Things Best Remembered: Part Four
Gareth explained his plan. Atlanta could masquerade – so to speak – as Janice, working behind the scenes, giving hope to the citizens and striking fear into the Guardians, and, thus, giving them the upper hand in the war by using the element of surprise. It was met with mixed reactions.
Atlanta high-fived him, grinning. "That's the best idea you've had in a long time, Gareth," she said. He wasn't quite sure whether he was supposed to be offended at that.
Ria approved as well. "It may work," she said. "We could give it a try."
Only Janice wasn't fond of the proposal. "This is a horrible idea!" she exclaimed, her spirit glow jumping by nearly a meter. "Do you realize how much work – irrelevant work – is involved? First of all, how would the citizens react if the Protector – who is known to be pretty bad at sword fighting – suddenly became an expert at slashing swords? And how would they react if she suddenly didn't know how to use magic?" She shook her head vigorously, her auburn curls spilling over her shoulders. "It would mean that I would have to learn swordplay, and Atlanta would have to be able to use Mysti, which she can't do. No amount of practice will give her that ability."
Atlanta smirked in her signature Atlanta-ish way. It looked beyond odd on Janice's face. "Whatever happened to 'Practice makes perfect'? Let's not get hypocritical, Protector."
Janice glared at her. "You know that practice won't work for this!"
Gareth sighed. "Janice, Atlanta could learn other magic to cover it up."
"And you can learn sword fighting."
"So I believe the best course of action would be to take a vote. Who thinks this is a good idea?"
Atlanta, Ria, and Gareth himself all raised a hand. It was a good idea, not just because of the war, but so Gareth could keep an eye on the Protector and make sure she wasn't off doing traitor-ish things.
Janice took a deep breath, glowering at him. "It's a bad idea," she declared, still defiant.
"Your swordplay lessons begin tomorrow," Gareth said calmly. "Be sure to get a good night's sleep."
The Protector fell onto her back for the umpteenth time, the point of a blade only an inch from her chest.
"Janice." Gareth shook his head. He seemed to be stifling giggles, but Gareth didn't giggle. "You haven't the faintest idea of how ridiculous you look."
"Gee, thanks," Janice muttered. She had traded in her dress for a silver-and-gold tunic and black leggings, and they were sparring in the same hall that Janice had had her coronation. The tunic and leggings weren't her style, and Gareth was definitely right – she hadn't the faintest idea of how ridiculous she looked, but she was sure it was simply awful.
Gareth helped her up with a good-natured smile on his face. "I was joking, Protector; you look fine. Don't worry overmuch about it. Practice makes perfect, remember?"
Janice groaned, her spirit glow flickering. "I'm really starting to dislike that phrase, you know."
Gareth glanced at her amusedly, but there was something else in his eyes that looked oddly like distrust. Janice waved off the thought. He had seemed wary of her the whole session, but it was probably just because he was trying not to injure her – and her pride – too badly.
"Yes, I know," Gareth said. Addressing the fact that he had bested her again, he added, "Perhaps it's your sword. It does not seem very well balanced."
Janice nodded – who was she to argue with an expert? – even though she was thinking that even the best balanced sword in Neopia wouldn't help her. "Fine," she said. "I need a new sword. Where can I get one?"
Gareth suggested the armory, so the two left the hall and started towards the eastern side of Calladamos, where the armory was. They walked through Grand Square, which was as busy as ever. Janice noticed that many of the citizens were staring at Gareth, pointing and whispering among themselves.
She nudged him with her elbow. "Gareth, everyone's staring at you," she said quietly.
"Actually," Gareth replied, "everyone's staring at you."
Janice wondered if it was her horrible outfit, but as though reading her mind, Gareth said, "If you're wondering why, Protector, it's because you spend far too much time in the palace. You're still a bit of a legend, especially since no one sees you much." He smiled. "You need to get out more."
Janice grinned and went ahead of Gareth to introduce herself to her fellow Calladamiens.
When they arrived at the armory, it was empty. Gareth got to outfitting Janice with a blade right away. First he measured her height, then the length of her arms.
"Get into a fighting stance," he ordered. Janice did, and Gareth made a few more measurements. He went to a wall on which literally hundreds of swords were hanging upon.
Turning around, Gareth asked, "Do you wish to use a shield?"
Janice thought that a shield could affect her flying, so she shook her head. "No, thanks."
"Are you right- or left-handed?"
"Hmm." Gareth reached for a silver sword. "Try this, Janice." He handed it to her, watching as she weighed it in her hands.
Somehow, it didn't feel right. Gareth took the sword back and placed it back on the wall. Picking up another, he inquired, "How about this one?"
Janice tried it out, and once again, it wasn't right. "No."
This became a common pattern over the next few hours. Gareth would get a sword, Janice would try it out, and then she would refuse it – all the swords were too heavy or too light. They were all of the perfect length, however, despite their different measurements.
"So then," said Gareth, "you seem to fare well with most lengths, so our only problem is the weight." He looked thoughtful, and his spirit glow dimmed down slightly. "That means you have to get one custom made; we'll have to visit the blacksmith." He rubbed his eyes tiredly. "He lives towards the west."
Janice sighed. They were both exhausted, too exhausted to make a long walk. They had been at this all day. But it was imperative that they got her sword as soon as possible.
So, bone-weary, they left the armory, walking out into the night. A warm breeze caused the trees to tremble, and suddenly Janice felt less tired.
"Gareth, I'm going to go ride the thermals," she said. It would give her legs – and wings – a rest, since gliding on the warm winds required minimum effort. "Bye!"
She shot up into the air, not waiting for Gareth's reply. She was already soaring through the sky when she heard Gareth from below, "Janice, the blacksmith lives in the other direction!"
Oops. She changed her course.
The smith was a shadow Kougra who looked to be about Gareth's age. They met him while he was bent over a twisted blade, a welding torch in his hand and a thoughtful frown on his face. Despite this, he had a humorous air to him, as though he didn't take things very seriously. Even his electric blue spirit glow seemed... well, spirited.
Gareth introduced the two. "Janice, this is Tristan. Tristan, this is Janice. You already know her as the Protector."
"So you're Janice," he said lightly. "Nice to meet you. What do you need?"
"She needs a sword," Gareth answered, before Janice could say anything.
Tristan cocked his head. "Why would the Protector, of all pets, need a sword?" He seemed confused. Theatrically so.
Gareth smiled. Obviously, he knew the Kougra well. "Tristan, Janice was exploring forms of weapons use other than magic. It's a useful skill to have, especially as we're going to war. Haven't you heard?"
Tristan ignored the question. "Can't the Protector speak for herself?"
Gareth looked at Janice, his green eyes amused as though asking, 'Can you speak for yourself?'
Janice found Tristan both refreshing and entertaining. She looked into his eyes, a startling electric blue – just like his spirit glow – and said, "No, Tristan, I cannot speak for myself. Gareth'll have to do my talking."
Tristan was shocked. "So she speaks!"
"Yes, who would guess?" Janice asked. This was accompanied by laughter from the three of them.
After their chuckles had subsided, Tristan got right to the point. "You need a sword," he mused. "Gareth, tell me that you've already made all the measurements. It makes my job so much easier."
Gareth told him her measurements, and he told him about Janice's fickleness about sword weight and her easy adaptation to swords of any length.
"Alright!" Tristan rubbed his paws together, already relishing the challenge. "Have you got a material preference? The options are silver, gold, bronze, assorted gemstones, assorted crystals, and steel. You can also have an alloy of metals or a mixture of crystals, but it'll cost you extra."
"Don't I get a 'Protector of Calladamos' discount?" Janice pouted huffily.
Gareth smiled, and again came that odd wariness. "Janice, stop trying to get price cuts."
"Yeah," said an equally huffy Tristan. "How am I supposed to make a living if Shoyrus like you come asking for reduced prices?"
All three of them laughed again, and with that Janice and Gareth bade Tristan farewell. "Be sure to ask Princess Atlanta how she likes her sword," Tristan added as they parted. "But if she's not satisfied, please tell her that there are no refunds."
They heard him chuckling as he walked back into the workshop.
The two walked back towards the palace, and as they were about to open the door, Janice suddenly realized something. "I forgot to tell Tristan which sword material I wanted!"
"Then fly back," Gareth suggested, yawning. "I shall be inside, sleeping."
Janice gave a sigh, took to the air, and flew back to tell Tristan that she wanted a mixture: crystals and gemstones. She bade him good night (again) then she flew back to the palace.
Inside her room, tucked under a wonderfully warm duvet, her last thought as she drifted off to sleep was that she and Gareth never had gotten much practice at sword fighting after all, and if they stayed at that pace, Atlanta's masquerade would never work.
To be continued...