Giving Day at Black Keep:Part Four
The next morning dawned grey and snowy once more. Kass was glad the stone walls of Black Keep were so thick and sturdy. Snow was pleasant to look at, but miserable when one actually had to deal with it.
He was grateful for the Neopets who worked hard to clear the snow around Black Keep after a day like this, but he thought he should also hire a pyromancer or two, for the sake of convenience. Market Town tended to be a bit short on magic users, as they mostly clustered around Brightvale with its illustrious magic department at the university, but after the holidays Kass would put the word out and see if there were any takers.
He mused about all of this over breakfast—leftovers from last night, naturally. House Anfel seemed to be in a more agreeable mood, although Elyria and Rondas and their children were nowhere to be seen. Belven was inseparable from Connor, who could talk a mile a minute when it came to his subject of study, and Crom, Isengrim, and Hyren continued to try to one-up each other.
And then it was time for the tour. Kass decided to start from the bottom up. He took Celice, her mother, and their friends to the grand entry hall on the ground floor, and as they ascended one story at a time, he explained to them what each level was used for, the history he and his staff had uncovered while renovating, and how they had spruced up the place and made it livable again.
There were entire stories dedicated to parlors and sitting rooms, and Kass showed them how a team of experts had restored the thousand-year-old instruments left mouldering there into playable condition, lacing them with spells to halt and reverse their decomposition. Kass was quite good at the psaltery, as his claws let him pluck the strings with precision and ease, and he played them a few Giving Day carols on one of the beautiful antique instruments.
On other levels, he showed them the incredible workmanship of the original builders of the Keep, from the wrought iron on the windows to the shaping of the stonework. The Black Knight had hired Draconian architect-mages to design the Keep, something Kass was quite proud of. It had made him like Black Keep since the moment he’d laid eyes on it, and he wanted to protect the ancient edifice and make it into the stately home and administrative centre that it deserved to be. That was why he and Lord Darigan had enlisted more Draconian architects to help with restorations, and their influence showed throughout.
And so the fortress as a whole reminded Kass a good deal of his Citadel home. He found Market Town generally pleasant, but Black Keep was much more in tune with his aesthetic senses. He enjoyed being the dark lord in his mysterious tower, kindly watching over the town below him.
As the lift took them ever higher, Kass let them out into a high-ceilinged room that took up the entirety of that story, as well as probably one or two storiesworth of room vertically. Minevra, who had not complained of sore feet or being cold once during the tour, gasped. "My, what an exquisite ballroom!" she said. "Do you host balls often?"
"Thank you," Kass said. He shifted his weight uneasily. "Well, not all too often," he admitted. "It’s not really my thing," he added under his breath. "But I do understand the social value of a good ball, so it is handy to have a ballroom available."
"I always have fun going to the Chocolate Ball with you each year," Terra said to Isengrim.
The Werelupe gave his owner a one-armed hug. "Me too," he said. "I think I have become quite adept by now at not making a fool of myself… and staying as far away from Illusen as possible. She says she forgives me, but there is a strange glint in her eye whenever she looks at me that I do not entirely trust."
Kass chuckled. "Ah, faeries and their infamous pettiness," he said. "Perhaps I’ll go to the Chocolate Ball one of these days. I did receive an invitation this year, but I was more concerned with duties in town."
"We’d love to see you there," Terra said.
Pharazon, meanwhile, had wandered out toward the middle of the room, looking up and around pensively. Finally he glanced over his shoulder at Kass. "This is the last place I saw them," the Draik said.
Kass’s feathers ruffled as shivers ran down his spine. He knew who Pharazon was talking about. The Draconian strode toward his faerie-coloured friend so their conversation could be a little more private. "The Three?" he asked.
Pharazon nodded. "They—they told me they’d defeated you. I didn’t want to believe them. How did you escape them, by the way?"
The lord mayor smiled grimly. "I wouldn’t let them take me again. I resisted all of their attempts to sway me back to their way of thinking. When they realised I wasn’t going to cave, they went after you instead, and I haven’t seen them since." He looked down at his paws. "My time of trial is over… I hope."
"I think it is," Pharazon said. "You’ve proven yourself. We both have. We won’t listen to them anymore and they know it."
Thankfully, Celice had distracted the others by talking about the renovation of the room and how most of the marble was obtained from a certain quarry in Altador, and they resumed their tour without any further questions.
When they reached the residential stories, Kass stepped into a parlor and found Elyria’s family engaged in a heated Cheat! match. The children shouted wildly, as they seemed to find accusing each other of cheating the most fun part of the game, while their mother and father sat back and watched in amusement.
Then they noticed the tour group and Elyria shushed her children. "Apologies for all the noise, your lordship," she said. "I hope we haven’t been disturbing anyone."
"Not at all," Kass said with a smile. "It’s good to see your family having fun. And these walls are so thick that I couldn’t hear a thing." He wrapped his knuckles against the black stone. It was probably also enchanted with a deafening spell for security purposes, which was nice. Those architect-mages really had thought of everything.
"Daddy taught us how to play Cheat! this morning, Lord Kass!" the Gelert said, holding up his cards. "And last night we played Meristones, and then Armada, and then I fell asleep ‘cause my tummy ached!"
Elyria caught sight of her mother and sister, and for a moment her dark eyes widened. Then she let out a sigh. "Celly, I’m sorry," she said. "I was being pretty awful yesterday. I hope I haven’t botched things too badly."
"I forgive you," Celice said. "I’m just glad you seem to be doing better now. Is there anything I can do for you? You are my sister, after all."
The Blumaroo smiled. "No, but thank you. Lord Kass’s hospitality is enough."
"Do make yourselves at home," Kass said, and he meant it.
At the very top of the tower was the residence of the lord of the keep—once the Black Knight, now Kass himself. Kass had to say that he could not dream of a better home. His quarters took up several stories and were nearly a manor unto themselves, perched on top of the rest of the fortress.
To end the tour, he took his guests to his favourite room, a sitting room with a large window that looked out over the sea. Kass took a deep breath as he watched the heavy blanket of clouds above. Being up so high like this reminded him of the Citadel. It felt natural to him. He supposed it was also because he was an Eyrie, and they tended to like high places.
Pharazon grew pensive again as he approached the window and ran his hand along the arm of one of the sofas. "Kass?" he called quietly.
"Yes, my friend?" Kass asked, moving to stand by the Draik’s side. Once again, Celice artfully distracted everyone by talking about the many old manuscripts the renovation team had found here, containing priceless history from the ancient Meridell region.
"Did you know that this was the room where I met him?" Pharazon asked.
Kass glanced over his shoulder, as though he expected the ghost of the Black Knight to appear right then. "I didn’t," he said. "You performed a great service for him that day, Pharazon." The Eyrie folded his paws behind his back and stared out at the sea. "I only hope he would be proud of what I have done with his keep."
"I think he is," Pharazon said.
Kass smiled down at him. "I have a good life," the lord mayor said. After everything he had been through, he appreciated the value of what he had been given all the more. It was funny how second chances could do that to a Neopet.
They enjoyed the peace of the moment for a little while longer, until Blynn decided to draw funny faces on the window with condensation from her breath. Then Kass decided it was time to return downstairs for lunch.
The next few days went much smoother. House Anfel were far less troublesome guests than before, and they seemed to be having a good time as Celice and Kass showed them around Market Town—Minevra and Elyria were especially interested in shopping. Kass’s other guests enjoyed themselves as well, and there were many more pleasant meals eaten with friends and good memories made.
But one crisp cold morning, it finally came to a close. Eyrie cabs waited on the landing platform as servants hauled luggage, and everyone had a lot of goodbyes to say.
"Are you sure you can’t stay any longer?" Kass asked Celice.
The Lupe shook her head. "Master Seradar has requested my help back at the university with a new research project. But I’ll visit again once I’m done! The Keep is a marvelous place to write papers."
Kass grinned. By that she meant that when she was tired of writing, the two of them enjoyed beachcombing or exploring Market Town or a good bout of reading. "Wonderful," he said.
"And I should return to the Burrows," Isengrim said. "I would hate to overstay my welcome. But I think this has been a most productive visit, politically speaking." He extended a paw to the Eyrie. "I like you, Lord Kass. Know that you have the alliance of the Werelupe Woods."
"Thank you, sire," Kass said, clasping the king’s paw firmly. "I am greatly honoured." He paused. "Do you mean to say that you only form alliances with people you like?"
"Of course," Isengrim said with a smirk.
"And we’re going with him for now," Pharazon said. "We always spend quite a bit of time at the Burrows when we visit."
Terra put her hands on her hips. "Well, what’s the point of visiting if you only stay for a little bit?"
"That’s why it’s called visiting," Hyren said dryly. He shrugged. "But I can’t complain. Apparently Isengrim’s added some new weapons to his hoard and I want to check them out."
Minevra took her daughter’s paw. "And I suppose this is where we part ways, dearest," the Techo said. "It was ever so nice seeing you again. And I mean it."
"Thank you, Mother," Celice said. "Same to you."
"Goodbye, Aunt Celly!" the Tuskaninny niece said as she and her siblings positively tackled the sorceress. "We love you!"
"Love you too," Celice said with a chuckle as she patted their heads. Her sister leaned in for a hug and Celice hugged her back.
Belven put a hand on her shoulder. "I’ll see you at the university, Cel!" he said. "And young Connor, thank you most kindly for your dissertations on your studies!"
"Thanks for listenin’!" Connor said with a grin. "I’ll send you a Weewoo if I make any more new discoveries!"
"Splendid!" Belven said. "I look forward to it, and I shall be sure to put in a good word for the advancement of chemistry in Brightvalian science!"
As Crom bid his farewells to Hyren and Isengrim, something caught Minevra’s eye, past Kass. "Excuse me!" she said to someone behind him. "You there!"
Kass turned to see Annelita helping to carry some smaller bags. When she saw Minevra calling to her, the Acara froze and cringed.
The Eyrie’s smile faded as he recalled unpleasant memories. "She has a name," Kass said. "What business do you have with Miss Annelita?" After all of the happy times they’d experienced, he hated to think that Minevra could still show any trace of her old attitude.
"Ah—I’m sorry," Minevra said. "I didn’t mean to frighten you, er, Annelita." The woman strode toward the servant and reached into her cloak. "But I’ve been meaning to apologise to you, and now that I’ve finally found you, I want you to have this." She pulled out a box tied with a fancy ribbon and handed it to the confused girl.
Kass raised an eyebrow and tilted his head. He hadn’t seen this coming. "What is it?" he asked.
"She’ll find out if she opens it," Minevra said with a smile.
Annelita looked up at the lord mayor and he nodded, although he hovered close by just in case this was some sort of mean trick. The Acara carefully removed the ribbon and opened the box, and let out an audible gasp. Inside was a plush velvet coat coloured a rich burgundy, lined with fur and fitted with shiny brass buttons.
She looked up at Minevra, eyes full of tears. "But how—" the girl said. "This is exactly the one I’ve been looking at in the shop—"
The matriarch of House Anfel glanced over at her daughter. "Celice told me which one you’d been talking about," Minevra said. "I had to do something to make up for how rudely I treated you the other evening. Please accept this token of my apologies."
Annelita hugged the coat to herself, dropping the box in the snow. "Oh, thank you, milady!" she said. "Thank you ever so much! I don’t know what to say!"
Minevra looked about ready to cry herself. "Happy Giving Day," she said.
"Happy Giving Day!" Annelita replied.
Celice leaned an elbow on Kass’s arm. "It was entirely Mother’s idea," the Lupe said, "when we were shopping the other day. Thank you for your help, Kass. I think this entire experience has been a turning point for my family."
"I’m glad," Kass said. "It seems my inviting you all to spend the holiday at the Keep worked out for the best, after all."
"I think so," Celice said. She paused, and then her tail began to wag. "Does this mean we’re invited next year, as well?"
"Oh, of course," Kass said. "I wouldn’t have it any other way. Giving Day is for spending time with the ones you care about. And I have enjoyed my Giving Day with my friends and their families."
Celice smiled. "Good. You know, this hasn’t been the most hassle-free Giving Day I’ve ever had… but I’d certainly rank it as the best. A lot of good happened."
"It’s definitely been my favourite Giving Day so far," Kass said. As he looked up at the snowy sky, he felt that the Black Knight really would be proud of the new Lord of Black Keep.