A Faerie Tale: Part Four
Our journey to Meridell was a short and uneventful one.
The next Egg would be the most difficult to obtain. It was the Blue Draik Egg, and it wasn't located in the depths of any mysterious tomb or cave, or guarded by terrifying monsters. No, the Blue Draik Egg would be found at Merifoods, a single, food-filled booth in Meridell's bustling marketplace.
The marketplace hardly looked a place where one would expect to find a Draik Egg. Dozens of booths lined the streets, old wooden booths, groaning under their burdens, which ranged from the most fashionable Meridellian attire to various weaves of baskets to roughly made farming tools. The place was quaint, buoyant, and, to be honest, quite filthy.
"I think I liked Terror Mountain better," Belinda commented sourly, glowering at the Moehog that had just pushed past her, causing her to have to step through a puddle of mud rather than around it.
I merely smiled, keeping my comments to myself.
Merifoods itself was a roughly made booth kept by a chipper looking Purple Meerca and piled high with various Meridellian foods. Symbol dirt pies, whole roast chickens, bags of sugar and peas, whole wheels of soft white cheese, tomatoes and potatoes that looked as though they had seen better days, various loaves of bread... bowls of gruel and stone soup. No, this hardly looked to be a place where one would find a Blue Draik Egg. And yet, it was said that on occasion, the Meerca placed just such a fine gourmet food item amongst his more humble stock. Where he got the Eggs from was a mystery. Yet, we had information that he held one Egg now, in preparation for stocking.
As we approached the booth, I couldn't help but to mull over my previous reflections and a thought crossed my mind that I couldn't shake.
"Belinda," I said slowly. "You don't think that our client wants the Eggs obtained quietly because he plans on... eating them... do you?"
The Kyrii shrugged moodily in response, attempting to wipe some of the mud from her boots in a patch of nearby grass. "I don't know and I don't care... it's not our place to ask. What does it matter anyway what he's going to do with them? He's paying us, isn't he?"
I didn't argue, though I couldn't unsettle the ill feeling I got when I thought of the poor Draiks being consumed instead of hatched.
Having given up on wiping the remainder of the mud from her boots, Belinda approached the Meerca now, waiting impatiently for a customer to walk away with some flat bread and porridge before stepping up to the booth. She leaned so far over the counter that the Meerca immediately looked uneasy.
"We heard you will have a special fare for sale today," Belinda hissed. "Did we hear right?"
"Perhaps," the Meerca replied nervously. Shuffling his feet and wringing his hands, he nervously watched the ground.
The corners of Belinda's mouth tilted upwards in a cool smile. "We would like to make an advanced purchase then."
The Meerca immediately shook his head. "I'm afraid I can't do that... I have rules..."
"Rules?" Belinda's eyes narrowed and her voice took on a threatening tone. "Well perhaps you can make an exception to these... rules."
The Meerca's eyes darted suddenly upward, off over our shoulders. Turning, I saw that he was watching a Red Grarrl, clad in the uniform of a Meridellian knight, who stood stalwartly beside one of the neighboring booths. The Grarrl was watching us also, a hint of suspicion on his face, as though he were aware that shady dealings were perhaps unfolding beneath his very nose.
"I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to leave," the Meerca said quietly. "If you want the item you've come for, you're going to have to wait for me to stock it, just like everyone else."
Belinda, having spotted the Grarrl also, ground her teeth in irritation. "Fine," she snapped, glaring spitefully at the Meerca. "Have it your way. Don't expect to have any pleasant dealings with us in the future though..."
The Meerca swallowed nervously at her words. I couldn't help but to think this an empty threat, though; it wasn't likely that we would ever have dealings with the Merifoods shop keeper again. Still, Belinda smirked as we moved away from the booth, her words having the effect she desired. No one refused Belinda what she wanted and got away with it.
"What now?" I asked, as we came to a halt beside one of the booths that was both out of sight of the Meridell knight and in sight of Merifoods.
"Wait for the pesky little Meerca to restock," Belinda replied grimly. "There's nothing else we can do."
She looked rather as though she did have in mind several things we could do in order to get our hands on that Egg, dastardly things that would demonstrate to the Meerca just how sorry he should be for not granting her wishes. That she didn't voice these options, however, told me that she thought better of them... however much effort it took not to act upon her thoughts.
"I suppose we should take shifts then," I suggested lightly. "Keep ourselves fresh for the watch."
"First shift is yours," Belinda said immediately. And she headed off through the market before I could protest. Where she was headed, I hadn't the faintest idea; probably as far as she could get from the rather ripe stench that hovered over the market with the flies.
Resigning myself to a long wait, I found a tree stump to sit upon, reasonably close in proximity to Merifoods, pulled a lute from my pocket, and played while the hours whistled by.
By the time Belinda returned, my fingers were sore... and I was beginning to feel as though I'd absorbed much of the lingering stench of the marketplace. As the Kyrii took my place, I headed off to find somewhere that I might wash up a bit. Instead, I found Sunrise.
I'd known she was going to be here; the Faerie Peophin had told me as much, back at the Snowager's lair, where she'd revealed to me her plan to confront Balthazar and put a stop to his taking the Faeries off of the island she called home. Still, I hadn't expected to find her here, sitting beside a lonely tree, not far from the marketplace, simply staring up into its branches.
For a moment, I hesitated, reluctant to disrupt her solitude. Then she turned her head, spotting me, and, realizing that it might seem odd that I was staring, I approached her.
"Viggo!" She seemed just as surprised to see me as I was to see her. "What are you doing here?"
"Food shopping," I replied lightly.
Sunrise merely blinked. I didn't try to explain, but gestured to the tree by which she sat.
"Seems you've got a lovely spot here."
In response, she scooted over slightly to make room for me beside her. Unable to help but to smile at this, I seated myself against the tree also.
"Carvar is arranging a meeting with Balthazar," Sunrise said quietly, running her hoof through the grass at her side. "He said I should be able to speak with him tonight."
"Well, good for you," I said, as honestly as I could muster. I still didn't think confronting Balthazar to be the greatest idea, but the determined gleam remained in Sunrise's eyes, telling me that I wouldn't deter her.
"I know, it is good," she agreed. Then she hesitated. There was something else in her eyes now, I noticed, something other than determination.
Fear. That was what it was. Though not a fear of Balthazar, as I thought it was, I was quick to discover.
"Though, I can't help but to think, what if I fail?"
She lowered her head as she spoke, wrapping her wings about her so that she could stroke their tips. Hearing the tremor in her voice, I couldn't help but to feel sorry for her predicament. It was all I could do to try and encourage her, in spite of my feelings that there was a very slim probability of achieving success.
"Hey, all you can do is try," I offered. "Where would you be if you didn't try? You would have failed already, that's where. Where you are now, trying, you have a far greater change at success than if you didn't try at all."
The smallest of smiles touched the Peophin's lips. "Thank you," she said gratefully. "I know it's kind of odd for me to be telling you all of this. I mean, I don't even know you, really. But I appreciate it..."
"Of course," I replied, waving a paw dismissively. "It's no trouble at all, really. I'm glad to be here to listen."
That little smile widened somewhat. Then the Peophin shook her head, rising to her feet. "I really should be going," she apologized. "Carvar should be back any moment."
"Wait!" I protested, rising to my feet after her. I'd almost forgotten, but the memory came to me before I'd lost my opportunity. Sunrise turned curiously back to me as I dug through my pockets, pulling from them at last her cloak. "You might need this."
"Thank you!" Sunrise said, seeming genuinely surprised as I handed the cloak over. Her ghost of a smile continued to play at the corner of her lips as she tossed the cloak over her shoulders, pulling it tight around her as stepped away.
"It was nice to see you again," I called after her as she departed.
She turned to look over her shoulder, and this time, her smile managed to shine through her worry. Then she was gone, heading off towards the little town between the market place and Illusen's Glade.
I lingered a moment, staring after her. Then I headed back to Merifoods to take Belinda's place.
My second watch went by without any sign of the Egg. The sky was beginning to darken, and so when Belinda returned, she had a theory and a plan for when the Egg was to be stocked.
"That Meerca has to be heading home soon," she said, glaring at the shop keeper, as if he were purposely delaying the stocking of the Egg... which he probably was. "He won't keep the Egg; he probably hasn't a safe place to store it for the night. If he does, we'll take it while he sleeps, but he likely won't. He'll be stocking it soon, so stay close. That way, when he does, we'll be twice as likely to snag it."
I was tired from watching all day and had no intention of doubling my shift, but I couldn't tell Belinda this. So I merely nodded in agreement, found another vantage point to watch from, and, as soon as the Kyrii's gaze was forced upon the booth, I headed off into the falling dusk.
My wandering paws brought me to the little town. For a moment, I hesitated at its edge, watching the faint glow of lanterns from the closest Neohomes' lighting the darkening streets. Then I wandered through these homes, commencing my search.
I found the building I search for without difficulty: A small, ramshackle inn, its swinging sign so faded that the painted name was no long legible. Making my way inside, I waited until the sleepy looking Ixi at the front desk of the small lobby was looking in the opposite direction before darting up the rickety staircase in the corner, up to the second floor where the rooms were located.
The door of the first room stood slightly ajar. Making my way to it, I knocked lightly then, when I received no response, pushed it open a little further. There was no one in the room. I hesitated before turning away though, a pile of dark blue fabric on the bed catching my eye. Sunrise's cloak. This was her room, but she wasn't here.
Turning to leave once more, I reached the top of the staircase before hesitating again, looking back over my shoulder. The door of the room down the hall from Sunrise's stood slightly open also, and from behind it, I heard the sound of voices. Unable to stifle my curiosity, I edged down the hall until I could hear the voices more clearly.
"This wasn't part of the deal," a distressed voice was saying.
"Well, there has been a change in plans," another voice answered.
This voice I recognized; it belonged to Carvar. The other, I suspected belonged to the Magma Hissi, Dardyn, though I didn't dare peering through the crack in the door to find out.
"Balthazar wants her permanently removed from the island," Carvar went on. "He wants to be able to continue to capture the Faeries on the island without hindrance. I promised him a lasting solution... in exchange for a cut of the profit he makes off of selling the bottled Faeries."
"And I promised Sunrise that she could return!" Dardyn protested.
"You shouldn't make promises you can't keep," Carvar returned coldly. "You knew what you were getting into, entering into this deal. You knew what you were getting the Faerie into. I'm afraid it's too late to back out now."
There was a long silence. Outside the door, I let out my breath as quietly as I possibly could; I didn't realize I'd been holding it.
"I want a cut of the profit," Dardyn said finally, shortly... quietly, as if he disliked the sound of his own words. I could almost sense the way he stared at the floor as he spoke. "I want a cut of the profit from selling the Faeries... give me that, and I won't interfere."
"Very well," Carvar agreed. "You refrain from alerting the Faerie, and I'll give you a cut of the profits."
I heard the sound of wood scraping against wood, as if the Pirate were standing. Knowing well that it was now only a matter of time before they came to the door, I hurriedly backed away. I hesitated again at the top of the staircase, though. Then I darted into Sunrise's room, grabbing her cloak from her bed before slipping out of the inn just as quietly as I'd entered.
Back outside, I wandered the streets for a while before finally coming to a halt behind a Neohome. Sinking to the ground, I leaned back against the wall, burying my face in my paws.
I don't know why the conversation between Dardyn and Carvar upset me so greatly, but it did. I felt conflicted. On one hand, what was unfolding between the Pirate, Magma Hissi, and Faerie Peophin was nothing of my concern, none of my business. What happened to Sunrise didn't affect me in the least. And yet, I couldn't help but to feel as though I should do something.
Sunrise was right, we barely knew each other. Yet, during our two brief encounters, I'd learned enough about her to know that she didn't deserve whatever Carvar planned on doing to keep her from returning to her island. She was brave – a little foolish, perhaps, but brave nonetheless – and caring, her intentions nothing but honorable. She didn't deserve to have her so-called friend of Hissi betray her. She didn't deserve to have her fate determined by whatever Carvar had in store for her.
I'd promised Carvar – I'd promised Belinda – that I wouldn't interfere. But then, I'd never been good at maintaining promises that involved keeping my beak out of trouble.
My decision made, I stood and hurried out of the town and into the fields.
Sunrise was there, sitting under that lonely tree, staring up at the darkening sky, now the same royal shade of blue as her cloak. She looked up, startled, as I approached. I didn't give her the chance to greet me.
"Your friend is deceiving you," I said abruptly, getting straight to the point. "He brought you to Carvar knowing that the Pirate only intended to keep you away from the island so that Balthazar had opportunity to bottle the Faeries there in your absence. Now Carvar wants to keep you away from the island forever so that Balthazar can continue to capture the Faeries."
Sunrise merely stared at me for the longest of moments. I could see the confusion written across her face. Slowly, she rose to her feet. "Viggo... what are you talking about?"
"Carvar never intended to bring you to Balthazar," I tried again. "Balthazar isn't here. Dardyn's bringing you to Carvar, Carvar dragging you along on his errands... it was all a ruse to keep you away from your island, to keep you from helping the Faeries."
Sunrise's cheeks were paling now, I could see even through the falling darkness. "You lie," she said quietly. I could see in her eyes, though, that she could see the truth in my words.
"Ask him," I challenged. "Ask Dardyn. He'll tell you."
"No." She turned abruptly away from me. "I... I need to get back to my island..."
She made to move away. I quickly grabbed her arm, bringing her to a halt.
"I agree, you do need to get back to your island," I said, holding out her cloak to her. "Not yet, though. You'll need a ride..."
"I can fly," Sunrise interjected, raising her chin.
I couldn't help the smile that touched my lips. I had no doubt that she could and would. Still, I shook my head.
"No... if you go back to the island now, they'll know where you went, they'll follow you. Come with me, stay with me for a while. When you don't return immediately to the island, they won't know where you went; they won't be able to follow you. Then you'll have time to think more about how to get Balthazar off of your island, about how to protect the Faeries."
Sunrise hesitated. Finally she nodded, slowly, cautiously, as though she knew she shouldn't trust me as much as she did. "Alright, but I won't stay away long... I can't."
Accepting her cloak, she threw it over her shoulders. I watched her quietly until she'd secured the tie then led her back to the marketplace.
Straight into Carvar's waiting arms.
I didn't see the Pirates as we approached. Had I, I would have gone in a different direction. They stepped out from behind the booths as we stepped into the streets, forming a circle around us from which we had no way to escape. I couldn't help but to notice that the Grarrl knight, along with any other knight that had been present on the streets, had mysteriously vanished.
"Well done, Viggo," Carvar congratulated lightly, stepping out of the circle to join us inside it. "We hadn't an idea where the Faerie ran off to. You did well leading her back to us."
My sharp retort died on my lips as I spotted Belinda standing amongst the Pirates. Pressing my beak shut, I settled for glaring at the Uni.
"What is going on, Dardyn?" Sunrise demanded to know. I'd almost missed the Magma Hissi, lingering behind the circle of Pirates at the side of one of the booths.
"Why, hasn't Viggo told you already?" Carvar inquired, as Dardyn opened his mouth to speak. "Didn't he tell you all about how Dardyn deceived you for a sack of neopoints? Didn't he tell you that right now, Balthazar is ridding your island of those pesky Faeries? Didn't he tell you that you can never return home? Isn't that why you followed him here?"
Sunrise's betrayed look turned from Dardyn to me. I opened my beak to speak, but no words came out. I knew what she thought, that I'd purposely led her into Carvar's clutches. It wasn't a sensible conclusion, but then, there probably wasn't much that made sense to the Peophin at the moment. Though I knew it wasn't true, I didn't try to talk sense into her. I merely gave a helpless shrug.
My quiet apology only deepened the betrayal. At last, I had to look away, unable to bear seeing the hurt in her expression.
"Take her back to the ship," Carvar ordered.
I pressed my eyes shut, unwilling to see the Pirates dragging Sunrise away. I knew that she wouldn't fight. She would want to, but there was no escape for her. She could see that as easily as I could.
Belinda knew as soon as she saw Carvar and his Pirates coming through the marketplace towards her that Viggo had gone back on his promise. It was lucky for the both of them that in that moment, the Meerca chose to place the Blue Draik Egg on his booth. While the other market goers scampered to get out of the way of the Pirates, she tossed a handful of neopoints at the shop keeper, who had himself become distracted, then snatched up the Egg and gone to meet Carvar.
Her assumption of what course of action Viggo would take once she'd heard of his eavesdropping on Carvar's schemes was just that, an assumption. She was quite pleased when this assumption proved itself correct. She hid this pleasure well in the dark scowl and narrowed eyes that she kept trained on the Eyrie, forcing him to hold his tongue.
At last, the Pirates moved off, leaving her, Viggo, and the evening market goers, who peered tentatively out from behind distant booths. Only then did she approach the Eyrie. She made no move to comfort him. She didn't so much as scold him. "Time to go," she said simply, and when he turned his attention to her, she shoved the Blue Draik Egg into his arms.
For the longest moment, Viggo merely stared at the Egg. Then he shoved it into his pocket, turned, and, without a word, headed off towards where they'd left Avresi and the ship.
Shaking her head, Belinda followed. Three Eggs down, two to go, she reflected grimly. With Viggo's petty distraction dealt with, those Eggs would be theirs soon enough.
To be continued...