A Game of Faerie Chess
"She’s a coward, if you ask me.”
“Illusen is a noble faerie. One of the noblest of us all.”
“Then why is she in Meridell, away from us all, while we rebuild Faerieland after its fall, while we must worry about whatever it is Jhudora is plotting on that cloud of hers?”
“Illusen is wise and brave. Her reasons for moving to Meridell are nothing but good.”
“Then why won’t she share them with us?”
Fyora, in the head seat at the long table, sat back against the chair. Light from the outside poured in through the atrium windows of the chamber, bathing her council in a warm yellow glow. Twelve faeries—two of each kind—were in attendance. It seemed every few years this topic arose. Every time new council members were brought in, new arguments for and against Illusen came up. As usual, Fyora remained silent and listened to her trusted advisors give their opinions—valid they all were. She never gave her opinion, and the other faeries didn’t bother asking for it. One, out of respect for the queen, and two, because they were so preoccupied spewing out their own.
“If we must question Illusen for being in Meridell, why do we not question Taelia for residing in Terror Mountain?” an earth faerie demanded.
“Because Taelia has ice powers?” a dark faerie replied, rolling her eyes. The earth faerie glared at her.
“And the Soup Faerie for being in the Neopian Marketplace?”
“Because it is run by donations from the Money Tree!” a light faerie cried. “It only makes sense to be near it!”
Fyora looked at the clock floating near the wall opposite her. They’d been arguing about Illusen for nearly two hours.
“My good faeries,” Fyora finally spoke. Instantly the banter quieted to nothing. “Please, let us break now from this discussion. I have another meeting quite soon. But do know that I appreciate all your concerns and take everything you say into deep consideration.” She stood from her seat, and the rest of the faeries followed suit. “Good day to you all. And please, rest. You have been agitated for a long time.”
Fyora left the room through the tall double doors. With her excellent faerie hearing, she heard the faeries continue to argue in hushed tones, most likely thinking that the queen was out of earshot.
Fyora’s purple cloak trailed behind her as she walked quickly to her chambers in the castle. There, she went to the mirror above her vanity. “Illusen,” she said.
Her reflection began smoking up, swirling in a cloud of purple and gray, and when it cleared, there was Illusen, her bright green eyes staring back at the queen.
“Your Majesty,” Illusen said with a hint of irritation.
“Good afternoon, friend.”
“What is it I can help you with?”
“Why must you always expect that I need something from you?”
“Because you always do?”
“Well, as a matter of fact, I’ve just called to tell you I will be late to our meeting. I have to make a stop before I visit.”
Illusen lowered her head in a half-sincere bow. “Whatever suits your needs, Your Majesty.”
“Thank you,” Fyora said. “And please, I told you to call me Fyora.”
“Okay, Your Majesty,” Illusen said and then walked out of view of the mirror.
Fyora sighed, shaking her head, and swept her hand over the mirror, revealing once again her own reflection. She stared at herself for a moment, wondering how she had managed to be queen of Faerieland for so long. It was taxing. Sometimes she wished she could be one of those frivolous faeries who flew around the meadows of Faerieland with no cares except where their next adventure would be.
But dwelling on what could have been and what should have been would only tax her mind even more. She grabbed her magenta traveling cloak, combed out her purple hair with her fingers, and transported herself to Krawk Island.
It was always strange to find that the citizens of Krawk Island had no interest in the Faerie Queen meandering down the ship harbor. They glanced at her once, and then continued on their way, as if she was an ordinary visitor and nothing else. Fyora had tolerance at most for pirates, but at least they always seemed to mind their own business.
The salty air nipped at her face—so different than the fresh foresty air of Faerieland. She made her way past the dark cove, which everyone knew belonged to the Smugglers. She disapproved of the way the Governor of Krawk Island turned his eye on such lowlife business, but she wouldn’t dare voice her judgment—she herself had Jhudora living on a cloud right outside the Faerie City.
Past the Smuggler’s Cove, Fyora found herself on the deserted shore, where calm waves washed up and back across the sand. A crashed dinghy floated near a jagged rock, its Jolly Roger flag torn.
Fyora walked across the shore to a small hidden cave—a cave only in existence to those who knew it was there. It was inside that she found Baelia the Grey Faerie.
Baelia lay on her stomach in the sand—made cold by the shadows of the cave. Her face, pale from lack of sunlight, turned slightly to address her visitor. When she saw it was her queen, she returned back to her resting position. Fyora noticed Baelia’s clipped wings were now wilted as ever, dead as a flower in the winter.
“Hello, Baelia,” the Queen said quietly. It was best to be calm around Baelia. No sudden movements. No loud noises.
“Is Tavi okay?” Baelia’s voice dragged and was hoarse, as if it was long out of practice.
Fyora nodded even though the Grey Faerie was not looking. “Yes.” She had promised many things to Baelia, but the only one she managed to keep was giving Tavi—the Grey Faerie’s rescuer from The Darkest Faerie—a prosperous, comfortable life in Shenkuu.
“How did you find me?” Baelia asked without moving.
“I always know where you are.”
“Please, Baelia, sit up for me.”
The Grey Faerie did so, but avoided the Queen’s gaze.
“I am going to visit Illusen today,” Fyora said.
Now Baelia looked at the Queen.
“There has been much frustration in the court over Illusen’s intentions.” Fyora hesitated before asking her next question. “Have you…done what I asked?”
Fyora suppressed her sigh. “But you have talked to Illusen?”
“I said I did.”
“What did she say?”
“She said for my own sake she couldn’t tell me.”
Fyora sat down on a rock beside Baelia and rested her hand on her forehead. Normally she would not dare so such weakness in front of one her subjects, but Baelia was at rock bottom herself, and she probably couldn’t care less about the Queen’s problems.
Baelia was the key to the fall of Jhudora. According to Illusen, years and years ago she had seen Jhudora clip the wings of Grey Faerie—who had once been a light faerie—and give her to Jennumara, the Darkest Faerie. Baelia, who had apparently been unconscious at the time, did not remember any of this. All she knew was one day she woke up in a hidden cave in Terror Mountain, surrounded by shadows—the followers of The Darkest Faerie.
But it was only Illusen’s word that claimed any of it happened. Of course, Jhudora and Jennumara would never say a word about it, and Baelia had no memory of the tragedy. She would still be stuck in that cage—or worse, enveloped in one of Jennumara’s plans—if Tavi the kyrii hadn’t rescued her.
Fyora had asked Baelia to ask Illusen what she, Illusen, had been doing when she witnessed Baelia’s capture. Fyora had an inkling that Illusen hadn’t told the entire story, and that the missing piece was what would seal the case against Jhudora. That missing piece was the why. Why had Illusen been in the dark corridors of the ice caves that day when she’d seen Jhudora ruin Baelia’s life? Why, when Illusen despised the cold? If she had business up in Terror Mountain, then it was important. Very important. But she wouldn’t tell anyone what it was.
Fyora had hoped Baelia could find out. Yes, she was using the poor Grey Faerie as a pawn in this spy game, in this wretched game of chess where there were more than two players, and she wasn’t even sure who the players were.
She had hoped Baelia would give her an answer so that when she went to visit Illusen today, she would have the upper hand.
“I’m sorry,” Baelia said, sinking back down to her stomach. She rested her head on her crossed arms and closed her eyes. “Now if you don’t mind, I’d like to be left alone.”
Fyora stood up, knowing there was nothing more the Grey Faerie could give her. She took a few steps toward the cave exit, and then turned back. “Why do you stay here in this cave, Baelia?”
“The pirates leave me be.” There was a pause. “And sometimes,” Baelia continued, “I find cool objects, like maractite coins and buried treasure, and I put them out so neopets can find them.” Her voice dwindled to a whisper. “It’s like giving them gifts, like the other faeries do.”
Fyora stood where she was, letting the pity she felt for the faerie wash over her.
One day, she would fulfill the promises she made to the Grey Faerie. She would give her the homecoming she deserved. She would be redeemed.
But for now, Fyora could only walk away from the faerie without another word. —
Illusen watched as the Faerie Queen approached her glade. She knew what this was about. The Grey Faerie had told her. It wasn’t hard to get the Grey Faerie to fess up that she was there by order of the queen. It was a shame that Illusen had to use Baelia’s weak emotions against her, but it was all in the name of protecting herself. And Baelia.
Fyora was here to find out the truth. The truth of that fateful day on Terror Mountain all those years ago.
But she would not have it.
It was the reason Illusen had wiped all of Baelia’s memories—of that day, and of every day before. She had given Baelia new memories of a different life. A happy life. One where Baelia had not helped conspire with Illusen. In her new memories, Baelia was an ordinary faerie, one with no ties to Illusen or Jhudora or Jennumara. In her new memories, Baelia was exactly as Fyora and the other faeries thought she was all along—innocent.
The Faerie Queen now opened the glade fence and greeted Illusen with a smile and a hug.
“Illusen, dear,” Fyora said. “How are you?”
“I’m fantastic,” Illusen said, leading the Queen into her house. She poured them both a cup of tea and they sat down at the table.
“I held council today,” Fyora said. “The faeries are upset with you again.”
“Every two years, is it?” Illusen said, taking a sip of her tea. “The same arguments, the same accusations.”
“They want Jhudora put away.”
“They always want Jhudora put away.”
“It’s reaching a tipping point. Soon enough, just arguing won’t satisfy them anymore.”
“So what do you want from me?” Illusen said, knowing exactly what the queen wanted. “I’ve told you all I know. I’ve given my testimony.”
“Illusen,” the queen said, “you and Jhudora have a long, long, long history. She has hurt you, cursed you, hated you. Isn’t it time we ended this? Once and for all, let us put Jhudora away?”
“We have nothing on her,” Illusen said. “We cannot put her away legally. She uses her spies and cronies well. She lets them do the dirty work and she is only as guilty as any other dark faerie—mischievous, bad-tempered, nothing to justify locking her away.”
Fyora pushed her cup aside and leaned forward. “Illusen. I beg of you. Tell me. We have something on her. You have something on her. Tell me the truth, and we can end this before we have another war on our hands. Our land cannot withstand another. Not a civil war. Not any war.”
“We have lived in equilibrium for years and years,” Illusen said, her voice hardening. “Any civil war that will happen will only happen if you declare it. And who will you declare it on? Jhudora, who has the Darkest Faerie on her side?” She tilted her chin up a notch. “Perhaps me?”
“How dare you suggest a thing?”
Illusen leaned forward, matching the stance of her queen. “You have sent Baelia to spy on me. You do not trust me as you say you do.”
“You tell your court of faeries that I am here in Meridell to prevent a civil war. If I move back to Faerieland, Jhudora will not have it. Then you will have a real war on your hands. Your subjects will have to choose sides. You will have to choose sides. Faeries will fight each other and they will die. You tell your court that Faerieland is in peace, and should be kept so. Tell them to let it rest—this tension between me and Jhudora. It does not concern them.”
“It does,” Fyora said, standing. “Jhudora frightens my subjects, frightens visitors from abroad. That she has sent you running to Meridell scares them.”
“I have not come running to Meridell. I chose to live here. I chose to live away from Faerieland, and not because of Jhudora.”
“My people do not believe it.”
“So be it.”
“Tell me the truth.”
Illusen stood. “I cannot.” She gestured toward the door. “Now please. I have work to do.”
Fyora sighed and stared at her old friend. This was a battle that could not be won. She started toward the door.
“Send my regards to your court,” Illusen said. “Tell them not to worry about such little things.”
Fyora looked back at the earth faerie. “At least tell me why you cannot tell the whole story?”
Illusen hesitated, tapping her finger on the door she was itching to close. Finally, she said, “If I tell the whole story, I condemn not only Jhudora, but also myself.”
Fyora did not say anything, only stood outside the doorway, absorbing this information.
“I am not a dark faerie,” Illusen said. “But I am not a light faerie either.” She frowned. “Farewell, Your Majesty.” And she closed the door.