A Spy's Tale: New Life - Part Three
Audri maneuvered up the wall using cracks in the cobblestones as footholds. At the top, the white Gelert hauled herself over the wall and onto the roof, where she perched vigilantly on a chimney. Sitting on her ledge like a watchful Airax, she searched the quiet city for any thievery or lawbreaking, holding a paw to her forehead to shade her crystal-blue eyes from the afternoon sun.
Audri heard fast, heavy footsteps from underneath her. Peeking over the roof, she spotted a blue Elephante with a square brown object in his hand running towards the alley to her right. Once he reached the alley, he climbed onto the balcony of one of the buildings. On the same balcony, Audri spotted two Meercas, one pirate Kyrii, and a red Kougra.
That doesn't look like a friendly social gathering, she thought.
"Five thousand neopoints down the drain," a deep voice grumbled from inside the alley. Audri looked in his direction, spotting two male knights: a brown Lupe and a spotted Gelert. Her thought was interrupted when the five suspicious pets jumped from their ledge to block the knights' escape.
Alright, Audri decided angrily, this is definitely not a social gathering!
The white Gelert silently crawled down the wall, making sure that no one could see her. She unsheathed her dagger from a pocket in her tattered peach dress, and found a thick, short piece of wood to use as a club. With both weapons in hand, Audri peeked around the corner of the alley...
* * *
An abrupt knock on the door halted Audri's flashback dream. She mumbled for the visitor to come in before she even opened her eyes. When she did open them, she had to close them again. The curtains on the window were not drawn; colored beams of extremely bright sunlight poured into the room.
She did not need to see the visitor to know who he was. "Oh, sorry," Leon's baritone voice said, "did I wake you?"
Audri sat up and blinked until the spots from the sunlight left her eyes. "Yup. But that's alright. If you hadn't woken me up, I pro'ly would've slept 'till noon."
The spotted Gelert gave a small chuckle. "You could've if you wanted to. It's eleven forty-five. Well, I'll let you get ready for our trip."
As soon as the knight left, Audri leaped out of her bed and nearly flew to the dressing room. After gently scrubbing her face with a soft cloth and cleaning her teeth, the white Gelert slipped into a loose blush-colored cotton shirt and russet breeches. She stepped into a pair of matching russet slippers, slung her pack over her shoulder, and quickly padded down the hall to Leon's room.
After munching small pastries from the kitchens, Leon and Audri entered the stables. While saddling Nutmeg and Draft, the Gelerts discussed their trip.
"How long will it take to get there?" Audri wondered.
Leon had to think for a moment before he answered, "Only about thirty to forty minutes. We'll stop about halfway to give our Unis a rest. I know that there's a stream on the way."
They finished readying the Unis in silence. At last, the Gelerts mounted up and began the short flight to Leon's home fief.
* * *
"Leon!" Baroness Kaia of Emerald Coast exclaimed when she saw her son. She rushed over to see the knight, who instantly dismounted from his Uni to embrace his mother. Sir Rhyes, Baron of Emerald Coast, gave Leon a smile and a quick hug.
After Audri dismounted and took her pack from Nutmeg, Nutmeg and Draft followed a stable boy to the barn to be unsaddled. Audri took a few steps forward to stand by Leon's side.
"This is Audri," said Leon, motioning towards the small white Gelert. "Audri, this is my father, Sir Rhyes, and my mother, Baroness Kaia."
Since she had no skirts to curtsey with, Audri settled for a polite Shenkuu-style bow, placing her palms on the front of her thighs and inclining her torso. Leon's parents both made slight bows. Audri was happy to see that Kaia, a pink Gelert, wore comfortable breeches and a loose shirt instead of the ostentatious dresses that court ladies usually wore. Rhyes, a spotted Gelert like his son, also dressed for relaxation.
"Well, why don't we go inside?" Kaia suggested with a wide smile. "It's nearly lunchtime."
"Sounds great!" Leon exclaimed. He paused, realizing that something was missing from his little family reunion. "Where's Vera?"
"Poor thing," Rhyes said, shaking his head in sympathy. "She caught a cold yesterday. I think it would please her if you visited her after lunch; she's too tired to leave her room."
Leon nodded, then realized that Audri was casting him a questioning look. "Vera's my sister. Would you like to meet her?"
"Sure!" she said happily. Inside her mind, however, she thought that she would rather go to the beach than meet Vera. She pushed the thought aside, though; letting her true feelings slip past her lips during lunch was the last thing she wanted to happen.
When the four Gelerts arrived in the dining room, they immediately seated themselves in red cushioned chairs with skillfully carved legs. The waiters served steaming platters of grilled vegetables. A few other waiters bore trays and bowls of jipple pear salad, grenana pudding, and crusty bread.
After the delectable lunch, Leon showed Audri to her room so she could unpack and rest. About an hour later, the pair visited Vera's room.
"Leon?" a voice asked hoarsely when they entered. The voice belonged to a pastel pink Gelert who looked to be about fifteen years old.
"Vera!" Leon exclaimed, rushing over to give her a hug. "I'm so happy to see you! Are you feeling better at all? Are you too tired to go to the beach today?"
"I'm a little better, but I won't be able to go to the beach. Man, I hate being sick. It's such a waste of a beautiful summer day." When Audri stepped a little closer, Vera shifted to get a better look at her. With a grin, she asked, "Who's this? Our long-lost aunt?"
"Not quite," Leon replied with a smile. "This is Audri Blake, one of my friends."
"Nice to meet you, Audri," Vera croaked, still grinning. "I was just joking, by the way."
The tiny white Gelert nodded, but she was not listening thoroughly. She regretted her thoughts about wanting to go to the beach more than meeting Vera. Audri could tell that Leon's younger sister was not a boring, snobby, stereotypical teenage noble. In fact, Audri believed that Vera was quite the opposite, just like Leon's laid-back parents. She smiled at the thought that she might have made a few new friends.
"So, Audri," Vera began, interrupting the white Gelert's train of thought, "How did you meet my dear brother?"
Audri opened her mouth to say something incredibly modest about the beginning of their friendship, but Leon answered for her. "She saved my life," Leon stated, patting Audri on the shoulder.
"You're the one, then? Leon's sent letters—" Vera had to stop speaking for a moment to cough loudly, "—all about you."
Audri punched Leon on the shoulder gently, though even her light punch was strong enough to make the tall knight wince slightly. "Aw, you shouldn't have!" she teased, making Leon blush slightly. The three Gelerts enjoyed a long conversation for at least an hour and a half before Leon realized that it was late in the afternoon.
"Hate to leave you all alone, sis, but I think we should go to the beach before it gets too dark," Leon said, "We'll visit tonight, okay?"
"Sure, that's fine," Vera said cheerfully, though Audri detected a hint of disappointment in her voice, "Bye. Nice meeting you, Audri!"
"Yeah, you too!" the Gelert called over her shoulder as she left the room with Leon. Audri and Leon separated to change into their swim clothes. A few minutes later, the pair arrived at the shore.
When Audri first gazed upon the ocean, she felt giddy with delight. The sun barely touched the horizon, casting a red-orange glow on the soft, wet sand. The light shining through the pink clouds overhead reflected on the shimmering surface of the ocean, creating a heavenly idyll. Audri was not the only one amazed by the beautiful scene. When she took her eyes off the glimmering surface of the sea to glance at Leon, he too was smiling with joy.
"What do you think?" Leon asked the small white Gelert.
Audri gazed up at him as though he was insane for asking such a question. "It's so beautiful!" she breathed.
"That's why I love this place so much," the knight replied. He looked towards the ocean, remembering his childhood with a smile on his face. "When I was little, before I went to Brightvale City to be a page, I used to come here for hours and hours. Even in the winter. But in the winter, I just took walks on the beach with my family." Leon paused for a moment, reminiscing. "I didn't realize how much I missed the sea."
Audri nodded in understanding, though she had never lived anywhere as magnificent as the Emerald Coast.
"Well, enough talking," Leon announced, a wild grin covering his face. "Last one in is a rotten purblare!"
Audri grinned. Throwing her jacket on the soft, tan sand, the white Gelert sprinted into the water, surprised by its warmth. Leon splashed his way into the foaming waves only a second later, laughing. Though Audri had no idea how to swim, she learned rapidly with Leon as her mentor. Audri dove through the waves gleefully, enjoying the swift rush of warm water through her fur. She had never experienced something so exhilarating and joyous.
"Wouldn't it be great to be a Maraquan?" Audri mused. "You could do this all day and not have to worry about taking a breath!"
"That's very tru-bluh." Leon's comment became distorted as a wave crashed over him. Audri giggled and dove through an oncoming wave so as not to receive the same fate as Leon. After the Gelerts were exhausted from swimming, they sat under a palm tree to air-dry and watch the sun vanish beyond the horizon.
"Thank you so much for bringing me here."
When Leon turned his spotted head towards Audri's snow-white face, he met her sincere crystal-blue eyes with his green eyes. "Anytime, Audri."
They sat in silence for a long, seemingly endless moment. "Blast," Leon said with disappointment. "The sun's gone. We should head back."
"'kay," Audri agreed, her voice also filled with regret. "I could use a wash to get this salt out of my fur."
After a long, hot bath, Audri bade goodnight to Vera with Leon at her side. Refreshed and smelling strongly of vanilla spice, the Gelert retired to her bed. She fell asleep with a satisfied smile on her face.
* * *
The sudden noise forced Audri's eyes to pop open. She hopped out from under her maroon down comforter to investigate. Another loud noise sounded; Audri realized that it was coming from Leon's room. Dagger at the ready, she rushed over to the room next to hers to see what was happening.
"What are you doing?" the white Gelert asked when she saw her tall knight friend pulling a mail shirt on over his undershirt.
"Uh, well, um," Leon stammered. "There's a pirate raid down the beach from here. They're coming towards us."
"I'll go get my dagger," Audri suggested, turning to leave.
"No," the knight said sternly, concerned. "You're not coming."
"I think I'll be the one who decides that."
Leon sighed. "Don't make me put you in the dungeon until I get back."
"Two problems there," Audri shot back. "One: you and I both know that I can easily get out of a dungeon. So don't even try. Two: I need to be assured that you will come back."
The tall knight breathed out heavily and rested his hand on her shoulder. "Audri, I'm begging you. Please don't come. Of course I'll come back; they're just some pirates."
"Some pirates, eh?" Audri retorted, "Let's see. When did we last encounter some pirates? Oh, I remember! Back in Brightvale City, some pirates could have murde—"
"Don't remind me," he growled.
"Fine," the white Gelert snapped, "I'll stay. But you'd better not get hurt!"
"I won't," Leon assured her.
* * *
"Lady Kaia?" Audri called when she entered the castle library. She had no time to marvel at the vast amount of books in the huge chamber, for she had an important task ahead of her.
"Yes, dear?" came the baroness's rich, elegant voice, ringing out through the large room like chimes.
"I need to ask you a favor." She added quickly, "If you don't mind, of course."
The pink Gelert gave a gentle smile and snapped her book shut. "Ask away."
"Where can I get some armor and a helmet?"
Kaia raised her eyebrows, understanding exactly why the younger Gelert needed such things. "Right this way."
Audri was grateful that the baroness did not ask questions; there was no need. Her plan was obvious. After a short walk to the armory, the two female Gelerts found strong mail for Audri's torso, sturdy leather boots, and an oversized helmet. Kaia helped Audri tuck her hair and long white ears into her helmet and slip into her mail shirt.
"Put this on your face, hands, and neck," the baroness suggested, offering Audri a bag of black powder, "Your white fur stands out a bit. There we go. You could pull off being a shadow Lupe as long as your helmet's on. The men will be going out on Uniback, but for some crazy reason, they fight on foot. As long as we can get two decent Unis, we can catch up with them."
Audri raised her eyebrows as she slipped on a large tunic with the Emerald Coast's coat of arms. "We?" she asked, surprised.
The older Gelert smiled. "You thought I'd cower at home like a some pretentious court lady?"
"Oh, no, of course not!" Audri quickly assured Kaia.
"My husband and my son are out there," the baroness reminded her. "Now, if you'll help me get into my armor, I'd really appreciate it."
* * *
Sir Leon led his small army towards a small hill, his loose shirt fluttering as his Uni ran forward. Leon glanced behind him past his cantering Uni's backside to see how the men were riding. He frowned when he saw two figures lagging behind on incredibly slow Unis.
"Hey! You two," Leon barked at the red Gelert and the shadow Lupe, "Catch up with us."
"My apologies, sir," the Lupe shouted, his voice a rough country accent, "Thought I'd dropped somethin' farther back."
When Leon looked forward again, his eyes met black sails farther down the coast. He motioned for the men to halt. "Gents, dismount and unsheathe your weapons. The pirates are anchoring."
The knight heard the sound of metal against metal as the men obeyed his orders. When he glimpsed his father, dismounting his Uni only a few feet away, he received a smile of pride and encouragement from the older knight. Leon smiled back, though inside he felt a colony of Buzzers fluttering inside his stomach.
As soon as the first pirate head appeared over the small hill, Leon shut the front of his helmet, raised his sword high in the air, and yelled at the top of his lungs, "Charge!"
Immediately, the men rushed forward to attack the pirate raiders. Leon easily defeated eight pirates, but when he spun around to find his next victim, he instead found his match.
"Thenk ye'll kill me as eas'ly as ye killed me men?" the pirate Wocky growled, "I thenk not!"
"Really?" Leon shot back, locking swords with the pirate raider, "Well, I think so!"
As he yelled the word "so", the knight lunged to stab the Wocky. His blow was instantly blocked. They engaged in combat for what seemed like forever, eventually pushing their way out of the mass of knights and pirates.
Locking swords again, their strength equal, the two men struggled to make progress in defeating each other. Swiftly, the Wocky pulled a thin turquoise blade from a hidden pocket in his sleeve and slashed the unsuspecting Gelert across the torso. The blade somehow sliced through his mail and left a deep gash in his chest. Leon stumbled back, dropping his sword.
The Wocky grinned cruelly and stepped forward to finish off the weakened knight. However, the Wocky's grin turned into a grimace and he fell forward, revealing a satisfied shadow Lupe who seemed to be giving Leon a wry smile.
When the small Lupe caught a glimpse of the crimson streak in Leon's tunic, he gasped. "Oh, Fyora!"
Leon was surprised to hear Audri's voice when the "Lupe" spoke. He whispered her name, shocked. Gasping in pain, Leon collapsed.
To be continued...