The Quest to Thorn Bridge Castle: Part Six
Also by thropp
No matter how many times she wore it, Princess Lunara was always surprised by how heavy her ancient lapis amulet was. The Cybunny rubbed her neck worriedly; not only was the amulet weighing it down, but she was incredibly tense in her shoulders as well. She had just used her amulet to eavesdrop on a meeting between her father, the Emperor of Shenkuu, and his advisors.
"Ladies and gentlemen," her father had started. "I have summoned you all here this morning because I have an announcement to make. It would seem that I have fallen ill these past couple of days and need for you all to handle the governing of the land until I have recovered. The sickness is just temporary," her father continued. "I am waiting for the Wise Gnorbu to finish brewing a special Black Cherry Tea that will soothe the pains in my throat.""
Lunara could not help but feel upset that her father had not considered seeking her assistance. After all, she was being groomed to take over as the Empress of Shenkuu once her father stepped down. If he did not allow her to get some real experience, how could she ever expect to be an effective ruler?
No, she thought, the advisors will not be taking over. It is time for me to prove to my father and to the citizens of Shenkuu that I am capable of handling any issues that may arise.
Shenkuu looked exactly as Abezil had imagined. The air was fragrant with the perfume of cherry blossoms and Shenkuu Mountain Miso Soup. The emerald mountains upon which Shenkuu was sprawled stretched elegantly through the swirling clouds up above, their peaks masked from view. Pagodas dotted the landscape, Paper Lantern String Lights showing the path from building to building. Never in his life had Abe ever thought he would see the Cyodrake's Gaze in person. It was just a majestic as the history books he had studied as a boy promised it would be.
What he had not expected, however, was being met not by the Emperor of Shenkuu, but by his daughter, Princess Lunara. Years before, Abezil had performed his first joust at Princess Lunara's debutante ball in Faerieland, where she was announced to the courtiers of all the Neopian lands as the successor to the Emperor. Everyone had expected the Gelert Emperor to name his other daughter, Princess Terrana, as his heir. Terrana was everything Lunara was not; she was wild, outspoken, and daring, where Lunara was disciplined, reserved, and exceedingly cautious.
Abezil thought Lunara was pretty at the time of the ball, but standing before her again, all those years later, he found her to be the most beautiful Cybunny in all of Neopia.
"You might want to close your mouth, Sir." Mazeu nudged the Mynci. "Nothing is attractive about drool."
Mazeu was taken aback by his companion's reaction. While he had never been particularly chivalrous in the short time she had known him, the last thing Maz had expected was for the knight to go weak kneed in the presence of a princess. He was under Fyora's service, for crying out loud! Fyora was the most beautiful and magnanimous creature in the world - possibly the universe.
While Abe fought for control of his tongue and limbs, Caitiry stepped forward, reaching a hand out to greet the princess. "I am Caitiry," she introduced herself. "These are my comrades, Mazeu and Abezil."
"Sir Abezil," the knight corrected, slipping the princess's free hand into his own.
"Ah, did you not joust at my naming celebration?" Lunara inquired. "You were much smaller back then... very entertaining, too! Yes! I do recall; you dropped your shield before the first round, and then tripped in the stirrups of your saddle trying to retrieve it..."
Abe's cheeks reddened and Caitiry hastily changed the subject. "We are on a quest for Queen Fyora," she explained. "King Hagan informed us that your father would be able to help us."
Princess Lunara's nose twitched. "My father is not available at this moment. May I be of service to you?"
"We are trying to get to Thorn Bridge Castle," said Mazeu. "We have been travelling Neopia, collecting map pieces in the hopes of finding the castle. King Hagan said your father had one piece in his possession."
This is my chance, the princess thought. My chance to prove to my father that I am capable of giving orders, of commanding loyalty and respect.
"I will relinquish our map piece to you," she told the three adventurers before her. "On one condition: you must bring me a special tea from the Gnorbu in the Lunar Temple."
It is not so terrible, climbing, Caitiry told herself. After a thousand steps, what's another hundred? She was out of breath and her calves were aching, but the she pushed up the staircase to the Lunar Temple.
"Just think," Mazeu puffed. "We get to go back down after this."
Caitiry grinned and took another heavy step. Mazeu was so different from her. So was Abe, for that matter. They were an unlikely band of would-be heroes.
The Lunar Temple was situated at the highest peak of the Shenkuu mountains, looking over a vast expanse of dusty grey clouds. At such a late hour, when the sky was so dark and velvety she felt like the only Aisha in the world, Caitiry imagined she could reach out her hand and touch the stars that twinkled all around her. The moon above cast a sliver of silver light on the walkway, as if it was building the pathway to the door of the observatory.
A wise old Gnorbu, affectionately called the Wise Old Gnorbu, lived in the Lunar Temple, recording the Kreludor's orbit around Neopia. He was an eccentric fellow with a long white beard that he frequently tripped over as he walked back and forth between his many telescopes. He was a Gnorbu of knowledge, and intelligence was a skill he felt was superlative to any other.
"My Black Cherry Tea is obtained only as a prize," he announced when Caitiry informed him of the reason for their visit. "The Emperor knows this, and he agreed to help me in exchange for the drink."
"Help you with what?" asked Maz.
"I carefully observe the movement of the globes and track them here on my chart. Do you think you have what it takes to accurately track the movement of Kreludor? I propose a challenge to test your skills."
Maz and Cait exchanged a look while Abezil watched the spheres of a shiny astrolabe slowly spin.
Abe had felt like he had been listening to Cait and Maz fight for ages, but the clock ticking on the wall beside him showed only thirty minutes had passed. He was beginning to tire of the bickering.
"I have chosen a random position for Neopia and Kreludor on my chart above," the Wise Old Gnorbu had said. "Based on these positions, which phase of Kreludor would most likely be seen from Neopia?"
Scratch paper was strewn all across the table at which Mazeu and Caitiry were seated. Maz's hair was sticking up in several directions, a result of the Kyrii pulling at it in frustration as Caitiry detailed a list of several points showing why her answer was correct and his was not.
"By my calculations the moon will be at nine and three quarters," the Aisha insisted.
"And I am telling you," Maz replied heatedly, "you are wrong!"
"Well, then maybe we should start from the beginning," Caitiry compromised.
Abezil slumped over in his chair. He was never what was considered a good student. He passed the courses he needed to in order to graduate from Neoschool, but he had never really found learning to be a fun experience. He could vaguely recall learning about astronomy as a boy. The only phase of Kreludor he could remember was full, because he was born under a full moon.
Sneaking a glance at his friends, Sir Abezil unfolded himself from the chair and crept over to the Gnorbu, who hunched over a piece of parchment with what looked to the Mynci like hieroglyphics.
"Is the answer full moon?" he asked.
The Gnorbu arched a bushy white eyebrow and pursed his lips. "That is the correct answer. Great job! Here is a fantastic reward for your diligence. Please pass my well wishes to the Emperor and let him know he can still come up to assist me any time."
Abezil hastily grabbed the vial of Black Cherry Tea the Gnorbu gave him and whisked his friends away, praying they would never see another astronomy lab again.
"My father is resting comfortably now," Princess Lunara declared as she joined Sir Abezil, Caitiry, and Mazeu in the great foyer of her home. "I thank you for your service, both to my family and to my people. Shenkuu needs a capable leader, and my father will return to full health shortly."
"I think Shenkuu was left in strong hands," Abe said awkwardly. "Er, strong, delicate hands, that is. Strong as an, ah, Elephante. But not wrinkly! Not-"
"Thank you, Sir Abezil." Lunara smiled. "I only hope that the people of Shenkuu, including my father, can one day see me as you do."
Lunara pulled a rolled parchment from her kimono and handed it to Abezil. "Maybe you can stop by on your way back," she suggested shyly. "I know a place that makes great Origami Sushi."
Abezil, as he often did in Princess Lunara's presence, turned red.
"He would love to," Caitiry accepted.
But right now, she thought, we need to save Fyora.
To be continued...