Days of Daydreams Past: Part One
When I was younger I lived in the vast expanse of land between Brightvale and Faerieland, somewhere between those many fields of potatoes and turnips and marshes and ponds and snorkle farms. In our little cottage there was myself, my parents, and an array of siblings always running about underfoot and getting into everything. We were all Kacheeks and all poor, but I hadn't been told so I never really noticed.
As the eldest I was practically a third adult. It was always 'Kentan! Mind the baby!' and 'Kentan! Help your father!' and 'Kentan! Set a good example for the little ones.' I put up with it in good humour but no matter how much work my mother gave to me I never seemed to be sensible or responsible or reliable in the least. I was, you see, a Daydreamer.
Those of you who suffer from the problem, or have friends in a similar way, will instantly understand that we are not to be trusted. My mother had largely no choice but to send me on errands for her because she and my father were always busy working to put food on the table, but I rarely managed to please her. She tried to marshal me into being trustworthy. When my younger brother Eftae was sick and my mother asked me to walk with him to the Healing Springs, she knew well to warn me – 'Kentan, you are to walk straight there. Do you hear me?' Yes, mum. 'That means not taking the coast rode and stopping to see the Flotsams leaping in the bay.' I know, mum. 'You wait for your brother outside the Healing Springs and then you come straight home.' Of course mum. 'Do not even go near the Faerie City! And hold hands the whole time, do you hear me?'
I nodded along, but I was fooling nobody. It wasn't just the daydreaming, I was just somebody who couldn't bear not to chase some interesting idea, who got distracted by stories and beautiful things. I could never do anything quickly because I always stopped to dawdle and talk to people or petpets.
My overactive brain did come in handy at times. Walking along the old rutted lanes towards Faerieland I played a game I often used to occupy my younger brothers and sister – we'd spot things in the clouds and I'd make up stories about them. I have to admit, I was always far more involved in the game than they were.
Eftae, being sick, was in a sour mood and didn't want to play. 'What about that one?' I said, pointing towards the sky.
'It looks like a babaa,' he said, kicking at a stone. 'They all look like babaas.'
Little boys with colds don't like using their imaginations obviously, but I was used to cheering people up. 'Just imagine,' I began. 'Having a little babaa of your own and shearing it in the spring and collecting more and more wool each year. You could make a blanket out of it all eventually. We couldn't afford dye, though, so it'd have to be plain grey.'
Despite himself, Eftae was interested. 'Where would you keep the wool during the year?' he asked.
'I'd stuff it into our duvets until there was enough for the blanket.'
Even though his little twitchy nose was rubbed raw from the handkerchief and he was coughing and sniffling every few moments, Eftae began to perk up. I told him stories about the cloud that looked like a three-legged Kau and the cloud that looked like a pyramid and when I could find no inspiration in the sky we looked in the hedgerows for bugs and flowers. As we neared Faerieland there was plenty to look at as we began to see other travellers, some in carriages or carts, but mostly ordinary Neopets like us maybe with vegetables or eggs to sell in the market.
There was a Uni somewhat older than me walking nearby and I struck up a conversation with her. Her name was Crystal and she was from Neopia Central. In those days that was a journey that took a little over a day. She had come part of the way in a cart and stayed overnight in one of the villages dotted around Kiko Lake. When we finally reached the boundaries of Faerieland I wanted to hear more about her journey but I had to go to the healing springs. 'You can drop your brother off and come with me if you liked, I'm just going over there,' she said, pointing.
While the springs were a series of calm, tranquil pools with pets bathing and soaking in the still water, the place she pointed to was far more interesting. Down a slope came a many-coloured, fast moving stream, culminating in a kind of frothing fountain at the base. And here was this sophisticated city girl with something to do there, asking me along! Of course I said yes.
Crystal walked over to the springs with me. I watched to see that Eftae was alright splashing about by himself. I knew if he was in any trouble there were plenty of water faeries about to watch over him. 'If you're ready, wait for me by the entrance,' I told him warningly. He nodded soberly, sneezed, and then got into the water. There was a group of other boys playing in the shallows and he joined their game.
'So what is this place?' I asked as we neared the place Crystal wanted to go.
'It's called the Rainbow Fountain,' she said. A sufficiently beautiful name for such a place, I decided. It was really fabulous up close, surrounded by ancient warped and gnarled trees with steam rising off the water. 'It's where the Fountain Faerie lives. She asked that I get her this special item and in return I can bathe in the waters.'
'What's so great about swimming here?'
'You don't know?' Crystal grinned. 'Well, watch and see.'
We climbed a grassy knoll with a pavilion on top. There was a faerie inside studying some antique looking scroll. At first glance I thought it was an ordinary water faerie but on closer examination I saw small differences – this one had long streaks of blue running throughout her hair and odd, tear-shaped markings on her face.
'Excuse me,' Crystal said. 'One day in Neopia Central you asked me to get you something... it's been a month or two, but I have it.'
The Fountain Faerie grinned. 'Yes, Crystal, wasn't it?' Crystal nodded. 'The object?' Crystal had a small cloth bag around her shoulder. She reached in and took out a small ice blue crown. 'The circlet of the Air Faerie,' she said. 'I'm sorry it took so long.'
'No problem, I really appreciate you getting this for me. To express my gratitude, I will allow you bathe in the Rainbow Fountain.'
Crystal grinned and stepped closer to the faerie, whispered something in her ear. The faerie nodded and extended a hand out of the pavilion, over the moving water. I heard a kind of fizzing but couldn't see any difference. Crystal looked once more at me then took a running dive off the pavilion and down into the water below. She submerged gracefully, tail flying out behind her, and when she rose up... she was different! She had gone in green and coming out she looked amazing. She paddled gracefully to the grassy bank, shooting water out through a gap in her front teeth.
I was open-mouthed staring at her. She looked like a foreign pet from the Lost Desert. Gone was her neat white mane and instead she had this exotic, sleek black hair and glossy brown coat. I had never seen anything so beautiful! You must understand, my fur was a pale lemony green and all my family, everybody I knew in fact, was a basic colour. I had seen a few coloured pets on trips to Brightvale but even then, they were maybe orange or white, not desert! I shrieked with excitement.
'You didn't know about the magic of the fountain, did you?' the faerie said. I had forgotten all about her and was too dumbstruck to speak, just nodded in wide-eyed shock.
'Can I do that?' I asked.
The faerie smiled sadly. 'It's difficult to work the water, I need items to make this magic happen,' she said.
I was crestfallen. I looked at the Rainbow Fountain and then at Crystal who was walking up the hill, smiling and tossing her mane. I wanted to look fabulous and different.
'Well... I could give you a quest,' the faerie said.
'Yes. There's a book I need – it's called The Unabridged Dictionary. Do you think you could get it?'
'Yes! Yes, I definitely can.'
She looked at my faded denim shorts and homemade jumper and looked doubtful. 'Alright, good luck then.'
Crystal was staying a night in Faerie City, visiting some family, so we parted ways and I went and picked Eftae up. He was reluctant to come away from the springs but we were rather late and needed to hurry. His undershirt was very wet but I had no choice but to put it on him. 'It'll dry in the sun,' I promised, hoping that it would.
Eftae was generally regarded to be very cute and my mother made a special effort with his clothes – his dungarees were well mended and he never went out without his hat. Now looking at his bright blue fur, which I'd always admired, he suddenly looked so dull and plain. I couldn't stop thinking about my Fountain Faerie quest. Eftae was in good spirits once we were on the road and ran along in front of me, jumping and picking up sticks and searching for berries in the hedges. He wanted me to play with him now, or sing songs, but I was preoccupied, holding my special secret close to my heart, imagining myself new and improved. I would surprise everybody!
Eftae was very tired by the time we got close to home. It had begun to get cold and the sun was setting. He dragged his feet and I knew my mother would be angry if we dawdled so I agreed to carry him the rest of the way. Usually I refused but I was still bristling with excitement and it hardly seemed anything to have him on my back. He fell asleep with his little paws around my neck.
Finally the cottage was in sight, with my mother standing in the doorway looking out for us. 'Was everything alright?' she asked.
'Yup, I did everything just like you told me to.'
'You took far too long though! And look how tired Eftae is,' she said, lifting him off my back. 'And in wet clothes! What were you thinking? He'll catch a chill! That's fine, isn't it? Bring him to the healing springs and then take him home in wet clothes and he's sick again!' Usually I would've argued back, but just then I was so happy even my mother couldn't get me down.
That night when everybody else was asleep I crept out of bed and into the kitchen. Our old almanac hung on a nail by the stove and I reached up and took it. There was still a fire burning in the grate and I crouched by it. Those old almanacs were brilliant books filled with details about the moon and stars, vegetables and petpets, geography and history, everything you could want to know about the world could be found in an almanac. Each species of Neopet had a page of it's own, though I'd never done more than glance at the Kacheek page.
I flicked it open now and there were small drawings of the different ways Kacheeks could look. They weren't very good drawings, but still they gave me an idea of what I could aspire to. Not the hairy, crooked-tooth Tyrannian Kacheek... not the decrepit zombie Kacheek... certainly not the scary mutant Kacheek with bulging brains!
I narrowed my choice down to the island or desert colours, though I liked chocolate a lot too... and woodland... and invisible seemed cool...
I closed the almanac and hugged it to my chest, savouring the decision I had to make. How delicious, how lucky this whole thing was! Choosing would be difficult – but what a fun choice! I would go to Neopia Central and artists would fight over who I modelled for. I would travel around the world (roll up! roll up! see the amazing unique Kacheek!). I sighed with pleasure.
I crept back to the kitchen to hang the almanac back up. As I reached up the back cover flapped open and I spotted something. It was the kind of advertisement found at the back of such things. You may be also interested in buying, it read, and below that there was a list of informational books you could order.
The Unabridged Dictionary, I read. 180,000 neopoints.
To be continued...