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Neopia's Fill in the Blank News Source | 17th day of Sleeping, Yr 23
The Neopian Times Week 110 > Short Stories > Be Strong, Duchess

Be Strong, Duchess

by peachifruit

This story is a sequel to "Don't Cry, Duchess", published in week 66. You can read that here. It's recommended that you read that story first. If you haven't, however, you can go ahead and read on, though some of the things in this story may be a bit unclear.

~*~

A sudden flash of icy water jolted Camella from her peaceful slumber, sending her into an abrupt state of awareness. Lifting her head towards the cave’s exit somewhat despondently, she was able to see the current weather, which was just as she had expected: Still raining, Camella thought to herself. And there’s a leak in the ceiling, to boot.

     Making sure to keep her eyes somewhat shut in order to keep any water from potentially getting into them, Camella gazed above at the dark roof of the cave. It had been only two days since she had fled her home in her father’s palace, and this cave seemed to be the only adequate shelter she could find in the vicinity. En Guarde, a son of one of the palace’s scribes, had been Camella’s accompaniment since the start of her journey.

     That brought a sudden thought to her mind. Camella glanced down at the blanket over her legs and pushed it back a bit, standing up suddenly. She hadn’t fallen asleep with the blanket on -- she was certain.

     Camella stepped towards the entrance of the cave. A green Krawk was sitting outside on a rock, quietly looking around. He seemed completely unaware that it had to have been raining for at least an hour or two.

     The Eyrie strolled outside, arms over her head in a vain attempt to shield herself from the rain. "En Guarde..." she quietly began.

     Instantly, the Krawk turned around. "Oh, it's you, Camella."

     "Don't you know you're going to catch Neomonia sitting outside like this?" Camella questioned. "Why weren't you in the cave?"

     "I didn't think you were awake."

     Camella shifted uncomfortably. "I wasn't until now..."

     "Well, then," En Guarde began. "The sooner we leave, the better."

     "Leave?" Camella inquired in disbelief. "In this rain? We'll both get sick!"

     "I doubt it," the Krawk replied. "The closest town isn't far from here, you know."

     Camella sighed, thinking of a warm bed -- a safe place to stay, away from thieves and bandits of all sorts around the cave where she stood. "Then let's go." She turned to the cave, thinking of what to take with her. She had only packed a few things -- a small, blunt sword, a change of clothes and the blanket under which she had previously been resting.

     She walked into the dark cave and retrieved the wet blanket, the dress that she had packed and the sword, which she gave to En Guarde. "I can only carry so much," said Camella. "You take the lead."

     The two young travelers set off for the nearby village. Camella tried to keep herself as composed as she could -- even though En Guarde already knew how hungry and tired she was. He felt the same.

     En Guarde was always rather quiet and reserved, for reasons Camella knew nothing of. She often tried to guess why -- En Guarde wasn't mistreated at the palace. As far as she knew, of course.

     The village was very nearby; it only took a few minutes of walking to reach. It was bustling with activity, as the day had only begun. "There's an inn!" Camella exclaimed, pointing.


~*~

"And you expect me to let you stay here with no money?"

     Camella looked up at the innkeeper, a stout red Skeith who seemed to show little to no sympathy for her and her friend. "Not expecting, sir. Merely hoping."

     The innkeeper laughed. "Show me the money everyone else pays to stay here and you can hope to your little heart's content. Don't and it's not going to happen." He frowned. "And you look a little young to be staying at an inn all by yourselves. Where are your parents?"

     Camella gave the innkeeper a rather nasty look. "Since when did that concern you at all?"

     "Don't talk that way to me!" the innkeeper shouted. "You can take that smart mouth of yours and your little friend to another inn!"

     "But there aren't any others in town, sir," En Guarde explained.

     "You should have reminded your friend of that before she started getting sassy with me!" said the innkeeper. "Now get out! Get out this instant!"

     En Guarde silently complied, taking Camella with him before she could start any more trouble. Camella glanced at his staid expression as they left the inn, feeling a bit guilty. "It was just what he said to me--"

     "It wasn't your fault, Camella," En Guarde interrupted.

     "But..." Camella looked away. "Now where are we going to stay?"

     En Guarde simply shrugged. "How should I know?"

     Camella turned her head skyward, thinking of some sort of plan. She looked straight ahead and found a small bakery. "You know, we could always get a job of some sort..."


~*~

"Actually, w'do have a job opening," said the manager of the establishment when questioned. She was a short blue Bruce who wore an apron and the countenance of a responsible woman.

     "Do you?" inquired En Guarde. "That's wonderful to hear. Um... doing what?"

     "Eh?" the Bruce replied. "What do you think ya be doing? Same s'everyone else, mm-hmm. Shoveling loaves in and out of the ovens, attending to customers. Y'know. Takin' the job? I'll be more'n happy t'give ya yer aprons so y'can start tomorrow mornin'."

     "That's wonderful, thank you very much," Camella murmured when prompted by En Guarde. "Umm..."

     "Ye ain't got no place t'stay?" asked the Bruce. "Y'can stay upstairs -- there's a bit of a... makeshift room up there." She chuckled inwardly. "Y'll be wearin' these." She tossed two aprons and a hairnet for Camella to the two pets. "Name's Melody, by the way. I'm sure this'll be a... rewarding experience for all three of us."


~*~

Camella and En Guarde awoke early the next morning to Melody's screaming.

     "YE'LL BE WAKIN' UP NOW! GET YER TAILS DOWN 'ERE!"

     The rain outside had stopped, much to Camella's delight. She would have loved at that moment to run outside and play among the flowers in her father's garden, (her parents willing). She sighed.

     She couldn't now. She had a job, just like the common pets.

     Unwillingly, she stepped out of bed. As Camella tucked her long, red hair into the hairnet provided by Melody the previous day, En Guarde, who had opted to sleep on the floor, stood up and followed her out the door and downstairs to the kitchen.

     Melody was already there, tapping her foot against the cold stone floor. "I called y'down earlier. Why didn't y'get down here then?" she inquired suspiciously.

     "Didn't hear you." Camella folded her arms, regaining her sour attitude. "What do you want?"

     En Guarde slightly nudged her for her curtness as Melody responded. "Ye start work t'day. Y'forget?" She frowned, a crease forming in her brow as she pointed at Camella. "You, the smart Eyrie, you're makin' sure that dough gets rolled into the right shape and size. And your friend will be baking it. Leave it in any longer than fifteen minutes and I'll see to it that yer out of 'ere in an instant. Then take it out to the front, cause a customer's waitin' for it. Now get to work, and don't let me see you slacking off at all."

     Camella strolled to her designated spot where a bowl of bread dough was already sitting on the countertop. She stared at it for a while with disgust and idly turned the bowl over, leaving the misshapen pile of dough sitting on the counter. Camella groaned as she patted the lump with her paws, trying--failing--to shape it somehow. She finally gave up and lifted the long-handed peel, urging En Guarde to take it. "Just put it in the oven. That's as shapely as it's going to get."

     En Guarde complied as Camella continued her work. Fifteen minutes quickly passed and En Guarde took the bread from the oven to find it twice as large as it had been before. "C-Camella, er -- is it supposed to be this size?"

     "If it isn't, Melody can just deal with it," Camella spat, working on shaping the next loaf. She left the loaf at the counter for a moment. "Let's take it out to the front to give it to the customer."

     Camella and En Guarde took the heavy loaf of bread out to the front of the shop, where an orange Aisha was already waiting. "This is yours?" inquired Camella.

     "I would certainly hope not!" the Aisha exclaimed. "Shouldn't it be sliced? I wanted it sliced! And not that huge!"

     "Slice it when you get home!" Camella shouted, tossing the loaf against the counter. "You have knives, don't you? I'm not your slave, lady!"

     The Aisha gasped, appalled. "Where's the manager of this establishment? I'll not tolerate your speaking to me like that!"

     It wasn't long before Melody reached the scene of the argument. "What's goin' on out 'ere? Ya yellin' at the customers?" she questioned. "Faerieland! What did you do to that loaf of bread?!"

     "It wouldn't get any smaller!" Camella tried to explain. "I-I didn't think the customer would care!"

     "Melody, please, it's not her fault!" En Guarde continued.

     Melody ignored this comment. "This.. .employee of yours screamed at me!" the Aisha at the counter cried. "And just because I wanted my bread sliced!"

     "Yelled at her!" Melody repeated. "Y'can't just do that! Yer workin' here!"

     Camella frowned, throwing her hairnet against the floor. "Not anymore! I'm a princess! I don't deserve to live like this! To be treated like this! To work like..."

     She paused in mid-sentence, dropping the wooden peel she was holding. It clattered against the ground as she felt a cold tear present in her eye. She turned from Melody and the Aisha customer as she ran out of the bakery, bursting into tears as the bell on the front door jingled merrily.

     Melody turned to En Guarde. "Y'gonna bail on me too?"

     "Excuse her, please," En Guarde murmured, leaving the bakery. "She's... um... not used to these surroundings."

     Camella was quickly found outside, weeping under a tree. "Camella, what's the matter?" En Guarde inquired. Camella looked up at him.

     "What do you think is the matter?" she asked, sniffling. "I left home because I thought it would be better. Because I thought I would be happier... but I'm not. I haven't eaten in four days and the last time I slept peacefully in a warm bed was nearly a month ago. I'm supposed to be a princess. I'm supposed to be happy. But I'm not. I've been reduced to working in a bakery because I'm too poor to stay in an inn for one night."

     En Guarde sighed. "Camella, you can't go back. We've come too far, and it's not going to get better if we go back." He turned to the bakery. "It won't get any better if we stay here, either."

     "But where do we go?" asked Camella. "Unless we just go out into the forest -- we can't do that. There are thieves and bandits and all sorts of bad stuff in there!"

     "But it's the only place we have to go."

     Camella sniffled and finally nodded, standing up. After returning to the bakery to retrieve their things, the Eyrie and Krawk set off for the forest together. After they had been walking for a while and the sun was starting to set, Camella sat down in a clearing.

     "I'm tired," she mused. "Let's stay here for the night."

     En Guarde only nodded as Camella set down the blanket and lay on it. She gazed up into the starry sky, dreaming about the day that was still to come. As she rolled over to one side, En Guarde decided to leave the clearing.

     Moments later, he found a small stream and sat on a mossy rock next to it. Though he never let Camella know, he almost missed living at the palace. It was much more an inviting and comforting place to live than the woods. He almost wanted to head back...

     But he would never tell Camella. They had been close friends for as long as either of them could remember, and he didn't want to disappoint his (only) friend -- not after she had gotten so far... even with such a sudden proposal as what Camella had presented him with that night they left home. She merely told him she was leaving and asked him to come with.

     He had never seen her happier than that night. She was so eager to leave the "awful place" where she had been for all her life... he couldn't say no. And he wouldn't now.

     "Noooo! Give that back; it's my only other dress!"

     The voice was instantly recognized as Camella's. When En Guarde reached the clearing, he found the Eyrie desperately trying to pull her second dress away from a green Techo. Camella turned around. "En Guarde! There you are!"

     Just then, En Guarde could have sworn that he saw the Techo hide a sword behind his back. He ran to pull Camella away from him -- and her dress. "What are you doing?" she inquired hysterically. "I have to get my dress back!"

     "Not that way," En Guarde replied. "You'll get hurt!"

     Camella frowned. "En Guarde, if I can't get my dress back, what am I going to wear tomorrow? If I can't get my blanket back, what am I going to sleep on tomorrow? If I can't get my sword back, how am I going to defend myself tomorrow?" She struggled and pulled herself away from her friend. "Maybe I don't need all of it right now, but I need to think about tomorrow!"

     She ran towards the thief again, determined to retrieve her belongings. The Techo revealed his sword to Camella, raising it above his head. She backed away as he brought it down, but not nearly far enough.

     Her hair was cut to shoulder-length.

     "Camella, are you all right?" En Guarde quickly questioned, thinking she had been hurt.

     But she was speechless. She groped for her hair, determined to prove to herself that this was a horrible dream. But it wasn't. Her hair, once long and beautiful, was lost to her forever.

     The thief smirked. "You'll grow it back." With that, he left the clearing.

     "Camella, say something!"

     But she was already lost in tears. She fell to the ground, clutching her hair and weeping bitterly. She looked up as En Guarde came to her side. "Camella, don't cry..."

     "Don't cry?" she asked. "Don't cry? I have every reason in the world to cry! I've lost everything! My home, my money, my belongings -- if I can't even keep my hair, what can I keep? And now I'm going to be deprived of the right to a good cry?" She promptly returned to wailing. "I'm not a princess -- I have to face it sooner or later. Princesses get to keep their things. Maybe they get taken away and locked up -- but sooner or later, they get it all back. Their friends, their family, their dignity... but I haven't gotten any of that back. I'm still friendless, without a supporting family and undignified to top it all off. I'm not a princess. I'm a lonesome commoner."

     "You're not lonesome. I'm still here."

     Camella looked up, sniffling. She burst into tears. "En Guarde, I should have never made you do this -- come along with me on this silly little 'journey' of mine. I don't even know where I'm going. There's no guarantee that we'll actually find a home, jobs, a normal life... there's no guarantee we'll find any of that." She paused. "You... you can go back..."

     En Guarde shook his head. "Why would I do that? We've already come a long way -- and you're my friend. I'd never leave you alone so far from home, you know."

     Camella said nothing.

     "And even if there's no guarantee that we'll ever live normal lives, there's always a guarantee that we'll be friends."

     Camella said nothing.

     "Now, Camella, you need to stop crying. We'll never get anywhere if you keep crying."

     Camella sighed. "You're right. Maybe there's no guarantee that we'll find a home, or live a normal life, or any of that... but we need to at least keep going. We don't know what we'll find."

     She sat down, gathering a few leaves into an adequate pillow. En Guarde followed suit. Camella smiled. "Now, are we going to get some sleep or not?"

     Camella lay down on her back, gazing at the stars. "If I don't get my dress back, so what? If I never grow my hair back, so what? If I never find a good home or live a normal life, so what? Even if I'm not guaranteed all of that, I need to keep going.

     "Even if we aren't guaranteed all of that, there's still a chance."

The End

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