The Masquerade: Part Two
Oh! Thanks everyone, I was a little nervous that no one would like it because it was either too long or was not faithful to the characters, but I am overjoyed that you like it so much! Don't worry, I have plenty more where this came from, I've finished this 'episode' of four parts and have six other plot lines I have yet to write! Its a delight to write it! And I will investigate putting it on fanfiction.com...the more people who enjoy it, the better! But right now I want to know what the fans think, because I am writing for you! I don't know if you want me to keep these fictions (i'm intending on several) in the general discussion, or if there can be a fan fiction section added to the forum if possible...it might encourage other people to write as well. And Allura Arwen, I'd love to read anything that you have written- I've only watched several episodes but i did a whole lot of research to capture the essence of the characters!
OK, here is part two for your reading pleasure...some old characters return to celebrate Lady's engagement...enjoy!
The next day dawned bright and clear over the land of LovelyLocks and with the announcement of the engagement of the princess of the land to the handsome Prince Strongheart, celebrations were to be had. The village green was alive with activity, bubbling with commotion and brimming with festivity. The Pixietails frolicked above the celebrating villagers, their tails leaving a shimmering trail hovering in the air. A rainbow-ribboned maypole had been put up and the village children ducked and weaved whilst dancing about the pole, each holding their own special ribbon. A Punch and Judy show amused an audience of villagers who laughed and clapped in delight. The whole kingdom of LovelyLocks feasted upon a banquet prepared by the villagers and the castle kitchens. Everything from the sweetest treat to the tenderest piece of chicken was available to eat on this most special day of celebration. Lady LovelyLocks with Silkypup close on her heels smiled as she watched her people celebrate. As she wandered about, basking in this atmosphere of joy and harmony, villagers bowed and curtseyed towards her, many coming up to their Lady to offer their heart-felt congratulations. Just as she spied Prince Strongheart laughing at a juggling act, a troupe of musicians set up in front of their Lady.
"Oh!" Lady LovelyLocks exclaimed, surprised and delighted.
The troupe bowed and commenced a lively jig. Maiden FairHair and CurlyCrown joined their friend and other villagers surrounded the musicians and Lady LovelyLocks. The jig finished with a flourish. LovelyLocks, her eyes bright, clapped enthusiastically, as did her friends and the surrounding people.
"Oh thank you!" She laughed. The troupe bowed low and departed, off to take their traveling band to another audience about the green.
Once the people dispersed Lady realized that her fiancé was no where to be seen. Looking about she became concerned.
"Maiden CurlyCrown, have you seen Prince Strongheart?" Lady asked her friend who was enthralled by a trio of acrobats.
"Oh?" CurlyCrown said distractedly, "No, I am afraid I have not Lady- oh, watch out!"
CurlyCrown gasped as one of the acrobats stood upon his companion's shoulders, wobbling as he stood upright. It turned out this was a pretence to hold the audience's attention as the acrobat lifted up his arms, perfectly at ease balancing on his friend's shoulders. Another acrobat on the right threw a golden baton up to the balancing performer who proceeded to twirl it and throw it up in the air, catching it expertly each time. CurlyCrown was so entranced by this show that Lady LovelyLocks knew she could not press her for a question. She left her awestruck friend to continue her search.
Lady LovelyLocks' three Pixietails whizzed past with tinkling laughter. Their faces fell and their ears drooped once they saw the look of concern upon their mistress' face.
"What-ix is the matter-ix, Lady-ix?" PixieSparkle asked.
"It is your celebration-ix! It is no time-ix to be sad-ix!" PixieShine frowned, confused as to why their Lady was looking troubled. Lady smiled at her magical friends.
"I am looking for my Prince Strongheart- I cannot find him anywhere Pixietails!"
But just as she spoke a parting in the milling people revealed her fiancé, looking quite contented by the banquet table.
"Oh, there he is!" Lady exclaimed, lifting her skirts as she skipped over to him. The Pixietails looked at each other, laughing at their mistress' adoration.
"Prince Strongheart, I have been looking for you everywhere!" Lady laughed as she approached her love. Strongheart at first did not seem to notice her presence, his eyes fixed upon something else. Lady's brow furrowed, and once she touched his shoulder lightly, he started.
"Oh!" Strongheart blinked, but then smiled as soon as he laid his eyes on his fiancée, "My love."
"Why did you disappear like that, my Prince?" Lady asked softly. Strongheart gave his beloved a sheepish smile as he surveyed the extravagant banquet.
"Well...the food looked so delicious..." Strongheart lifted his nose and sniffed as a chef walked past with a platter of meats. Lady saw her husband-to-be's eyes glaze over and follow the platter. She could not help but burst into giggles.
"I am sorry Lady, it is still something of the dog in me..." Strongheart smiled apologetically. Lady LovelyLocks could not stop giggling and tenderly pecked her fiancé's cheek.
"Do not worry my love, I still love you." She reassured her prince warmly. The pair linked arms, their eyes only for each other.
But just as everything seemed well, a shadow was cast over the village green and a distinctive noise caused the villagers to cower and gasp, the merriment forgotten.
Prince Strongheart and Lady LovelyLocks looked up immediately, alarmed. But Lady's alarm soon disappeared with the sound of beating wings.
"LongCurl!" She cried, delighted as a large yellow dragon with luxurious pink hair and a scaly pale pink front landed in front of the Lady with a soft thud. The villagers exhaled as they recognized the dragon, a friend of Lady LovelyLocks, from some time ago. Steam whispered from her nostrils as she leaned in to have her nose embraced by Lady LovelyLocks.
"LongCurl! It has been so long!" Lady laughed as the dragon made an affectionate cooing noise towards her.
"I have heard news that you are to be married, Lady LovelyLocks." The dragon spoke in a rich and musical tone. Lady laughed.
"News has traveled fast! Indeed I am, to my Prince Strongheart."
Prince Strongheart stepped forward, his hand on his chest as he bowed to the dragon. LongCurl nodded her head. LongCurl's eyes narrowed as she gazed upon the handsome blond prince.
"I recognize him Lady, but I do not know how! Certainly I have not seen your prince before..."
"Yes, you have met him before LongCurl- Prince Strongheart was once trapped in the form of the dog that was ShiningGlory's companion. Now the curse has broken...and we are very much in love." She smiled up at Prince Strongheart who placed a soft kiss on his Lady's free hand.
"But tell me LongCurl dragon, where are your..." Lady trailed off as three smaller shadows darkened the celebration.
Lady gasped as she saw LongCurl's three baby-dragons, now no longer babies, but quite grown to half their mother's height, fly over the green. Merrycurl, Sweetcurl and Bouncycurl descended behind their mother, small flames rising from their nostrils in excitement at being back in the land from where they were born of the Dragontree.
"My goodness! Look how they have grown- why I remember when they were so small! LongCurl, you and your children are welcome to stay in the kingdom of LovelyLocks as long as you wish- you must come to the royal ball tomorrow, all the rulers of surrounding kingdoms will be there!"
Whilst the people of the land of LovelyLocks engaged in the festivities for the royal engagement, RavenWaves' three Comb Gnomes were up to something. Crouched on a branch in a shadowy recess, their yellow eyes glowed menacingly. Snags laughed as he rubbed his hands together with glee at the prospect of creating mischief on RavenWaves' instruction. Tanglet squatted on a branch above the other two, looking out. The other two Comb Gnomes were busy tying their wiry tails together securely. Snags brandished a letter with a red wax seal.
"To think one can gain access to Castle LovelyLocks with a simple letter,
Such a way to snatch that lock of hair could not be better!"
Snags rhymed excitedly, his comrades nodding in agreement.
"No more dirt, no more muck, no more grime!
To have RavenWaves walk into the castle will be simply fine!"
Just as Snags finished triumphantly, Tanglet gave an excited grumble, pointing off in the opposite direction and jumping down to the branch below. The sound of galloping hooves not far off had Snags lean down the branch to gain a better look at their unsuspecting target. He beckoned the other Comb Gnomes to take action.
"Hurry, hurry, one must be swift,
For this is an opportunity too good to miss!"
Snags, holding tightly to the letter, looked up as he was lowered by the other Comb Gnomes, tethered tail to tail. Tanglet, whose job it was to hold on securely, briefly lost his grip causing the pair of Comb Gnomes to sway precariously. Snags held the letter to his chest.
"Tanglet you fool, you have much to worry,
If you drop us you will indeed be sorry!"
Snags snarled up at the strained Comb Gnome. The sound of hooves drew closer and a rider came into vision. A messenger headed towards LovelyLocks Castle passed under the trees where the Comb Gnomes dangled from. The flap of a satchel containing bundles of letters fluttered. Snags swayed once, he swayed twice, and upon the third time he was successful in dropping the letter he held directly into the messenger's satchel. The rider continued on in a cloud of dust. The three Comb Gnomes laughed, their mission accomplished. Snags swayed back and forth, becoming slightly dizzy and sneezing on the rising dust. However Tanglet had other concerns as he suddenly lost grip of the two Comb Gnomes. With a holler the two Comb Gnomes plummeted into the cloud of dust left by the rider and landed with a nasty crash. Tanglet, still up on the branch, winced. As the dust cleared he was met by the glares of two very angry and dirty looking Comb Gnomes.
Three very bedraggled Comb Gnomes dragged themselves up the spiraling stairs of Castle RavenWaves to their mistress' observatory. Once they collapsed at the top of the stairs, they looked up to see the looming figure of Duchess RavenWaves, her arms crossed, her foot tapping expectantly.
"Well?" She demanded.
Tanglet coughed and nursed his bruised arm, caused by his fellow Comb Gnomes. Snags got up, shaking off the dust.
"At the instruction of our mistress, the Duchess,
Our exercise has been completed, it was a success."
Duchess RavenWaves clapped, pleased.
"Well done. It is good to know that you are at least capable of doing something to earn your keep around here." She remarked, turning back to her telescope. She spoke as she looked through the spy-hole.
"Hairball! Is the potion complete?"
Hairball who was bent over a cauldron, started at the harsh and interrogating tone of the Duchess. This startle caused him to drop a little too much red brew into the sickly green concoction that he was stirring. A cloud of smoke suddenly exploded from the mixture, enveloping Hairball. He coughed loudly, clearing away the smoke.
"Huh, huh, almost Duchess RavenWaves, almost!"
"Almost?" RavenWaves' violet eyes narrowed as she took her gaze off her spyglass and turned to Hairball, "How long is this going to take Hairball? The royal ball is tomorrow!"
"Patience my Duchess, it will be ready soon enough, huh-huh. Magic is an art, as ShiningGlory used to say." Hairball picked up an iridescent feather, the last ingredient on the table. The Duchess swooped down upon her sidekick, picking him up by the tail and hanging him upside down over the bubbling cauldron. Hairball gulped.
"Patience!" She shrieked, "Patience has nothing to do with it Hairball! I need this potion ready before the ball otherwise you will be sorry...!" Duchess RavenWaves lowered Hairball over the simmering green mixture so that the hairs of his head almost touched it. Hairball laughed nervously, letting go of the feather so that it was consumed by the potion, suddenly boiling with the last addition. Hairball shrugged at his Duchess.
"There, all done Duchess!"
"It is finished?" Duchess RavenWaves raised an eyebrow, plunking Hairball down. Hairball brushed himself off, reaching for a ladle and a decanter, spooning the mixture into a crystal flask.
"Huh-huh, all finished for the ball, Duchess!"
"Well done Hairball, it is good to see you can complete something on time! Now, show me what it does." Duchess RavenWaves demanded.
Hairball spied two straggling weeds growing out of the cracks between the stones on the sill. He placed the green bubbling and steaming potion on a table behind them with other potions as he leaned over the pathetic looking greenery. RavenWaves' eyes narrowed as she was beckoned to hover over these two plants.
"Now, my Duchess, watch the marvel of appearance-shifting that Hairball has created!" Hairball announced in showman-style with a flourish of his tatty cape. Hairball reached behind him for the potion, holding it above the first weed and carefully let two drops fall from the rim. RavenWaves and Hairball, surrounded by the Comb Gnomes, watched expectantly to see the plant transform. The weed started to steam, then curled up and wilted. The Duchess' eyes widened and Hairball swallowed with fright. RavenWaves fingered the limp plant.
"It is dead. Hairball..." She threatened with a growling undertone to her voice. Hairball panicked.
"But, I-I am sure-"He glanced at the potion bottle, only to sigh with relief, "Huh-huh, it was the wrong bottle!" He laughed nervously. RavenWaves was still skeptical. Hairball reached for the correct potion, letting two drops fall on the second straggling weed. All eyes were on it. In a matter of seconds, the wretched looking specimen throbbed, then suddenly transformed into a beautiful flower. All eyes widened, this time in amazement.
"Amazing..." The Duchess whispered.
"So, what is this magic Hairball?" RavenWaves turned from the flower and leaned over the cauldron, dipping her finger in it and sniffing, repulsed by the smell.
"It is a Betterment potion, my Duchess." Hairball noted proudly, stroking his moustache. RavenWaves raised a brow.
"So it is essentially a disguise, no? We tried this once before Hairball, when you tried to seduce the lovely Lady as a Baron, remember? And it did not work!"
"Oh, but it is more than a disguise, Duchess! It is not merely a costume, huh-huh...but you."
"How do you mean?"
"Well, one sip of this potion....huh, huh...and you turn into a better you..."
"A better me? Are you implying that I need to improve, Hairball?"
"No, no, of course not Duchess! You are as perfect as you are...! Instead, I should have said, huh-huh, that it turns you into one of them."
"It makes me look like someone who belongs in Lady's court?"
A look of scheming pleasure lit RavenWaves features as she gave a satisfied cackle.
"With this I shall gain access to Castle LovelyLocks for sure!" She rubbed her hands together, "Well quick now Hairball, I want to see how it works!"
Hairball looked a little hesitant, handing a small ladle-full to the Duchess to sip upon.
"A flask-full of this potion will last for two hours, that is the amount I have for you and I- but for these bums-"He turned back to the sleeping Comb Gnomes, "I have half a flask for each."
Duchess wrinkled her nose at the repulsive smell of this potion, her features wincing as she took a sip. It was disgusting. RavenWaves spat and gagged at the taste of it.
"Yuck! Hairball! It is vile!" She coughed. She looked at her hands and hair to notice any difference. But nothing had happened, she was still the same.
"HAIRBALL! It is not working!" RavenWaves shrieked, lunging after a terrified Hairball who sped around the castle room, "I am going to get you Hairball, and you are going to be sorry!"
Hairball's little legs carried him just out of the Duchess' grasp, but as he was looking back at his assailant he tumbled over the three sleeping Comb Gnomes, who woke with a start, and crashed into the wall.
"Now I have you!"
RavenWaves glowered, reaching down to grasp the scruff of Hairball's neck. Hairball cowered in a ball, too scared to look up at the Duchess' fury. Just as she grabbed a tuft-full of Hairball, RavenWaves looked down upon her hand. What she saw caused her to drop her companion in shock.
RavenWaves' eyes widened as she stretched out her hand and arm. Her skin had become paler...her hands more slender, her fingers elongated. She gasped as she felt how soft her hands were, holding them up to her face. Blinking, she gingerly stroked her hair, which was previously shimmering waves of ebony...now luxurious, thick and...auburn! She held out a lock of her hair, dumbfounded.
"My hair!" She exclaimed in shock, then her fingers traveled to stroke her face in astonishment. She gasped again, dashing to a tarnished and crooked mirror. She clapped her new, slender hand to her mouth, astounded, as she looked upon the new person she had become.
"Hairball- what have you done...?!" She asked in wonderment as she felt her cheekbones. Her face had become rounder, pleasanter looking. Her skin was much paler than it was previously, her nose had shrunk and upturned slightly, her lips had turned into an agreeable little rosebud unless she contorted it into the grimace she usually wore. Across her cheeks and nose was a smattering of freckles. Her hair was more waved, with ringlets cascading down the sides of her face, a rich, distinct auburn. Only her hard dark violet eyes remained unchanged, widened underneath delicate chestnut eyebrows. She turned around to Hairball, still touching her face hesitantly. Hairball brushed himself off, shoving away a grumbling Tanglet.
"I told you it would work, Duchess, huh-huh, I told you!"
RavenWaves remained silent, still staring at her new outstretched hands. She glanced at Hairball. The Comb Gnomes looked upon their mistress with open mouthed horror at her new, pleasanter, appearance.
"It can't be me!"
"Oh yes it is Duchess, or may I say, Countess RubyTresses, huh-huh, but only for a few minutes now."
RavenWaves cast her gaze to the transformed flower whose magnificent bloom was shriveling back into the straggling weed it once was.
"Countess RubyTresses, eh?" She raised an eyebrow, "You have put some thought into this Hairball- you knew I would look like this?"
Hairball nodded triumphantly.
"And it is upon the letter?"
"Yes indeed, Duchess."
"Hmmm." RavenWaves made a pleased sort of tone, twirling her auburn hair about her finger as she sashayed over to the lop-sided mirror again, "Well, I think this might just work, Hairball. Well done. If I cannot have Lady's hair as Duchess RavenWaves, I may as well be Countess RubyTresses!"
Back at Castle LovelyLocks that evening, the Lady, her Maidens and her Pixietails were busy finalizing the list of guests who would be attending the Royal Engagement Ball the following evening. The doors were thrown open, allowing the sweet Spring breeze to waft in and out. Maiden FairHair was seated at a table piled up with responses to the royal invitation from surrounding kingdoms. Maiden CurlyCrown sat besides her, a quill in her hand as she wrote down who was coming, and who could not make it. Lady LovelyLocks sat in a plush, high-backed chair, her fingers idly stroking a sleeping Silkypup. All three were exhausted from a day of celebrations, yet there was still much to be done. The Pixietails twinkled about, helping Maiden FairHair with the invitation replies. FairHair unstrung a roll of parchment tied with a silver bow and tassel. Her eyes scanned down the curly text.
"Oh, the Earl and Earless of SilverCoiffe have replied saying they will be delighted to attend!" FairHair announced.
CurlyCrown concentrated as she wrote their names down on the guest list.
"Oh that is lovely, I have not seen the Earl and Earless for quite some time!" Lady LovelyLocks fondly remembered her old friends. FairHair was about to unwrap another curled letter, bound by a shimmering piece of green sea-weed when the entrance of Prince Strongheart was announced. Lady smiled, getting up from her seat as her fiancé walked in. The pair embraced, tenderly kissing. Maiden CurlyCrown averted her gaze, her cheeks turning pink.
"How is ShiningGlory, my love?" Lady asked as she offered her husband-to-be some tea. Prince Strongheart sighed contentedly as he sat.
"He is well, tired, of course for one of his age, but he was delighted that he could enjoy the celebrations with you." Strongheart's eyes never left the face of his Lady, the pair entwining fingers gently.
"Will you be returning to Glory Manor anytime soon?"
"Well, not unless you need more help with the preparations...ShiningGlory will not expect me back immediately."
FairHair had unfurled the seaweed bound reply, her brown eyebrows furrowing, a look of disappointment upon her features.
"Oh...it seems that Princess AquaCrest of NeptuneWaves is unable to make it tomorrow..."
Lady LovelyLocks looked a little let down.
"Oh, that is a shame...I am sure there must be a reason why she cannot make it."
"Yes, I think her seahorses have been struck with a strange malady... but the tone is very vague."
"The folk of NeptuneWaves often are!" CurlyCrown giggled.
"CurlyCrown, that was not a nice thing to say!" FairHair reprimanded her friend gently. CurlyCrown merely shrugged in her cheery tone.
"But it is true!" She protested.
Lady LovelyLocks laughed.
"I am afraid Maiden CurlyCrown is right, they are not the most direct of people." Lady chimed.
"Princess AquaCrest..." Prince Strongheart pondered, casting his mind back, "Yes, I think I remember her father, King WaterPeak. He visited my father's kingdom once before I was cursed..."
Maiden FairHair, meanwhile, was opening another envelope, this one affixed with a shimmering red seal.
Her look fell into one of confusion.
"Hmmm..." She pondered. Lady noticed her friend's troubled look.
"Whatever is the matter, Maiden FairHair?"
FairHair looked up from the letter.
"I certain that I cannot remember sending an invitation to a Countess RubyTresses of the kingdom of Crimson Lakes..."
Everyone looked about, shrugging. Lady LovelyLocks got up from her seat, as did Maiden CurlyCrown, to peer over their friend's shoulder.
"The noble Countess RubyTresses of the kingdom of Crimson Lakes is delighted to confirm that she will be able to attend the Royal Engagement Ball of Lady LovelyLocks and Prince Strongheart..." CurlyCrown read aloud, her voice trailed off into perplexity.
"Countess RubyTresses..." Lady LovelyLocks said her name aloud, musing over the odd fact that she could not recall ever meeting or hearing about someone with that name...or that kingdom, "That is odd! I cannot even recall ever knowing about a Countess RubyTresses..."
"-or of Crimson Lakes!" Maiden FairHair chimed.
"Have you ever heard of such a kingdom, Strongheart? You have a much greater knowledge than I of the surrounding kingdoms!" Lady turned to her fiancé, who looked as at loss as everybody else in the room.
"I cannot say I have. No one from Crimson Lakes ever paid a visit to my father's court...and what is odder is that fact that I studied the surrounding kingdoms when I was a boy and I cannot ever remember hearing about a Crimson Lakes! Perhaps ShiningGlory would know."
"Perhaps." Lady LovelyLocks agreed.
It was CurlyCrown who offered a possible explanation.
"Perhaps Crimson Lakes is beyond the Blue Mountains...I am sure there are plenty of lands over there that we have not heard of!"
"But what I cannot understand is that if I never sent them an invitation, why are they replying to tell us that they are able to attend?" FairHair asked incredulously, "It just does not make sense!"
CurlyCrown curled her hand under her chin, her green eyes sparkling as she considered another possible explanation.
"Perhaps news of the engagement and the ball has traveled so far and wide...!"
FairHair did not look convinced.
"What are we to do Lady? We have not even heard of this countess, yet she will be arriving tomorrow!" FairHair explained anxiously.
"But we cannot turn them away, Maiden FairHair." Lady LovelyLocks stated.
"The must be traveling an awful way!" CurlyCrown added.
"Yet I do not feel so sure about this..." FairHair raised her suspicions.
"I must admit, it does seem rather...peculiar, darling." Strongheart warned. In the depths of his heart he did not feel right about this RubyTresses and her mysterious letter...not one bit. However his fiancée was to have none of these suspicions.
"But it would be rude to not allow them to attend the ball. They will be attending. It is the right thing to do." Lady stated definitely, and no one in the room was about to oppose her, "besides," she added cheerily, "it will be interesting to meet new people!"
"Oh good!" CurlyCrown laughed and clapped at the prospect. Strongheart and FairHair exchanged concerned looks. Something did not feel right.