The Knight from Brightvale
Karei struck at Palus with his blade, watching with satisfaction as the head of his opponent came off cleanly. The old pole was in dire need of repair, and the Overseer had decided to simply replace it with fresh, unworn wood. Until that time, Karei was determined to make his friend useful in his last hours.
A few more slices, and the yellow Lupe sat down on the sand, panting with exertion. He had never wielded more than a pen and his books, but when King Hagan called for a new army of his own (no doubt vying with his redundant brother Skarl), Karei had taken up the call with glee. His great grandparents moved from Meridell to Brightvale a long time ago, and his great grandfather brought with him a wondrous sword that Karei polished until his reflection was seen. He desperately sought to be a knight somehow, but dared not move to Meridell due to its unseemly conditions, where dung was the most frequent paving stone.
Now that Brightvale was calling to arms, he felt as if his wish had come true with flying colors, but when he started his training, he was thoroughly disappointed. Mainly because the Overseer was as capable with a mace as a turdle, but also because he was so inexperienced that he once cut a braid of hair from his training partner during an exercise.
Since then, the Lupe sought to practice until the sword was one with his arm and didn’t fly from his hand.
But the work itself was so tiring! After a few minutes, his muscles ached. He tried doing running exercises to strengthen his book-dust-filled lungs, and to improve his Lupe stamina that was all but lost all these years.
That too was deemed a failure.
As he panted, sweat rolling down his face in beads, a green Bori who trained with his group sat down beside him. He too seemed very tired. “So how was the training for you, Karei?” he queried.
“Terrible. I can’t feel my arms and there is a cramp in my side,” the Lupe grumbled.
“I know, same with me,” the Bori agreed. “It's just that after working in the Grand Library for so long made my limbs weak. When we break, I will go back and try to find some books on this stuff.”
Karei acquiesced that this was a good plan, but he felt like that was cheating. Books could only get you so far – you needed a good trainer to get you further. Overseer Dagal was barely the type for such things.
Apparently finished with his moment of chat, the green Bori rose and with a bit of determination in his step began to walk back to the pavilions that served as the weapon storage, feast halls, and resting facilities. Karei, however, decided to remain at the little field, watching Palus intently.
The old wood was barely recognizable. Slashed and worn by the rain until it was but a skeletal stick, Palus was no longer able to resist any blows. Swords slashed through it like hot knives through the richest butter. Even the brittle swords like the ones the new recruits used could do so with ease.
He needed his great grandfather’s blade!
A plan began to form in Karei’s mind. He would go home, take the blade, and go to the woods and practice on trees. An excellent idea! Trees were much stronger, and dead stumps could easily serve to help with his thrusting techniques. Sure, bandits and dangerous petpets roamed the forests, but the scholarly Lupe had read about them and knew easily how to cunningly outwit anyone who got in his path.
Sneaking out of the practice field was too easy. Overseer Dagal was having his lunch, and would snooze shortly after before being awakened by a trainee, who would promptly be yelled at. He waited for a while before slipping past the quiet, bright white pavilions and onto the main road. It was not long before Karei was in his house, holding his great grandfather’s blade that he raised from the vault. His parents were off, working in the libraries, and they would not mind much about his little escapade.
The blade itself was a stunning thing: it was cast of bronze, polished to a gold-like sheen, its tip tapered to an unfrayed point, and its hilt wrapped around with a supple green cloth. Originally, the cloth bore the red and blue of Meridell, but it had long since been replaced with Brightvale’s colors.
Spending a moment to admire the contours and beauty of the sword, Karei swiftly donned his green traveling cloak, his leather, roan-red scabbard, packed a large lunch and then departed into the thick woods that separated Brightvale and Meridell, sighing with relief that he was so close to them.
The gnarled oaks towered high above his head as he walked. Crokabeks darted from tree to tree, and he thought he saw a whinny somewhere in the distance. The wood was indeed a beautiful place, with its tranquil aura. Karei didn’t go often here, but when he came, he found that he could simply not leave. The forest drew him to some inner, primal level.
Truly this was much better than any books he ever read!
A moment’s walk led him to a glade where there was a large tree-stump. The tree itself lay not that far away, cloaked in a mossy cloth, covered in mushrooms and such. This one had fallen many years ago, and was slowly turning into the soil under the relentless onslaught of life that settled upon it.
A perfect practice spot!
Taking out the sword, Karei began to slash at the stump. Wood chips flew everywhere, but the stump was unmoved. An uppercut to the right, a low arc to the left and a quick, cobrall-like thrust into the wood were among his practice steps. He even tried to use his colorful imagination to pretend that the stump was a foe, and that it was striking him back. His shield had been thrown aside, and every so often he would parry by raising the sword above his eyes or to block his unprotected side.
As the excitement rose in his heart, he felt himself become deaf to the world. A moment’s pause, however, helped him recover and hear an all-too familiar ‘sniiiick’ sound that a sword made upon parrying with another. A few more, and his heart skipped a beat. Bandits, no doubt!
Cautious, he began to follow the cries and the sounds of metal on metal. Nearing a copse, he spotted two dark shadows melting into the woods, leaving a figure on the ground, trying to stand up but collapsing instead.
It seemed as if the bandits were gone, so Karei jumped off the log he was standing and made his way towards the blue Draik. It was already visible that his left leg was broken due to its odd angle, and he was struggling to use his sword as a stick to help himself stand up, unaware of the Lupe before him.
“Oh, you came back,” the gravelly voice taunted. “Well, I will show you!”
He was about to swing the sword when Karei lowered him gently back down and spoke amiably. “Don’t worry, the bandits are gone. I am here to help.”
The Draik calmed down and blinked a few times to regain his vision. “Who are you?”
“I just came, I know how to help the leg,” the Lupe replied bluntly.
He had read books on how to mend broken legs, and promptly set it straight and used a birchbark cast to keep it so. All the while, the Draik watched him intently. His livery was that of Meridell, but the rivalry between the two nations didn’t matter when someone was in need, and this Draik seemed to acquiesce with it.
When Karei was done, he spoke up. “What is a Brightvale scholar doing away from his books, wielding a sword?” he queried.
Although it sounded like an insult to untrained ears, the Lupe was aware of the humor that was conveyed subtly underneath. Karei decided to keep the idea of Brightvale’s army a secret for the moment, so he came out with a half-truth instead.
“I want to learn how to fight, so I came here to practice with my great-grandfather’s blade.”
Karei was relieved when the Draik didn’t press the point. Instead, the fellow sighed and sat down upon a mossy rock. “I could help, you know, but I need healing goo before I can fight once again. Plus, I am very hungry, so I should return now.”
The Lupe was overwhelmed with the idea that this warrior, so brave as to stand up and win against two bandits, could help him in his endeavor! So he decided to keep him here for as long as possible.
“No need, I packed a lunch. I can share it with you.”
The Draik was surprised, but agreed to do so. Soon, a gourmet repast was set before the hungry twosome. Fresh cheeses and joints of ham released their fragrant odors and seemed to revive the Draik. Tasty vegetables and wholesome breads were offered, as well as cups of fresh spring water. There was not much, but enough to satisfy them both. After all, Karei was not voracious feeder but he always brought twice of what he wanted, just in case.
At least this served a good purpose now.
“An excellent meal, I rarely eat such good things, as I prefer a hearty porridge instead. It strengthens one, gives energy.”
Karei agreed, remembering about a book that spoke of the benefits of porridge. Suddenly, he shook his head. He should stop thinking so much about books!
“Anyway, I appreciate all you have done. As a reward, I have a deal for you. Come here tomorrow morning, and I will teach you the art of combat,” his eyes suddenly twinkled, “and you must bring that feast once more!”
The Lupe nearly burst with excitement. What good fortune! He was going to get his wish! After accepting the offer with hardly a moment’s hesitation, Karei packed up the leftovers and departed, as the Draik seemed eager to go back on his own, without any help.
Karei decided that this was the most wonderful day in his whole life.
“Raise your blade, manjeer!” the Draik, whose name was Radagall, taunted.
Karei complied promptly and overthrew the assault to his shoulders. They had been practicing for an hour now, and every muscle in the Lupe’s body ached. Nonetheless he forced himself to work as hard as he could, tensing and stretching the fibers of his body to their limit. Although he didn’t like to reference books so much, the Lupe realized that there was a benefit to reading, as it taught him other things. He used some special exercise techniques early that morning to ready himself and was pleased to see that he no longer had cramping in his side.
Radagall kept his attacks vigorous, pressing the Lupe back as he tried his best to parry. He missed a few times, but the Draik had an outstanding control of his blade and never harmed him, just giving him a pinch to twinge the last reserves of strength to action.
The pinches came more frequently now, all around. Although Karei tried his best to shower his opponent with blows as well, the Draik was too fast and he kept on being given a defensive status. A few minutes later, the attacks stopped and the Draik helped his opponent up.
“You are quick, but you need to be quicker, and have faster reflexes. If you are in battle and you do this when someone is attacking you,” he deliberately turned with an exaggerated slowness, “you might as well say goodbye to that fancy tail of yours.”
Karei gulped and tensed his tail.
“But,” the Draik grinned, “you are fast, and strong. I was impressed that someone from Brightvale could give me a small challenge. Now, lets eat lunch, do a few more exercises and then we will meet again tomorrow.”
The Lupe spread out the feast, being certain to add that jar of delicious berry porridge that he asked his mother to make yesterday. He couldn’t help but laugh at the stunned, but blissful expression upon Radagall’s face.
“This is absolutely delicious! But since you have given me something of Brightvale, tomorrow it will be my turn. I will bring you a feast of Meridell.”
Karei felt awkward, as he heard about Meridell’s gourmets, but nonetheless (and out of sincere respect) he agreed.
The next day was full of surprises.
Karei had spent the afternoon and evening of yesterday practicing to the best of his ability, and felt that he had significantly improved. Indeed, Radagall was surprised by his sudden burst of new tenacity and skill, and complied by making the training more rigorous.
As for the promised feast, it was not too bad at all. It was rather simple compared to Brightvale fare, but it was delicious and filling. Tasty foods like meat kebabs, served in the unique fashion of being impaled on a sword, potatoes, vegetables and expertly made porridges intrigued the Lupe’s taste buds.
Thus, the twosome decided on an amusing little chore: one day Karei would bring lunch, and on the other day, Radagall would do so. They took to the game with enthusiasm, as they constantly sought to impress one another with something so simple yet so complex as a bite of food.
The training was of a different matter. Karei sought to improve himself constantly, and Radagall was eager to help. It was not long before they were fighting each other, not as equals but as close to that as they could get to that. The Draik was too skilled, and had the advantages of flight. It didn’t matter to the Lupe, as he just wanted to be the best he could be.
Whenever a practice session was over, Karei would return back to the training fields and stun his superiors. The green Bori from before begged to learn from him, and Karei obliged. Overseer Dagal was speechless when Karei decided to amuse his friends and challenge him to a duel. The Ixi then narrowed his eyes and granted the request, taking up a sword with a bit of clumsiness.
He was defeated a few minutes later.
Karei felt happier on the field with the sword than he ever did with his books! He never noticed that some Administrators from King Hagan had arrived not that long after, and when they heard of how a student beat an Overseer in a duel, they were impressed and decided to promote Karei to a status of Overseer instead of Dagal, which the lazy Ixi did not seem to mind whatsoever.
Using Radagall’s own lessons as bases of his own, and using his own touch to add flavor, he began to see an improvement in his pupils, of which he was with but a few weeks ago. It felt really awkward for the young Lupe, but he was better than any of them and was therefore the best training option. When asked about how he learned these things, Karei simply replied that he practiced, and felt awed when he saw the others inspired to such an extent that they practiced until their own muscles were more sore than his own when he first started out.
Even the older ones listened intently, not even exchanging strange glances at being taught by a youth compared to themselves.
Radagall was still there for him to help, however. Following his promotion, Karei didn’t know how he could ask the Draik to teach him to teach. He didn’t know if it was a good idea to tell a Meridellian about the secret plans of Brightvale. In all his studies, he never learned how to do so.
It was a relief and a foreboding that swept through the Lupe when Radagall finally told him that he had something to say, in exchange for Karei saying something as well.
“Kid, let's just say... I haven’t exactly told you about who I am.”
The Draik met Karei’s glance but the Lupe looked away quickly, picking at a stone.
“Remember when you helped me, when you first found me in the woods after the bandits left?”
“Well, I wanted to tell you, but I didn’t know if I should or not. I guess I will now.” He sighed. “I am the Commander of Meridell’s second knight division. You only saw me in my meager armor because I only wear the full thing for real combat. Its too itchy for full-time use.”
Karei felt himself be stunned by the revelation. Jeran led the first division, but the second was lead by Radagall! A sudden chill filled him when the truth gripped him in full force. How did he not notice? The skill, the speed...
“I was in the woods that day, and every day, because I want to be alone when I practice. I have to keep myself in top shape, you know.”
Karei just nodded dumbly.
“Anyway, those worms caught me off guard, and I broke my leg while fighting, just barely fending them off. I still have not said it, and I am sorry not to. Thank you for helping me back there.”
Radagall laughed and shifted his blade to his scabbard. “I know this is a lot to take in, but it's okay. Now... your turn.”
Suddenly, Karei felt at a loss. He didn’t know how he could mention the secret of Brightvale to someone from Meridell, especially Radagall. But the Draik was honest to him, and the Lupe was encouraged to do likewise. With a sigh, he told his teacher everything.
Radagall did not blink at all when he was done. “I know.”
Again Karei was stunned. “How do you know?”
A bark of laughter. “King Hagan told King Skarl in a letter, not that Skarl cared much.” He waved a dismissing hand. “Anything else you want to tell me?”
Relief fell upon the Lupe like a cloth. At last, the secret was out! But the other one was not. He told Radagall about his promotion and how he was to teach the budding Brightvale Army, and Radagall agreed to help, filling Karei with relief once again. They spent the afternoon together, where the Commander Draik taught Karei about the aspects of learning and such.
But when the sun was going lower, and painting the forest a rich red, Radagall dropped the bombshell.
“King Skarl is getting suspicious of my daily outings, even though I am loyal to him. I won’t be able to see you too often now.”
The Lupe had a feeling that this day would come, but he had a backup plan.
“If I ever need your help, I will put this...” he revealed a stick and jammed it tightly into the stump that they used so frequently for practice, “right here. And if you can come, just break it, so we can meet each other the next day so I can ask you what I need to ask.”
Radagall was impressed. “You Brightvale scholars are pretty good.”
Karei blushed. It was a crude device, but it would serve a purpose. He didn’t dare use something shiny, as it would attract bandits and Crokabeks. (Who loved shiny things)
Thus did the Commander of the Second Division of Meridell’s army and the young Captain of the First Brigade of Brightvale keep in touch.