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Scarlet Shadow: A Knight's Reckoning - Part Two


by kathleen_kate

--------

“Jeran!” a red Wocky yelled as she watched the young Lupe swinging his sword around. Jeran was once more playing in the large courtyard at the back of the orphanage.

      Jeran stopped, turning. “Yes, Ms. Cynthia?”

      “Jeran, you’re already fourteen,” Ms. Cynthia stated, shaking her head. “Don’t you think it’s time you stop fighting imaginary thieves?”

      “No, My Lady, I don’t,” Jeran responded in the most respectful tone he had.

      “I think he has potential,” a deep, powerful voice stated. Ms. Cynthia turned swiftly. A tall white Kougra stood at the archway to the courtyard. He was dressed in simple clothing and a sword hung beside his waist. Still, no one could mistake who he was.

      “Lord Demion!” Ms. Cynthia exclaimed.

      Jeran’s eyes widened. He couldn’t believe it! Meridell’s Champion was standing right in front of him! AND he had just given him a compliment! “My Lord,” Jeran greeted calmly.

      Lord Demion whistled and soon a Draik sentry stood beside him. “You called, Sir?” the Draik questioned.

      The Kougra nodded and turned to Jeran. “You think you can try someone a little less imaginary?” he asked. Jeran nodded numbly, gripping his wooden sword. The Draik stepped forward, a long staff in his hands. Jeran was careful. He knew the Draik had the advantage of flight. Suddenly taking to the skies, the Draik shot at Jeran from above. Jeran just stood as the Draik came closer and closer before he bent down and rolled out of the sentry’s way.

      The Draik evened out, missing the ground by a few centimeters. He once more rushed at Jeran, flying like a speeding bullet at the young Lupe. Jeran ducked and came up below him. The Draik, taken by surprise, fell as the Lupe’s push caused him to lose his balance. Jeran smiled. He had won. Clapping ensued and Jeran realized that his fellow orphans had poured out of the orphanage just to watch him. This made the young Lupe’s cheeks grow red.

      Demion stood before Jeran, not being able to hide a large grin. “Well done,” the Champion complimented him. “I’m impressed.”

      “Thank you, Sir,” Jeran replied, smiling.

      The Kougra nodded. “There’s a tournament at the palace tomorrow called the Squire’s Trial,” he stated. “I’d like you to come.”

      Jeran was going to explode. Every year, knights would be sent all over the kingdom to find promising young Meridellians to invite to the Squire’s Trial. No knights ever came to the orphanage, let alone the land’s Champion!

      “You can count on it, Sir!” Jeran exclaimed. “Thank you!”

      “Don’t thank me,” Lord Demion stated. “If you get the chance to see Princess Crystal, you should thank her. She’s the one who convinced her father to send me here.”

      “Oh, I will, Sir,” Jeran responded, gripping his chest and feeling the smooth blue pendant Crystal had handed him four years back. “I will...”

     *~*~*~*

      Jeran sat in the large hay wagon with a few other squire-hopefuls. “Then what did you do?” the young white Hissi questioned, watching eagerly as the Shadow Krawk continued his tale.

      “I was there, cornered by the...”

      A blue Draik cut in. “Let me guess. You were cornered by some giant monster, bigger than life...”

      Jeran stifled a laugh. Princeton WAS getting quite annoying. The whole trip, which had lasted from before dawn to about midmorning, had been spent weaving through the small villages picking up the young adolescents and all Princeton had done was tell tall tales.

      Prince’s expression turned to anger. “What do YOU know, Valrigard?!” he snapped.

      “Hey, take it easy,” Jeran commanded.

      “Yeah, sure, now I’m going to let some orphan give me orders?!” Prince replied, giving Jeran a dagger-like glare.

      Jeran was getting annoyed. “What exactly do you have against orphans?” he asked calmly.

      “Nothing, besides the fact that you’re only here because Princess Crystal was board enough to request Sir Demion to go to some orphanage,” Prince replied just as calmly, twice as cold.

      Jeran was ready to tackle Princeton when someone held him back. It was Valrigard. “Don’t waste your time,” he stated.

      Jeran grunted and turned his back on the Krawk and toward the beautiful scenery. “Thanks for that,” Jeran said to the blue Draik.

      “Try not to let him get on your nerves,” Valrigard advised.

      “It’s very hard not to,” Jeran responded.

      “True, but still,” Valrigard stated. “What’s your name?”

      “Jeran,” the blue Lupe replied, grinning.

      “You don’t by any chance know why the Squire’s Trial is early this year, do you?”

      “It is?!” Jeran exclaimed.

      “Yeah,” Valrigard replied. “I mean, it’s usually held in early summer. It’s the middle of spring!”

      “Wow, I must have been too excited to notice,” Jeran said, scratching the back of his head.

      “Aw, we shouldn’t worry about it too much,” Valrigard declared. “Besides, it’s a big day today, remember?”

      As Valrigard spoke these words, the wagon crossed the bridge of the mote and was making its way toward the big castle gateway. As they entered the inner courtyard, Jeran was struck by the hordes of people. There were hundreds of citizens crowding the whole courtyard. All were excited and all cheered as the wagon rode in. Four others like it followed. Princeton stood and waved at the crowd. The wagons all stopped about ten meters before the palace.

      Jeran gazed up at the great balcony, where King Skarl sat. At his right hand was a pretty young Acara with long, red hair. Jeran recognized her immediately. He stood up and was about to wave when Princeton stood in front of him and shoved him back down. He then turned and waved at the young princess himself. Seeing how Crystal had been busily searching the other wagons for Jeran, she had missed the foul act. Jeran felt hot under his fur. Crystal waved at him. He smiled and waved back, only to be intercepted by Princeton once more. “That was for me, Orphan,” he hissed.

      Jeran grit his teeth, trying desperately not to lose it. “You look just about ready to strangle someone,” Valrigard stated.

      “I have to watch that.”

      “Don’t worry,” Valrigard assured. “I’m sure even Princess Crystal would be annoyed by him.”

      Jeran chuckled. “I think you’re right about that.”

      “Welcome, one and all!” an Eyrie announcer, posted at the balcony, shouted through a blow horn. “Welcome to the Squire’s Trial!” The crowd went nuts. Jeran thought his ears would burst. “I’m quite sure you are all wondering why we decided to have this year’s trial in mid-Spring instead of early summer.”

      Shouts of agreement echoed into the announcer’s ears. “Well, Princess Crystal has an announcement to make,” the Eyrie stated, handing the blow horn to the Princess.

      “After much consideration,” Crystal began, “I have decided to move to Shenkuu for a few years...” Shouts of disagreement met the statement. “Please, hear me out!” she yelled. The crowd stopped yelling, much to Jeran’s relief. “As you know, my mother, the Lady Rain, left me these...” Crystal pulled out two butterfly swords from their scabbard. “I have found that there is a master of these swords. He lives in Shenkuu and his main rule is that his student be trained IN Shenkuu. I cannot sit by and watch my mother’s last gift to me collect dust on a shelf. I decided to have the Squire’s Trial early as a sort of going-away celebration.”

      Shouts of encouragement filled the air. Jeran was feeling a mix of happiness and sorrow. Here he was, hearing that the young princess who had helped him escape was finally having her dreams fulfilled, yet the feeling of abandonment engulfed him. After all, she WAS also moving away. Jeran sighed. This was what she wanted. He had to be happy for her, no matter what.

      The Eyrie retrieved the blow horn from the princess. “Alright, shall we begin the tournament?” The cheers grew louder...

     *~*~*~*

      Crystal sat herself back down on the throne. The announcement had gone better than she had hoped and now the Squire’s Trial had officially begun. She occupied herself with watching a certain blue Lupe as he stepped into one of the arenas. She smiled. “His performance is quite satisfactory,” she thought.

      Crystal stopped and rewound. “Satisfactory?” she questioned mentally to herself. “Looks like that ten hour lesson with Lord Inel has taken its toll on my vocabulary.” The princess adored the old mentor of hers greatly, but sometimes his words were far too deep to be used in casual conversations. Still, he had taught her many things and many, many languages. She would not have been able to communicate with her soon-to-be teacher had she not know his native tongue.

      Hearing the crowd’s cheers, she diverted her attention back to the arena where Jeran was. He had just defeated his opponent, a white Hissi. She turned casually to Lord Demion, who was seated beside her. “That blue Lupe over there seems quite impressive,” she commented.

      The Champion nodded. “Indeed, My Lady, but he could use a few tweaks with his form.” Crystal could see he was trying to hold back a smile. She also knew that the young Lupe’s posture was near perfect.

      “He is the one you told me of, correct?”

      “Yes, My Lady.”

      Crystal discreetly turned about to see that everyone was focused on the arena and not on her discussion with the land’s champion. “Lord Demion,” she started, “you know you cannot hide a smile like that from one of your best students, especially if she’s your goddaughter.”

      Demion remained silent, and Crystal began to wonder if he had heard her. He let out a chuckle. “Sometimes, I think you know me too well.” Crystal smiled in victory.

     *~*~*~*

      Before the morning was over, most of the trials were already complete. You would most likely expect an event such as the Squire’s Trial to take all day, probably even a week or two, mainly due to the many events: archery, jousting, hand-to-hand combat, and armed combat. These events did take place, but there were, after all, very few adolescents entered in the first place, not to mention the fact that the archer- and the squire-hopefuls were separated into two different divisions.

      The kingdom’s top archers would watch the archery trials while the knights were focused on any who seemed promising and, quite frankly, their eyes were drawn to two of the contestants: a young blue Lupe and a shadow Krawk. Both had far exceeded their companions, both had made it to the last round of the armed combat trial, and both now circled each other in the main ring.

      “Well, well, well, Orphan,” Princeton taunted, “I’m surprised. Never thought for a second you’d make it past that first round.” The Krawk smiled. “Never mind, gives me the satisfaction of embarrassing you myself.” Prince launched himself at Jeran, who dodged, meeting his staff with Princeton’s.

      “I resent that,” Jeran replied as they drew back their weapons and continued circling. He began forming a plan in his mind. He had to get behind Prince, but how? The Krawk kept his back safeguarded by making sure the Lupe was always in sight. Able to turn on a coin after any charge, Prince had one of the greater advantages.

      The idea hit the young Lupe just as his opponent charged, his weapon in a stabbing position beside his waist. Jeran knew this was his chance. Princeton had just made a fatal mistake. He closed his eyes and ran forward...

To be continued...

 
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