The Road to Brightvale
I held my right front hoof over the piece of paper on the table in front of me, then brought it down hard. When I pulled my hoof away, there was a glowing golden hoofprint there.
“OK,” I began, looking at the Shoyru across the table from me, “My hoofprint on the contract means that all terms are fulfilled and payment has been handed over. The contract is now closed and cannot be reopened. No further changes can be made, no details can be added or removed, no debates or arguments will hold merit. Are we clear?”
“Yes, Urasina,” responded the Shoyru, nodding eagerly. “And thank you so much for retrieving my shipments from those horrible thieves. If I hadn’t made my delivery, I would have lost my job. You’re a lifesaver.”
With that done, the Shoyru took the contract and left, while I gathered up my things to head home.
“Another successful contract,” I thought to myself, pleased.
As I headed through Sahkmet towards the southern gate, a palace guard caught up to me.
“Urasina, do you have a minute?” he asked, bowing to me.
“Sure,” I replied. “Something important, I assume?”
“Yes,” the guard, a Ruki, answered. “Princess Amira has a special delivery that needs to get to King Hagan in Brightvale. I wasn’t told what it is, but apparently the king is eager to get it. We have a courier to take it and a few guards to protect him, but the princess asked if you would go along too. You know the roads between Sahkmet and Brightvale better than anyone in the Royal Guard or the army.”
I nodded. Despite being a Speckled Uni mare, and preferring to fly when I had to travel long distances, me and my brother Titance had crisscrossed the roads between the two kingdoms too many times to count on various mercenary jobs.
“When will the courier depart?” I asked.
“In two days,” the guard said. “Can you help?”
“Of course,” I told him. “Let the princess know I’ll be there.”
He bowed again and walked away, while I turned to continue towards home.
Two days later, I arrived outside the Sahkmet palace bright and early. There was an ordinary-looking wooden cart with a tarp over it, and a young Lost Desert Uni stallion standing near it. When I landed, he bowed deeply.
“Are you the courier?” I asked him.
“I am,” he responded. “I’m Ramses. Princess Amira asked me to pull the cart to Brightvale.”
He puffed out his chest a little with pride.
“My family has been couriers for the Royal Family of Sahkmet for generations,” he said proudly. “I intend to continue doing the good work they’ve done before me.”
Then he looked a bit sheepish.
“But… this is my first errand…” he admitted. “I feel a lot better having a veteran heroine like you along for the trip, Urasina.”
I nodded. Ramses seemed like a nice little guy; bright-eyed and eager, yet understandably nervous about what could happen along the way.
A few minutes later, three Scorchio guards arrived: one guard captain and two soldiers.
“If you’re ready, Urasina, we can get underway,” the captain said to me.
“Let’s get going, then,” I replied.
The captain helped Ramses into his harness and bridle, then hitched him to the cart. I felt a little uncomfortable watching that; while I can wear tack, I prefer not to. My owner, an adult human male we all call BG, never makes me wear tack. But in this case, I knew it was kind of a necessity.
The first day of the trip was uneventful. We made it out of the Lost Desert and into the borderlands between the fallen Faerieland and the Haunted Woods. Because of the guards, Ramses could only move at a walk, so if this kept up, the trip to Brightvale would take about a week. Once we stopped for the night, the captain unhitched and untacked the Desert Uni, then we all had a bite to eat before everyone except me went to sleep. Night watch was never a problem for me; my magic is Light magic, so as long as the moon and stars were visible, the light from them kept me awake and alert. I could go for days without sleeping if I had to.
The next day started out uneventful too, but shortly after noon, things went downhill. As we were walking along, we heard a female’s voice screaming for help.
“We have to investigate,” said the captain.
I moved to block his way.
“It’s a trap,” I hissed at him. “Listen to that voice. The inflection is wrong. If she were REALLY in trouble, it would sound different.”
He didn’t listen.
“Men, follow me!” he ordered.
“You’re not listening to me!” I snapped. “I said it’s a trap!”
But he and his men headed in the direction of the screams anyway.
Ramses had stopped and was looking around nervously. I moved over to him, a feeling of dread in my stomach. Sure enough, the screams stopped for a minute. Then we heard the guard captain scream.
“Ramses, RUN!” I barked at the other Uni.
“But… the guards…” he began, but I glared at him.
“Don’t kid yourself! The guards are dead! And you might be too if you don’t get moving!” I yelled.
That was all the convincing he needed. He broke into an all-out gallop, and I quickly dashed in front of him to lead the way. We ran for the rest of the day before Ramses was too tired to go any further.
“I told them, I TOLD THEM,” I growled to no one in particular. “But nobody ever listens to me, do they? Even though I saved Sahkmet from being destroyed, they still don’t listen to me.”
My ranting was cut off when Ramses spoke up.
“Can you get my tack off?” he asked.
“I’m sorry, Ramses, but hooves are no good for that kind of work,” I said, looking him over. “You’re going to have to wear it until we get to Brightvale.”
He tried to lower his head to graze, but the overcheck held him back.
“I’m going to need to eat something,” he said fearfully.
I responded by channeling some of my Light magic into him, restoring his strength and easing his hunger.
“You’ll have to be OK with health restoring magic for a few days,” I told him.
Ramses did manage to get some rest that night, but I sure didn’t. The bandits who had tricked the guards would no doubt be after us. They knew something about the shipment we were escorting, and they wanted it.
And when bandits want something, they get nasty. VERY nasty.
The next day was quiet. Ramses and I galloped for most of the day, making it through the borderlands and close to the border of Brightvale. Of course, the castle was still a couple of days travel beyond that point. The night was also quiet, which worried me. What were the bandits up to?
About midmorning on the next day of the trip, I sensed them coming after us.
“Ramses, stop,” I said, and he did so.
“The bandits are coming. I can sense them. We’re making our stand here,” I went on, cloaking the two of us in a shield of Light magic. “DO NOT leave my shield if you want to live. I’ll keep you safe.”
Only a minute later, a volley of arrows signaled their arrival. The arrows were absorbed by my shield, which then sent blasts of Light magic back at the archers, taking out some of them. Other bandits leaped from the underbrush and charged us, only for me to blast them with solar rays before they got close. They came at us from all sides in a desperate attack that lasted almost a half-hour, but they were no match for me. Finally, the last bandit had fallen.
“What on Neopia is in that cart?” I asked Ramses.
“Darned if I know,” he replied, looking around at all the fallen bandits. “But clearly they want it.”
I checked the area with my magic, determining that it was safe, and dropped my shield.
“Let’s keep going,” I suggested. “If we go all-out, we can make it to Brightvale Castle by noon tomorrow.”
We did just that. No more bandits tried to attack us, and shortly before noon we pulled up to the gates of Brightvale Castle. I approached one of the guards at the gate, who snapped to attention when I got close.
“We’ve got a shipment from the Lost Desert that King Hagan is waiting for,” I said.
“You’re here early,” he replied. “And I thought there would be more guards.”
“There WOULD have been, but you know, bandits,” I said snarkily.
Then I gestured to Ramses.
“He’s been in tack for the past several days, and had nothing to eat or drink during that time. Can you help him out?”
The guards led us into the courtyard of the castle and untacked Ramses, then brought both of us fruit to eat and water to drink.
“I am so glad that’s over with…” Ramses sighed, then looked at me with awe in his eyes.
“You really are as great as they say you are, Urasina,” he murmured. “There’s no way we would have made it without you.”
I blushed a little at his praise.
We finished eating and waited for King Hagan to finish his own lunch. After a little while, he came over to us.
“I’m glad you made it safely, but I’m so sorry to hear that you lost the rest of your escort to those blasted bandits,” he said, looking a little sad.
“There was nothing that anyone could do,” I responded. “At least your package is safe.”
He pulled the tarp off the cart and picked up a locked strongbox, then pulled a key out of his pocket and opened it. Inside was a gold-inlaid picture frame that looked VERY expensive.
“The jewelers in Sahkmet are undisputedly masters of the trade,” he said. “My niece will love this.”
“It’s a present for Roberta?” I asked.
“It is. I could have gotten one made here in Brightvale, but she would have known about it,” he explained. “I figured that in order to hide it from her, I should get it made elsewhere. Now I just need to wait for the artist to finish painting the portrait to go in the frame.”
He nodded to both of us.
“I’ve already paid the jeweler and the princess, but I’ll make sure both of you get some pay as well. Be careful going home, and tell Princess Amira I’m sorry for costing her those guards.”
I nodded, Ramses bowed, and we turned to leave.
“You OK flying back?” I asked him. “It will be faster and safer, and if need be, I can use my magic to pull you along.”
“I think I’d prefer to fly, yes,” he replied.
So once we had left the castle grounds we spread our wings and took to the sky. Flying was so much easier than walking, especially for Neopets that naturally have wings, like us Unis.
“I won’t be able to make it all the way in one afternoon,” Ramses said after a while.
“If you can make it to Faerieland, I know a safe place we can spend the night,” I replied.
“I can make it that far,” he responded, squaring his shoulders.
As the sun began to set, I led the way to a hidden grove tended by Light Faeries. They welcomed us joyfully, gave us a hearty meal, and provided us with comfy beds to sleep on. Since I’m the True Hero of Light, a champion of Light Faeries everywhere, they were eager to have my company.
As dawn arrived, Ramses and I bade farewell to the Light Faeries and took off for the last stretch towards home. We coasted down to land near the Sahkmet Palace gates at about 3 that afternoon.
Once we landed, Ramses bowed to me.
“I’m so grateful to you, Urasina,” he said quietly. “Next time they send me on a mission, I’m going to request that they send you too. Thank you so much for your protection.”
“You’re welcome, Ramses,” I replied kindly. “And don’t worry about telling the Princess about the bandit ambush, I’ll do that myself. You go home and rest, you’ve earned it.”
He nodded, smiled, and went on his way as I headed into the palace.
“Just need to give Princess Amira the news and I can head home too,” I sighed to myself. “I think I’ve earned some rest as well.”
Author’s note: Ramses is made up by me. Any resemblance to other Neopets is strictly coincidental.