Scarlet Shadow: A Knight's Reckoning - Part One
Meridell palace was abuzz with activity. It was nearing one of the most important holidays in their land – the Darigan-Meridell Peace Anniversary. The chefs were in the kitchen, experimenting with new flavors; the Squires were getting themselves fitted with new chain mail and surcoats; the knights were having their armor polished; and the king was having new robes made for the occasion.
A well-built blue Lupe paced the hallways, stopping in front of a large portrait of his majesty, King Skarl. The fat blue Skeith sat atop his throne, a pretty blue Acara kneeled by his feet. Her fiery red hair and pale blue fur were accentuated masterfully by the artist. She was dressed in expensive linen and silks. A beautiful necklace studded with violet diamonds adorned her neck. Two onyx rings ornamented her ears. The Acara’s amethyst eyes stared back at the Lupe.
Jeran sighed. Many believed the reason for the king’s involvement with the celebrations each year was because he wanted everything perfect for when the nobles of Darigan came. Jeran knew the truth. The only reason Skarl would break his normal routine of sleeping and eating during the celebrations was because he did not wish to remember. It had only been three years, but Jeran knew the king felt it had been more. He knew because he shared the king’s pain in losing the one and only heir to Meridell’s throne. Jeran and Crystal were the best of friends, even before the beginning of the war, before all those lives were lost, and before the princess had to leave the land... forever...
Jeran fell. He tripped over a root. “Lisha?!” he cried, picking himself up. Not knowing here he was, the young Lupe quickly ran to a large window and looked out. “W-where am I?” he questioned as he gazed upon acres of land that stretched before him. He was in some sort of tower, definitely not in the ruins any longer.
“Halt!” a gruff voice yelled. Afraid, Jeran made a mad dash for the staircase just ahead of him. As he descended the stone steps, he could hear the flap of wings from behind. He didn’t know what was chasing him, but he had to run faster. Reaching the bottom of the stairs, Jeran ran for the next flight. Fear pushed the young Lupe faster.
He reached the next floor. A door opened, almost making his heart jump. As a small Acara stepped out, Jeran relaxed. The Acara was about nine – just a year younger than himself. She had long, red hair and her fur was an amazingly light shade of blue. She looked at him with pretty amethyst-colored eyes. Jeran noticed something on her cheek. It looked like a- “What are you doing here?” she questioned, interrupting his thoughts.
“I... um,” Jeran stuttered.
“I think he went down the other flight,” a deep voice shouted.
Without giving Jeran time to think, the Acara grabbed his arm, pulling him into the room from which she had excited and slamming the door. She quickly pushed him into a closet and closed it as well. Jeran had absolutely no idea what was happening. He considered bolting out, but he felt he could trust the Acara. Jeran sat still and waited as voices drifted his way...
“My Lady, I am sorry for having to disturb you,” the deep voice said respectfully. “There is an intruder loose in the castle, and I worry for your safety.”
“I assure you, Captain Fortren, no one has entered here forcibly,” the Acara stated.
“Thank you, My Lady,” the captain replied. “I apologize for my intrusion.”
Jeran heard the door close softly and gave a sigh of relief. The closet doors opened suddenly and he fell out. The Acara stood above him, giggling. Her laugh sounded merry, like chimes in the wind. “Now,” the Acara said, taking a seat on a small stool, “let’s start with your name.”
“Huh?” Jeran had been busy looking around him. The room they were in was HUGE! It was littered with toys, dolls, and drawings. “My name?” he asked. The Acara nodded. “Uh, Jeran.”
“I’m Lady Crystal Turstone,” the Acara stated happily.
“Nice to meet you, Lady Crystal Turn, Trust, Tick...”
“Crystal for short,” Crystal finally said, giggling.
“Well then, thank you for your aid, Crystal,” Jeran replied.
“The guards will be looking for you,” Crystal stated. “You can stay here in my playroom until they stop the search. When they’re done, you can go back to your village.”
“That could be a problem,” Jeran stated. Jeran explained to Crystal what had happened, from the hide-and-seek game he and his sister had played, to the flight from the guards.
“Wow!” Crystal exclaimed. “That’s...” She paused. “That’s very strange.”
“I know,” Jeran replied. “I’m glad you believe me.”
“To tell you the truth, it’s very hard to.”
A knock came from the door, causing Jeran jumped back into the closet. Crystal shut him inside just as the door swung open. “Crystal, it’s time to eat,” a sweet voice echoed.
As the door’s hinges clicked, Jeran opened the closet, breathing a sigh of relief. He looked back. The closet was in shambles. All the clothes were crumpled and some had fallen on the floor. “Oops...”
Crystal walked into her playroom to find Jeran happily swinging his wooden sword around. She giggled and Jeran swiftly turned.
“It’s all right, Jeran,” Crystal said. Her voice changed. She bowed her head. “Listen,” she stated simply, “I can’t help you get back to your time, but I CAN help you find a life here.”
Crystal sighed. Her eyes grew indigo as she glanced at the Lupe. “You’ll have to go to the orphanage. It’s the only way.”
“Ok,” Jeran agreed. He was used to the orphanage. Seeing how both their parents had died in an accident, Jeran and Lisha had been orphans since cub-hood.
Crystal showed surprise. She could NEVER, EVER be able to take having to go to an orphanage so calmly. “Then again,” she thought, “I am my father’s daughter.”
“So if the guards are looking for me, how do you expect to get me out?” Jeran asked.
“Leave that to me...”
The two figures crept through the castle, the firelight from the torches flickered as the young princess and her Lupe friend turned at the bend. Crystal suddenly came to a halt. Her paw ran over the smooth wall.
“What was that?” a voice yelled. The two listened as footsteps began echoing in the hall.
“Uh-oh,” Jeran said quietly.
Crystal’s hand continued to searching for the key to their escape. Finally she felt a small emblem of a crown upon one of the bricks. She pushed, allowing a small panel to open near the bottom of the wall. She rushed in, followed quickly by the Lupe pup. The entrance closed without noise.
The two were surrounded in darkness. Jeran looked about frantically. Even his Lupe eyes couldn’t see a thing. Not a speck of light shined through. Crystal grabbed his paw. She steadily led him through the cavern. A small flicker of light began to shimmer, then another. Suddenly, the whole cavern was lit by a strange blue light. As Jeran gazed at the ceiling, he noticed many flowers adorning the roof. The flowers were emitting the unusual glow.
“What are those?” he asked.
“Turstone blossoms,” Crystal replied, letting go of Jeran’s paw. “They glow only when no other light but that of other blossoms shine.”
“I haven’t seen them anywhere else in the palace.”
“They used to flourish all over our land until the famine struck,” Crystal explained. “They needed a lot of water to survive and the people were not able to cater to that need. The flowers began to disappear and were soon gone. Now this passageway is the only place you can find them.”
“How did they get themselves down here?” Jeran asked, cupping one of the lower hanging blossoms within his paw.
“I brought them,” Crystal replied.
The duo soon came to a steep stairway and began to climb. They halted as Crystal pushed another stone. As light began to seep inside, all the flowers grew dark. The children lifted themselves out onto the large outer courtyard. Jeran looked about and saw the large moat.
Suddenly, Crystal yanked him into the bushes as Draik soldiers hovered overhead. “I know I saw something moving around down there,” one said.
“It must have been a Buzzer,” another replied. Jeran listened as the flap of wings grew distant.
Jeran and Crystal made a dash for the moat. As they ran, Crystal raised her hand. Jeran watched in awe as the shadow from a nearby tree advanced and positioned itself across the moat. Crystal ran across and Jeran followed.
The two reached the woods behind the castle. Jeran bent over his knees, panting. “What did you just do?” he asked.
“Nothing much,” Crystal replied, shrugging.
Seeing the princess’ eyes grow darker, Jeran knew it would be best to swallow his curiosity. The two made their way toward the light-dotted land before them. Jeran took the time to look about. There were hundreds of houses scattered throughout the front of the palace. Farms littered the outer circle far off in the distance.
The two continued and Crystal hopped onto the dirt road. She pulled her hood up and continued on. Jeran walked alongside her. “Wow, this place is HUGE!” Jeran exclaimed, as they passed row upon row of small and large cottages.
Crystal smiled. “You can say that... HEY!” A pickpocket was running ahead of them, Crystal’s bracelet, which was quite big for her wrist and therefore made an easy snatch, gripped in his hand. “Come back with that!” Crystal yelled.
“You heard the lady!” Jeran barked as he ran after the thief, Crystal following closely.
“Make me!” the thief cried back.
Crystal and Jeran chased the crook through a dark alley, making sure to keep him in sight. “That’s my mother’s bracelet!” Crystal shouted.
The thief took a right and suddenly stopped. A large wall blocked his escape. Jeran and Crystal had him cornered.
“Give me back my bracelet,” Crystal ordered.
The thief looked up. His messy black hair had fallen over his face and he was panting with exhaustion. Gelert ears pierced through his hood and his blue fur was patched with sweat. He pulled out a dagger and pointed it at the two. “Thanks, but no thanks, Princess,” he stated. “This trinket’s my ticket into the Thieves’ Guild.”
Jeran drew his wooden sword. The thief let out a cruel laugh. “What are you planning to do with that?”
Jeran rushed him, letting out a cry. Shadows rushed toward his sword, engulfing them in indigo flames. The thief was quick, bringing his dagger up as Jeran’s blade came at his torso. The dagger brought the blade with it. The sword missed the thief’s midsection, but managed to graze his right cheek. The thief looked up, eyes blazing. As Jeran withdrew, the crook ran at him. Placing his blade into his mouth, the thief jumped. Using the Lupe as a halter, the Gelert launched himself over the wall.
“NO!” Jeran yelled, rushing at the wall. A hand gripped his shoulder as Jeran pounded at the barrier.
“It’s alright, Jeran,” Crystal said quietly. Jeran looked at the young Acara. Her eyes were a deep indigo and she seemed weak.
“You ok?” Jeran questioned.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Crystal replied. “Let’s go. He’s long gone.”
“But your bracelet...”
“It’s ok, Jeran,” Crystal responded, giving him a weak smile. She was in no mood, or state, to go running after thieves. “Come on, we’d better get going.”
As the two left the alley, Jeran was full of questions. What had happened back there? How did his sword do all that? “Crystal...” he began. Seeing the Acara’s eyes were still indigo, Jeran knew she still wasn’t feeling at her best. He sighed, once more swallowing his curiosity.
As the two stood at the doors of the orphanage, Jeran gazed at the large building. Stained glass windows were starting to sparkle as the light from the dawning sun began to seep into them. Smells of bread being baked for the hungry orphans drifted toward Jeran’s nose. Dandelions littered the front yard. Here and there were fruit trees and a few berry bushes stood beside the door. A small bell hung beside the door.
“All you have to do is ring the bell,” Crystal said sadly. “Just tell them you come from a distant land and that your parents are lost to you.”
“What’ll happen after I say that?” Jeran asked.
“They’ll take you in, and hopefully you’ll find a good home for yourself,” Crystal said, a smile sliding onto her lips. “When you DO get a family, be sure to visit me at the palace.”
“You have my word,” Jeran stated.
“Just tell them Lady Crystal Turstone sent for you,” Crystal said, handing Jeran a small pendant. “Show them this to prove it.”
Jeran smiled and slipped the pendant around his neck and into his tunic. The smooth blue gem was warm to the touch. “See you around,” Crystal stated happily, running off as Jeran gripped the bell rope in his hand. She stopped, turning back one last time as she shouted, “Welcome to Meridell, Jeran!”
To be continued...