The Fine Art of Battle: Part Four
"He's been said to be one of the finest cooks this side of Altador," I pointed out reasonably.
"I still don't see why we must go so far inland to find him," Tuan answered irritably.
"Do you think I like it any better? It's just near my old village, too close for comfort. Still, if we have to eat one more meal prepared by Hoban, I think they'll plan a mutiny."
"This is near where you used to live?" Tuan looked out over the lush hills and grass waving in the wind. "This looks like farming country."
"Our village was the only one around that was comprised of warriors. They say that there was some ancient battle, and all of Shenkuu and Altador's warriors came to where my village is to train. And that just stuck with them. Everywhere else is farming, just like you'd expect."
"Why didn't they just let you go farm then?" Tuan asked.
"Well, I suspect they had never thought of it. Neither had I. My grandfather was a warrior... my father was a warrior... there were no other options."
Tuan nodded and continued to survey the countryside. I mulled over his question. There had to be some boys in the village who simply were not cut out to be warriors. Shouldn't they at least have the option?
Of course, since I'd left, I'd learned the way of the sword. Tuan had insisted that if I join the crew of the Cyodrake's Gaze that I know how to defend myself and my shipmates.
But Tuan had been patient with me. Building my confidence, never overpowering me. He wasn't an easy sparring mate, but neither did he humiliate or pound on me. I supposed some boys maybe needed the hard master, but I flourished under Tuan.
It helped I got to use my beauty. A blade I refused to make a replica of. Triple reinforced Maractite covered with a thin, hard, diamond edge. It glowed blue from within, because of the facets I'd carved into them. No matter how little light there was, it would catch and reflect it.
The hilt was made of a light blue material available only at the highest point of Terror Mountain. It was the color of ice, and hardly distinguishable from it. It had taken me 5 days to find a piece that was not ice. Of course, several times I'd taken a piece only to have it melt as I was carving it. Tuan would laugh loudly, as we climbed back up into the mountains. I carved it with gentle waves, and capped the waves in an faintly transparent pearl.
It looked as if it was made of the ocean, fitting for a weapons master on a ship. I'd been offered kings' ransoms for the piece, or even a replica... but I understood that this sword was a part of my very being.
We came upon the little village. Children were playing in the fields. Farmers tended their plants. There was such a quiet sense of home and community. I wondered why I had never bothered to visit. Would this life have worked for me?
The small building was set in the middle of the village. It was low to the ground, and as big as two of the cottages. There were rough wooden tables spread all over. We sat down, wanting to taste the wares before we asked him to come aboard.
The meat pies arrived, steaming hot. I broke the crispy, flaky crust open. Gravy spilled onto my plate, fragrant and thick. The vegetables looked fresh, and the meat was tender, pulled apart easily by a fork. I took a small bite. The flavors were intense and savory, and the crust had soaked up all the flavors. A slice of fluffy wheat bread, fresh from the oven, was perfect for sopping up the extra gravy. Tuan and I looked at each other and nodded, eager to meet the cook. If he could make a simple pie taste this good, think of what else he could do!
A tall pink Lenny walked out. "How did you like the meal, boys?"
"It was as fine a meal as I've had!" I exclaimed.
"Delicious!" Tuan chimed in, "You know we are looking for a ship's cook... don't you?"
"You are? Well, I am happy here, I have children and a wife, but... young Bonju over there has been training under me."
"Is he as good as you are?"
"Well... he... he makes an excellent seafood stew!" the man said, a trifle too heartily.
I detected something amiss, but Tuan jumped in right away. Most subtlety was too subtle for him. "Then we'll take him on, good sir! We need a good cook on our ship!"
"Thank you!" the man said, relief spreading over his features. "I'm sure you'll have plenty to eat with him around!" Little did we know at the time, we'd have plenty because half of what he cooked was inedible. Not that I blame the man. We'd soon learn Bonju was much more trouble than he was worth, but Captains have a much easier time keeping discipline. Some rules on land do not apply to sea.
As we walked out, I saw a tired old Moehog standing against a post. He looked almost familiar, but I couldn't quite place him. He looked up quickly at our footsteps. He looked up, his eyes boring into me.
"Master Rellion!" I started in surprise. What was he doing outside the village? So far as I knew, no one left except on warrior's business.
"Kentari. I'd heard that the Cyodrake's Gaze was looking for a new cook, and helped rumors of Trethas' cooking would reach you."
"How do you know him, Kentari?" Tuan jumped in, giving Master Rellion a measuring look.
"Be still, my friend, this is the man who taught me what a beautiful thing a weapon can be." Tuan's eyes widened... even he had heard of Warrior Rellion.
"I am sorry then, Kentari. Please continue, Warrior Rellion."
Rellion bowed his head in recognition of the gesture of respect. "It's Blepheros. He's... he's become a monster."
"Become!? He has always been. But please, let us sit down and discuss this. Bonju!" I yelled at the little orange Blumaroo, "Go tell Trethas we require drink, and to sit at one of the tables." Bonju stared at me insolently, not used to being ordered about in this way. "Did you hear me, little whelp? GO!" He ran off, muttering under his breath.
Tuan and I helped Rellion to his seat. "What is happening?" I asked, as he took a long drink.
"Well, Master Blepheros has everyone under his thumb. Every man in the village knows he can not beat him. The old Skeith has trained every warrior to have a weakness that he can exploit. In this way, he has managed to be made ruler of the village... not in name, but in truth. And it is truth that matters, as we well know."
"That is very sad, but what has it to do with Kentari?" Tuan asked, furrowing his brow.
"They are planning a war. Since they believe their way is the only way, they now believe Neopia will be better off doing things their way as well."
My eyes widened. These were some of the finest warriors in Neopia. We'd have to raise a huge army to stop them. There was no time.
"What do you suggest, Master Rellion?"
"I am no longer your master. I have heard of your skills, Kentari... skills Master Blepheros may not know. Here is what I propose. Challenge him to a one on one battle."
"Rellion!" I exclaimed loudly, "he is a warrior of many years! You would be more suited to challenge someone of his prestige!"
"Don't you see, Kentari? That is how he's become what he has. No one dares to challenge one with so much more experience. Those of us that could are too old and fragile. Our bodies would not allow us to win." Rellion shook his head sadly. "But you, Kentari. Everyone still remembers you. We've heard stories that Blepheros discredits as little more than wondertales. If you could beat him, you would break the hold on the village."
"But he could refuse the challenge," I said, uncertainly.
"So you challenge him in front of as many people as you can. If he refuses, he looks like a coward," Tuan chimed in.
Rellion smiled tiredly at him. "Exactly. And then, he'll have to fight in front of everyone as well, which will keep the fight clean." He looked at me piercingly. "You know, Kentari, you don't have to do this."
"Yes, I do," I said boldly. "My honor is at stake here. I must right any wrong I can... and if I don't, many will suffer. So I shall do it."
Tuan clapped me on the back. "I know I can't help you, my friend, but I will be there to support you."
"Thank you, old friend." I smiled warmly at Tuan. "Now," I turned to Master Rellion, "I'm sure you have an idea of how I can make an entrance."
He grinned, a touch of life behind his eyes. "Yes, young Kentari, I do."
To be continued...