Chapter 15: Honey Gardens
The day finally arrived. During a long three weeks of magic lessons, Nyah and I learned everything Ligeia could teach us. Today we were getting back onto the road to go to the eastern region. We were hoping our delays hadn’t cost us Zola’s safety. Ligeia intended to part ways with us at a small Phaloan camp ten miles East of the warehouse location, I wasn’t sad to see her go.
Nyah and I stood outside of the warehouse with Norio’s horse. Our knapsacks were fastened onto its saddle. The air was pleasantly cool and provided relief from the sun. It was a beautiful, bright day. It had been raining off and on for the past three days so change was welcome.
Ligeia asked Norio to speak to her in private right before we were about to leave; They were standing only a few feet away from the warehouse exit, just inside the doorway. I was close enough to hear the murmur of their voices but I couldn’t make out what they were saying. I had a nagging urge to get closer and eavesdrop. As wrong as it is, I couldn’t trust Ligeia. Not after what she’d done.
As I started to move against the mossy brick building towards the doorway, my sister made a ‘psst‘ sound from behind me. I looked over my shoulder at her.
Nyah- Malaika! Get back here! Leave them be!
(She said in a hushed but urgent tone.)
Malaika- Shhh! Come on Nyah, don’t tell me you’re not even a little curious what she wanted him for.
(She rolled her eyes and shook her head at me. Her dark brown, shoulder length curls shook slightly.)
Nyah- Curious or not, I’m not going to listen in on their conversation. YOU shouldn’t either.
Malaika- We could hear something important. I can finally confirm if they really are trustworthy or not. It’s worth the risk.
(I watched her shake her head and smile.)
Nyah- Sure, good excuse. Go ahead then. You’ll do what you want in the end anyway…
(I returned her smile with a brighter one before I continued to creep along the damp, brick wall towards the doorway. I peeked around the wall and I could see Norio and Ligeia talking. The expression on Norio’s face gave me the impression that the topic was a serious one. I could hear them clearly now.)
Norio- …It’s funny you say that because I’d thought about going there. Maybe the best time is now.
Ligeia- I wouldn’t bring the princesses, but hey (shrugs shoulders) it’s your gig not mine.
Norio- The Phaloan Code alone would protect them.
(Ligeia started to laugh bitterly.)
Ligeia- “The Phaloan Code?” Oh, you mean the little attempt at redemption condensed into ONE sentence on stained paper? PLEASE tell me you’re joking!
(Norio Rolled his eyes slightly before smiling.)
Norio- I’m not expecting YOU to take it seriously, you never have.
Ligeia- Then are you saying with complete honesty, you’re living by that code even now?
(I watched Norio’s charming smile fade into a frown.)
Norio- Of course I do. A TRUE Phaloan honors the code on pain of death.
Ligeia- A “true Phaloan” doesn’t aim higher than they can reach.
Norio- What do you mean by that?
Ligeia- Your devotion to Princess Malaika and her family make me wonder what your real intentions could be…
(I didn’t know where she was taking this conversation, but I was suddenly very happy to be eavesdropping. I heard someone walking up behind me then. I quickly turned around to see Nyah holding her index finger up to her full, pouty lips. I knew her desire to be nosy was stronger than mine and would crush her eventually. It’s been this way since were were children listening in on our parents’ political arguements. We listened to Norio and Ligeia together.)
Norio- Tell me what you think I’m planning. I’ll tell you if you’re right or wrong. Try to be creative if you can.
(He taunted. Ligeia grinned, and there was a self-satisfied look on her face.)
Ligeia- I think you’re planning on making one of them your ticket to a throne. As for the other, I suppose you could give her to the highest bidder.
(Norio gave her a nod and smiled fully. I couldn’t believe it, this whole time…)
Nyah- I knew it!
Malaika- Nyah Shhh!
(I whispered to her.)
Norio- Okay, so you’re very perceptive. So what?
Ligeia- Relax, I’m not judging. As a matter of fact I have my own plans concerning the displaced princesses.
Norio- You knew I didn’t believe your story, but here you stand. Not only did you lie, you stayed as if you knew our intentions were similar.
(Ligeia smiled and stepped closer to Norio.)
Ligeia- You tend to forget how well I know you. How about we work together?
Norio- I don’t know, you’ll probably just get in my way.
Ligeia- Or you’ll be in mine. Either way, working together will help avoid that.
Norio- True…Alright, let’s hear what you have in mind.
(I quickly moved back against the wall and Nyah mimicked my movement. We suddenly looked at each other with fearful eyes. I didn’t want to believe what I’d heard, but I heard it very clearly. We were just a means to an end.)
Nyah- I knew it, I’ve had the worst feeling about him since we met. Malaika, we can’t stay with them any longer.
Malaika- Let’s get back to the horses before they see us, come…
(We hurried back to stand beside Norio’s horse. My thoughts were playing their conversation over and over. Was everything he’d said to me at the hotel a lie? Had he been lying from the beginning? No matter how I looked at it we were even more danger now. Finding a way to ditch them was going to be difficult.)
Nyah- They’re coming back! Act natural, you’re frowning too hard!
(She whispered urgently to me. I took a few deep breaths before turning around. Ligeia & Norio approached us with neutral expressions. As Notio approached me, he started to smile. I was hurt, I wanted to glare at him, but I forced myself to smile instead. I had to pretend I was happy to see him just he was pretending that conversation never happened.)
Norio- Let’s get on the road again. Are you two ready?
(He asked looking from me to Nyah. We both nodded with weak smiles saying nothing. I didn’t trust myself to speak in that moment. If I had, I was certain that I would ruin our escape plans.
Once Norio helped Nyah and I onto the horse, Ligeia vanished on her lonesome. We headed east from the warehouse towards the out and less traveled roads. The main roads leading to the Eastern Region were too risky to travel; we would be exposed quickly. We had the cover of the woods on the old roads at least.
I felt a gentle caress of finger tips against the side of my right calf, over the fabric of my dress. I’d almost jumped from the sensation. I looked down at Norio who was smiling up at me as he walked beside the horse. I smiled back, trying not to look startled.)
Norio- There’s supposed to be a festival at the honey gardens this afternoon. Since it’s on our way, would you two be interested in going?
Nyah- I don’t think we have time for that Norio. Besides, what if someone recognizes us?
Norio- Don’t worry, I’ll make sure to buy you two masks or something. Come on, I want to reward you two for all of your hard work with Ligeia.
(I wanted to believe in his sincerity, I wanted to smile and nod with exictement, but I couldn’t. After what we’d learned, how could I? However, this little festival could provide the distractions we needed to lose Norio & Ligeia. I looked back at Nyah with a slight smile. I simply nodded and she appeared to relax. I then gave Norio my full attention once more.)
Malaika- I think we should go. You’re right, we deserve to have some fun.
(His smile widened but he quickly toned it down to an emo-smirk. It was like being happy about something was a bad thing for him.
We travled along the old roads for nearly five hours. If I had to guess the time of day based on the sun’s postion, I’d say it was around three O’ clock in the afternoon. The trees were starting to thin out ahead of us until there was only tall, grassy fields and open road. My butt was pretty numb at this point. Nyah’s head was resting against my back and she was absolute dead weight against me, making it hard to keep my back straight. I was certain she’d fallen sleep on me.
I looked ahead as far as I could see, my eyes widened with excitement. There was a large banner tied to a two seven foot, wooden beams. As we got closer I could see the words on the banner more clearly. In big gold, bold letters read, “HONEY GARDENS STREET FESTIVAL.” The booming sounds of drums and other instruments became increasingly louder the closer we came. The music rang through my ears and thumped against my chest as we approached the entrance. I pulled the reigns of the horse making him stop abruptly. Only then did I feel my sister stir.)
Nyah- Where are we?
Norio- How nice of you to join us. We’re at the Honey Gardens Street Festival, your highness.
(Nyah glared at him for his smart alec remark, but he grinned.)
Malaika- Ready sis?
Nyah- Sure, let’s go. By the way, where’s Ligeia?
Ligeia- Here of course!
(She said cheerfully from behind us. Just knowing she had been following us this entire time without so much as a sound sent chills up and down my spine. Norio helped us down from the horse before taking the reigns from me. His fingers slightly brushed mine and I snatched away from him. Before I could see the look on his face I turned away.)
Ligeia- For a moment there you sounded worried about me Nyah.
(My sister gave her the darkest side-eye I’d ever seen before.)
Nyah- I wasn’t though.
(Nyah linked arms with me without another word to her. We started walking towards the crowds of people enjoying food, fun, and games.)
Norio- Wait up!
(I heard Norio calling to us from behind, but we continued on pretending not to hear him over the music.)
Nyah- We need to lose them as soon as possible.
Malaika- I know, I know. We have to separate though.
(I watched Nyah look around briefly before her eyes locked onto a mask shop.)
Nyah- I have an idea…
(I looked around for Norio & Ligeia to see them tying Norio’s horse to a nearby light pole. I saw a food cart making funnel cakes and pulled Nyah over to the line in front of it. We used the crowd to hide from our guard’s eyes. Instead of speaking aloud, I held Nyah’s face in my hands and rested my forehead against hers. I would use my abilities to listen to her thoughts. Closing my eyes, I focused on her thoughts.)
Nyah- …Do you remember that little bed & breakfast mom and dad took us to when we were little?
Malaika- …How could I forget?
Nyah- …Haven’t you realized how close we are to it yet!?
Malaika- …Half a mile…
(I suddenly felt hopeful again, for the first time since this whole mess started.)
Nyah- …If we buy masks, we could find two girls and swap outfits and masks with them. Once they head back towards Norio and Ligeia, we slip away before they realize it isn’t us. We won’t have long but we have to try…
Malaika- …This can work. I’ll tell them we need to go to the bathroom once we find our fakes. They’ll have to be in the bathroom changed and already heading out to meet Norio & Ligeia no more than five minutes after we tell them we need to use the bathroom. Which means you need to go buy the masks RIGHT NOW and get everything in place….
Malaika- …Yes now! When else? I’ll distract them but you have to get the masks and our fakes fast…
Nyah- Let’s go…
(I let go of her face and opened my eyes. She smiled before running off into the crowds. I knew she would be able to pull it off, she wouldn’t risk it if she wasn’t confident. I started looking for Norio immediately. I spotted him and Ligeia walking into the crowds from the entrance, it was clear they were looking for us. I started to approach Norio from about ten feet away, trying to weave through the crowds. Someone bumped into me and I almost lost my footing, but a gloved hand grabbed my wrist firmly and pulled me up. I looked up to see Norio’s dark eyes and faint smile. I was speechless, mouth gaped open like I was starstruck. Legiea was standing a couple of feet behind Norio looking around, at what I couldn’t have cared less.)
Norio- Are you ok? You almost ate it there.
(I was confused for a second as I’d never heard that expression.)
Malaika- ‘Ate it?’
(He laughed at me making me frown.)
Norio- You almost fell, bit the dust? you know?
(I laughed nervously before pushing away from the circle of his arms. I realized how dense I must of looked to not realize the meaning behind what he said sooner.)
Malaika- Sorry, I’m so used to formal speech…
Norio- That’s ok, you’ll get used to things real quick if you stay around me for a while. Hey, where’d your sister go?
(My eyes suddenly widened and I tried to quickly come up with an excuse. This was my first time ever lying to him, I wasn’t sure if he’d even believe me.)
Malaika- She saw a familiar game from our childhood and went to play. She’ll be back before you know it, she never won it.
(Norio smiled even wider at the comment, I smiled back. His smile was so warm and full of adoration. My story was false, but my smile was genuine. It was too late, I couldn’t deny the thumping in my chest, the warm feeling I get whenever he smiles at me…And while I continued to fall in love with my enemy, my sister was preparing our escape. We couldn’t be, we shouldn’t be, but I wanted to be…His…)
TO BE CONTINUED….