The Summer Tournament
'Twas a Meridellian summer day, and the air was filled with sounds of cheering, music, and clashing swords. Today was the kingdom's biannual Tournament of Knights.
Morris and his best friend Boris, squires of Sir Wolnoth and Sir Kinnaird, were watching the current fight from behind the bars of the armor room window. Morris hadn't known what an armor room was, but after arriving realized it was sort of like a locker room in the arena where the knights prepared. Their squires were employed fetching armor polish and doing other random menial tasks.
Morris was a small green Quiggle. He sported the flag of Meridell on his squire 'uniform', but expressed his excellent personal fashion style by wearing a fake Lupe fur hood with ears. Beside him, Boris the Blumaroo wore a long black cape over his uniform and liked to weird people out by also wearing fake vampire fangs. (At least, Morris was fairly sure they were fakes.) Though back in Neopia Central all four of their gang of friends had been obsessed with medieval legends, Boris had been equally interested in Haunted Woods stories. (That was what they assumed anyways. Why else would he wear that cape? Assuming that the fangs were fakes, of course. Which they probably were.)
Squire Oliver tapped Boris on the shoulder. "Hey, you two."
Boris turned to face him. "What?"
Oliver crossed his arms. "Someone needs to get Sir Jeran Borodere's sword from the smithy. He's going to be fighting in an hour and obviously will need it."
There was a pause. The medley of noise from outside poured over the silence.
"You want us to do it?" Morris demanded. "Why? We're not his squires."
Rolling his eyes, Oliver replied, "Oh, really? So you'd miss an opportunity to carry a *real* sword?" He eyed the wooden blades the two had sheathed. As a squire further advanced in his training, Oliver had a metal weapon.
A light turned on in Morris's head. "No way! We'll do it! You can count on us!" He pulled Boris down the hall and out the back entrance. To carry a finely crafted weapon, belonging to Jeran Borodere, was worth missing part of the Tournament!
The door opened after them; Oliver poked his furry face outside. "Make it snappy! There's not a lot of time!"
"Yeah, yeah!" called Morris.
Jeran's sword, Morris and Boris both knew, had suffered a little damage at a scuffle in the Werelupe Forest of Brightvale a while ago. A blacksmith who owned a shop near the Tournament arena had vowed he'd have it repaired by this morning.
"I wonder why it hasn't been picked up already?" Morris questioned as they hurried down the path. Being a squire required you to run... a lot.
"Someone must have been slacking off," grumbled Boris.
They had no trouble finding the smithy, who handed them the weapon with a relieved expression on his face. Once a safe distance out of sight, Morris grasped the handle, which was the only part not covered by the leather sheath. "Dare I?"
"Do it," said Boris.
Morris pulled the blade out. They gasped.
The engraved sword flashed and sparkled in the light. When he turned it over, Morris could feel that it was perfectly balanced. He slashed at an invisible enemy.
Boris grabbed it from his hands. "Let me try! He looked the weapon up and down, and then similarly pretended to fight with it. "This ROCKS!"
The arena was located a short distance away from the Castle and its surrounding village. Setting the sword on a stationary cart, Boris let his eyes travel past the road and onto the flat grassy plains. During a nicer time of year it would have been lush and green, but due to the current drought was dead and brown.
"Check it out! They're setting up tables for the banquet!"
"Yeah, there's all the food!"
They ran to go get samples.
But when they returned a terrible surprise greeted them: where the cart had been there was nothing but empty air, and wheel tracks extending into the distance. A sudden cold breeze blew by.
For a moment all they could do was stare. The two friends looked at and saw mirrored panic in each other's faces.
"We'd better run," Boris said hoarsely. His throat felt dry.
"We can NOT! Of all the cowardly, sneaky-"
"I meant after the cart, doofus!"
Run they did. As stated before, being a squire required you to run a lot, so both of them had a great deal of stamina. Thanks to this, they caught up with the wagon within eight or so minutes.
Boris leapt into the back and looked from side to side. There were bags of foul-smelling garbage everywhere. He groaned inwardly. Why hadn't he realized what the cart was carrying? Behind him, Morris clambered aboard.
The driver looked over his shoulder. "What in the world...?"
"We... left...*huff* a sword on... your cart! *huff*"
"WHAT THE HECK IS THIS JUNK?!" Morris cried out in horror, seeing the mass of garbage before him and realizing that Jeran's prized weapon was in there somewhere.
The Kacheek driver laughed. "We're re-locating the rubbish dump. So many farmers were complaining that it was bringing down the neighborhood that the King finally agreed to have it moved."
Boris searched through the bags, which were bouncing up and down because of the gravelly road. He found the blade at last in a sack filled with rancid fruit and berries.
The metal was stained with purple juice splattered all over it.
"...Morris. We are doomed." To match Boris's sentiment, a low rumble of thunder resonated in the distance and the clouds began to darken.
Twenty minutes later: Morris and Boris were in the castle kitchens, scrubbing the sword with rags and soap. They'd cleaned off the rancid chunks of unguberry, but the stains would not disappear.
"We're dead. We're dead. Oh, we're so, so dead," Morris muttered continuously as they scrubbed to no avail.
"Guys? Is that you?" came a familiar voice.
The squires stiffened.
"It's Lisha!" hissed Boris.
Morris dropped the sword with a clatter. "Can we let her see this?"
She came around the corner before they had a chance to hide the weapon. Lisha was a yellow Aisha about the same age as Morris. Her face was a little paler than usual today, and she had a cloak draped around her shoulders.
But her face broke into a grin at seeing her friends. "Why aren't you at the Tournament with everyone else?" She put on her glasses. "I was almost sure the castle was completely deserted-"
Then, as they knew she would, Lisha caught sight of the sword. She breathed sharply. "YOU GUYS?! THAT'S NOT JERAN'S, IS IT?!?!"
"Rancid unguberries," Morris groaned. "Please help."
If Morris and Boris had had any small remaining hope about their fate, Lisha's reaction immediately squashed it. "He is gonna KILL you!" she denounced. "I'm sorry, but he really is."
"Do you know how to get rid of stains like this?" asked Boris.
"I don't. But you know, Kayla might. She's still here, too," Lisha responded.
The squires stood up, Morris holding the sword. "Let's go ask her," said Boris.
Outside, the weather had turned tense and windy. A storm was imminent. The threesome hurried across the castle grounds to the workshop King Skarl had granted to Kayla some years ago.
Though Lisha, Morris, Boris, and Kayla had all been friends on equal standing in the past, now that they lived in Meridell some things had changed. Lisha was on a rung of the social ladder slightly higher than Morris and Boris. That, and also because she had a more sensitive temperament than Kayla, had caused them to eventually stop teasing her and treat her more-or-less chivalrously, as would-be knights would be expected to.
Kayla, however, seemed to be in a social class all her own. Passing through the portal to Meridell had somehow enhanced her mind's understanding of physics, chemistry, (which both had always been particular interests) and other sciences beyond her years. She'd put her newfound skills to use developing potions of healing, freezing, Petpet growth, and whatnot. In the war against Darigan the King recognized her ability and allowed her to stay at the castle, granting her whatever ingredients she needed and occasionally requesting a particular potion.
For whatever reason, around her Morris and Boris still acted the way they always had.
"HEY, KAYLA!" Boris banged on the door.
It creaked open. "What is it?" the Zafara asked crankily. "Shouldn't you be at-?"
Morris held out Jeran's sword. Kayla just stared in her usual deadpan way.
"Is that what I think it is?"
"What did you do," she asked flatly.
"It fell in some garbage," explained Boris.
"CAN YOU FIX THE DUMB THING OR NOT?! WE'RE SUPPOSED TO BRING IT TO JERAN IN TWENTY MINUTES!" screamed Morris, glancing at the clock inside.
Kayla took it from him. "Well, I can try. But it looks like it was lying in unguberries or something. You know those really stain metal.
"But cheer up," she said as they walked though the door. "Unguberries won't hurt the steel. They just color it."
"How nice," said Boris sarcastically. "Maybe we can tell Jeran the blacksmith thought his sword looked better bright pink."
Kayla gave him a withering look. "Watch it, or I won't fix this thing at all."
Morris, Boris, and Lisha sat on a cushioned bench while Kayla heated a big pot of water. Standing on tiptoe, she took a key from a drawer and tossed it to Lisha.
"Get some lemon juice and vinegar from the kitchen cellar, would you?"
Lisha left. Kayla threw some herbs into the water and dumped in several bottles of other mixtures. Soon it was a boiling, murky white. She dipped the sword in.
"Whoops," the two heard her say. "I think it melted."
In a flash the two were off the bench. "WHAT?"
"Joking, joking!" Kayla yelled as Morris and Boris bolted towards her.
After that, Morris and Boris would not stop watching over Kayla’s shoulder to make sure she didn't unintentionally worsen the situation.
The potion-maker looked down at them. There was a small height difference, as she was a year older than Boris, and had nearly two over Morris. "I can't work with an audience. Out!"
She threw them outside. Within a few moments Lisha came by, teetering beneath two heavy glass jars filled with liquid. The squires jumped up to help carry.
The Aisha had to ask, "Why his sword? That's the worst thing you could do! If Jeran's got a loose screw, it's that he blows his stack if anyone damages his sword or armour in any way!"
"Ah, thank you," Kayla said when they set the containers before her. "But I meant what I said about you two staying out." Morris and Boris left again, though not without throwing a few worried glances behind them.
"So why aren't you at the Tournament, Lisha?" Kayla wanted to know. Thunder cracked from far away.
"I got sick last night."
Kayla glanced up from her work. "How awful! Are you alright now?"
"Of course! It was over a little before noon. I was going to make some hot chocolate in the kitchens when I found Morris and Boris."
"That's good. But you'd better stay inside today. It's going to rain." Kayla held her forehead. "Oh, what a relief! All of my natural ingredients have been in paucity. It's practically been a desert around here."
At last Kayla had finished. She struggled to open the door against the now-howling gale, ears flapping in the wind.
"Here you go." She offered the sword to her friends. It was pristine and sparkling. From the look of the squires, they might have just been released from an all-life dungeon sentence.
"Thank you, Kayla," moaned Boris.
"You're a lifesaver," Morris agreed.
Kayla shrugged. "You'll pay me back sometime. Now, let's get it to the Tournament." She removed a teleportation potion from her coat pocket.
"Don't bother. I don't think Jeran's going to need it after all," Lisha cut in.
Following her gaze, Boris, Kayla, and Morris saw a mass of people advancing towards the castle in the distance. Spectators clutched hats and ducked their heads against the howling wind. They could see knights in the crowd, too. Hailstones were starting to fall.
"That's right," Kayla realized. "It's an outdoor arena, isn't it? Of course they'd have to postpone the event. You guys really lucked out."
Jeran had been restless all day, not in the best mood for a Tournament. There was the whole business with his sword, for one thing. (He hoped the blacksmith hadn't messed it up in a subtle yet very important way that only Jeran would realize while repairing it!) Then Lisha fell ill. Jeran was NOT happy about leaving her alone at the castle, but what could he do? Some maids who hadn't gone to the Tournament had agreed to regularly check on her. Still though, thinking about his sister had kept his mind constantly worried and distracted.
But then the Tournament was cut short before he even had a chance to enter battle. For the first time in almost a month a thunderstorm had blown in (much to the disgust of the King and everybody else).
As the knights trooped back through town, with civilians hurrying around them, Sir Tormund noticed a wagon full of trash bumping across the road. "What in Neopia is that?"
"I think I heard something about the rubbish dump being relocated," Sir Wolnoth answered gruffly.
"Well, it's about time!" The yellow Lupe's eyes flashed. "I'm from Meri Acres, and that place was a disgrace! You know what would happen on days like this? When it rained, the water would carry garbage into our fields! We'd just look out the window and see it floating by our house! Mother could hardly bear it..."
Jeran was too preoccupied to listen to the rest of the outraged rant. When they arrived at the castle, he went immediately to Lisha's room. To his surprise, the bed was made and his sister was nowhere to be seen. That meant she must be feeling better.
Sure enough he found her a little farther down the hall. She was sitting outside his room with her three friends, playing cards.
She rose to her feet. "Um... hi, Jeran!" Beside her, Morris and Boris stiffened and stood up at attention. While they weren't watching, Kayla sneaked some of her cards into the center pile.
"Hello, Lisha. How do you feel?"
"I'm fine. How'd the Tournament go?"
"Well, I didn't actually get to do anything. It was postponed before I went out."
"Uh, your sword's in your room, Sir," Boris told him, pointing at the doorway.
"Oh, good. I'd better make sure it's been repaired adequately." Jeran went to examine his sword. Lisha, Morris, and Boris sat down once more and resumed their game. But everyone lowered their cards as soon as Jeran's back was turned, and as he moved his paw to take the sword from its rack, he was watched by four fearful pairs of eyes. Kayla's weird mixture couldn't have done anything to it... right? It also still smelled a little like vinegar.
Jeran lifted, scrutinized suspiciously, and carefully swung the blade. A few moments later he nodded approvingly. "Great. That's a load off my mind."
He exited the room. "I believe Sir Kinnaird needed to speak with me. Make sure you take it easy, Lisha. If you start to feel ill again, let someone know." With that, the blue Lupe knight disappeared down the corridor.
Everyone breathed in relief. Morris tossed the cards over his shoulder. "I hope that doesn't come back to haunt us someday."
Lisha scowled at the floor and wondered if she was doing the right thing. Was she going behind her brother's back? She hated that thought. But then, she didn't want to land Morris and Boris in trouble either. Sure, if SHE had been the one who'd hurt Jeran's sword, she'd tell him so. But it went without saying that he'd be a lot more forgiving towards her than two borderline-delinquent squires who constantly caused him trouble.
Why DID those two always have to get themselves in messes like this, anyways? Morris never meant to, he just had a knack for it. Boris, on the other hand, seemed to like rebelling.
The storm lasted for almost two days. For all it may have irritated those involved in the Tournament, the farmers were dancing in the streets. Furthermore, as some of them pointed out, “Skarl should be grateful too. After all, the castle’s provisions are grown in our farms.”
On the morning after the storm, the soaked towns and fields were lit up by the sun; but despite its beauty yet another dilemma emerged before much of the day had passed.
A roar resonated from the throne room. "WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS?!"
“Your Majesty, we-”
"I DIDN'T MEAN THEY COULD PUT IT THERE!"
Over in the training grounds, Morris and Boris were engaged in a practice fencing match. Oliver sauntered over. "Guess what? The rubbish dump was moved to the plains by the south gate. You can see it from the windows on the Castle's higher floors."
Boris looked confused. "Is that why the King's so upset?"
"It really ruins the view."
"Give me a break!" exclaimed Morris.
Shortly after Oliver had gone, the two were approached by Lisha.
"Hey." Judging from her appearance, she was in much better health now.
"What's up, Lisha?"
"I was wondering... I saw you, and it looked like a lot of fun... could you show me how to use a sword?"
The squires backed up, flabbergasted. "No!" "We couldn't do that!" "What if Jeran found out?!"
Lisha stomped her foot. "Why not?"
They exchanged glances.
"Because... because..." floundered Morris.
"We just can't," Boris said, shaking his head.
"But why not?! You guys never used to act like this!" Lisha was really angry now. She turned around and ran back the way she'd come. For a moment they thought she was finished with this dispute. Then-
"Jer-aaan! Did you know what they did to your sword a few days ago?"
"Wait, Lisha, no! Don't tell him!" Morris and Boris dashed after her. Sir Wolnoth watched through a tower window.
There goes that squire of mine, along with Boris and Sir Jeran's sister. I wonder what they're up to... Morris, Boris, Lisha, and their potion-maker friend were certainly some of the stranger characters at the castle.