The Quest to Thorn Bridge Castle: Part Eight
Also by thropp
Caitiry could tell that the foyer of Thorn Bridge Castle's keep was once a beautifully decorated room. Tattered tapestries still clung desperately to the stone walls, painted Draiks trailing a breath of fire into deep crevices that would never be fixed.
The heels of the Aisha's boots echoed loudly in the silent hall. She imagined that when balls were held, music and laughter replaced the sounds of lingering footsteps. She closed her eyes and pictured the courtiers in their resplendent gowns and suits, dancing elegantly choreographed numbers across a shining wooden floor.
Opening her eyes transported Caitiry back to the present. Instead of the romantic glow of candles surrounding her, she saw mold growing up the walls and the strong stench of mildew assaulted her nose.
"I am certain that spiral staircase will take us to the garden," Mazeu stated, pointing to a wilting flight of steps. "Although they may not be sturdy enough to hold all of us."
Sir Abezil walked over to the stairs and laid a foot firmly on the bottom step. Cautiously treading to the second, but it abruptly disintegrated beneath his weight. He shook his head and said, "There is no way I can make it up these. My armor is too heavy."
Mazeu attempted to climb the stairs as well. He made it to the fifth step before the wooden stair collapsed, and they all sighed.
"I guess it is up to me then?" Caitiry pondered, incredulously gazing at the staircase.
"That is what happens when you are the smallest," Abezil teased.
The Aisha gathered all of her courage and began her ascent. The iron rails of the staircase were cold to the touch, despite being the landing spot for layers of dust. Every few steps, the staircase had a landing in front of a round arched window that looked out over the castle grounds. From those landings, Caitiry could see everything: turrets and spires, towers and galleries, even the remains of the old castle moat that wove its way around the walls like an ancient, dried up vein.
Before she knew it she was on the top floor of the keep. She peered over the edge of the rail and waved to Mazeu and Abezil. "Great job," they cheered. "You are almost done!"
Looking before her, she found a narrow tunnel. Cait sidled through the passageway, turning this way and that to maneuver her small body in the tight space. Her shoulders hunched and her robes snagged on the jagged stones that jutted haphazardly from the wall. Her wand hand shook slightly in front of her as the Aisha stumbled.
She finally reached the end of the corridor. She had to kneel and crawl through the opening, almost flattening her belly to the floor. She could feel a cool breeze sprinkle across her cheeks and knew she had finally reached the garden. She stood slowly, wiping cobwebs from her sleeves and shaking dirt from her hair, and raised her head. Before her lay a wide patch of parched soil, laid out in swirls and curls, weaving an intricate pattern across the keep's roof.
"This must have been beautiful when flowers grew here," she mused to herself. "But there is nothing that grows here now." There were no weeds, no thorn bushes, not even a little dandelion growing; what if Fyora was mistaken and there were no Glowing Mushrooms at Thorn Bridge Castle?
The cool breeze she had felt before tickled the back of her neck. She swatted at it slightly, afraid a Spyder had crawled down the back of her robes. Instead, she found a Ghost Usul floating a few inches from the ground. The Usual wore a stately gown that had thinned with age. Opulent jewels lined her neck and fingers, sparkling despite their hazy hues.
"Queen Hornbuckle?" Caitiry asked hesitantly. The Usul smiled sadly, giving a slight nod of her head.
"Queen Hornbuckle," the Aisha repeated, "I am on a quest for Fyora. Do you know her?"
The queen nodded again, this time more excitedly.
"She is ill," Cait announced. "She sent my comrades and me here for the cure. Do you know where a patch of Glowing Mushrooms would grow? She seemed insistent that we would find some here, but I do not see how anything could grow in this dirt."
The queen made an effort to grab Caitiry's sleeve, but her fingers passed through easily, sending a chill up the Aisha's arm. Annoyed, the Usul pointed instead, indicating that Cait should follow. Queen Hornbuckle glided to a corner of the garden and gestured for Caitiry to lift the corner of a faded tent. Underneath, she was surprised to find a makeshift greenhouse, leftover from the queen's gardening days. In the center sprouted a small, purple mushroom with tiny stars and moons adorning the top.
Caitiry's shadow covered the mushrooms while she walked closer, and the celestial signs began to shine, a bright white light playing across the ground. She bent down and snapped the stem of the mushroom, separating it from the dry ground in which it grew. It was a miracle that anything was able to grow, especially the one item that would save Queen Fyora. If Queen Hornbuckle had not been there, Caitiry did not know what she would have done. Cait tucked the precious toadstool into her pocket and turned to thank the queen, but found that she was alone in the garden.
How odd, she thought, but she did not have time to waste. She needed to get back to Abe and Maz, and they needed to rush back to Faerieland before it was too late. With one last glance around her, the sorceress frowned and left the garden
Mazeu and Sir Abezil were pacing at the bottom of the spiral staircase when Caitiry descended, carefully dodging the holes the boys had left in the lower steps.
"I have it," she announced to their relief. "Let's go home."
The three travelers marched out of Thorn Bridge Castle with a spring in their steps, knowing they were close to completing their grueling quest. Once they reached the bridge, Caitiry slowed and glanced back at the castle, a feeling of sadness creeping into her mind. Queen Hornbuckle had shown her where to find the mushroom, and Cait felt that a hurried "thank you" was not enough. The queen and her family had suffered for years; though she could not restore them to life, Caitiry knew she could cast a spell to repair their home.
The Aisha swirled her wand in several tiny circles, murmuring an incantation softly. The walls of Thorn Bridge Castle began to vibrate, and the fallen bits of stone found their ways back to their former homes. Shingles reassembled themselves on top of the conical roofs of turrets, and a trickle of water found its way back into the moat.
As the group watched the castle come back to life, they could hear the dulcet tones of a beautiful song being sung. In her garden atop the keep, Queen Hornbuckle waved, and continued the song that she had wanted to sing for years, a haunting melody that spoke of a son's betrayal and the kindness of strangers.
The months that followed were hectic for the heroes. Queen Fyora's health was restored, and tales of the adventurer's bravery spread rapidly across the land. Caitiry began teaching magic to aspiring sorcerers and sorceresses, and became the face of the adventure, granting interviews to any reporter who approached. During one of those interviews, she was quoted as saying, "I figured, I've already got my handy wizard's wand and my robes, and that's all I'll really need for a life of adventure, isn't it?" and abruptly became the inspiration behind one of Neoquest's most popular characters, Mipsy.
Mazeu, inspired by his travels on the way to Thorn Bridge Castle, began to put quill to parchment. In no time, his novels were climbing up the Neopian Times' bestsellers list. He did book signings all over Neopia, packing bookstores with avid fans that held onto his every word.
Upon his return to Faerieland, Sir Abezil was informed that his presence was requested as a new advisor to the Emperor of Shenkuu. It seemed that he had made a good impression on Princess Lunara, who in turn sang of his praises to her father. The Mynci traded in his armor for traditional Shenkuu robes and became the most celebrated military strategist in Neopian history.
For years to come, Neopets would continue to tell the tale of the Quest to Thorn Bridge Castle.
Soft music played from the Shiny Nova Mobile that slowly rotated over the heads of three Baby Neopets. Dhevien closed the storybook as he finished reading the last line. The title on the spine glowed in the faint light emitted from the Lavender Faerie Lamp on the desk next to him. The Quest to Thorn Bridge Castle, the book's spine read in decorative silver letters.
Inside their Sweet Dreams Crib, a Kyrii's eyes drooped closed, despite his fighting to stay awake. An Aisha quietly sucked on her Valentine Baby Dummy. A Mynci clutched his Baby Rattle of Cuteness to his chest. Eisian kissed each of the babies on their foreheads as she tucked them into bed.
"That's my favorite story in the whole wide world!" Mazeu murmured sleepily.
"Mine too," yawned Abezil.
"I want to be the knight next time," Caitiry pouted.
"Girls can't be knights, Cait," the Mynci argued.
"Now, now," Dhevien intervened. "All Neopets can be anything they want to be."
"Yes, especially when they get a good nights' sleep!" Eisian confirmed. "Sweet dreams."
The Draiks flipped the lights off in the nursery and quietly closed the door behind them. The only sound that could be heard was the soft snores of the dreaming babies.