The Princess's Comb
"Stand up straight! Do not hunch over and pull up your chin, Princess!" Impa growled.
Vyssa tried to follow her commands, but the thick chain of orders skewered her thoughts and she tripped over her own feet, instead.
"Come on, Vyssa," Amira sighed. The Aisha stood tall over her fallen sister, stirring the drink in her hand.
Vyssa fumbled to her feet. Her cheeks were burning red with embarrassment. "Just leave me alone, you two. I was fine before you started shouting at me, Impa!"
Impa tapped her foot impatiently. The Tonu was in charge of grooming the two girls into Sakhmet's finest rulers, and put it upon herself to pick at any imperfections they were displaying. With Vyssa, that was almost anything.
"Fine? Is that what you call standing like a bumbling fool? This is a royal assembly with very important people. Do you want to embarrass your father?"
The young Usul huffed. "Of course not! Let me be, Impa, please. I can charm people as well as sister can, just you wait!"
Amira smirked, taking it as a challenge. "We'll see about that. Come on, Vyssa. Lady Edrine was meaning to find us earlier, so now is a perfect timer as ever."
Vyssa pursed her lips. Remembering Lady Edrine, she hadn't liked her much. She was an old friend of their late mother and had a habit of addressing everyone as darling and hugging too tight, for much too long. Even with the dissatisfaction in her mind, Vyssa silently followed after her elder sister. She wouldn't let petty annoyances stop her, she told herself.
The girls walked through the hall, which was very daintily decorated for the event. Gold drapes wrapped around stone pillars and bouquets of desert lilies scattered around. They passed by all sorts of tight-knit groups; tall men and women circling around dressed in elegant attire, catching up on small talk with one another. Amira led Vyssa into one such crowd- Vyssa recognized the statured, purple Ixi in the middle as Lady Edrine.
"Ah, Darlings!" Lady Edrine cooed when she saw the two. She rushed to Amira, replacing her dreaded hugs with quick pecks on both cheeks. "Amira, you're even more beautiful than when I last saw you!"
She turned to Vyssa with a wide smile. "Darling, look at you, you are just adorable!" She proceeded to in lock Vyssa in an embrace. "Though I think you've gotten just a tad bigger."
Lady Edrine emphasized the last word, crunching her face when she said it, like it was some sort of sickness. Vyssa frowned. Lady Edrine also had a bad habit of favoring Amira over her. Everyone did.
Amira laughed. "Yes, she has, hasn't she? I'll make sure to watch over Vyssa, so she doesn't snatch all those sand doughnuts when no one is looking."
"That's ridiculous!" Vyssa puffed. "I don't do anything like that! You're the one always stuffing your face, Amira, like some sort of pig!"
Lady Edrine and all her elegantly dressed friends began murmuring. "You shouldn't be making such outbursts, darling," Lady Edrine frowned. "It's very unbecoming."
"Me?" Vyssa breathed. "You were the one that was saying I'd gotten bigger, like I was some idiot that wouldn't understand!"
"Vyssa, stop, or you'll really make a fuss," Amira said, resting her hand on her sister's shoulder.
"Now that is refreshing," Lady Edrine sighed. "You should really follow your sister's example, darling."
Vyssa screamed. "You people are ridiculous!"
She stomped off from Amira and Lady Edrine, who was shaking her head in disapproval. "That girl, darling, you should really teach her."
Amira stayed silent. She turned to Lady Edrine, with a plastered smile on her face. "Yes, I should, shouldn't I, Lady Edrine?"
"And then Impa let me have it!"
Vyssa fell onto Amira's bed, digging her face into the pillows. Amira didn't turn; she kept pressed to the mirror carefully brushing her hair strand by strand, using a beautiful, jewelled comb.
"She kept saying how unacceptable my behaviour was, but she should have been there! That lady is so rude!" Vyssa whined.
Amira rolled her eyes, finally facing her sister. "Even so, Vyssa, you can't stomp off like that. Lady Edrine kept on saying how untamed you were. It brings bad light to Father."
Vyssa stood up. "I was untamed? That woman, she- she-"
She couldn't find the words and instead huffed, falling back into the warmth of the bed.
The Aisha sighed, carefully placing the comb atop her dresser. "You really are just a child, Vyssa. You are always telling me how charming or mature you can be, but you never do a thing. I'm not impressed, and neither is Impa or anyone, frankly."
"That's so easy for you to say!" Vyssa spat. "Everyone is so swept with you! They can't stop talking about how perfect you are or how beautiful you are. All they do is praise you while no one can stop finding flaws with me!"
"Well, it's not that hard," Amira said. "You're unruly, unmannerly and your temper is out of control. No can even make a joke without you blowing your fuse. You really are unbecoming."
Amira hissed the word, imitating the way Lady Edrine had said it to Vyssa earlier.
Vyssa narrowed her eyes, her anger beginning to bubble. "Oh, you say that, Amira, but if only anyone could see how you really are! You are the most selfish, conceited person I've ever met. You only care for yourself."
"Oh please, Vyssa." Amira got up from her seat. "You're just jealous, you've always been. When someone likes me, you begin nagging, when father brings me a gift, you start complaining. It's no wonder why someone would prefer me over you- hardly anyone can even stand your company!"
As Amira's loud voice faded against her bedroom walls, the room went silent. Vyssa's mouth was beginning to tremble, but instead, she bit down on her lip, fighting back swells of water beginning to form. Amira hesitantly turned away. Without another word to her, Vyssa left the room, walking down into the shadows of the hall.
The next morning was quiet. Vyssa sat silently at the breakfast table, plating delectable fruits and cakes before her. Her father was not present, probably away discussing matters unbeknown to her and Amira had yet to show up for her meal. So Vyssa was alone, only accompanied by a chef waiting on her.
Suddenly, the doors slammed wide, an infuriated Amira walking through. "You!" She pointed at Vyssa. "Give it back, now!"
Vyssa stared up, her mouth still stuffed. "What?" she asked, but the word came out mumbled through all the food.
"I won't even fall for your act," Amira slammed her hands on the table, rattling the plates and silverware. "How dare you touch it! You know Father gave me that as a gift and you think you can just go and take it?"
Vyssa put down her fork, wrinkling her face. "Just what are you talking about, Amira?"
"My comb," the Aisha sneered, "as if you didn't know that already! You took it from me and I know it! It's so typical of you, Vyssa, always after things I have. Give it back or you don't even want to know what I'm going to do you."
The wary chef standing alongside Vyssa became panicked. "Please, princesses, maybe we can settle this in a calmer fashion?"
"You have some nerve coming in here and accusing me like you know I took it," Vyssa said.
"What makes you think that I would steal your stupid comb?"
"Stupid?" Amira gasped, taken aback. "That comb is priceless. It's an artifact that Father brought especially for me and you stole it! You are the only one that knows where I hide it."
"That doesn't mean a thing. I don't even remember where your hiding spot is," Vyssa said.
"So it's just a coincidence that the same night you stomp off angry at me, my comb goes missing? There are guards everywhere; the only one that would be allowed in my room would be you!"
"You're crazy, Amira!" Vyssa shouted. "I didn't take it. You better leave me alone or I'm telling father!"
"You're going to tell on me?" Amira scoffed. "Wait till I tell Father what you did, Vyssa."
"Just what is going on here?" a loud voice boomed.
The pair of girls went silent as they turned to the three figures at the door. The chef, a quivering white Flotsam, was standing behind a guard, clad in armour, but could be made out as a green Skeith. At the head of the two was a brightly dress, regal Lupe. King Coltzan.
Amira and Vyssa eyes widened at their father. "What is this about Garbanzo telling me you two are fighting each other?"
The room was still for a moment. Finally, Amira spoke up. "Father, my comb has gone missing and I'm convinced that Vyssa is the culprit."
Vyssa tried to speak, but was quickly cut off by Coltzan. "Now why would you think such a thing?"
"Well," Amira started off, "for one thing, I keep my comb hidden in the third drawer of my second cabinet wrapped in a brown robe, hid under all the clothes. I've ever only told Vyssa this. She was angry last night, she even stormed off, which is not surprising, so that's why she did it. Besides all that, the only way to get into my room is through the door, always watched over by a guard. Vyssa would be about the only person allowed through at night."
Coltzan thought for a moment, before turning to Vyssa. "Vyssa, tell me honestly, did you take your sister's comb?"
Vyssa's mouth widened. "What? No!" she cried. "I can't believe you think I would take it!"
She felt her emotions flooding in. Why did everyone think she was a thief? Why did everyone believe Amira and not her? Vyssa was annoyed, she knew, but she was also hurt.
"I-I need to take a break," Vyssa breathed, walking through the door.
"Vyssa, come back here!" Coltzan shouted, but still the young Usul continued.
She could hear Amira faintly making a comment, but she ignored it and no one made an attempt to come after her. She walked through the halls, up the stairs. Vyssa made her way through half the castle, at least, trying as hard as she could to greet those who walked by jubilantly. Even if she was angry at her father and infuriated with Amira, she wanted to be pleasant to her people.
At last, she had calmed down and Vyssa thought she should turn back now. Making her way down the nearest flight of stairs, something caught her attention. A nearby door was ajar. She found that strange, all the rooms in this part of the wing should be closed as they belonged to castle workers and they were out and about. Vyssa silently walked to the door, trying to figure out what was going on.
"This is it, isn't it?"
Vyssa froze. There was someone inside there; she quickly tried to retreat before anyone could see she was there.
"Well, it fits Malkus's description perfectly and it looks real valuable, too. Who knew?"
Vyssa couldn't help but overhear a second voice echoing from the room. At this point, she knew that something suspicious was going on. She crept up to the door once again, and carefully peeked in. Standing in the middle of the well lit room were two identical Meercas, she thought they must be servants by their attire. Vyssa caught sight of something glistening in their hands and she realized they weren't workers in the castle. They were thieves. They were thieves and they had Amira's comb.
"Malkus was supposed to meet us here, wasn't he?" one said, with a scratchy voice.
The other nodded in agreement. "Right after he's done with the King."
She ducked away. Her heart was pounding. There must be traitors in the castle. She quickly looked down the hall, but no one was in sight. Ideas began rushing through her head. She needed a plan or these two would escape with Amira's comb. Malkus, that's what they had said. Vyssa decided she could use that name to her advantage and the Meerca's seemingly dim minds.
Quickly, Vyssa took her crown, hiding it under her robes and ripped cloth from underneath her dress messily wrapping it around her head to cover her ears. She breathed heavily; still shaking, she entered the room. She made sure to not walk deep in, so she could make a quick escape if needed. The Meercas turned to the pitter-patter of her light feet. They looked just the same, but one was wearing thick rimmed goggles. They must be brothers, she thought.
Before the Meercas could speak, she cleared her throat. "I trust you two are the Meerca Brothers Malkus was talking of?"
The two exchanged quick glances with each other. "What of it? And who are you?"
She silently smiled to herself. They didn't recognize her. "I can't disclose any information about myself, but Malkus has run into some trouble. Due to the King's suspicions he's decided it's too risky to meet you two here."
The Meerca with the goggles narrowed his eyes at her. "We're expected to believe you?"
"Of course you are, I'm one of Malkus's most trusted advisors," she replied, nonchalantly.
The other Meerca spoke up. "Why haven't we ever heard of you, then?"
Vyssa tried her best to muster a taken aback expression. "You haven't?" She shook her head. "I'll have a word with him, but I suppose it's only a precaution. It's important that information only be given if need be, in the case that anything goes wrong."
The brothers agreed, forgetting that they had left the door open for anyone to hear their conversation. "So what does Malkus say we should do?"
"He's decided to change the meeting spot. Meet him at the Fruit Stand 500 paces away from the castle an hour from now. Dress in black robes and bring the comb."
With their agreement ringing in her ears, Vyssa skipped away from the room. As soon she was out of eye-sight, she ran as fast as could, ready to convince her father of the plan.
"You are ridiculous!" Amira snapped.
"I swear it's true, Father. I really think they're going to show up there!"
Vyssa and Amira were standing in Coltzan's throne room. Their father was sitting upon his seat, accompanied by the guard from before.
Coltzan pondered. "Maybe it is true, the tale of two Meerca thieves, Heermeedjet and Meerouladen."
"I wouldn't think they would be this stupid! How could anyone fall for this?" Amira groaned.
Coltzan shook his head. "It could be less stupidity and more fear of defying this Malkus character's orders. If they think Malkus is really telling them to do this, they're probably inclined to follow."
The guard spoke up. "So what is our course of action, your Majesty?"
"To the meeting place, Sulmak; acquire two guards dressed in peasant attire. We're going to catch them, this time."
Sulmak nodded, and dismissed himself.
"Let's go, Amira!" Vyssa tugged at her sister.
"Where do you think you are going?" Coltzan stood up. "You and Amira are staying here."
Vyssa's face fell. "But why, Father?"
The Lupe shook his head. "This could be dangerous and there is no need for you two, to be out of there. You did a brave thing, Vyssa, but never do something like that again. If anything went wrong, you could have been in serious trouble. So, Amira and Vyssa you are not to leave the castle, understood?"
"It's not like we're safe here, anyways," Amira said. "If what Vyssa said is true, there's a traitor among us."
Coltzan bowed his head. "Yes, and that worries me the most. Even so, it'll be better than out there. We may have to cause a ruckus and I don't want your girl there. You can take this time to apologize to one another."
King Coltzan left the room, following after Sulmak, leaving the two girls in silence.
Amira was the first to speak, "Father is right, what you did really was brave. Even if they don't get the comb back, I really am grateful for what you did."
Vyssa blushed. "Thanks, Amira. I can't believe I did it, myself."
"I should have never said those things to you," Amira whispered. "You aren't unmannerly or anything, you're brave and quick-witted. I could have never done what you did, because I care too much about what'll happen to me. And Vyssa, I really do love your company."
Vyssa couldn't help but smile as she hugged her sister tightly, begrudgingly reminding her of the way Lady Edrine would have done so.
Right in front of the fruit stand, the sun beat hot. Heermeedjet found himself wiping sweat from his face every few moments, and the heavy black robe on his back didn't help matters. Meerouladen was less concerned about the weather; he was more wary of the moments passing and the absence of Malkus, who was hardly, if ever, late.
After minutes passed, Meerouladen spoke up. "I think it's time to go, Heermeedjet. Any longer and people around here might start to wonder."
But he lost his brother's attention to something else, as Heermeedjet caught sight of someone. "No, look! It's Malkus, he finally showed up."
Meerouladen turned his head. "Ah, he has. Though, why is he dressed like that? He knows that dressing as a guard would draw attention."
Even with doubt, the two made a quick leave for the figure, until hands grabbed at their back.
"And where do you think you two are going?" A voice wriggled down their spine.
The Brothers turned to a large, red Grarrl and a petite brown, Kougra that had grabbed them. Behind the two stood a tall Lupe; they at least recognized him, it was impossible to mistake King Coltzan.
"Heermeedjet and Meerouladen," his loud voice boomed. "You are hereby under arrest."
The dungeons below the castle held a very different atmosphere than above it. The aura was almost depressing; the walls were dark, damp, and heavy with rotting moss and corroding rock. Hardly anyone was down there, no guards, only a few lone prisoners who warranted being thrown into a cage. Still, the Skeith guard found himself standing before Heermeedjet and Meerouladen, who were huddling in the corner, coughing into the thick air.
The Meerca Brothers turned. As they glimpsed into his eyes, they began to quiver, realizing who it was.
"You two are truly fools," the guard hissed.
The two remained silent as he continued. "Being fooled by a child, for that you two deserve to rot here forever."
"S-sorry," Heermeedjet mumbled.
"Sorry?" the Skeith scoffed. "I have no use for your meaningless words. I'll offer you a way out of here—for a price, of course."
The Brothers exchanged glances. "What is it?"
"In turn for your freedom, I ask of you a request; you need to throw away your moral ground and your utter stupidity. Murders and thieving from the dead is what'll be required," the guard said. "And if you fail this time, you'll wish that I left you in this prison to rot.."
Meerouladen shivered. "Looks like we don't have a choice."
"That's what I like to hear." He smiled, showing his broken, yellow teeth. From his pocket he produced a key; jutting it around in the lock, he opened the door of the Meerca Brothers' cage.
As the pair quickly scurried out, the guard called after them, "I'll find you in a few years' time!"
Indeed, Malkus Vile did.