What is she doing up there?”
As he stared at the red Xweetok, Tom wondered about the thoughts running through her mind – whether she was coming up with some new question about the neopian existence, the impulses that led one to magically change their species, or the existence of an Order of Pets to rule the neopian system beneath their very noses. It all seemed like it could come from inside her head.
Mel hung from a tree branch on the skirts of Meridell’s village, well into the woods. He had searched for a good couple of minutes before he found her, all the while playing different Mels in his head – no matter what clever line she said, which fancy dress she wore, or braids she had tranced her hairs into, she would always carry a most charming smile.
Yes, there it was again! It had been quite some time since he’d last seen her… She spotted him and smiled, tossing some leaves off her hair as she straightened up on the branch. Her lacy brown dress had some tears in it.
Tom blushed to think that a scene like that had graced his thoughts a few moments ago. But as it was his practical, Eyrie nature, he simply shoved it down his throat and resigned to a short greeting.
“Mel. Aunt Fabia has been worried sick about you. Says you haven’t shown up to work.”
She laughs and covers her mouth.
“Oh, God. I guess I’ve been extra absentminded, if I’m forgetting the weekdays and missing work. And what’s with that face, Tommy? Something twisting it?”
He frowns, having been remembering her mother.
“You know how she gets. I’d rather you’d settle down a bit, for a change, so she wouldn’t be troubling me while I work.”
She chuckles at him. Mel had been in the Family long enough to know that Eyrie gruffness was simply a good measure of caring. The little furry thing had been found near the Turmaculus hideout, unnourished and uncared for, probably left to die – or so did his aunt tell him. His aunt Fabia and Uncle Tommard, the wealthy Eyrie couple who owned the Meridellian Armory, had tended to her since then, and she’d been his furry – instead of feathery – best friend for a long time.
“I’m sorry. I guess she thought you’d know me best than any other – certainly more than any old bird in our little nest.”
His feathers were too dark to show his blush, he reminded himself. Way too dark. But he looked down and let a smile escape.
“What have you been doing out here, anyway? You do know there are dark things lurking in these woods.”
From the height of the branch she stared at him and smiled. Sometimes he thought her incapable of fearing, because of her reckless manners.
“Just thinking. You know. Papa gave me such a fascinating book he purchased on his trip to Brightvalle, I had to go somewhere and… think about it.”
He felt that he didn’t completely understand what she meant. And that, maybe, he never would. Mel had always been somewhat different from the family – she was of another species, of course, but also her mind seemed to be wired in a jumble of strange knots! And dared he say it: he’d always found it fascinating.
He stumbled upon a book once, about a red Xweetok, when he traveled to Brightvalle. Lily – Lilian, was it? Lilian Forkersomething, was the name of her, a famous archeologist. She reminded him a lot of Mel, adventurous and inquiring. Maybe someday he’d go back there and buy it as a gift to her… Maybe then they’d go on a stroll together in the woods, maybe they’d laugh and talk about the silliest of things. Like feelings. And maybe they’d stay like that.
For a moment he held her glance, trying to convey that promise.
“Well, Tommy… If you’d like, you can go back to your commitments, now.” He tried to protest she’d best go with him lest his aunt got mad at them both, but she interrupted. “Relax, I’ll soon be down in the village, to help Nanci with the petpets. I just want to stick around the trees a while longer. It helps with my nerves!”
“Hm… I hope it is true! I’m a busy neopet, you know. It’s an honor to trouble my concerns enough for me to lurk the woods in search of you.”
She chuckled and waved her hand goodbye.
He couldn’t help thinking, as he turned his back to the woods, that her true farewell had been her crooked smiled. Tom liked to think that that smile was especially for him and no one else, on his better days. On his worse, well… He simply thrust the hammer harder on the steel, trying to forget about the fact that, despite its rudeness, something graceful and daring still existed in Meridell.
A part of Melamarga shouted at her for having practically waved Tom away. It had been so long since they’d last talked about anything in earnest, and given the chance to do it, she sent him off with some silly jibber jabber.
As fond as she was of Tom, however, that day her mind swirled with troubling thoughts that concerned her deeper than work at the petpet stables or long gone friends. So what did concern her the most? She tumbled down on the branch again, letting out a deep sigh.
It was the possibilities.
She had helped Nanci manage the medieval petpets at the Cheese Rolling Festival that year – many people stopped by to check the critters, even wealthy lords, subjecting themselves to the stench over some rare pets only found in Nanci’s stable. There were many people from Brightvalle, too, and one tall, brown Draik knight seemed to be staring at her with interest.
As she got to know Sir Borus, she realized he was just an old neopet looking for company. They talked and talked and talked about Brightvallian politics, laughed at Skarl a bit, worried about Darigan. Then, they discussed Neopian history and Mel told him about her fascination over Shenkuu and its cascading waterfalls. Oh, and what she wouldn’t give to study the Legend of Geraptiku’s Tomb… Maybe look for some treasure on the way, it couldn’t hurt!
At the end of the Festival, Nanci called to her and Mel apologized to sir Borus, saying that her job demanded her presence. As he took in Meridell and her working clothes, a sad expression took over his face.
“Do you suppose Meridell is all there is to you, Lady Melamarga?” were his words. At the moment, Mel was a little bit annoyed by his nerve to comment on her personal choices… But she listened anyway, as he unrolled a piece of parchment and wrote an address, with a feathered pen and magical ink.
Mel didn’t have a chance to respond when he murmured something about the losses of being sworn to the king, because he left her quite quickly, after shoving the parchment into her hands and smiling with tenderness.
It was an address from Shenkuu, she found out. She knew he meant for her to not have the same destiny as him – or worse, since Brightvalle was a much more diverse kingdom than Meridell –, she knew that, whatever she might found there, it was a quest for adventure…
And yet, there was no guarantee of love and caring, like she had from her family in this village, no guarantee of security and comfort like her home. Her meals, clothing, reading weren’t assured. If it all failed…
Hence, the possibilities! Mel was torn between living a life of comfort in her “nest”, or… living the dreams of adventure she had had her entire life!
When she thought about her parents and their expectations of her, it was clear they hoped she would be responsible enough as an employee to one day assume the position of Weaponry Administrator, as had been the job of many family Eyries before. But, ah, she wasn’t an Eyrie herself!
There were days she couldn’t stand their stoic stance towards everything. Even though she enjoyed their company, Mel liked to contemplate about life, she wanted to talk about her feelings – “quit whining, Mel!” – she loved to smile, and dance in the balls, and more than anything: she wished to question anything she possibly could! And that was something that deeply upset her family…
So you see, Mel loved so very much the people around her. But, sometimes, in spite of all their love, she longed for something else – an understanding. She liked to go into the woods, away from everything, and wonder whether there were any Neopian out there that would like her for what she was… Or that would want to stay by her side as she unraveled herself.
Once, she thought that maybe Tom could be that person. They sneaked out many nights to watch Darigan floating, or Turmaculus sleeping, and engaged in several thoughtful discussions – well, Mel did most of the talking, but Tommy had a certain look… that told her he wanted to understand. And when he did speak, she was always impressed by his insights.
Anyway, that had been so long ago! She had almost forgot his blunt, yet caring manners. Tom had followed the family’s expectations to the brim: he worked on her parents’ Weaponry all day, and was a skilled forger. When he wasn’t forging, he was going to Brightvalle with her Dad to deliver weapons and trade counsels with the Armoury’s keeper. In a way, it seemed like the boy she had known and confided in had disappeared.
She missed him, she realized. And perhaps she had misjudged him before, but Mel brushed that thought away – perhaps she would be better off not getting attached to him again, now that… Well, she had made up her mind, then.
Mel left the woods with her heart heavy. She dined with her parents many times after that. It came a day, however, when she did it for the last time before she disappeared – by bedtime, despite their resistance, Mel had hugged them fiercely as she affirmed that she loved them.
“What is going on with this girl, Tommard?” she had heard her mother say as she left the room. She left a letter on the wooden table – she would send another with her address, as soon as she reached Shenkuu, so that no one would keep her from leaving.
Her heart still felt heavy, the next day, when she approached the woods again. She would start her path there, where the vastness of Meridell’s green met the rest of Neopia. Perhaps she had always known the woods would lead her to her future. As she took in the colors and sounds, the wind tugging slightly at her hair, the weight on her heart was lifted – with each step, she felt lighter, and the way seemed to open itself ahead of her.
Maybe the world had been expecting Mel, after all.
Maybe the world would also find a way, someday, to lead Mel back to the small package that laid unopened, that very morning, on the front door. Inside it, there was a book about a red Xweetok and a note that read:
I hope we are able to enjoy each other’s thoughts in the future. How about tomorrow? Let’s talk about adventures. Or whatever you fancy. I hope you fancy this gift.
I miss you.