The Quest to Thorn Bridge Castle: Part Seven
Also by thropp
In Mazeu's opinion, there was no better method of traveling than atop the back of a gigantic Draik. As Eisian soared over the thick forested floor that separated Shenkuu from Altador, Maz diligently updated his map of Neopia. Using the Thorn Bridge map pieces they had procured, he had a fairly good idea as to where the castle would be found. Only time, however, could prove him right.
The dense forest eventually gave way to a sprawling green meadow, upon which the kingdom of Altador was found. From their spot high in the clouds, the adventurers could see the aqueducts that encompassed the city, the water flowing at the top little more than a pale blue line between the stone barriers. The dome on the top of the Hall of Heroes glinted in the sun like a coin in the Wishing Well. The Colosseum, though large on the ground, was as small as a bowl of sugar from the skies.
Eisian landed with a delicacy that should be foreign to such a large creature. Caitiry, Mazeu, and Abezil climbed down and thanked her for her assistance.
Eisian chuckled and tendrils of smoke trailed from her nostrils. "It was my pleasure. And do not worry about your journey back home. I will have a talk with Dhevien about his manners, and you will have no problem entering Meridell ever again."
The group waved to the White Draik as she ascended into the clouds once more, and turned to face Altador.
"Now or never," commented Abe. "Let's go find the king."
King Altador was a regal Lupe who wore armor so white it matched his hair. At his waist, he wore an Altadorian Swordbreaker. Even at a distance, Sir Abezil could see how sharp the grooves in the sword's blade were. If his sword happened to get caught between one of those in the heat of battle, it would surely be broken. A knight, he thought, is only as good as his sword.
"You are a few months early for the Altador Cup, travelers," King Altador said as the group entered his council chamber. "Yooyuball is not set to start for another five weeks."
"We are not here to participate in the games, Your Highness," replied Mazeu. "We were sent here by King Hagan. We are searching for Thorn Bridge Castle and have been told you might be able to help us find it."
The king studied the group before him. There was the Kyrii's books and satchel. The Aisha wore long blue robes and carried a wand. Once his gaze fell upon the Mynci's armor and sword, King Altador seemed to brighten. He gestured to Abezil's blade. "May I?" he inquired.
Sir Abezil unsheathed his Banana Blade Mynci Sword and held the hilt out to the king. Altador took it in his grasp and held it firmly before him. "Double edged," the Lupe murmured. "Both blades are sharpened daily, by the looks of it. Shorter than some of the swords I have come across, designed for single handed combat." He balanced the sword upon his fingers. "Hilt and pommel balance the blade perfectly. Slightly tempered blade, brings the balance closer to the grip... Who is the crafter?"
Sir Abezil straightened his spine, puffing his chest out with pride. "I did, Your Highness."
King Altador handed the sword back to the Mynci knight and stood back, studying him. His fingers tapped against his lips and smiled. "I might have a job for you. Do it well, and I will reward you handsomely."
The Elephante who ran the Illustrious Armory shop was also Altador's resident blacksmith. He was immensely proud of his store and handcrafted each and every item he stocked. When he was presented with an order for 1,000 Altadorian Initiate Swords, he was quite surprised, but not nearly as much as he was when King Altador presented him with the Mynci knight from Faerieland.
"What do you know of forging swords, lad?" the Elephante grunted. "Are your weapons in Faerieland not made of clouds and rainbows?"
"I was apprentice to Aethia the Battle Faerie for many years, sir, and I guarantee you, I know my way around a forge," responded a proud Abezil. "Show me where I may work and we can fill this order quickly."
"Only the finest armor and weapons are crafted for the finest soldiers in all of Neopia," commented the blacksmith. "I hope you do know what you are doing."
Abe and the Elephante blacksmith spent the next day making the Altadorian Initiate Swords required for the Altador army's training program. Abezil forged the steel, heating it enough to make it malleable. He hammered it into shape using a hammer and anvil and drew the billet out, tapering the edges and point. He then heated the steel and set it aside to slowly cool while he began work on the next. Once he had all of the blades cooled, he began sharpening the edges. He finished them off by polishing each one with the same attention he would give to his own sword. Between Abezil's product and the Elephante blacksmith's, the order was filled and the army was practicing in the Colosseum the next morning.
King Altador stood at a window in the Council Chamber with his hands clasped behind his back and surveyed his soldiers as they practiced thrust and parry techniques in the hot sun. "You have done well, Sir Abezil," he commended. "I do not think my army has ever used such finely crafted weapons before. In thanks for your great service to our land, I'd like to present you with a gift. It's only a small token of my appreciation, but I hope it will aid you in your quest."
King Altador handed Sir Abezil a tattered piece of parchment, bringing him and his friends one step closer to Thorn Bridge Castle.
The ruins of Thorn Bridge Castle loomed in a sparse field between Shenkuu and Altador; the castle was so high Mazeu had to tip his head back to see it all. Huge chunks of rock peppered the ground around the gate house, remnants of the old parapet walk, across which the footsteps of many past guards could almost be heard, still patrolling even though the castle had not been occupied for years.
The adventurers passed through the outer gate, swatting at Spyder webs as they went, continuing into the overgrown courtyard. The grass there was almost as tall as Caitiry; she was forced to walk on tip toes if she wanted to see where she was going.
"What do we do now?" the Aisha asked.
"Queen Fyora said the Glowing Mushrooms would be found in the old garden the last queen kept," recalled Abezil. "It should be on the roof of the keep."
They threaded their way through the brush, thorns clinging to their robes. They passed empty stables, thatched roofs rotted away from years of neglect. Rusted Uni shoes were still pinned to the walls, never to be fastened to hooves. The well of Thorn Bridge Castle, once the gathering place for the inhabitants, was but a dried up hole, filled with years of dust, a stark contrast to the Wishing Well in Neopia Central.
"What is the history of this place?" Caitiry wondered, shocked by the castle's state of disrepair.
"Well, according to history texts, the royal family - the Hornbuckles - ruled over Thorn Bridge with a gentle hand. The king was a wise and fair leader, the queen a beautiful Usul with the voice of an angel. Their daughter was a talented painter, and their son a capable fighter.
"One day, the prince decided it was time for his father to step down and bequeath the throne to him. He sought out a Light Faerie named Susej, who was said to grant wishes. The prince found Susej in a bog on the outskirts of Thorn Bridge and asked her, 'Susej, I wish to be king. The kingdom is falling to ruin at my father's hand, and I cannot stand for it a moment longer.' Susej slowly rose from the sludge of the swamp, a dull glow surrounding her somehow pristine white robes.
"'I will help you, young prince,' the dark faerie said. 'Under one condition. You must not take anything else that is not yours.' The prince, giddy from hearing that his dreams would come true, blindly agreed. And so the prince became the king, and his father was banished to the dungeons. Saddened by the loss of her husband, the queen no longer sang. The darkened skies above Thorn Bridge left the princess with nothing to paint.
"Determined to prove that he was a better king than his father, the prince decided to go to war. He would take all the lands surrounding his kingdom and crown himself King of Neopia. As he prepared for battle with an unwilling army, Susej appeared to him in his tent. 'You did not listen to a word I said, did you?' she demanded. 'I told you not to get greedy.'
"Thunder boomed and lightning flashed across the sky. 'I place a curse upon you and your kingdom,' Susej proclaimed. As she turned to leave, the prince reached out to stop her and was shocked to see his hand go right through her. He glanced around himself in surprise, only to see everyone had turned to ghosts, including him!
"Ever since then, the castle has laid in ruin," Mazeu concluded. By the time his story had finished, they had reached the keep. It was a tall, intimidating structure. Broken shards of stained glass sprinkled the ground at their feet, once majestic landscapes torn to pieces.
"I guess when you are a ghost, you can't do any renovations," Caitiry mourned.
"Well, I guess we're almost done," Abezil said. "We've really done it."
The Mynci's hand closed around a rusted door knob and he leaned into it with all his might. The keep door creaked open noisily, and the three travelers stepped inside.
To be continued...