The Mutant Prince: Part Six
Chapter Six: The Lunatic Inn and the Mysterious Old Wocky
Storm clouds drifted over the dry and brambly landscape as Tarquinn de Quincy, Lella, and Philippe made their way along a weedy forlorn track. It was late afternoon and for much of the day the three had been walking, hoping to reach the Haunted Woods by nightfall. Unfortunately, the length of the trip had been miscalculated, and now that thunderclouds and the smell of rain were hovering behind the travelers, it was necessary to stop and find shelter for the night.
The problem was that there was no safe shelter in this area -- a landscape covered by gnarled trees and thorny vines with a deep, ghastly forest visible in the distance. As the rain began to pour and the lightning streak white-hot over the darkness, Tarquinn, Lella, and Philippe hurried their pace. The prince kept a hand on his hat and wrapped his cape around his shoulders to keep his expensive embroidered attire from becoming soaked. At last, in between two massive dead trees that resembled withered ancient claws there appeared a crooked little building built of wood and brick. The three tacitly agreed to run towards this place, for though it was not a pretty nor a stable lodging, a warm light of oil lamps glowed in the windows, signalling welcome. The prince stamped through the muddy path to the building and waited for his companions to catch up.
The building was a wayside inn, judging by a creaking, hanging sign which had the words LuNaTiC INN painted on in a messy scrawl. It was not the most friendly type of inn, but at the moment there were few opportunities to choose a better. Tarquinn banged on the crude wooden door and waited in the storm for a response to his call. No one came, and so the prince turned the doorknob himself. The door opened easily, and the three wet guests let themselves in.
A strange scene met them, part homely and warm, part frightful and dark. Oil lamps and melting candles stood upon nearly every piece of furniture excepting the chairs and couches. Large paintings of leering clowns and circus freaks adorned the dark red walls. The ceiling was cracked and cobwebby, the floor muddy with patches of ragged carpet tossed here and there. To the right, beyond an arched entryway, was the den, filled with a dozen or so snoozing figures -- random guests, wanderers which the wind had blown in. They all slept and snored around the stone fireplace, or seemed to sleep, for more than a couple of them had opened their sneaky eyes to gain a view of the newest visitors. Lella and Philippe carefully crept away from these shady characters as though they were sleeping Drackonacks. Tarquinn gazed at the crowd disdainfully, bothered by their stench and bedraggled appearance, and he raised his head high.
The other side of the room operated as a dining space. Narrow chairs and tables had been pushed together into a mass -- one could figure out for oneself where to sit. No one occupied a place here but a lone soggy figure, indistinguishable because of his great brown overcoat and wide-brimmed hat. He turned his head down and looked at the bleak scene out the window as Tarquinn tried to see the face underneath. Deeper in the back of the room was a large counter which separated the dining space from the kitchen. From behind here came a sound of banging pots and muttered oaths. The prince hesitantly approached the tall grease-stained counter and peered over it.
"Ahem," the prince said as he glanced down at a purple Mynci washing pots and pans in a big metal sink. "Are you the, err, innkeeper?"
The Mynci looked up, and slowly his face stretched into a wide (but not at all too friendly) grin. He dropped the pot he was washing back into the sink and wiped the suds off his hands with a grimy rag. "I ain't t' innkeeper. I'm t' cook -- Edgar."
"Well, could you find the innkeeper for me? My companions and I have just arrived and we would like to have a room to stay in for the night," Tarquinn explained. The prince's expression was not the kindest. This place was possibly the crudest, most filthy place he had ever found himself in, and his gallant tastes screeched in disgust at the amount of dust and dirt in every corner. Still, he remained silent, knowing that he could either stay in this inn or outside in the wind and muck of the woods.
Edgar barely had time to open his mouth and shriek "Jacques! Jacques!" before another Mynci, identical to Edgar in every way, appeared from around a corner in the back. The two Mynci were clearly twins.
"What is it?" Jacques snapped. Edgar pointed to Tarquinn with a scowl, and then continued his washing.
"Ahh, hello," Jacques said, approaching the counter. The Mynci hopped over it with amazing agility and plopped down in the nearest chair. "I'm t' owner of t' Lunatic Inn. Anythin' I can do fer ye three?"
"Yer juss t' co-owner!" Edgar called angrily from the kitchen.
"Ya... well..." Jacques rolled his eyes. "My brother owns t' kitchen."
Lella found her voice and stepped out from behind Tarquinn. "Sir, we'd like a room for the night."
"Right, then." Jacques nodded, addressing Tarquinn as though he had been the one to speak. "Yer in luck. Our last room is available, and it's our nicest one of all."
Tarquinn raised his eyebrows, wondering how nice that room could possibly be, compared with the piles of filth he saw all around here.
"Wud ye like to seer it?" Jacques tilted his head to one side, appraising the prince's rich appearance greedily, especially the bejeweled sword hilt that poked out from under his cape. "Come, lemme show ye!"
The Mynci hopped to his feet and eagerly led the way down a narrow corridor. Tarquinn was the first to follow, and the first to see the room Jacques rushed into. "Here! This be t' one!" Jacques said. He stood in the middle of a dark empty room. The Mynci waved his stubby arms around, pointing to all the room's excellent features: the one small square window, the strips of faded purple carpeting, and the cracked oil lamp atop a chest of drawers. He lovingly mentioned the three low lumpy beds and the tattered grey covers. "So, how do ye like it?"
Lella glanced at the only decoration in the room -- a portrait of a Mynci acrobat swinging on a trapeze. Jacques noticed her, and elaborated on the picture with some pride: "That's a picture of my father, t' Great Zambezzi! Ye may have heard of him. He was t' greatest acrobat in all t' land. He taught my brother and me to be acrobats juss like him. Edgar and I were a smash at t' Fairground... before it was deserted."
"Why was it deserted?" Lella asked softly.
Jacques shrugged evasively. "Ye don't wanna hear 'bout that. Point is, my brother and I were forced to retire from t' circus and so we opened a wayside inn in t' near parts."
Lella thought about these words for a few moments. "If I assume correctly from what you have said -- we must be near the Haunted Woods?"
"Ah, yea. Rather near. Yer juss north of t' Deserted Fairground," Jacques said. He seemed tired of the idle words and so he swiftly cut in, turning to Tarquinn: "Would ye like to take t' room out fer t' night or no?"
Tarquinn had never been so disgusted by a room, but he asked, "How much is it?"
The Mynci looked the prince up and down and said, "Seven thousand Neopoints."
"Never!" the prince declaimed, insulted by the innkeeper's cupidity.
Jacques chuckled. "I know ye muss be very rich, Mister Whoever-You-Are, and I also know that this is t' only inn in t' whole area. There's no place else ye culd sleep for t' night; so, either ye pay my price or move on out into t' Haunted Woods and wait for t' ghosts and Werelupes to have a go at ye."
The prince clenched his teeth, but did not speak. The Mynci took this as acquiescence to pay; he chuckled more and said that supper would be ready in a few minutes. Then he left Tarquinn, Lella, and Philippe alone in the room.
"The nerve of that greedy little menace!" Tarquinn shook his fists. "Taking advantage of me like that!"
Lella sighed and sat down in the bed closest to the window. She took her wet coat off. "At least we have a place to sleep."
Philippe added, "And the roof at least doesn't leak, and we're out of the way of the storm."
Tarquinn's face was still pale with rage. He was angry that he had been swindled out of Neopoints. He slumped down on a bed and took his muddy boots off. When he turned the boots over, water splashed out onto the floorboards.
"What are we going to do tomorrow?" the prince asked in an annoyed tone.
"We'll reach the Haunted Woods. I suppose... we'll try to find someone who is knowledgeable on dark magic. Someone who might understand the curse's power..." Lella said.
Tarquinn shook his head unhappily. On the inside he was consumed with doubt and terrified of failing in this, the last opportunity.
"The curse has been getting worse..." he whispered, staring at his gloved hands. Suddenly he looked up at Lella and Philippe, who were both watching him sadly. The prince peeled his gloves off. The gruesome black claws were as sharp as ever, but now the same awful bluish fur that had replaced his beautiful wavy violet hair was growing over his hands and part of his arms. "It's hopeless."
"Don't say that," Lella pleaded. "We'll find the cure!"
Tarquinn ignored her. He wrung the water out of the gloves and put them back on. He did the same with his clothes. By the time that was done and he had paced sullenly around the room fifty or so times, Jacques returned and announced that supper was served in the dining room. Tarquinn didn't want to eat anything, but Lella forced him to try.
The trio reentered the dining space and pulled three chairs around a splintery table and sat down. Edgar brought over a mysterious kind of vegetable soup with chunks of something purple floating about in a bluish liquid. He also tossed some biscuits onto the table and put down three cups of steaming tea.
"Bon appétit!" Edgar cackled as he scuttled back into the kitchen.
Lella and Philippe began to eat the soup nervously. Tarquinn only sipped the tea, which was surprisingly sweet at first, but after it had been swallowed it left a taste of dirty socks in the mouth. There was very little conversation between the three. They felt as though they were being watched. Watched by the horde of shadowy figures in the den. Tarquinn looked askance in their direction and he could see dark eyes quickly being shut and heads being laid back down onto pillows.
"We ought to be careful tonight. Our extra company is not pleasant," Tarquinn muttered to Lella and Philippe.
"They must be vandals or thieves," Philippe gulped, looking towards the den.
"Don't worry," Tarquinn said. "We'll lock our door, put the cabinet up against it if necessary. No one could try to rob us in the night."
"Do you think they know you're Tarquinn de Quincy of Brightvale?" Philippe asked.
"I don't think so." Tarquinn shrugged. He carefully turned his gaze to the sodden character still sitting in the corner of the dining room. The stranger hadn't moved in a long while, and was apparently reading an old battered book. Tarquinn squinted, trying to see the face beneath the drippy black hat, but he could only make out a short greying beard and downturned lips. The prince felt the most uneasy about this stranger, but he could not explain why. It seemed to him that this odd character was closely considering his every movement, and yet why in Neopia would he do such a thing? Tarquinn could only imagine bad reasons.
The prince ate half a biscuit at Lella's request, and waited for her and Philippe to finish their meals. Philippe's stomach proved to be powerful enough (or perhaps just used to bad food) to quite easily eat Tarquinn's soup along with his own. The three then stood up and returned immediately to their room. Edgar collected the plates and bowls and carried them to the kitchen's sink. Jacques appeared beside his brother and helped him wash up.
"Did ye put enough into t' soup?" Jacques asked his brother in an undertone.
Edgar cackled. "They'll be knocked out till morn."
"Good," Jacques said, and he crept out of the kitchen into the den. He stood in the middle of the hazy room and clapped his hands. "Wake up, ye lugs."
The thieves awoke with grunts and groans. They looked up at Jacques and waited for him to speak. "They're in t' last room on t' right," Jacques said. "Wait a few more hours to make sure they're sleepin'. Here's t' key to their room." The Mynci handed a small silver key to the nearest of the thieves, a grizzled muddy Lupe. He then added importantly, "Remember, ye all, I get forty percent of whatever ye take."
Lella and Philippe fell into a deep sleep the moment their heads touched their pillow, and now, three hours later in the dead of night, their soft steady breathing was the only thing that pervaded the heavy silence. The storm had largely ceased, but the clouds still blocked out the moon and stars. Tarquinn was the only one awake.
The prince hadn't slept well since he had been cursed; nightmarish thoughts kept him awake, and when he did manage to tumble into a few hours' forgetfulness, he awoke feeling tired and confused. More than ever, Tarquinn thought of those recurring nightmares, the ones about the pillaged town and the swamp, so vivid and real they almost seemed like... memories. The mental images touched a deep place in him. They shook him with a sheer terror and he could not explain why...
There was a creak of floorboards.
Tarquinn didn't hear anything for he was too immersed in thought. His thoughts flew round and round in circles. The unceasing nightmares, the curse, his horrible future should this mission fail, Fifi, the nightmares again. Of all these things the sweet face of Fifi was the only thing that shone with a pure light. But she did not give him hope, rather, Tarquinn fell deeper into despair as he envisioned his miserable fate without her. He would possibly never see her again. He couldn't bear the embarrassment of her beautiful eyes resting on him for a second while in this loathsome state...
Someone seemed to be lightly scratching the door. There was a light click, the sound of a key being stuck into a keyhole. Tarquinn opened his blue eyes wide and saw darkness. The turbulent images in his head popped and disappeared like soap bubbles, and momentarily all that existed was that sound in the dark, the sound of someone slowly unlocking the door. Tarquinn's hand automatically reached for the sword under his pillow. The prince's eyes adjusted to the blackness, and he waited for the thieves to enter.
There were three of them: the aforementioned brown Lupe, dressed in muddy clothes, a tall sneering Blumaroo, and a stout green Quiggle. The Lupe sneaked into the room first. His sharp ears sensed no sound, and he motioned for his two comrades to slip in beside him.
"Are they sleeping?" the Quiggle rasped excitedly.
The Lupe did not respond; he narrowed his eyes and tried to make out the objects in the dark room. There was the cabinet, the chest of drawers by his foot, and against the wall were the beds. He could see three sleeping shapes underneath the covers in each of the three beds. All was well.
"They're sleeping," the Lupe affirmed.
The Blumaroo snickered. "Wiley 'ol Jacques made sure to put enough Slumberberry potion into their soup to keep them asleep even in the case of an earthquake."
The Quiggle laughed grossly and scurried to the nearest bed -- Tarquinn's. He poked the sleeping figure, even shook it slightly. It didn't move. "Hahaha... lookit, doesn't make a sound!" the Quiggle laughed. "Let's take everything they own! Where's that gold sword that Kyrii, that prince or duke had?"
"It's right here," came Tarquinn's voice.
The prince leapt out from behind the door and before the thieves could do more than gasp, they were knocked off their feet. Tarquinn ran to light the oil lamp atop the cabinet, giving the thieves just enough time to stand back up and lunge at him. The prince dodged their sluggish rampage with the easy motions of a dance. He grabbed hold of the Blumaroo's tail and swung him into the oncoming Quiggle. The Lupe, meanwhile, unsheathed a sword of his own and attacked. Tarquinn, a great expert on fencing, easily parried the Lupe's crude thrust, and with a lightning-quick flourish of his own blade, he knocked the sword out of the thieve's hand. It clattered somewhere dully. The Lupe growled furiously and the Blumaroo and Quiggle regrouped behind the prince.
"Lella! Philippe!" Tarquinn yelled. "Wake up, you two!"
But the prince's companions remained asleep and prone to attack. That is when it dawned on Tarquinn that the scheming cook had put a sleeping agent into their soup. Tarquinn hadn't eaten soup, and thus he remained awake, proving himself to be a slight flaw in the Mynci's greedy plot. The Blumaroo and Quiggle ran for him from behind but the prince heard them coming. He leapt away smoothly and jumped onto his bed, ruffling the pillows he had cleverly arranged in the shape of his own sleeping form.
"Grrr, who in blazes are you?" the Lupe snarled.
Tarquinn raised his sword high. "I am Tarquinn de Quincy, the First Prince of Brightvale!"
The announcement of this would generally have driven any number of common thieves into hiding, for no one sane wanted to be in disgrace with the immeasurable Tarquinn. The thieves, however, after a moment of gawking, burst into sneers and gruesome hee-haws.
"What?" Tarquinn asked himself, unsettled. He raised a hand unconsciously to his face, to his head, and that's when he realised that his hat had fallen off during the struggle. It lay now he knew not where.
"Haha, might I ask what happened to your hair, my great prince Tarquinn?" the Quiggle mocked, making his comrades cackle all the more.
Tarquinn's face paled, and he felt as though his heart had been wrenched by a jolt of lightning. The thieves' mockery seemed a prevision of the disgust Fifi would show him should she ever chance a look in his direction. Tarquinn scoured the floor for his hat and his eyes caught sight of a long Beekadoodle feather sticking out from under Philippe's bed. The prince pointed the sword at the thieves to keep them at bay.
"I doubt that you're anything but an imposter," the Lupe said. "You're probably just some runaway servant dressed in his master's clothes."
"Or maybe he's just off his rocker!" the Blumaroo added, taking out an obsidian dagger. "What would the real Tarquinn de Quincy be doing in a dump like this anyway, eh?"
"Yeah, aren't you supposed to be off getting your face powdered and your clothes pressed?" the Quiggle jeered.
Tarquinn kept his lips shut tightly and endured the angered taunts and scoffs. All he wanted to do was get his hat back. His confidence crumbled; he felt ashamed and pathetic without his hat. He simply did not know how to deal with assaults on his appearance -- he had never, ever been laughed at like this!
The prince kept his sword steady and jumped backwards, off the bed. The thieves moved forwards, but were unsure about how to proceed. Tarquinn carefully glanced down at the floor, then back at the hideous grins. He couldn't concentrate on the thieves and regaining his hat at the same time! Stubbornly, Tarquinn crouched down and blindly stuck a hand under the bed, while with the other he kept the sword pointed at the Lupe. The hat was not there, it seemed, and Tarquinn waved his hand searchingly for it. He was forced to look down, and there -- a few feet away -- was the object of his eye. The prince quickly grabbed his hat and stiffly rammed it back on his head. This all took a few seconds, more than enough time for the thieves to attack.
Tarquinn jumped away from the Quiggle's lunge and pushed the Lupe's claws off his arms.
"STOP! Or else!" the Blumaroo shouted.
The prince looked in the direction of the yell, and to his desperate shock he saw the Blumaroo dragging a drowsy Lella into a corner. The other two thieves quickly rushed to the Blumaroo's side and stood opposite the prince. Philippe still lay in bed, sleeping like the Turmaculus after a heavy meal of petpets. Lella was just waking; her eyes fluttered open and the first thing she saw was the inexpressible horror on the prince's face.
"Don't you move!" the Blumaroo shouted to Tarquinn, holding Lella tightly. "Drop the sword and kick it here!"
"You despicable wretches, how dare you even attempt this ignominy?" Tarquinn cried indignantly.
"Aww, no need to flatter us," the Quiggle replied. "Now, let go of the sword!"
Tarquinn did not move for a long while. His mind was racing against itself; his heart pounded. Lella's weak cries for help at last made him decide. Slowly, Tarquinn lowered himself and placed the sword on the floor. His eyes never left the emotionless dull gaze of the thieves.
"Kick!" the Blumaroo urged, and the prince sullenly obeyed.
The sword spun as it slid along the dusty floorboards. It stopped at the Lupe's feet, and he quickly picked it up, examined the shining blade and the precious jewels embedded into the hilt. He pointed the sword at its former owner.
"Tie him up, Raz!" the Lupe growled with triumph.
The Quiggle addressed as Raz stepped forward hesitantly, as if still worried Tarquinn would injure him. But of this he did not need to fear; the Blumaroo kept Lella in his clutches, and Tarquinn's greatest concern was her safety, not his own. He wouldn't move until he was sure Lella was out of immediate harm's reach. Raz pulled out a coil of thick rope from a back pocket and grinned. He tied a submissive Tarquinn's wrists tightly together behind his back and forced the prince to lie on his stomach on his bed. Once that was done, the thieves rejoiced.
"Good, good! Well, we had a bit of unforeseen trouble, but at last we got things under control," the Lupe said.
"It's taking time!" the Quiggle cackled.
The Blumaroo shoved a weeping Lella into a far corner, and he joined his two comrades in rummaging through all of Tarquinn, Lella, and Philippe's belongings. Tarquinn lied face down and motionless, listening to the rude grunts and exclamations of the thieves as they discovered his bag of Neopoints tucked into an inner pocket in his cape. The prince did not care if he were robbed; he was furious with himself for allowing the thieves' insults about his hair affect him. If he hadn't wasted those precious seconds searching for his ridiculous hat, if he could have won the battle with his own vanity, he wouldn't be in this piteous situation...
Just then, a loud crash and a shattering of glass sounded in the room. The prince looked up, but he couldn't see anything for the oil lamp had apparently just been put out and smashed. Darkness reigned, and the thieves ran about, shouting in confusion about what had just happened. Moments later, the Lupe uttered a startled yelp, and the Quiggle shouted, "Who is that, now?"
The heavy thudding of boots and bodies hitting the floor were all that could be heard. Suddenly, the prince felt something sharp being pressed against his hands: his bonds had been cut open, and a gruff voice spoke into his ear: "Quickly -- take this sword and get up!"
The prince was pushed to his feet by a strong hand upon his shoulder. A dark figure beside him thrust the Lupe's forgotten sword into his grip, and him urged again to move. Tarquinn hardly knew what was happening, or who this stranger was who had freed him, but an unexpected sense of exhilaration swept over him and he leapt into action again. Though the prince could just barely make out the dark silhouettes of the thieves, he had no difficulty in identifying them and striking them through with a thorough terror. Tarquinn and the mysterious stranger swiftly beat the thieves into a corner and wrenched the stolen Neopoints and Tarquinn's gold sword from their hands.
"That's it -- run away, you scum!" the stranger called as the thieves clambered to the door and bounded down the corridor. They were never seen again; they ran out of the inn and into the stormy night.
The prince, upon seeing that the battle was won, quickly lit a few broken candlesticks and stuck them upon the chest of drawers which he pushed to the centre of the room. In the deep flickering orange light the prince could make out the face of none other than the stranger who had sat reading in the dining room. He did not have his hat on now and one could easily see what he really looked like. The stranger was an old green Wocky, rather thin and wiry, but with twinkling black eyes that whispered of a strong character and will. He had a small pointed beard and moustache, both streaked with grey and white. The Wocky sat on the floor, his back against a wall. He was breathing heavily.
"Are you all right?" Tarquinn asked.
The prince was nervous and flighty. He paced quickly by the Wocky and helped Lella up, set her on the bed, checked to see if she, too, were fine. Lucky Philippe, it was discovered, was still sleeping. The two bowls of soup infused with Slumberberry Potion had rightfully knocked him out.
"I'm not hurt. Thank you, Tarquinn, dear," Lella said, patting her forehead with a handkerchief.
She turned her gaze to the Wocky.
"I cannot express the depth of my gratitude," Tarquinn said, returning to the Wocky. "May I ask who you are?"
The stranger coughed, and said only: "My cane -- g-give me my cane."
The Wocky pointed across the room to an oak cane lying by the door. The prince quickly retrieved it and handed it back. He helped the Wocky stand and brushed some of the dust off his shoulders.
"That fight took a lot out of me, it seems." The Wocky frowned, glancing down at himself.
Tarquinn stood firmly before him, and asked again who he was. The Wocky sighed. He looked closely into Tarquinn's eyes for the first time, and then shifted his attention to the prince's other features, examining each one, from the curve of his forehead to the tip of his goatee. Tarquinn raised his brows, a little confused and uneasy by the odd situation. It was as if he was suddenly reminded of a long forgotten event, a certain something he couldn't quite name or picture at the moment but he knew waited there, deep in the lair of forgotten memories. The prince unknowingly stepped back, but the Wocky placed a firm grip on his shoulder.
"Are you really Tarquinn de Quincy of Brightvale?" the Wocky asked, shaking his head slightly as though in disbelief.
Tarquinn nodded. "That is I."
The Wocky muttered something under his breath as he removed his hand. Suddenly, he spoke out with surprising urgency. "You shouldn't be here! What are you doing? It's not safe for you, sir. You are most likely needed by your kingdom. It's vital that you get back, that you stay away from the Haunted Woods."
Tarquinn was too stunned to speak.
"Listen to me," the Wocky said. "Next morning, return the way you came. There is nothing, absolutely nothing for you to find here. Discontinue your senseless search. It will not have a happy end."
"Oh -- what?" Tarquinn couldn't make sense of the Wocky's speech, but it worried him. He reached out, for the Wocky had turned abruptly around and was walking towards the door. The sense that some old memory was suddenly so close to being recalled was driving Tarquinn mad. "Why did you help me beat off those thieves? Who are you?"
The Wocky aboutfaced. "Anyone with a kind heart and an able body would have helped you fend off those scoundrels. When I heard the innkeeper plotting with them to rob you, I know I had to do something."
"It was the innkeeper, behind all this!" Tarquinn gasped, and the Wocky nodded.
"Aye, it was he. These woods are not safe for you, sir," the Wocky said. "As for who I am, that's really unimportant. I'm a hapless wanderer, old and forgotten. It's of no concern to your gracious self."
The Wocky bowed his head respectfully and gave Tarquinn one final piercing stare; a strange expression of great sadness swept over his aged face, and then he turned and walked out the door. Tarquinn stood in place for several minutes, racking his mind, trying to recall, remember something about that Wocky, about his particular voice... but nothing came to him. The prince rushed out the door to see if the Wocky was nearby, but the corridor was black and empty. The Wocky was gone.
Early next morning, Tarquinn and Lella woke Philippe by pouring buckets of water over his head and yelling in his ears. The Kacheek was oblivious to last night's events, and after he had been considerately informed, he was blank with shock. There wasn't much time for conversation, however, as Tarquinn wanted to get going immediately. The prince had considered and dismissed the Wocky's plea for him to return to Brightvale. Much was behind this decision, much more than perhaps even Tarquinn realised. A strange feeling crept over the prince whenever he thought of the Wocky, and this feeling was somehow associated with his many troubled dreams of the town and the swamp. The prince felt that he had accidentally stepped across a forbidden line or path, something he was not permitted to cross. There was a dark mystery he had never intended to uncover, but now that it was so near he could not resist prodding it. Everything was infernally complicated.
The prince wordlessly paid the retired Mynci acrobats seven thousand Neopoints for the room. He snubbed their sour looks -- they were abashed probably because their plot to rob Tarquinn in the night had failed. The prince ignored the subject, and the Mynci didn't introduce it either.
"Do you know where the old Wocky is, the one who sat there last night?" Tarquinn asked Edgar and Jacques, pointing to the unoccupied table by the dining room's window.
"Huh?" Edgar scratched his head.
"Ye know, that lout who ruined everything last night," Jacques whispered into his brother's ear.
"Oh, I remember," Edgar said. "Gone. Left at night."
"At night?" Tarquinn questioned.
"Yep. We don't know a thing 'bout that guy. Just some random bloke wandering round. Stayed here for half t' day and night, then left after t' storm," Jacques said lazily.
Tarquinn sighed. He had searched the inn for the mysterious Wocky but he hadn't found him anywhere. Indeed, the Wocky had disappeared. It was a shame because Tarquinn had wanted to speak to him, ask him questions.
"Come, it's time to leave." Tarquinn waved, and Lella and Philippe joined him.
The three left the crooked little wayside inn at the edge of the Deserted Fairground and made their way south to the Haunted Woods.
To be continued...