Of Angelpi and Qasalan Coffee: Part Two
They managed to survive the trip to the medicine stall with no problems, but the medicinal herbs they received didn't help Hanso as much as they'd hoped. He was still suffering, and by the end of the day, everyone in the palace (and most of the people in Qasala, he was sure) knew about his allergy.
Though Hanso had rarely seen Jazan since their arrival, he just knew that the king had to be gloating over this. It could not possibly be a coincidence, as Brynn claimed. Jazan had discovered that Hanso, the greatest thief of all time, the saviour of the faeries, could be brought to his knees by an angelpuss. And Jazan wanted to make sure that everyone in Neopia knew that.
Several days passed. Then a week. Then another week. They were still in Qasala, and Brynn still wasn't much closer on finding much information on the scroll. Hanso was fairly certain that he knew where it was, and he was eager to leave, but since he wasn't 100% certain of its location, he refrained from taking action.
"I've given up on trying to translate the title of the scroll, and I'm just going to memorise what the symbols on the scroll look like so that I'll know what it looks like," Brynn told Hanso one morning before she headed off to the library. "I'm still not entirely sure where to look, but..."
"What if it's in that locked room in the back of the library?" Hanso asked. He was drinking a special tea made from a mixture of herbs that was supposed to help his allergies. He wasn't sure it really helped all that much, but it tasted a lot like root beer, so he didn't mind it at all.
"If I conclude that it's in there, then we'll have to tell Queen Fyora and ask for her advice on what to do."
"I think we should just take it."
"That would be stealing!"
"No, it's taking something that's not supposed to belong to him in the first place! One of his ancestors must have stolen it from the faeries, remember?"
Brynn glared at him. "No, Hanso, I'm not doing that. That's crossing the line."
"You wouldn't do it. I would. Taking things secretly and without permission is my specialty, sweetheart. Not yours."
"But it might not even be in there. It might be somewhere else," Brynn said, apparently trying to change the subject. "We need to find out where it is before asking for the queen's direction."
"Yeah, well, if it's in the library, I'm taking it whether you like it or not. Or I will unless it's guarded by an army of angelpi. That would be the ultimate security system. And guess what? It might just keep me away."
"If it doesn't keep me away, it might make me get caught. It's not good to sneeze repeatedly while attempting a heist."
"I'd imagine not. Anyway, I'd better go to the library."
"Okay. I'll try to stay away from that angelpuss."
"And out of trouble."
"If I feel like it."
Thus, Hanso found himself all alone, again, on a walk around the palace. He thought about taking a look at the library's locked room's security system again, but with Brynn in there, he was likely to get caught. If that angelpuss wandered around nearby, he would definitely get caught. So he thought that it would be best to avoid it for now.
Coming upon a few royal servants talking in the corridor, Hanso overheard some interesting information.
"Are the preparations complete?" A short but intimidating yellow Kacheek asked two others, a blue Pteri and a brown Ruki, who appeared to be on their way to the banquet hall. The Pteri and Ruki were laden down with a variety of cutlery and several bowls.
"Does it look like we're ready!?" the Ruki snapped. "We're hardly halfway done. The coffee is just about ready, but the snacks aren't and the table's not set! We have to keep the coffee warm while we finish, and can't let it spoil, or else the king will fire us for sure!"
"Not to mention, the guests have not yet arrived," the Pteri added. "Princess Amira should have left by now, but we don't know when she'll be here."
Princess Amira was coming to visit? This was the first Hanso had heard of this. He hid behind a statue so he could continue to listen unseen.
"This is a disaster," the Kacheek grumbled. "Keep the coffee warm. Princess Amira doesn't live far, so she's probably on her way. The coffee and snacks should be ready and waiting the moment our guests arrive, understand?"
"Yes, sir," the Ruki and Pteri said in unison before they darted into the banquet hall.
"Some kind of royal coffee party, and we weren't invited?" Hanso wondered aloud, softly, to himself. He'd never tried the Qasalan version of coffee, but it didn't really appeal to him. It looked thick and extremely strong. Jazan was always belittling the "watery" coffee or, worse yet, "sugary milk drink" that most referred to as "coffee." He liked his coffee to be strong and thick, with no trace of milk, and he wanted it to be bitter. As bitter as his soul, apparently.
An idea popped into Hanso's head, one that was so devious and diabolical that he initially tried to brush it off, but the more he thought about it, the more sense it made.
Sure, if he was caught, he'd probably never be allowed in Qasala again. And yes, Brynn would be extremely angry, but that would pass. She never stayed angry with him for long, no matter what he did. And there was a teeny tiny chance that this might even help them find the artefact! Jazan might let them take it just to get rid of them. Honestly, Brynn couldn't possibly be angry with him if it helped them in their quest!
He would just have to make sure that he didn't get caught.
He was still behind the statue, which he now noticed was a larger-than-life likeness of none other that Jazan himself. What an ego that Kyrii had, to put statues of himself in his own palace! Even Hanso thought that was a bit much--although he wouldn't mind seeing a statue of himself in Faerieland. In fact, maybe he should ask Fyora about that when he and Brynn got back. Oh, yes, he'd have to make sure to ask that they commission a statue of Brynn, too. As charming as Hanso was to look at, Brynn was just as charming, especially when she didn't have that helmet covering her face and hair.
Even a statue of a Skeith guard would be better than a statue of Jazan. Ugh. What had Jazan been thinking?!
Anyway, back to the task at hand. Hanso checked that the corridor was clear, and then peeked into the banquet hall. That probably wasn't where they were keeping the coffee, so he figured he would have to find the kitchen and sneak into there.
This wasn't going to be easy, but it would be worth it. So very worth it.
"So there's some royal function going on today?"
Hanso had sneaked into the library once again to chat with Brynn. "Yeah, Princess Amira is visiting. They're about to hold some kind of royal coffee party or something."
"I guess we should greet them," Brynn said. "You know, I do remember a servant this morning mentioning that we may have been invited to some sort of royal function, but I didn't know it was today."
"Oh, someone told you? I heard about it eavesdropping in the corridor."
"That figures. You've been sleeping late, so I don't think you were awake yet when the servant told me."
"...The medicine makes me sleep more."
"I know. I don't mind." Brynn sighed and shut the book in front of her. "Hanso, remember what you were saying the other day, about how King Jazan might have the scroll we're looking for?"
"I'm positive he has it. It just... makes sense, you know?"
"Well, my research is starting to agree with your gut feeling--"
"Haha, told ya I was right!"
"—shut up, so I'm going to send a message to Queen Fyora asking what we should do next. I'd appreciate it if you didn't steal the scroll in the meantime."
"No promises, Brynn. If I find myself in there, it would be silly of me to not take the scroll."
Brynn sighed heavily, crossing her arms over her chest and rolling her eyes. She looked absolutely adorable when she did that, although Hanso had quickly learned not to tell her so, since it always made her angry for some reason. "All right, but you know that King Jazan is probably going to ban you from ever entering Qasala again, right?"
"I can live with that. By the way, were you going to go to this royal coffee party?"
"Yes. Are you?"
"I'll go if you go. But, I have to warn you: don't drink the coffee."
Brynn first look confused, then her eyes widened. "Hanso, did you...?"
"Just take my word for it, okay?"
This time Brynn cringed. Her gaze met his, and she just shook her head. "What did you do to it?"
He grinned. "Why do you think I did something to it? That coffee just looks nasty."
"I know. Thanks for the reminder, sweetheart."
Hanso had no idea what the celebration was supposed to be about, or whether there was any celebration at all. Maybe rulers just visited each other for social calls. Although Hanso had mingled with royalty many times over the past year or so, he still didn't understand much about royal culture. Therefore, he often made a fool of himself at royal functions--calling them "parties," for example, tended to go over poorly. Brynn always seemed to know what she was doing, though she tended to lose her cool when she was required to wear a dress. She hated skirts.
Today's "royal function" was of the casual type, which meant that they were not required to dress up. This was for the best, since Hanso actually hadn't brought any formal clothing. He owned very few nice clothes; he had owned nothing formal until he started working with the Faerieland guards. Thankfully, he didn't have to dress up very often.
He still felt out of place, though. Almost everyone, including Brynn, was wearing some kind of outfit that identified themselves with their country of origin. For Brynn and the other soldiers or guards, that meant they were dressed in uniforms that depicted the colours and emblems of their country. (Brynn switched between Brightvale's green and white colours and Faerieland's pinks and purples. Today she was dressed for Faerieland.) Amira and Nabile always seemed to be finely dressed, and Jazan, well, even Hanso had to admit that his sense of style wasn't too bad. And then there was Hanso, wearing his well-worn sleeveless coat, dark purple shirt and dark trousers. He really stuck out, and not in a good way.
Pleasantries and idle chit-chat were exchanged. Enarka, one of Amira's advisors, even stopped to chat privately with him.
"How did you fare with that Clockwork Negg monster?" Enarka asked Hanso as they waited for the coffee to be served.
"Frankly, we didn't have to do anything. The Neopian public took care of that all on their own." Hanso watched as the servants finally brought the coffee and snacks. A mug, or bowl, really, was carefully placed at each seat, and each person also had a few small cake- or cookie-like things that looked like they were dusted with powdered sugar. Hanso had never seen them before, and he wasn't certain he wanted to try them, either.
"On behalf of the people of the Kingdom of Qasala, my husband and I welcome you here," Nabile, sitting at one end of the long table, began her little speech. "It is our heartfelt desire that our nations may continue down the path of peaceful relations."
"That is our desire, too." Amira started another speech, though Hanso found it boring and didn't pay attention. He glanced at Brynn, seated next to him, and saw that she looked uncharacteristically nervous.
He knew that an unlucky neopet had sneaked a taste of coffee when he heard someone suddenly spit it out.
"Is something wrong?" Nabile asked the Ruki who had just spewed coffee all over himself.
"You taste it!" the Ruki told her. "Is this what you call quality coffee? It tastes like salt water!"
Almost everyone else tried it with the same reaction. Hanso noticed that Brynn didn't touch hers. She'd heeded his warning. Though he tried hard to avoid looking at Jazan, he knew that the King of Qasala was glaring daggers at him. He could feel it.
"It appears as though the coffee may have sat unattended for too long." Jazan's voice was deceptively calm. "Or, perhaps, there was an... accidental... addition to it." Hanso found it hard to keep from smiling. Oh yeah. Jazan had caught on right away. This was working out well. He motioned the nearest servant, a blue Aisha. "Neith, bring us some spiced tea instead. I assume that no one has tampered with that."
"Yes, your majesty." Neith curtsied and ran to do Jazan's bidding.
This was working out very well! Not only was Jazan redder than usual, they were being treated to Qasalan tea. That was much better than coffee, in Hanso's opinion.
"So what exactly did you do to that coffee?"
"I put a little salt in it."
"More than a little."
It was now evening. The activities of the day had separated Hanso and Brynn after the royal coffee-then-tea party, and Hanso was just now able to tell Brynn what he'd done.
"It's a really old trick," he continued. "Salt and sugar look so similar that they're easy to switch out. I just went a little further and added it to the coffee before it was served!"
"I'm surprised King Jazan didn't blast you on the spot."
"I am, too. Maybe he didn't know it was me."
"I think he knew. I think he wanted to save face."
"Well, I don't know how well he did, since everyone's talking about it and how bad it made him look. Anyway, this aside," Hanso waved as if to brush the whole conversation aside, "I think we can finally fulfill our mission tonight."
Brynn groaned. "You mean you're going to break into the library, steal the scroll, and then flee, right?"
"You know me really well, don't you. Yeah, that's my plan."
"I still think we should contact Queen Fyora and see what she thinks."
"...You mean, you haven't yet?"
"...No," Brynn admitted. "I was hoping we'd find some other way to solve this, but..."
"My plan will work! It really will! And if it becomes public knowledge, it'll be pretty minor to the coffee incident, so no one will mind in the long run!"
"...I really don't understand your way of thinking sometimes."
"You don't, huh? That's a shame. I think Fyora knew where the scroll was all along. She knew I'd be the only one to figure it out, and since I'm her Master Thief, she knows I can take care of it without getting caught."
Brynn was silent for several minutes. Hanso wasn't sure if she was expecting him to say more or what, but just as he was about to elaborate, she finally spoke.
"All right. You get the scroll, I'll pack our things, and then we'll slip out and head back to Faerieland."
"You mean it?"
"Yes. If you're that certain, I know I couldn't stop you anyway. But, I warn you: we are going to have a LOT of explaining to do. And if I lose my job..."
"Don't worry, sweetheart, you won't." Hanso grinned. "After all, things always work out for us in the end, right?"