The Becoming of the Royal Thief:Part Seven
With freedom comes responsibility.
After receiving the letter from Malabaricus that granted the Lost Desert princesses more independence, Astael immediately sprang into action. She had plans to improve the quality of life for Qasalan citizens already drawn up, even when she could not implement them at that time, because she was always hopeful that the council would grant them more freedom. Happily, she laid out her notes in front of her twin sister and the other princess of the Lost Desert, Veifira. Her plans included, among others, opening a public food pantry, distributing new clothing, and organizing construction teams to improve the infrastructure of the city in general.
Veifira skimmed over her sister’s plans absentmindedly. She was still thinking about how she had threatened head councilman Malabaricus into being more laissez faire with them, under the cover of the Dark Thief. Although it was drastic, the council was beginning to tighten its grip on the princesses, and she had grown tired of it. She was happy to see her threats were productive, but she still felt guilty having done it at all.
“Vei?” her sister asked, tilting her head as she looked up at her. “Are you in there?”
Veifira blinked, her thoughts interrupted. “Sorry,” she said, “I’m not fully awake yet. Do you mind if I take a walk to get some fresh air?”
Astael looked at her with concern. “Of course not. Are you sure you’re okay?” she asked, standing and trying to place the back of her hand on Veifira’s forehead. “Please let me know if I can get the ladies-in-waiting to attend to you.”
“I’m fine,” Veifira answered with a forced smile, backing away from her sister’s hand. “I’ll be right back.” She turned to leave down the main hallway and out the castle doors. The guards shrugged at each other as the princess rushed by. They were used to her leaving without a word, though. As she exited the castle, Veifira squinted from the bright morning sun, raising a hand to shade her eyes. She waited a moment for her eyes to adjust and then she made a beeline towards the docks. The Lost Desert was arid, but it was bordered by water on one side. Here, merchant ships came and went, providing necessities to the citizens and trading for desert specialties. There were a handful of traveler ships as well, and it was one of these that Veifira found herself in front of.
“Vatalyn!” Veifira shouted up at the back of the ship, where the captain’s cabin was located.
After a moment, the Pirate Draik appeared on the deck and leaned over the side of the ship. “You called, princess?”
Veifira gestured around her, to the desert behind her. “This isn’t me,” she shouted up to him. “I love the Lost Desert, I love Qasala, I even love Sakhmet, but this isn’t where I belong. You asked me the other day if I would ever be interested in taking my other life to other parts of Neopia, and my answer is a resounding ‘yes.’ I have to travel, I need to travel the world as a thief.”
Vatalyn hopped down from his ship, landing smoothly on the sand. “As much as it pleases me to hear that and as much as I want to continue talking about that, did Malabaricus comply with your demands?”
“He did,” Veifira replied, calmer now. “He sent the letter just a few moments ago. It was quite pleasant, actually, but it only makes me feel worse about bringing the Dark Thief to him.”
“But you did the right thing,” Vatalyn added. “And you did something that neither logic nor reason could.”
“And now what?” Veifira asked him. “With everything going smoothly here, Astael is going to want me at the castle more than ever.”
Vatalyn looked thoughtful. “Have you spoken to Astael about it?”
“About what?” Veifira replied. “About relinquishing my princess duties to be the Dark Thief full-time? I don’t think so.”
“Look,” Vatalyn said. “Finish what you started. Go back to the castle and help Qasala, and then we can talk about what happens next.”
“Okay,” Veifira sighed. “Just… stay close, alright?”
Vatalyn nodded. “I’ll be around.”
Veifira gave him a small smile before turning around and heading back toward the castle. It was well into the afternoon time now and it was impossible to avoid the stares of her citizens as she rushed back. She plastered a fake smile on her face, waving and nodding in response to excited greetings. In time, she got back to the castle.
It was bustling with activity. Castle staff were flitting in and out, carrying boxes atop boxes. Veifira shrugged to herself and walked further in, noticing that the doors to the kitchen were wide open and the palace chefs were working overtime.
“Veifira!” Astael called out from the kitchen. “Welcome back,” she said with a cheery grin, removing the apron around her waist. “Are you feeling any better?”
“Yeah,” Veifira answered. “Much. Uh, what’s going on here?” she asked, gesturing to the commotion around them.
Astael’s face broke into a wide smile. “Well, I know I had a lot of plans for Qasala and they will need time to implement, but I figured we could start setting up the public pantry today. I set out a team to refurbish an abandoned building earlier and I’ve asked the castle staff to start transporting nonperishable foods there. It’ll be ready in a few hours and to celebrate its opening, the chefs and I are planning a full-scale banquet. We’re deciding on the menu now. Would you like to join us? I would love your input, especially since Qasalan citizens look to you for inspiration.”
“Of course!” Veifira replied. “That sounds… amazing. Really.”
“But…” Astael continued for her. “Something’s wrong.”
Veifira thought about what Vatalyn had said at the docks about talking to Astael about wanting to give up her princess duties. It was a conversation Veifira had wanted to bring up for the past year, and now seemed like a better time than any. Veifira inhaled deeply before saying: “Astael, I know you already know this, but I never wanted to be princess. Of course, it hurts me every single day that you have more responsibility because I’m so inadequate, and I’m sorry for that, but I can’t help it. It’s not who I am.”
Astael shook her head. “Don’t ever be sorry, Veifira. You might not want to be princess, but I’m just happy you’re my sister, and that’s what matters. Being the ruler of the Lost Desert – it’s not work to me, so don’t feel sorry.”
Veifira sniffed. Astael was truly angelic and Veifira was blessed to have her as her sister. “Well,” Veifira continued, “that brings me to my next point. I… I haven’t been totally honest with you.”
“About being the Dark Thief?” Astael asked with a mischievous smile.
Veifira stared at her sister, stunned. “You… you know?”
“Well, yes,” Astael answered with a laugh. “Your lady-in-waiting might be totally clueless to what’s going on, but I’m not so easily fooled.”
“But how?” Veifira couldn’t help but ask.
Astael giggled. “Your dark cloak, your strange hours, how couldn’t I know? You’re my sister, Vei, and as much as you think we’re different, we’re connected. I’ve always known.”
“And you never said anything to me?” Veifira was still shocked, but mainly she was amazed to how understanding and unbothered Astael was.
Astael shrugged. “It was nice to see you so passionate about something, and you weren’t really hurting anyone, so what was there to say?”
“What about the night patrol?” Veifira asked, referencing to the civilians that Astael had placed in Sakhmet to try and catch the Dark Thief.
“Well, I had to do something in the eyes of the council,” Astael explained. “I never thought they’d have a chance at apprehending you, anyway.”
Veifira laughed. “I guess you were right.”
“Look, Veifira, I’m not going to say that the end justifies the means in all cases but – thank you,” Astael said, her eyes shining gratefully. “Thank you for giving me the opportunity to do my work without the hindrance of the council.”
“You knew that was me?” Veifira asked, beginning to smile herself.
“I don’t want to know what it was, but I know that letter? I know that was you. So, thank you,” Astael replied. “Just know, whatever you chose to do now, sister, you have my blessing.”
Veifira beamed, before frowning again. “But what about the council? What about father’s last request to have us rule together?”
Astael shrugged. “Honestly, I don’t know right now. But I do know I’ll figure it out in time. You just… do what you want, okay? Let me deal with the council.”
Veifira smiled finally. “Thank you, Astael.”
Astael pulled her sister into a hug and sighed happily. “Come to the banquet tonight, Vei, and I’ll see you off in the morning.”
Veifira nodded. “That I can do.”
And with that, the Dark Thief was freed.