A Queen's Ascension - War:Part Five
The Haunted Woods were an unpleasant, unwelcoming place; its name preceded its reputation and upheld it. Very few – beyond the foolish, or the brave – ventured into its depths, even into the Deserted Fairground, which had become somewhat of a tourist attraction in recent years, particularly since the death of Hubrid Nox and the chance to visit his castle had become an option. It was not ruled by a monarch, nor any particular system of government, which made its policies hard to predict, and its alliances suspect and rather insubstantial. Above all, it kept to itself in all businesses, and allowed the neighbouring states of the Lost Desert and Faerieland safe passage to one another as long as they abided by this simple rule also.
It was a land consistently plunged into darkness, with only the eerie glows and shrieks of Halloween Neopets for comfort through the otherwise silent and misty trees. Tomos, who prided himself on his bravery, linked his arm through Vyssa’s as they walked, cautiously, neither truly knowing the correct way out of the woods towards Faerieland.
“We’re going to have to ask someone,” Vyssa whispered to him, as the path ahead them forked into two different options of left or right.
“Why are you whispering?” Tomos hissed back.
“I don’t know!” Vyssa murmured. “But you’re doing it too!”
“Can I help you?”
The sound of a voice belonging to neither of the two of them sent Vyssa and Tomos into shrieks of fear and surprise, turning around quickly in shock.
“Sorry! Sorry! I didn’t mean to frighten you.” A purple Bruce with an orange bow stood before them, wearing black robes and a black witch hat. She carried a brrom and a Red Babaa scuttled behind her in its own fear of the loud noise Vyssa and Tomos had made. The Bruce leaned down and patted it gently, whispering comfort.
“Are you a witch?” Vyssa asked nervously. “We don’t want any trouble.”
“Me! A witch,” the Bruce said, sounding pleased at the suggestion. “Oh, I wish. A witch in training, that’s all. My magic isn’t up to much. Don’t worry, you haven’t run into a proper witch like Edna or Sophie.”
Vyssa smiled, relieved. “Oh, thank goodness. We really are getting hopelessly lost in these woods and need some help getting out to Faerieland. I don’t suppose you know the way?”
“Of course. I’ve lived in these woods my whole life, almost.” The Bruce indicated with her broom to go right, and they began to walk together. “I was just heading home myself and I live right on the edge of the woods towards Faerieland, so you’re in luck.”
“Oh thank you!” Vyssa said. She nudged Tomos. “Isn’t this great?”
Tomos nodded slowly, but he was frowning. “Almost too lucky,” he said, “are you sure this isn’t some trick? I was always told these woods were dangerous.”
“Oh, to think you’re frightened of me,” the Bruce laughed. “Do I really look some fearsome? I’m Chimi Magi, by the way.” She nodded her head downwards. “And this is Chimi Mogi.”
“No, you don’t,” Tomos conceded, ignoring the glare that Vyssa was currently shooting him, “but we can’t be too careful. There’s no way of really knowing where you’re going to lead us.”
“True,” Chimi Magi agreed. “You’ll just have to trust me, won’t you? And I’ll have to trust you and hope that you’re not bandits, or thieves pretending to be lost!”
At the mention of thievery, Tomos blushed. “Well, I used to be a thief, but I’m not anymore. I’m Tomos, from the Lost Desert. You may have heard of me.”
Chimi Magi frowned, trying to think. “Nope, I’m sorry, I’m really not aware of anyone that’s ‘hip’ nowadays I’m afraid.”
“I am friends with Queen Nabile? We rescued Qasala and Sakhmet from eternal doom?” Tomos pressed, chastened by her lack of knowledge and his appearance of bragging.
“Oh…Queen Nabile…” Chimi Magi muttered. “Is she that new Queen of Qasala everyone’s been talking about?”
“New? She’s been Queen for years now!” Tomos said, exasperated.
“Sorry, dear, like I said, I really haven’t a clue with what the kids are raving about now. I live alone in these woods and keep to myself.” She smiled apologetically, then turned to look at Vyssa. “And you are? Don’t tell me you’re famous too.”
“Umm…” Vyssa faltered. Part of the point of this trip was to spread awareness about herself and how she committed no wrongdoing intentionally, but there was something nice about being completely unrecognised for once, and not seen with the scorn and disappointment that was so common, particularly now. But perhaps this Chimi Magi spent time with others in the Haunted Woods and could tell the story of how she met Princess Vyssa and Tomos, and how they were lovely and sweet and welcoming, and how clearly the stories that were being told weren’t true when she found out about them.
But she wasn’t Princess Vyssa anymore. Just Vyssa. And she did commit a wrongdoing. One she could never forgive herself for, no matter how much everyone else could.
She was doing this journey to raise armies to support Jazan and free Nabile, not to clear her own name.
“I’m nobody,” she said with a shrug, “I’m Viola.” As she said the name, her old disguise, she tasted the bitterness in her mouth. Tomos looked at her questioningly, but said nothing to contradict her.
Chimi Magi accepted this with a smile, and they walked on in companionable silence.
A few hours later, they arrived at Chimi Magi’s house, a cute, albeit rundown, cottage that boasted a thatch roof and large windows to let what little light in they could. It was surrounded by a well-kept lawn that grew daises and bluebells, and lined with old oak trees that formed a natural gate around the place. The cottage was built from stone, but had been painted white, and stood out against the dark backdrop of the Haunted Woods. It faced towards Faerieland, which could be seen just at the edge of the horizon, only a few miles away. Because it was this close to the border, the sun shone better here and there was also a small breeze that lifted the scent of the flowers and created a homely feel. Although it was perpetually night in the Haunted Woods, the orange glow of the sky here made it clear the sun was setting and they had spent an entire day getting to this point, having set off from their last resting spot on the edge of the woods as the sun rose that morning.
“It’s beautiful,” Vyssa breathed. It was so small – far, far, smaller than even the guest bedrooms at the palace in Sakhmet – but it felt like a perfect getaway from the world, and something which in this moment she envied greatly.
“Thank you,” the Bruce grinned, her cheeks flushing pink from the compliment. “I never invite anyone back here as it doesn’t exactly scream terrifying powerful witch dwelling – far too homely and certainly not in the dark depths of the woods!” She gazed out at the horizon and took in the setting sun, which drew an orange smudge across the sky in a variety of shades. “Did you want to stay the night in order to rest up properly for the journey ahead to Faerieland tomorrow? Not that I have much room, but it feels rude not to ask.”
“That would be lovely,” Vyssa said. “Thank you, you’ve been such a help.”
“Yes, you have,” Tomos agreed. “I’m sorry for not really trusting you earlier – we’ve had bad experiences trusting people who seemed nice enough on the surface.”
Chimi Magi nodded. “It’s fine. Now, come in, and I’ll cook us up a lovely dinner. Before I ran into you I had collected the most perfect ingredients for a stew.”
They entered the ramshackle cottage and Vyssa took everything in at once. It was all on one level – there were no stairs – and she had walked into the living room area straight away, spying a sofa and two armchairs, a rug and bookshelves lining the walls. A cauldron was in one corner also, though it looked as though it hadn’t been used for a while, and next to it was a bad for Chimi Mogi, who instantly hurried over to it and dived down. To the left was a halfway open door that looked like it led to a bathroom, and next to that an open doorway that led to the kitchen, a small but practical space that seemed to be the most used room in the house, as pots and pans were everywhere and there was a general smell about the room that suggested life and good food. To the right was the bedroom, even smaller than the kitchen and managed to just fit a bed and another bookshelf, as well as a desk and chair.
It was the smallest house Vyssa had ever been in but to her she could tell that it had lived more life than the vacant hallways and grand rooms that the Sakhmetian Palace had. It felt like a true home, one she read in old story books of fairytales.
“It’s not much, and I’m not used to guests,” Chimi Magi offered, somewhat apologetically, “but it’s home.”
“It’s perfect.” Vyssa said firmly.
“Now, let me go rustle up that stew,” she said, “and you can grab yourselves some blankets and pillows from that cupboard over there and start making up your bed for the night on the floor in here.”
With that, she left for the kitchen, Chimi Mogi noticing her absence from the room immediately and scurrying up from bed to follow her.
“Are you okay?” Tomos asked. He had noticed how slowly and carefully Vyssa had taken in their surroundings, and was worried about how she had withheld her name. “Why didn’t you tell her who you really are?”
Vyssa bit her lip. “I guess I’m just realising there’s a whole other world out there that is so different to everything we’ve known,” she admitted. “Chimi Magi lives her life here and didn’t even know who you were. I didn’t want to spoil the illusion that she might not know me either.”
“But you used to love the fame and riches and glory that came with being a princess,” Tomos said, surprised.
“I know. I’m surprising myself here,” Vyssa chuckled. After a moment her face fell and she continued in a more serious tone. “I still love that. I still want to be a princess again. A queen again. I think I am struggling with the guilt, the pressure – everything at the moment. So to pretend for a day that I don’t have to worry…it’s nice.”
“I understand,” Tomos said, even though truth be told he didn’t. Vyssa was changing before his very eyes – into someone better, he was sure, but changing very quickly and he didn’t know what this journey would hold for them. “It’ll be okay, Vyssa.” He added, quietly.
“Will it?” She asked him, looking him straight in the eyes.
Tomos didn’t answer, dropping the gaze after a moment or two and leaving an awkward atmosphere hanging in the air.
“Exactly,” she sighed, and then she went into the kitchen to held Chimi Magi with dinner.
To be continued…