As Royalty Does: Part One
(Author’s Note: This is a sequel of sorts to my short story ‘With Broken Wings’ in Issue 315; I would advise reading that if you wish the events that follow to make sense.)
Society dictates that royalty are those who are born into royal families, that nobility is a birthright; in other words, that all merit is inherited, and that your position in life is determined from the day you are born. This is at the core of much of the discontent in our modern Neopia, and many believe that those who have proven themselves should rule us: those with great courage or compassion, great wisdom or great intelligence (which are separate things, contrary to popular belief). These people think that people's merit is determined by their own selves, not by their families; that their deeds are their own and not their fathers'; that every person should start out equal and with equal opportunities, and that no one should be judged by their appearance, or the opinions of the corrupt in power. And to the people that say these things, I reply only this:
The world is not fair, despite however many wish it so. There will always exist unjustness and evil in the shadows. It is not possible for the world to be perfect; there will always be things that some condemn and others applaud. Everybody is different. Perhaps one day enough people will realize that to make this world better.
- An excerpt from Akira Amira's Reflections In A Shattered Mirror, acknowledged as one of the most widely read philosophical texts in the history of the Meridell/Brightvale region.
The Korbat woke up feeling disoriented and exceptionally stiff. His accumulated injuries felt – well, not exactly painful, but as though they were just waiting for him to get up before they pounced in unison and bludgeoned him back into unconsciousness.
He got up anyway.
His memory of the past few days was a little shaky, and his surroundings didn’t help. He appeared to be in a wide, spacious and comfortably aired room, decorated with an immensely complicated tapestry hung up against the wall and several expensive-looking rugs laid out on the plush carpet. The bed he was sitting on was large and four-posted. The room in general gave off an air of uncluttered wealth and luxury. This was nice, but it most definitely did not fit in with the Korbat’s view of How The World Should Be. His mouth formed around the only phrase that might help him to make sense of this anomaly.
“Coffee?” he said hesitantly.
“Yes, my Lord. Coffee,” a voice said, apparently taking pity on him. He turned slowly and surveyed its origin. An Usul, with the usual burnt-honey coloured fur. The precise colour of this one was difficult to make out, due to the fact that she wasn’t wearing her tail-bow, but the bow around her ears was a pretty blue shade. She wore a simple dress that gave the impression that she was some kind of maid. Her features were pretty, but not remarkably so. All this the Korbat took in at a moment’s glance before focusing instead on the tray she held in her hands.
“Coffee,” he said again, somewhat redundantly. The maid nodded. Realizing that he appeared like an idiot, the Korbat decided against future speech at this time and took the mug from the tray, sipping the scalding liquid. After a few mouthfuls, his head felt clearer, and he felt a lot more alert.
“Sorry,” he said, not entirely sure what he was apologizing for. “Would you mind telling me where I am? And, ah... who I am?” He had a feeling he should know this second one.
The maid carefully settled the tray on a large bedside cabinet. “You’re in Ferndale Manor, my Lord. You were supposed to be in the palace, but the Mayor decided you should be in here instead. Less publicity.”
The Korbat considered this sentence. “Ferndale?” he asked eventually.
“A small province of Brightvale, my Lord. You were taken here after yesterday.”
“I see,” the Korbat said slowly, then changed his mind. “Actually, I don’t.”
The Usul maid sighed. “Yesterday it was decided that you should become the next heir to the Mayoracy of Ferndale, my Lord.”
The Korbat began to assert himself. “One, ‘Mayoracy’ isn’t a word, and two, whatever it is, it isn’t inherited.”
“It is here, my Lord, and obviously it isn’t inherited as the current Mayor is not your father.” The Usul treated him to a blank stare.
“Right.” The Korbat gave up on trying to make sense of the world until it decided to be reasonable again. He walked to the mirror and examined himself in it. Hmm. Not bad looking, in a gaunt sort of way. The light clothes he was wearing hung elegantly off his thin frame. His tousled black hair had been trimmed, and his fur was clean. His half-spread wings were a mass of purple and black bruising that caused him to wince whenever he moved them, although the bruises weren’t so noticeable against his already black and purple fur. His face was long and the beginnings of the beard he had been growing were neatly clipped. His semi-circle glasses weren’t perched on the tip of his nose, but then again his vision was perfect and he mainly wore them for the look of the thing. Short black horns poked through his hair, and his elegantly shaped ears were half-risen in quizzical puzzlement. He frowned.
“What did they tell you my name was?” he asked, not bothering to specify the ‘they’.
“Ezekiel Amos, my Lord.”
“Ezekiel Amos,” the Korbat said, rolling the sounds on his tongue. “No, that doesn’t sound right at all.” He tried out a couple of variations. “Zeke? Moss? E.A.?” He flicked an ear irritably. “Zeke A.? Zeekai. Zeekaye. Yeah, that’s me!”
His recent memories came back with a rush, aided by caffeine.
“Out flown,” he said, with something approaching disbelief. “I was in the sky. I should have won. I was out flown and out battled.”
“Er... yes, my Lord.”
“I should have won! I was an Aviant in the sky and I should have won! Which means that I must have been up against another Aviant – or –”
“- Aleron, if you want to be quaint. I like free-flier better.”
This conversation had become one-sided. The maid watched him with her shiny blue Usul eyes.
“I was there for a reason,” Zeekaye said slowly, and then snorted. “Of course I was. Who would go to the Haunted Woods on Halloween if they didn’t have a reason? Yes... I had an assignment. Track down the free-flier. They can cause a lot of trouble, you know.”
“Yes, my Lord.”
He snapped his fingers. “And stop calling me ‘my Lord’. It gets on my nerves.”
“Yes.” She raised an eyebrow at him. He sighed and relented.
“ ‘Sir’ would be quite sufficient.”
A ghost of a smile. “Yes, sir.”
“Right.” Zeekaye picked up the thread of his thoughts. “So. I lost. I can deal with that.” He nodded. “Right. That wasn’t what I was so upset about, though.” He frowned. “Something Bane said...”
He limped. He very definitely limped.
“You’re a mess,” Bane growled, and Zeekaye flicked an ear in irritation.
“Yeah. I’ll rest up for a couple of weeks, then –”
Zeekaye gaped. “Six – what?”
“You heard me, boy. Six months of rest. And you’re lucky it isn’t more! You need to recover.”
“Yes. And I will. Within a couple of weeks. And then I’ll track down–”
“You will stay at home with your family. Where you should be. For six months. Final.”
Zeekaye stared, aghast, as the Aviant commander turned and walked away.
Six months? That wasn’t so bad... he wouldn’t get bored, anyway; not with his family. He’d probably be called upon to his usual role of mediator.
No, that wasn’t the problem. Zeekaye pushed the remnants of his pride and what Phizith called his ‘hero complex’ aside. The problem was that he wanted to help people. Was that so bad? Six months of inactivity at home...
“Or not,” Zeekaye said thoughtfully. There was definitely a mystery here. This wasn’t home; he lived at 53799 Kass Street. No huge, ridiculously complicated mansions in sight.
Which meant this was a mystery that he had to solve. Zeekaye grinned. Maybe these six months wouldn’t be so bad after all.
Meanwhile, on the Darigan Citadel, Rikku was trying to stop her second-oldest pet from burning the house down.
“It just doesn’t make sense,” Phizith said, staring at the carpet, his mouth in a bitter line.
“I know it doesn’t.” The Maraquan Draik raised an eyebrow at him. “But you pacing a hole in the carpet isn’t really going to help with finding out what’s going on.”
“It helps me think.”
“Carpet is expensive. You’re singeing it,” Rikku pointed out gently.
The Fire Pteri took another look at the carpet, and then gave his owner a sheepish look. “Sorry.”
“It’s okay. I’m worried too.”
“Yes, but it wasn’t you –” Phizith stopped himself before he went further.
“Who argued with him? Yes. I thought it might be that.” She looked at him, concerned.
“It’s just... okay, Zeekaye’s gone a lot of the time. I don’t mind that. He never tells us what he’s been doing. I do mind that, but I guess it must be important, so I can deal with it. But he’s never just left before he’s even stayed one day, and certainly not without telling us he’ll be gone. And he was in pretty bad shape.”
He was. He had been limping, and his wings had been folded in tight to his body. He had looked tired, too, and frustrated with something. So no wonder they argued.
Phizith and Zeekaye normally got along pretty well. The Pteri infuriated his older brother a lot, or tried to, but that was just normal sibling squabbles, and Zeekaye had a good sense of humour and a lot of patience (both vitally important when dealing with Phizith). But yesterday night, he had been really angry. Phizith had asked Zeekaye how he had been injured, and the Korbat had lost his temper. That wasn’t something that happened every day.
“He isn’t in his room, or in the house.” Phizith dragged himself back to the present. “And wherever he’s gone, he hasn’t taken Muffler.” Muffler was Zeekaye’s Feepit. “He didn’t look up to much flying, and I doubt Bane would let him do any missions or whatever right now. So... ”
“So you’re suggesting he was kidnapped or something.” Rikku didn’t bother to keep the scepticism out of her voice.
“What I’m suggesting is that we should investigate.”
“Fine. Have fun.”
“Don’t I always?” He turned and started walking away, but paused at the staircase. “Rikku?”
The Draik had turned her attention to a Neopian Times article she was halfway through. “Hmm?”
“You don’t think he’s... gone, do you? I mean... left. You know. Moved on and out.”
“Highly unlikely,” Rikku replied without looking up. “Now go, do whatever it is you feel you have to. And Phizith – try not to blow anything up, okay?”
Zeekaye leaned against the balcony and smiled into the sun, letting the wind ruffle his hair and play with his ears. It was almost as good as flying. Almost.
He stretched his wings tentatively, then winced and folded them to his body once more. They were still bruised to the point that they could not be used. Whatever had happened beneath that full-mooned sky on Halloween had given him quite a beating. The Korbat’s smile took on a slightly rueful twist.
He had discovered the balcony yesterday afternoon, and for that he was extremely thankful. It was beautiful. Quite small – less than ten metres across – with an intricately carved wooden rail that was smoothed by exposure to the elements until its patterns were vague swirls that were still pleasing to the eye. It was also high. Very high. High enough that the air was clear and sweet and any sounds from below were faint and able to be ignored. This mansion – castle – whichever - was really rather big.
He had roamed all over it yesterday, searching into its nooks and crannies, accompanied by the Usul maid. She was rather good company; at first glance she seemed just a decorous little lady, but after exchanging a few words with her he had found a few glimpses of wry humour shining through. He must ask her name some time. Zeekaye scowled. Even though she’d confined him to his room with mock-severity yesterday after his broken toes had started to ache. Hence the reason why he was on his balcony instead of roaming the countryside, or trying to fly despite his wings. The horned Korbat sighed moodily and crossed his arms over his chest, looking out over the land.
His attention wandered, and was caught by a feather, falling on the breeze. It must have come from a high-flying bird indeed to be above him. Zeekaye watched as it twisted in the wind’s grip.
He automatically reached out his hand to catch it as it drifted past him.
It was a Pteri feather. He’d had enough experience of those in the past to know for certain. It was a downy feather, probably from the breast, and was coloured the usual pale cream.
The Korbat flung back his head to search the skies, the feather gripped in his hand.
He remained in that position until well past the sun had set and the stars shone above him.
To be continued...