Travels By Knight
Mzuzu nervously glanced at his watch, anxiously awaiting the arrival of his friend Costis. He was supposed to be at the castle yesterday and had still not turned up. Eyeing the door, Mzuzu hoped for the sudden arrival of his best friend. But Costis never showed up.
Walking around the crowd of elegantly dressed people, Mzuzu began to look for some of his comrades. Maybe they'd heard word of where Costis could be found. After searching for a few moments he found a couple of his friends milling around the buffet table. Of course they would only have eyes for food, Mzuzu thought, rolling his eyes.
"Hey 'Zuzu," Beddux said, his mouth full of chicken and yeast roll. "Have you seen Costis?"
Mzuzu's mouth fell open. He was honestly shocked that his last hope hadn't heard from their friend either. Where could the silly Usul be? He was just about to answer when the trumpets blasted, signaling the arrival of the king.
The Knighting ceremony was of as much importance as the Grand Ball, and everyone stood to attention as King Skarl made his way to the throne. The Skeith was aging, anyone could see by the length of time it took him to reach the throne, but nobody dared say he was weak. His teeth were still pretty sharp, and a bite from an angry king wasn't exactly enticing.
Sitting on his throne, King Skarl demanded the crowd be silent. His request was granted almost immediately and he got ready to announce the proud, brave Neopians who'd earned the right to call themselves knights this year. Mzuzu started shaking in worry, hoping Costis would make it. Everyone knew Costis dreamed of knighthood, and that this could very well be his year... so where was he?
Mzuzu's greatest worry seemed to come to life as King Skarl glanced at the next name on his parchment and smiled. "Ah yes," said the grumpy king, "our next young lad is one of my best marauders. He's defended our lands many times in a variety of ways and it's no secret becoming a knight is something he greatly covets." Mzuzu eyed the door in the futile hope that Costis would walk through, saving the day as he often liked to do. "Costis, you have earned the right to call yourself a knight. Please come to the throne."
Three Days Earlier
"The next time I take directions from a Korbat, feel free to kick me in the shin, okay, Carmen?" Costis spat as he ventured further into the woods. Carmen neighed quietly and the barest hint of a smile appeared on Costis' face. Carmen may not be able to communicate with words but the two had a language of their own and he knew she was just placating him.
In all honesty, Costis wouldn't have minded getting lost in the forest if it were any time other than this. He had two days to get back to the castle and at the rate he was going it didn't seem like he'd make it.
This particular Grand Ball was something Costis had been looking forward to all year. Everyone in the castle and the surrounding lands were gossiping about who would be the newest inductions at the knighting ceremony. He'd heard his name pop up more than enough for him to feel almost certain that King Skarl would finally decide he was old enough to become a knight.
As soon as Costis was old enough, he immediately offered his services to his king. A young Usul ready for adventure, he went to many different places and performed many great deeds to show his allegiance with his king. The taste for adventure was definitely something he'd gotten used to, and the stories he had to share were loved by all. He'd quickly become one of Skarl's top marauders as he dared to do what many were frightened of.
Frowning, Costis shook himself out of his thoughts. He wasn't going to get anywhere thinking about the things he'd done. He needed to be walking as fast as he could through the woods and hope against hope that it led somewhere recognizable. It was that stupid Korbat's fault, he thought bitterly, but he knew the blame couldn't be fully placed on misguided directions.
"It's my own fault I'm lost in the woods with only a short while before the ball," he told Carmen, his frown growing. "If I'd just stayed with the group, I'd be at the castle by now and probably enjoying a nice hot bath. Instead I'm lost and tired, and will miss the ceremony."
Dejected, Costis kept walking, Carmen nudging him along when she needed to. He was usually an upbeat fellow but the looming threat of missing something important to him was dragging him down. Feeling the sun beat down on his back through the cracks in the trees, he knew that if he let himself stay down, he'd never get there. "Just one foot in front of the other and don't think about the Ball," Costis said to himself.
A short while later, Costis noticed the path split into two separate parts. One route was just like the dirt path he was currently on and he instinctively knew it would lead him back to the castle (the distance however, he didn't know). The other path was old and overgrown and probably hadn't been used by anyone in years.
Costis wasn't sure which path to take. He realized the newer path would take him back to the castle, but he felt compelled to take the second one. Could there be a shortcut down this old pathway? Or better yet, could there be an adventure waiting to happen? Costis knew his time was running out and he needed to keep walking. With a slight smile at Carmen, he chose his path and marched on with his head held high.
The underbrush was getting harder and harder to walk past, and Costis found himself clearing a path with his sword. The sun was sinking into the sky and he knew he'd have to rest somewhere soon. The ground didn't really look appealing, but he'd slept on worse so he could deal with it. Carmen followed behind at a slower pace, but he didn't worry too much. After a good night's sleep, she'd be full of energy once again.
He knew he was deeper into the woods than he'd ever been before. The animals were much more sinister looking than they'd been on the path he was on earlier. They steered clear of Costis, though, knowing the Usul didn't mean them any harm. He wasn't afraid of anything the woods could try to surprise him with, he was just worried that the time he would take resting would prolong him getting to the castle.
The castle. Costis never really thought of it as home and for the most part he never really missed not having a place of his own, but at times like this he would have given anything for a soft place to rest his head without castle rules hanging over him.
"Carmen, are you ready to find a place to sleep for the night?" he asked, walking ahead a bit further. Carmen neighed softly in assent and flew along. He'd hoped to find a fallen tree or something to rest on. He didn't need much room, just something a little bit more comfortable than the underbrush. Apart from Carmen and the animals lurking in the shadows, the woods felt quite empty.
So it came to him as a huge shock when he heard several different voices farther up the path.
Instantly on guard, Costis crept towards the noise, hand resting on his sword just in case he needed to draw it. Who would be frolicking in the woods at such an hour?
A small house stood before him and he gazed in wonder as he saw a small family getting ready to end their day. A Kau in a blue and pink dress chided a rather flamboyant Chomby as a mallow Grundo and a sad looking Acara shared looks and headed into the house. Clearly the loud ruckus was coming from the Chomby, as he didn't appreciate getting told what to do.
Deciding to make his presence known, Costis walked into the clearing surrounding the house. "Hello," he said confidently, and watched in amusement as the argument stopped and all attention was on him. "My name is Costis and this is Carmen, my alabriss. I'm a kni--marauder from Meridell and I've lost my way. Can you point me in the right direction?"
For a second nobody spoke but then the Chomby bounded to him and stared at him for a few moments. Deciding Costis wasn't a threat (regardless of the fact he still hadn't taken his hand off of his sword), the Chomby smiled and said, "My name's Selenashia, but everybody calls me Selena. Come in and we'll get you on your way to Meridell!" Costis followed behind the Chomby, Carmen at his heels.
The house wasn't very big, but there was enough room for the small family and the occasional visitors that stumbled their way to the home through the woods. He noticed the Acara was painting something and the mallow Grundo that he saw earlier was in a corner scribbling furiously in a journal. Selena led him into the kitchen, with the Kau at their heels.
"Hey Ash, we've got a visitor," Selena said as he nicked a muffin from the counter. "Says he's a marauder and got lost."
The woman looked at Costis curiously for a moment, before she smiled and said hello. "You must be Costis," she said after her greeting. "I've heard so many stories about you! It's a great honor to have you and Carmen here."
Costis smiled, glad he hadn't run into any people against the rule of King Skarl. He saw Selena visibly deflate as if he thought the Usul was simply telling tales.
"I see Selena has already introduced himself, and as usual didn't think to introduce you to anyone else," Ashley said kindly, stirring a pot of broth before turning back to him. "Sacarm is the Kau behind you and Emxie and Armsac are the grey Acara and mallow Grundo, respectively. This is our little family and you're welcome to stay the night."
Costis appreciated the kindness, but he really just needed directions to the castle, not an invitation to their home! "Thank you, miss, but I really just need to be pointed in the way of the castle and then I'll be out of your way," he said, tipping his hat in gratitude. He was sure he would have gotten what he wanted if it weren't for the loud growling of his stomach.
Selena snickered, but Ashley was already grabbing a bowl from the cabinet and filling it with broth. "Costis, you and Carmen are going to sit down and eat this broth. And then you're going to sleep and I'll give you directions in the morning." With that, she pointed at a chair and sat the broth in front of him, spoon already in the hot liquid. Costis knew that he shouldn't argue, and really the food smelled too good for him to resist. He dove in, and was happy to see the stern look on Ashley's face change into a smile.
Soon after the broth was gone, Ashley led him to the bath where he was then instructed to get clean. While Costis normally only took directions from King Skarl, he didn't want to upset Ashley and the other residents of the home. He could tell Carmen even felt better after they were cleaned and sitting in front of the fireplace in the living area. Tired from a long day, Costis fell asleep in front of the fire, not even waiting for Ashley to show him where the guest bedroom was.
The next morning, Costis awoke to Armsac, the mallow Grundo, staring at him curiously. Shocked, he jumped a little before settling down and smiling. It was then he noticed that all the members of the family except for Ashley were sitting around with expectant looks on their faces.
"Um, good morning?" he offered, even though he knew that's not what they seemed to be waiting on.
Selena rolled his eyes before saying "Ashley told us you went on adventures a lot and had stories. So let's hear them. I haven't got all day."
"And what do you have to do, Sel, practice your rock star routine?" Sacarm said before looking at Costis. "You don't have to share your stories with us, even though we would like to hear a few if you have time."
Costis glanced at the clock and noticed he'd slept for quite a while. It was almost noon and he had to be at the castle tomorrow! He really didn't have the time, no matter how nice they'd been to let him rest in their home. A part of him felt guilty, knowing he'd have to deny their requests for some tales of his adventures.
"Listen, guys, I would love to tell you some stories about my travels, but I really must get back to the castle. I have to be at a ball by tomorrow night and I don't know how long it'll take me to get there. Can you show me the way?"
He tried not to notice how all of the family seemed to be saddened that he was denying them something they all wanted. Even Selena seemed to look unhappy, and the Chomby had been a little less than friendly after it was revealed Costis was indeed a marauder. There was silence for a few moments before Sacarm pulled out a map and pointed him in the right direction.
Finding Ashley, he thanked her for her hospitality once more and said goodbye to the small family. He'd gotten a few feet away when he came back to the group still standing outside, watching him.
"I'll come back and tell you as many stories as you want when I can, alright?" And before they even had a chance to answer, Costis dashed off, wondering if he even meant what he'd just said.
..."Costis, you have earned the right to call yourself a knight. Please come to the throne."
Mzuzu buried his head in his hands, knowing that all was lost and his friend missed out on the opportunity of a lifetime and the chance for his dream to come true.
When Costis didn't immediately walk up to the throne murmuring began to break out amongst the crowd. Where was he? People began to look around much as Mzuzu had done earlier; trying to find the Usul. King Skarl even looked shocked that Costis didn't seem to be at the ball.
"I'm sorry," a voice said shrilly, causing the crowd to quieten and Mzuzu to look at the entryway in shock, "but King Skarl, did you just call my name?"
The relief in the ballroom was almost palpable and King Skarl even smiled with relief. Costis, however, simply bounced into the ballroom towards the king with a huge grin on his face. He couldn't believe he'd made it just in time to become a knight!
"You just had to make a scene, didn't you?" Mzuzu asked Costis later in the night. Costis was practically glowing since the moment he became a knight, and everyone was full of praise for him and wished him the best of luck. Mzuzu was filled with joy that his friend had gotten his wish.
"Of course!" Costis said slyly, grin on his face. "I couldn't just become a knight without making a scene. Besides, this place is too boring anyway. It needed some mystery!"
"Not to the point of driving me insane with worry!" Mzuzu remarked, but even he couldn't be upset with Costis. Tonight was his night and he was going to make sure his friend enjoyed it.
Costis couldn't believe that everything happened so perfectly. It was like an ending from one of the books his mother read to him when he was a baby Usul. He couldn't remember ever being this happy. Nothing beat life as a knight and as he laid his head down on the pillow he wondered what was in store for him next.
Three Months Later
Costis had never felt so happy in his entire life. In fact, to him happy couldn't possibly describe how he was feeling. He was on cloud nine, elated, overjoyed and a plethora of other words he couldn't think of at the moment. Being a knight was as amazing as he'd ever imagined it, and he knew that only more great things were to come.
He hadn't strayed too far from the castle lately. He'd been too busy studying the laws of knighthood and working on becoming more chivalrous. It was strange being cooped up for hours in a library, but it was worth it, so he didn't complain much. But now that he was fluent in the finer points of being a knight, he was itching for adventure.
But where to go? Costis didn't want his first adventure as a knight to be anything less than extraordinary. He'd accomplished some pretty impressive feats as a marauder, and it was time he went to the next level. He didn't want to go to Faerieland and he didn't get along with too many people in Brightvale so those two places were out for now. Where could he go that would make him even happier than he was now?
"Sir Costis, do you have a second?" A young mage was standing before him, looking at the Usul with apprehension.
Costis nodded and asked the young boy what he wanted. Shyly, the mage asked for one of his stories from his travels as a marauder. Costis began to tell the boy a story before he stopped short. He knew exactly where to go! The nice family who took him in for the night and pointed him in the right direction was owed a visit and a couple of stories. Saying his goodbyes to the mage with a promise of finishing the story later, Costis quickly prepared to make a visit to the Haunted Woods.
Walking along, Carmen at his side, Costis was shocked he hadn't thought of the family before then. He knew that he'd taken the wrong path those months ago, but the kindness of the family he'd met helped him get to the castle in the nick of time. He couldn't wait to see more of Selena's antics or watch as the Kau Sacarm mothered the group more than Ashley did. And maybe he could get Armsac to come out of her shell and also finally see what Emxie was working on.
Yes, Costis knew that he'd chosen the wrong path to the castle when he was walking through the woods that day. But as the sun shone happily through the clouds and he walked into the woods towards a family he couldn't wait to visit, he realized that maybe he'd picked the right path after all.