The Old Switcheroo: Part Seven
From the Journal of King Jazan:
The Obelisk poses no threat to Qasala. Support offered to Tyrannia, Tyrannia appreciated diplomacy. I think. Must remember to practice different smiles. No messages from home, must check results of attack investigation.
(Hi by the way, I see that I've never called you Dear Diary before and I apologise, I should really be nicer to you and to people in general instead of scowling all the time.)
As I was about to leave Tyrannia, I saw the most wondrous sight in the universe. It was a moment lit by shooting stars. There I stood humbly on my ship, and towards me came the most charming, amazing, majestic, gorgeous, fabulous Ixi thief in all of Neopia.
If I had not been paralysed by his stellar magnificence, I would have jumped from my ship without a thought and worshipped the ground on which he walked. I would have rolled over at his feet and shouted -"
"More honey pastries, Your Majesty?"
King Jazan shut his journal hastily. "Yes, thank you."
The steward set a plate of pastries down and collected two empty ones, without commenting on the king's unusual appetite. "Queen Nabile is resting. She sends her apologies that she cannot join you."
"What's new with her?"
"She is still unwell, my liege, but we are sure that it is only due to the shock of the Tyrannian climate and food. The captain is coming to visit you."
"Thank you. You may dispose. Oh, please tell the kitchen staff to take out our best decorations for the next meal. I want it to look fabulous. The whole crew is invited, of course."
The steward bowed and exited the king's cabin. Jazan sprawled luxuriously on the plush cushions of his sofa, opened his journal again and added a few scribbles to the last entry, smirking as he did so. He then turned a few pages back and edited older entries. He barely looked up when the captain of the ship knocked on the door. "Enter," he said.
The captain saluted. "Your Majesty, the weather has been particularly clement and we are making good progress. If it stays that way, we could reach the shores of the Desert by tomorrow night."
Jazan looked up. "Already? Wow, that is fast. And I was hoping for a relaxing cruise." He got up to look out of the porthole and nearly tripped over his long robe. "Oops, I forgot. Say, is it still time to change our course?"
The captain was taken aback. "I suppose it is. In which direction would you steer us?"
"I would like to stop at Roo Island. It would do us good to keep up with modern Neopian culture. As you step out, please call the maid. I need to reorganise my wardrobe."
"Very well, Your Majesty. I will tell the crew." The captain saluted again and went back to the pilothouse, scratching his head.
The Ixi's eyelids were twitching, so Brynn stopped wiping his head with cold water and tapped his hand instead. "Can you hear me? Say something!"
"I hear you..." With a groan, he tried to sit up. Brynn helped him up and placed a pillow behind him. His eyes focused and he saw a Tyrannian room, and Brynn handing him a glass of water.
"That was quite a jolt! Jazan came to after a minute and his ship had to leave, but you were knocked out for nearly an hour! Good thing we're not far from the harbour."
Hanso looked around him, disconcerted. "What is this madness," he muttered, still groggy. He got off the bed on shaky legs, waving Brynn away when she tried to support him.
The moment he reached the dresser and peered into the mirror, he gave a loud gasp. "No! This cannot be, not this sorcery again! He is gone! You cannot reach me with your evil sights anymore! Begone, begone I say!"
Brynn rushed over to him. "What is the matter with you? This is really no time to practice your histrionics -"
He raised his hands threateningly. "Begone, creature of Razul! You have no hold over me!"
"Hanso!" Brynn drew her sword closer, more suspicious now. "Hanso, is that you? Stop that! If you're fooling around again I swear I'll -"
"You really are Brynneth?" The Ixi seemed to be getting his senses back, although suspicious. "I am confounded, I had not been confronted by such strange sights since the curse was lifted. It is I, King Jazan. You must believe me! We were switched by some cruel trick, at the harbour, probably."
The Kougra dropped her head into her hands. Everything was clicking into place in her mind, but she wished that it didn't. "You're Jazan stuck in Hanso's body, meaning that he hijacked your ship without anybody noticing and he's off on a cruise."
"I do not understand. How could the thief be capable of such advanced magic? It had to be..."
They came to the same conclusion at the same time. "... that teapot!" they both exclaimed.
"But why," said Jazan, "must he ruin the life I am trying so hard to rebuild? Is it punishment for my grudge?" He was cringing, as if he was disgusted by the very skin of Hanso's face and wanted nothing more than to rip it off himself.
Brynn was pacing the room, her tail swishing. "No, I think he came across that artefact a while ago. He switched bodies with someone else, you see, and of course he wanted to play again. It's just what he does. All the time."
"Do you think it was premeditated? No, surely he would have told you. This is very worrying, Brynn." Jazan sat on the edge of the bed, his anxiety creasing Hanso's forehead. "There have been strange happenings in Qasala, dangerous, in fact. Nabile was supposed to go on this trip alone, but I had a bad feeling about it and decided to come with her at the last moment. My goodness, what if there was another attempt while she was on the ship and I wasn't even there..."
"Your Majesty, whatever Hanso is, I can guarantee that he's not associated with Qasalan conspirators. Look, the best thing we can do is to keep track of your ship's progress from where we are. I'll send a message. The teapot is in our magically reinforced Fyora-made container. You are a skilled magic user if I remember right, so maybe you could take a closer look at it."
"Yes, I shall do that." Jazan got up and gave Brynn a bow. "Thank you for your good sense, Brynn. I hope you won't mind if I stay in your suite. I wouldn't want to risk meeting acquaintances of Hanso's and causing more confusion."
Brynn paused with her hand on the doorknob. "That would be really helpful. This room isn't quite fit for a king, I'm afraid." It was the best in the hotel by Tyrannian standards, which meant that it was fairly clean, the leaves and twigs were fresh and there was a bowl of fruit.
Jazan managed a small smile. "Not for a decadent king, perhaps, but I should fare just fine. I am still unaccustomed to luxury."
After resting for the main part of the morning, Nabile was finally feeling well enough to step out of her cabin. Just as she did so, the royal steward walked up to her.
"Your Majesty! Just in time. What a relief it is to see you better. Are you sure you should be walking around so soon?"
"It was nothing," said the Ixi in a soothing tone, "I was just under the weather. I felt the ship slow down all of a sudden. Are we making a stop?"
"We are indeed. The king has suddenly decided to visit Roo Island and just sent me to enquire whether you would be up for the trip."
She raised an eyebrow, taken aback. "He decided to visit Roo Island on the return trip?" Nabile went up to the deck, where Jazan was giving instructions. It looked like he had gathered the whole crew. He turned and beamed at her when she arrived.
"Nabile! You're all right! I was hoping you would be able to join us. I think a change of scenery will do us all some good." The ship was anchored in the bay of Roo Island, with the bright colors of the games plaza visible in the distance. A passing Roo Island ferryboat had stopped to allow the crew to climb aboard as a faster means of reaching the island. Most of the crew was already on board, chattering excitedly.
Nabile was pleasantly surprised. "That's a wonderful idea, Jazan! I'm afraid I might have to miss out on the fun, though, because the doctor said that I'm supposed to stay put."
"Do not force yourself if you don't feel up to it, my dear, but it would really be a shame not to see Roo Island. I'm sure it would do you good. You could just sit on the quieter end of the ferry, then disembark after the rest of us so as to avoid the crowd. I'll handle the public appearances. We can meet at the harbour at the end of the afternoon."
"In that case, I'll give it a try." She took his hand and boarded the ferry, smiling. It was just like Jazan to have the right idea at the right moment. He usually wanted to travel as fast as possible, but it seemed that the halt in Roo Island was convenient enough for him.
All it had taken was a little bit of his trademark charisma, and now Hanso owned the whole ship and crew. He had taken it upon himself to brighten Jazan's character. His behavior wouldn't seem suspicious if he gave off a dark and brooding aura every now and then.
He had been a lot more worried about meeting Nabile, but it was going all right so far. He was still busy talking to the crew, and she had settled in a quieter part of the boat to look at the sea. This was highly convenient for Hanso, who would find it easier to play his part without being watched by the person closest to Jazan.
When they reached the wharf near the Blumaroo-eared palace, a crowd had already formed on the plaza, the news of Jazan's visit having somehow reached the island before him. Hanso walked into the crowd with his head held high. He could feel his adrenaline building up. It was exhilarating to have so many people cheering and bowing before you. The people of Roo Island did know how to throw a party on short notice. He could sense odd stares and fearful looks, though. If they dared to find him creepy, he would show them how a king could party.
The crowd parted to form a passage all the way to the Dice-a-Roo Tournament Hall, where King Roo himself was waiting at the top of the steps, bouncing with excitement. Hanso walked up to him and extended his hand for a regal handshake. The Blumaroo took it and shook it vigorously.
"Welcome to Roo Island, King Jazan! We are delighted that you could come. I hope that you have time to enjoy the many wonders of our island. To start with, you are invited to take part in a game of Dice-a-Roo!"
Savoring the moment, Hanso turned so that he was addressing the crowd as well as King Roo. "King Roo, Roo Islanders, I thank you for your kind welcome. It is a rare opportunity for me to visit your island, and although my visit will be short, I am determined to make the most of it. I would be delighted to honour your national game." More cheers were heard.
"Then let us play!" said King Roo simply. He let Hanso walk into the Tournament Hall first and bounced after him merrily.
They settled at the main table in the center of an arena obviously meant for the king's games. Part of the crowd managed to find seats, while each king's group of courtiers took place behind him.
"Is this your first game, King Jazan? I wish you the best of luck!"
Hanso had to refrain from smirking. One did not need luck when one was Hanso. It was a shame that he didn't have his own dice with him, but all dice were fun to play with.
Soon his pot was filling steadily. The crowd's cheers, polite at first, were becoming more and more enthusiastic. Hanso knew not to overdo it, so he lost a good part of his winnings and let the crowd cool down before moving on to a die of higher level. He then got his winnings back in a few lucky throws, and with a few more they doubled, then tripled. He collected his points from the pot whenever the crowd got loud enough. The Roo Islanders had found a new idol in the person of King Jazan of Qasala, Lord of Luck, and King Roo himself was conducting the cheers.
Hanso knew that the king's advisers didn't enjoy his lucky streak quite as much, though. He wished that Jazan's attendants weren't so close behind him, as he was taking great pains to conceal the way he held the dice to control his throws. Once he had collected a reasonable amount of his winnings, he rolled a Game Over and lost a large pot. The crowd groaned even louder than they had cheered. Hanso let an ecstatic King Roo congratulate him. He could see some of the royal officials making their way to the table, eyeing his hands and dice.
"As thanks to the good people of Roo Island," he called, "let all of you share my winnings!" Hanso took his pots of neopoints and threw them high above the crowd. Chaos erupted.
To be continued...