow he asked, “What kind of things bring visitors to Brightvale?”
“Only the enlightened come to Brightvale, and we have the wisdom to offer them.” King Hagan looked at his brother, his cheeks bulging with food. “Face it, brother, Brightvale is better.”
“I don’t know. Illusen certainly didn’t think so,” King Skarl retorted angrily.
See, that was the thing about the grumpy ruler of Meridell; while often his speech was complaints and pointless remarks, once in a while, his words could hit their mark more accurately than any arrow.
It bothered King Hagan that his brother had one thing that was undeniably a good attraction: a Faerie.
Even his own enlightened citizens went over to Meridell to go to Illusen’s Glade. There was no denying the appeal of having kindly old Illusen tucked away in the corner of your land. He did not resent the Earth Faerie; who could resent an old soul like that? But he was not used to his brother having things that were better than his. It had been this way since the two Skeiths were children. Hagan’s petpet was better behaved and more nicely groomed; his toys were cleaner and intact. His room was tidy while his brother’s looked as if a tornado had whisked through it.
To that extent, Brightvale was, in King Hagan’s humble opinion, a land of rolling hills, lush green grass, and scholarly, well-behaved Neopets, while Meridell was paved with manure. It never failed to amaze the wise old King how people would actually pay Neopoints to go trudging through that dingy farm in search of cheap, overripe berries.
He supposed that, to some extent, he was being slightly harsh. Meridell had been plagued by King Darigan and even now, there was that awful cloud lingering above them - and his brother was, admittedly, a little troubled and deeply irritable. Surely it would be hard to control a land in his condition... it would give opportunity to mangy old Gelerts to take up residence in a forgotten corner, at the very least. And of course, they had rebuilt from being reduced to ashes...
But Hagan could not possibly understand - and he believed he never would understand - why the kind, intelligent, giving Earth Faerie, Illusen, had taken up residence in his brother’s sorry little kingdom. Of course, she had given her reasons; Meridell was a more ancient land than Brightvale, and she had sought peace and quiet, refuge from Jhudora and the turmoil that raged across Neopia. And if one considered the sanctuary that had been offered to the peasants of Meridell by Illusen, it would seem obvious that she felt deeply attached to King Skarl’s land.
Nevertheless, King Hagan was not used to be beaten by his ungainly brother. Something would have to be done...
Illusen loved Meridell.
She had endured so many troubles with this land; had watched the years fly past her with her feet placed solidly on this enduring ground. She had grown old with Meridell, and she intended to continue growing older for as long as she could get away with it.
Of course, she had originally chosen this land in search of some peace and quiet, a safe haven when the rest of Neopia was swirling in uncertainty. She had come to see that Meridell had some troubles of its own. After the thankful demise of Lord Darigan’s plan on take over the kingdom, Meridell and its citizens had settled into the softer cadence of everyday life, but that did not mean the place was without its issues.
One was the perpetually unhappy King. Illusen had a tendency to see the good in everyone and saw a kindly soul with much potential in Skarl, a personality that had shone through in many situations. It was this goodness and hidden wisdom in him that had led to his long reign over Meridell and the devotion displayed to him by his citizens, but this devotion was not a blind faith. Illusen heard the murmurings of Neopets wondering when they would see their King smile...
The other issue was Brightvale. She had hoped that the two kingdoms and their brothers could have held a strong relationship, but the differences between the two Skeiths and their beliefs - and the ways they controlled their kingdoms - had lead to a seemingly irreparable chasm between the two of them.
It was oddly reminiscent of her own relationship with Jhudora, although while Illusen was sure King Hagan and King Skarl harboured a distant dislike for each other, it hadn’t progressed to blind hate just quite yet.
“Illusen,” someone said, snapping the Earth Faerie out of her reverie. “Do you have a quest for me today?”
She ambled out of the comfortable den into the bright sunlight. An Acara looked up at her, a keen look in his eyes and a scarf wound around his neck. His haughty voice and aloof manner - he even gazed at her with his nose up - helped her connect him to Brightvale immediately.
“Of course,” she said, smiling kindly. “If you could bring me a Happy Meerca Stories, I may just have a reward for you...”
The Acara whisked off in pursuit of the book. Even his gait was even and unfriendly.
Illusen sank back into her home, returning to the many thoughts that chased one another in her busy mind. Tomorrow was Meridell’s birthday... she wanted to give back to the land that had given so much to her. What could she do? She had already done much, she knew, helping Meridell through hard times and constantly bringing in tourists, but there had to be something more...
But before she could complete her thought, she heard the distinctive footsteps of a crowd gathering at her door and she got up to go hand out quests.
King Hagan had gone to sleep deep in thought and had woken up equally pensive. This, of course, was nothing new - the wise old King often had many scholarly matters to ponder throughout the day, and occasionally their manifestations in his dreams had helped him to reach a conclusion of sorts.
This night, however, he had tossed and turned, plagued by nightmares in which his unkempt had repeatedly bested him in various activities. And, every time, Illusen had stood in the background, silently laughing.
He knew it was an inaccurate representation of her gentle soul, but this had become his new obsession since that awful tea. Why Meridell?
Hagan had a routine he followed every morning. He could check his calendar, cross off the day; check his notebook for any appointments; go downstairs and have a cup of Borovan; along with that he would enjoy a croissant or a crumpet; and to finish it all off, he would go to one of his advisors and hold some variety of an intellectual conversation.
But on this day, the King walked out of the castle still in his pajamas and ludicrous robe, long pajama hat included. Perhaps he got some odd stares as he hurried across the border into Meridell, his hat and untied robe flopping along in the wind behind him, but he paid no notice.
Illusen’s door was closed. He knocked on it a few times to announce his arrival and then stepped inside, preparing to question Illusen, when he heard voices drifting to him, two very distinctive voices - the Earth Faerie’s kind melody, and his brother’s sullen growl. He chose to wait and listen to them before asking Illusen the question that had been gnawing at his mind.
“Meridell is so thankful to you for everything you have done,” Skarl was saying, his voice unusually graceful.
“No thanks are needed,” Illusen replied, and Hagan could hear the smile in her voice. “More tea, your Highness?”
“Yes, please. But truly, your presence here means the world to us...”
“Meridell is my home.”
“So it is,” Skarl replied. “And it makes me so happy to know that you are, and always will be, Meridell’s Faerie.”
There was a pause in which Hagan could hear this thunderous heartbeat. You are, and always will be, Meridell’s Faerie.
“King Hagan,” Illusen said, startling him so badly that he jumped up and the cap topped off, “I know you’re there. Why don’t you join us for tea?”
“Ahh, my dearest brother,” Skarl said, patting his belly. “Here to wish me a happy Discovery of Meridell Day?”
“There is nothing happy about the day your kingdom came to plague the rest of Neopia,” Hagan retorted, seething with jealousy.
“WE came to plague Neopia? It’s you that’s all selfish and arrogant. You think you and your kingdom and everyone in it is so amazing,” Skarl said. “You forget that there are other types of people out there!”
“And what kinds of people populate your little land over here?”
“Meridell has all sorts of people. We have friendly people and grumpy people and hard workers and slackers and even the occasional scholar!”
Hagan snorted. “Why would any intelligent scholar choose to waste their time in Meridell while my Brightvale is only a short ways away?”
Skarl had always been eternally unhappy, but now there was something other than a frown on his face - he looked angry, true rage burning in his eyes. And perhaps there was a smidgen of hurt in there as well. “Today is Meridell’s day, Hagan, and all you have for me are insults! When have you ever been nice?”
“I invited you to those teas.”
“Only so you could tell me Brightvale is better than Meridell!”
“And you don’t promote your own kingdom?”
Skarl sat down and, predictably, picked up something to eat. “Why did you come here in the first place?” he asked, ungraciously shovelling more food into his mouth. How characteristic of him, Hagan thought.
Now remembering his original purpose, he spun towards Illusen. “Meridell’s Faerie?” he questioned, an accusatory note to his voice.
Illusen looked at him for a long moment. “Where is all this jealous born of, Hagan? You are known for being wise and intelligent, and yet it seems as if envy has reduced to the type of man that makes unnecessary enemies and allows himself to be consumed by negativity. Is this who you are?”
Although properly chastised, King Hagan could not help but ask, “Why Meridell?”
“Why must the criticism of two kingdoms be reduced to which houses a Faerie? Are you two truly as petty as that? Meridell is my home, but perhaps another Faerie will fancy Brightvale - and Brightvale has its own redeeming qualities. Each of your lands is much too different to be compared like this; each is beautiful and unpleasant in its own right.” Illusen had adopted a tone that was neither friendly nor unfriendly - gentle but still firm, and both the Kings looked into their laps, embarrassed.
“Today,” she continued, “is a day of celebration.” She gestured for Hagan to come over to the window where she stood. “Look out,” she instructed. “Look at Meridell from my eyes.”
And he did. He closed his eyes and thought of Illusen, only Illusen, and the love and loyalty she felt for the land he so hated. When he opened his eyes and gazed out the glass, he no longer saw a farm, nor a rundown castle, nor a population of below average Neopets. He saw rolling green hills, much like he envisioned Brightvale, a land dotted with flowers and full of celebration. He saw citizens that ambled about luxuriously with wide smiles and inviting eyes, congratulating each other on this auspicious day.
Meridell was beautiful, he realised, just like Brightvale was. You just needed to look at it from the right point of view.
And looking at his brother’s kingdom from the eyes of Meridell’s Faerie, you could not help but admire it.
Ashamed, Hagan turned towards Skarl. “Happy Discovery of Meridell, brother,” he said, and King Skarl almost managed a smile, patting the seat beside him. As the two brothers enjoyed tea and snacks in Illusen’s hut, the sun warmed the two kingdoms, and Illusen smiled upon the two of them from her corner.
Happy Meridell Day to everyone & thanks for reading!