The Brightvale Market
"Stop fidgeting, Jojo, and straighten your crown!"
Princess Jourys shuffled in her scratchy, too-puffy dress and scowled. "Mother, I want to go the market!"
Her mother tutted and reached forward to straighten her daughter's crown herself. "I've told you a thousand times, not today. We're expected at court. Your uncle is so looking forward to seeing you."
"It's so boooooring," huffed Jourys. "And he's not my uncle."
"He's as good as, and he'd done a lot for our family. It's all his doing that you're a princess at all, so do as I say and stop fussing!"
Jourys flopped back in her seat and scowled. The carriage was drawn by a Rainbow Alabriss, and causing something of a stir in the streets. She peeked out between the curtains and caught sight of the flags and banners of the market fluttering above the rooftops. It was so close...the Royal Ixi princess was almost on the point of clambering out of the window and making a run for it when her overbearing mother grabbed the back of her dress and pulled her upright.
"You've got something on your nose. Goodness, Jojo, what should I do with you? If I hear any of this nonsense about the market when we get to the castle, I shall send you to your room for a week, do you hear?"
Jourys pouted. "Stop calling me Jojo, I hate that."
"Have it your way, Princess Jourys." She put a nasty emphasis on the words. "Now stop sulking, and at least try to smile, won't you?"
Far too quickly, the carriage was heaving its way up the smooth paved path to the castle. Green and gold flags rippled on every side, and the trumpets rang out to herald their arrival.
"Welcome, Dame Heline and her daughter Princess Jourys!" shouted the guards, and stood aside as they clambered down from the carriage.
Heline nodded regally to either side, and Jourys attempted a smile. The guards waved them through, and soon they were ascending the grand steps up to the castle's entrance.
The court was every bit as boring as Jourys had expected. Nothing but dull Neopets arguing about dull bylaws. Jourys couldn't even breathe loudly without her mother glaring down at her, so she had to sit in perfect silence, with nothing to do but listen to the royals and courtiers droning on about this and that.
"And now, for the petitions," announced King Hagan. "Is there any business to be brought before the King?"
Several 'pets from all across the hall rose to their feet, and the king's guards ushered them to the front and helped them to form a queue.
"If it please your majesty," said the first, a young green Acara with a tremulous voice. "The fruit crops are terribly affected by the rise in Beekadoodle populations. Might we beg more funding from the crown to afford more effective scarecrows?"
The other petitons were all just as mundane. This shopkeeper wanted to expand, someone else opposed it, this Meridellian wanted to introduce a new Brightvale cheeserolling event, that Altador Cup fan wanted to rebrand the Brightvale team. Yawns all around. King Hagan granted some requests, promised to consider others, and debated some right there on the floor with the petitioners and courtiers. It was all frightfully monotonous.
"Please, your majesty," squeaked an elderly Meerca, "I'm here to represent the poor and impoverished of Brightvale. You see, sire, us simple folk are struggling to get by. Few Neopians purchase our wares now--what with the popularity of the Island Trading Post and all the undercutting that's done thanks to the Shop Wizard. The monthly market helps bring some custom, but it's just not enough."
Hagan looked thoughtful, and questioned the Meerca back and forth, and soon a lively debate broke out amongst the various court members.
"I don't understand," frowned Jourys. "If they don't make money from their shops, why don't they just leave them and find another way to make Neopoints?"
"It's not that simple, Jourys," tutted her mother. "There are Brightvale citizens who've lived here their whole lives. It's the job of a good royal to care about all their people, and try to help them if they can."
"What can the King do?"
"He could negotiate trade agreements for better prices on imported goods, or lower taxes for shopkeepers, or fund the expansion of their stores. And of course, do more to encourage tourism to Brightvale."
Jourys wrinkled her nose. If being a king or a queen meant nothing but tedious negotiating, counting out taxes and suffering every Neopet who came to the castle with a complaint, then she was quite happy staying a princess. The only things she had to negotiate were how many dresses she was allowed to buy from Uni's Clothing, or which pink petpet would go best with her shoes.
The debate dragged on and on. Shuffling uncomfortably in her seat, Jourys tugged at the itchy dress and sighed. Sneaking a sly glance out the window, she could just see the tantalising peaks of the market tents. Biting her lip, she sank in her seat, then she realised that her mother hadn't said a single word or shushed her once in all that fidgeting. Looking up, she saw Helina's head drooping on her shoulder. Her mother's eyes were closed, and she was snoring softly.
"Yes!" whispered Jourys, and carefully got to her feet and tiptoed around her mother, ducking low to avoid the guards--although most of them were occupied trying to stop some angry Neopets from surging forward to join the argument still raging at the front. Quickly and quietly, the Ixi princess darted through the open doors, tumbled down the steps and out to freedom.
No-one even gave her a second glance as she strode purposefully out of the castle grounds and into the streets of Brightvale. She followed her nose and ears, and soon found herself in the middle of the fabulous Brightvale Market.
Everywhere she looked, there was something wonderful. The sun reflected off the stained glass hanging from one tent, sending dozens of sparkling colours flashing and glinting through the air. All around, the air was thick with sound and smells--stall holders yelling that their Floranges were the freshest or their Juppie Juice the purest, snorting Blurgahs protesting at being tied up to wagons for so long, and the delicious scents of all the food, flowers and magical potions brought from near and far to the famous market.
"Princess! Princess! Try my fruits, you'll taste none finer!"
"Princess! A cup of spring water? One sip and you'll beg me to sell you ten bottles!"
"A jewel for your hair, Princess?"
"Look here! The finest books from Faerieland's library, all on sale today!"
She was recognised everywhere she went, and accepted various offers of free samples and gifts with grace. Although she had come with only a small purse of Neopoints, everyone seemed eager to give her discounts, so that soon her pockets were bulging with trinkets, ribbons, toys and sweets.
Munching happily on one of her favourite fresh-baked walnut pomegranate pastries, she turned a corner and was startled to see that the sun had dipped very low in the sky, and was now skimming the horizon, sending orange, red and violet clouds exploding out in a glorious sunset.
"Oh no!" Jourys gasped, knowing that her mother would surely have missed her by now, and that she would be in very serious trouble by the time she made it back.
Spinning on her heel, she starter to dash back to the castle. Every turn she made seemed to take her deeper into the maze of stalls and tents, which were starting to dissipate as the stall-keepers packed up for the day. Crowds of Neopets blocked her path as they made their way out of the city, and Jourys wove through shortcuts and alleyways as she tried to find the way back.
"Lost, are you?" A gentle voice spoke from the shadows, and Jourys turned to find herself facing a hooded figure in front of a dark green tent. Shadows rippled around the stall's fabric, for it lay in a dead-end alleyway, quite apart from the rest of the market.
"N-no, I know where I'm going," stammered the Ixi, taking a few steps back.
The hooded creature chuckled from deep inside the cloak. "Then perhaps you'd like to try my wares?" The figure raised one arm and swept aside the emerald curtain, revealing rows of glimmering potions in corked glass bottles.
Jourys started to refuse, but her voice came out as a croak, and she realised how dry and parched she felt. "Well... perhaps something to drink would be nice..."
"Good." The figure stepped a little closer, and Jourys saw the glint of two acid green eyes. "I have just the thing."
The mysterious stall-keeper took a tall bottle from a back shelf. The potion was lurid purple and smoked when the cork was removed. From one of the cloak's voluminous sleeves, the hooded Neopet produced a glass, and poured a healthy measure out for Jourys.
"Thank you," said the Royal Ixi, taking the glass and feeling in her pocket for her pouch of Neopoints. "How much does it cost?"
"All the money you have in the world," replied the strange Neopet. "But I'll settle just for your understanding. There's more knowledge in that glass than in the whole of Faerieland's library, in all of Qasala's tablets, and all of Brightvale's scrolls. Drink it, and you will see...at last, you will see."
Jourys trembled, but, conscious of her manners, she lifted the glass to her lips and drank. The brew fizzed and burned on her tongue; it was like drinking fire made liquid, but the taste was...strange. Not unpleasant--the opposite, in fact, with hints of rosewater, almond, sweet apples and honey. Without meaning to, the Ixi drained the whole glass, and stood panting in the cool shadows.
When she looked up at the curious Neopet, the hooded figure had swept back the curtain and was watching her, green eyes glowing despite the darkness in the alley.
"Return, Princess. Return to your life of wealth and privilege. Soon, you will see."
Jourys couldn't remember how she got back to the castle. Her mother was busy rallying the guard-Grarrls to go out into the city to hunt for her daughter when the Ixi princess stumbled through the gates, reeling dizzily and struggling to stay upright. Aghast, Dame Helina swept her up into their carriage and they thundered away.
"WHAT were you thinking?! How dare you just disappear like that? Do you have ANY idea what your uncle thinks of you? I despair, Jourys, I really do. And you've nothing to say for yourself after all this!"
Jourys slumped limply in her seat, head spinning. Everything seemed blurry and rippled, like she was swimming underwater. All noise was muffled and distorted. Nothing she did would clear it, and when they got home her mother gave up trying to berate her and sent her straight to bed.
The Royal Ixi crashed into her pillow and fell asleep instantly.
When midnight struck, Jourys found herself suddenly and violently awake. Her dreams had been filled with battles, lost Neopets, mighty beasts, and struggling farmers, and now she sat quite still and straight in her silk-cushioned bed, looking out of her window at the silent moon.
All around her, there were signs of her fortunate birth. Stacks of golden rings, gorgeous necklaces, and row upon row of fine, expensive dresses and gowns. She kicked off her quilt in a sudden fury, and ripped down her plush velvet curtains. It was all junk; she hadn't earned or worked for any of it. The wide Neopian world waited for her beyond her house of luxury, and she wasn't about to waste her life eating pastries.
Reaching into her pockets, she pulled out the baubles and trinkets she'd bought at the market and hurled them into the fireplace. Tearing off the ridiculous dress, she found a sturdy set of riding leathers and a plain blue travelling cloak. She brushed her hair, and took a pair of decorative daggers from her closet. She'd never used them before, but at least if she had them she could try to defend herself against whatever she might come across in the wild.
Once dressed, she crouched beside the door and listened hard. No, it was too risky. Her mother was sure to be on her guard after the afternoon's events. It would have to be the window. Sticking her head outside, she saw that someone had planted a convenient chestnut tree just below. The tallest branches reached up to about six feet beneath her window.
Steeling herself and gritting her teeth, the Ixi climbed carefully onto the sill and leapt into the tree. Pillowy leaves broke her fall a little, but the branch still hurt when it slammed into her belly. A little winded, she lay still for a few seconds before beginning her descent to the ground.
The Brightvale air was beautifully cool and still, and Lightmites danced in the trees all around her. The forest felt alive as she walked, then ran, away from her home, away from her spoiled life, and out to find adventure.