The Disappearance of the Heiress: Part Four
It was an uncharacteristically cool day in Brightvale. There were few customers inside the shop in the early afternoon, so they usually closed it for an hour or two and went for a walk through the meadow. Myra liked this time of the day better than any other because Aunt Loren rarely went with them, so she had her mother to herself.
Zara was quiet as they walked, and Myra didn’t mind. She had learned from Aunt Loren’s excessive speech that fewer words are better than too many, so she was content to walk alongside her mother as the breeze blew the leaves into their path. She had an expression on her face that suggested she was deep in thought, so Myra knew to wait until the distant look had broken before speaking.
It lasted longer than Myra had ever known it to, fading only as they turned back towards home. Myra was by now itching to say many things at once, so she said the first thing that came into her head: “Mama, what’s an orphan?”
“Someone who is alone in the world,” Zara replied.
“No one’s like that,” Myra contradicted.
“Some people can be,” Zara said, and the distant expression began to spread over her face again. Myra was eager to head it off, so she said quickly, “Aunt Loren said that when she first met you she thought you were an orphan because you were asleep on her front bushes, and she tried to ask you about your parents but she never found out if you had them. And I didn’t know what orphan meant, and I was going to ask Aunt Loren but she wouldn’t stop talking –”
“She does have that problem,” said Zara, sounding faintly amused.
“And I was going to ask her later, but I forgot,” Myra finished. “And anyway, what I was going to ask you next was if you are one.”
“Does it really matter, Myra?” Zara said, smiling. “You’re not an orphan. You have me and Aunt Loren to look after you.”
“But I want to know if you’re one now,” persisted Myra.
“I was once,” Zara said, “but only for a little while, when I was sleeping on Loren’s front bushes. Then she offered me a place to stay, which officially ended my orphan status.”
“Status,” Myra repeated, making a mental note to look the word up later. The two Faerie Draiks, mother and daughter, turned towards the shop where Aunt Loren was waiting for them.
“Have you ever been to Kiko Lake, Mama?”
Zara shook her head. “No, but I would like to go someday. Would you come with me?”
Myra frowned. “I don’t know. We learnt about it in school, and I saw lots of pretty pictures of it, but I think I should miss Brightvale. I like living here.”
“Brightvale is a beautiful place,” agreed Zara. “I’m glad we live here too. I think it’s probably the most beautiful place in Neopia.”
“But at Kiko Lake you can ride around in a Glass Bottomed Boat,” Myra informed her mother. “You can’t do that here. And you can buy furniture that looks like seaweed.”
“How do you know what seaweed bears a resemblance to?”
“There’s a picture of it in my book about Mystery Island, and it looks a lot like the furniture at Kiko Lake,” Myra said as they pushed through the door of Fruits of Brightvale.
Zara was smiling as she flipped the CLOSED sign to OPEN. “Maybe we’ll go someday, so you can see it for real.”
The shop began attracting customers a few minutes later and Helene was busy until dinnertime serving them. She operated the till while Myra helped buyers choose the produce they wanted, and Loren sat in the corner talking nonstop to every customer. Loren was a good deal older than she had been when Helene had first been hired, and no longer really fit to do long stints of standing, so she had handed over the control of the shop to Helene.
“I recommend the Floranges,” Loren was saying to a young Tuskaninny. “They’re perfectly in season and full of nutrition. The autumn crops, they’re always the best: in summer the Floranges tend to be a bit bitter, while in spring they don’t have enough flavour. If you like bitterness, though, try a Shishkafruit. Young Myra over there has arranged them so nicely in the corner, and none have any bruises or marks. She’s got a real knack for choosing the best – like mother, like daughter. I never liked the Shishkafruits much myself, but some think the taste is divine. Each to their own, I guess.”
The Tuskaninny was nodding dazedly at the Acara’s long speech. “I’ll take... a Florange, thanks.”
“You will?” crowed the green Acara. “Good boy. Wise choice – Zara! This young chap wants one of the Floranges. They’re 1,439 Neopoints each. That’s right, give the money to Zara over at the till there – hello!” she said, now talking to a Xweetok who had just entered. “Can I help you, love?”
Helene gave the Tuskaninny his Florange and called out, “Excuse me, customers, Fruits of Brightvale closes at five on Tuesdays. Does anyone else want to make a purchase?”
“Oh no, Zara, not already,” protested Loren. “Can’t you keep the shop open a bit longer?”
The Faerie Draik sighed. “Loren, you were adamant that closing an hour earlier on Tuesdays to give Myra some time to have fun was a good idea. We have to stay firm or we’ll confuse the customers.”
“I never should have given you control of my shop,” Loren said grumpily. “You’re going to send us bankrupt.”
“Come on, Aunt Loren,” Myra said optimistically. “They’ll come back tomorrow.”
Myra had a knack for cheering up the green Acara. Loren smiled and said, “Oh all right, then. Myra, help your mother with the till and then we’ll close it up again.” She lifted herself out of her chair, muttering about her knees, and began herding the wandering customers out the door.
Helene smiled at her old friend’s antics. In truth, the shop was thriving. Helene had inherited her father’s head for business, though she always said to herself that that was their only common feature. Unlike him, I would pay everything I had to get my daughter back if I lost her.
She had to remind herself not to be overprotective of Myra, terrified that one day she might lose her beloved daughter, even though she knew that no one had any idea that Myra was the granddaughter of a Neo-Millionaire. She had seen her own picture in the Neopian Times as a Missing Neopet – she thought Myra might even have seen it – and although Loren had remarked in the past on the similarity between ‘the little missing heiress’ and her own co-worker, she did not suspect that they were one and the same.
Helene’s daughter was the cause of many mixed emotions in Helene’s mind. She was grieved that Myra had grown up believing that her mother was named Zara, and it upset Helene that she could never tell Myra the truth of how she came to Brightvale. But Myra’s sunny disposition and carefree attitude brought smiles to Helene’s face. The elder of the Faerie Draiks was not perfectly happy, nor unencumbered by bad memories, but Myra was a source of light in her life, and kept her from growing bitter. It had been so many years since she had been taken from the AstroVilla and her life of luxury, and she had never wished to return. She had found the peacefulness and simplicity of life in Brightvale comforting. It was safe.
Loren shut the door of the shop and hung the CLOSED sign in the window. “Another day gone,” she said. “I never thought about it before, but life is so short. I don’t feel old in my head, but my knees tell me otherwise. Myra, my love, whatever you do, don’t spend all your life in Brightvale. Time passes more quickly here than it does in other places.”
“Really?” Myra asked, enthralled.
“Metaphorically,” Helene added quickly.
“Go away,” said Loren, waving out the window at some innocent loiterer. “We’re not open at this time in the afternoon. Be off with you.”
Helene, who was wiping the shop counter, called to Loren, “You and Myra go upstairs. I’ll deal with him.”
“Where are my glasses?” Loren said. “I know I had them on my chair a minute ago, but they’ve disappeared. Who keeps taking them? What would anyone want with my glasses?”
“They’re on your head, Aunt Loren,” said Myra.
The green Acara fumbled around with her knitting bag. “I simply don’t understand. I misplaced them yesterday for hours and hours, and then discovered them at the back of the food cupboard. Myra, love, go to the food cupboard and see if they’re there.”
“Aunt Loren, they’re right there,” repeated Myra, pointing on top of Loren’s wrinkled forehead.
“Oh,” said Loren sheepishly. She removed her spectacles from her head. “I don’t remember putting them up there. It’s extraordinary, the places my spectacles get. Do you want a Blairnut Tea, Zara?”
“Thank you,” said the Faerie Draik. “I’ll be up in a minute.”
“No, we’re closed,” said Loren loudly to whoever it was standing outside Fruits of Brightvale. “Go away, we’re closed.”
“I’ll deal with it, Loren,” Helene said firmly.
Loren huffed up the stairs with Myra. “Why don’t people listen?” she called back crossly. “Oof – Myra, dear, I don’t know how you can jump up these wretched stairs so quickly.”
Helene locked the till and went to the shop door. “I’m sorry about that,” she began. “Loren can be a little –” she stopped dead. The air went suddenly cold.
“Helene,” said a familiar blue Lenny, smiling amiably. “How nice to see you, my dear.”
Nausea welled up in her and she felt the ground beneath her shake a little. Ymer stood before her, a little older, but the same sneer that had haunted her in her dreams had remained. She swallowed. “What do you want?” she asked, placing a hand on the doorframe to keep herself steady.
“Now, now,” he said. “That isn’t the way to speak to a dear old friend, is it? I must say, Helene, you have grown up a lot since I last saw you. You’ve certainly kept quiet over the years. Is this really where you have been all this time?”
“Can’t you leave me alone?” Helene whispered. “I’m happy here.”
Ymer raised his eyebrows. “Can I leave you alone? Why, my dear, you mustn’t flatter yourself in thinking I purposefully came here to find you. I am just as shocked to see you as you are to see me, perhaps more so. After all, you have known where you are for years. I, and the whole of Neopia, have been in the dark for a very long time. When we let you go we expected you to rush back to your father and spend the rest of your life in the luxury you loved. Clearly we underestimated you.”
“You didn’t let me go,” said Helene accusingly. “Perhaps you’ve mixed me up with one of your other victims, where you actually got what you wanted. I broke through the mirror, remember?”
Ymer looked delighted. “Oh, my, so you never worked it out? It really was your first time at being kidnapped. We argued so long, Zoltan and I, about it, but I guess I won the bet in the end. No, my dear Helene, we got our ransom. Life has been very pleasant in our retirement. Your father certainly has more money than he knows what to do with. He gave us twice as much as we requested to get you back. Poor soul, he took it hard when he found you were gone, and even harder when you didn’t return. I felt mildly guilty about it, but there’s no room for a conscience in my business.”
“You said outside my door –”
“It was one of my better acting jobs,” Ymer said smoothly. “It was annoying, especially when Zoltan didn’t learn his lines. You haven’t yet asked about him, have you? I don’t know what’s become of him, actually. I probably should have stayed in touch – ah, Blairnut Tea! Is one of them for me?”
Loren looked from him to Helene questioningly, holding a tray with two mugs on it. “No,” she said warily. “Zara, do you know this person?”
“Zara and I are old friends,” Ymer explained. “I dropped by to say hello.”
Oh, no, said Helene despairingly. Please don’t get her started.
“Well!” said Loren cheerfully. “How wonderful! You know, Mr. –”
“Regwensop,” Ymer said without missing a beat.
“Mr. Regwensop, you are the first friend of Zara’s to ever stop by here,” chattered Loren. “She’s a mysterious person, our Zara. She ended up on my front bushes years and years ago and –”
“Loren, could you go and check on Myra?” said Helene desperately. “Mr. Regwensop and I are nearly done with our reminiscing. He has to return to Terror Mountain tomorrow.”
“Terror Mountain, eh? Is it cold up there?”
“Only a little,” said Ymer charmingly. “A slight cold wind to the heart at times, wouldn’t you say, Zara?”
“Oh, have you been there, Zara?” Loren asked with interest. “I never knew that.”
“In my youth,” Helene said, “and I remember very little of it. Loren, please make sure Myra’s all right.”
“Yes, yes,” said Loren impatiently. “There’s your Blairnut Tea, Zara. Mr. Regwensop, if you’re ever in Brightvale, I do hope you’ll visit us again. It’s so nice to finally meet an old friend of Zara’s.”
The green Acara began creaking up the stairs again.
“Friend of yours?” Ymer inquired.
“Why did you stage a conversation outside my door?” Helene said, ignoring his question.
“You were meant to escape, my dear. Did you never realise that? Why else would we have had such a discussion outside your door where you could hear? Why do you think Zoltan did not see you as he came down the hallway? Why do you think we chased you into that broom cupboard, knowing there was a door leading outside?”
Helene’s legs crumbled to the ground. “Why indeed?” she murmured in distress.
“And then you disappeared,” Ymer said. He sounded almost impressed. “You never came forward after we released you. The front page of the Neopian Times announced your disappearance, and the amount your father had paid to get you back. The Defenders of Neopia searched for us for years, but we were too clever for them. No one could find out what had happened to you, though I hear you have your governess living upstairs.”
“What do you want?” Helene said for the second time. “I don’t have much to give you.”
“I don’t want anything from you, Helene – or is it Zara now? Who is Zara? A friend of yours? Anyway, it matters not one wit. There is a funny phenomenon with the rich half of the Neopia – no matter how much they have to spend, they always want more. I exclude myself from this generalization. I am satisfied with the two hundred million Neopoints I have been living on. I stand nothing to gain by remaining in your life. There is a large offer for any information leading to your whereabouts that has remained open after all these years, but I don’t really need it.”
“So why are you still wearing out my doormat?”
“My, you are rude,” Ymer said. “Are you afraid I will reveal your true identity, Zara?”
Helene shook with fear. “Don’t – call me that,” she whispered. “I get called that often enough.”
“Forgive me,” said Ymer pleasantly. “No, Helene, if you want to be rid of me I will go. I never expected to see you here. I was astonished to see you in this little shop, with that old Acara. Does she always talk so much?”
“Leave,” said Helene. She stood firm. “Get out of my life, Ymer. You deprived me of my childhood and led me to believe I wasn’t loved. You caused my governess, who was my best friend, to be sacked. I don’t know what’s become of her, and I’ve tried for years to find out. I don’t want to see you again.”
“I will respect your wishes, ma’am,” said Ymer. “After all those years living in Brightvale, you still expect people to do as you command. I see that some people simply never change.”
“I have changed,” said Helene, “but you haven’t. Ymer, if you don’t get off my doorstep right now I will fetch the Defenders of Neopia. If I see you again I will fetch the Defenders of Neopia. If you come near me, Loren, or my daughter ever, I will do what you threatened to do to me when I was a child. You are a pathetic waste of space, and I’m sure Neopia will be glad to be rid of you. You seem to forget that I’m not longer young. I can stand up for myself, you know. I was never afraid of you, and I’m not afraid of you now.”
For the first time, Helene saw uncertainty in Ymer’s eyes. “How dare you speak to me like that?” he hissed.
“Loren!” Helene bellowed. “Could you come downstairs right now? It turns out we might need to fetch the Defenders of Neopia. Mr. Regwensop –” She turned around to see Loren hobbling down the stairs.
“What?’ she squawked. “What are you talking about, Zara? Has someone broken in?”
When Helene turned back towards the street, she saw that Ymer was gone.
To be continued...