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The Tale of Tadric's Time: Part Two


by sharakh

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Friskitorius looked around, mouth agape. This looked just like the pictures in History of Meridell! The war-torn battlefield, the huge war machines rolling ponderously to the front . . . the Citadel looming above . . . and in the distance, Meridell Castle itself.

     "Mso!" Friski exclaimed, grabbing ahold of the buzz's wrist and pointing to the castle, which was becoming a silhouette in the light of the setting sun. "Look! I'll bet my ancestor Tadric is mobilizing knights at the castle right now! We could go and feast with King Skarl and-"

     Msomari worked free of the Gelert's grip and frowned. "Friski, use your head. These people are in the middle of a WAR. 'Feasting' is not prudent when resources are limited. I highly doubt there's much merriment occurring in Skarl's hall. Secondly, how closely did you read the history books? I don't think you quite understand this whole thing . . ."

     "Don't be silly, Mso! Come on! It's getting late, and I bet they close the cortpullis after dark! You said it yourself; these are times of war!"

     Once again, the Gelert took his friend's hand and, with sword in one hand and buzz in the other, began jogging briskly toward the castle. His armor clanked so loudly that he didn't hear Mso's low snarl of, "It's portcullis . . ."

     ***

      The Draik guard leaned against his halberd, staring at the horizon. The fields before him had been farmland once, before the armies of Kass swept through. Now dust hung heavily over the valley, and the setting sun gave everything a ruddy tinge. It was hardly the green, lush Meridell he'd known growing up. With the peasants being hypnotized and Kass's forces at large, there was no rest for Skarl's loyal men.

     "Hey. You see somethin' comin'?" muttered the bulky Skeith guarding the portcullis with him.

     Hastily the Draik straightened and squinted in the direction his companion indicated. In the fading light, it was difficult to make anything out on the war-churned plain, but he could just barely make out an armored figure approaching at a brisk jog, sword in hand. He appeared to be dragging someone behind him. "It's a knight, I think. Were we told to expect anyone? Who's afield?"

     "No . . . that's no knight of ours," the Skeith hissed, halberd shaft clenched tightly in his mitts. "That's Tadric, plain as day. I know th' fireside tales." He shook his head. "This red light makes him look even more fearsome! Come on, let's get inside. I don't want to deal with th' likes of Tadric!" With that, he hefted his bulk and dashed through the gate. As soon as the other guard followed in his wake, the portcullis came crashing down.

     ***

     Friski skidded to an unsteady halt as the portcullis shut, finally releasing Msomari's wrist. His sword tip hit the dirt. "Why'd they close the gate?" he murmured, ears drooping. "I know they noticed me . . . I saw them point."

     "That's probably why they closed the gate, you lummox," the buzz growled, massaging his sore wrist.

     The Gelert turned to his friend, a perplexed expression on his face. "But . . . why would they close the gate? I'm a knight! They should be happy I'm coming to the castle!"

     "First," Mso snapped, "just because you're wearing armor doesn't mean you're a knight. Secondly, exactly how much of that book of yours did you read?"

     "Well, I was looking at the pictures, really . . . ." Friskitorius mumbled as his eyes found the dirt.

     A snort of derision erupted from the buzz. "That's what I thought. You saw a pretty picture and spun your own silly tale around it. You have no real concept of your ancestry. You know nothing of Tadric!"

     "What's there to know?" Friski said indignantly. "He was a knight, and he was fighting in Meridell . . . just like Jeran."

     Msomari stared at the armored Gelert, teeth grinding. With fists clenched at his side, he abruptly turned on his heel and stalked away. Friski followed, making a racket with each step. "Wait, Mso! What's wrong? What'd I say?"

     ***

     White-furred paws danced across the surface of the armor, buckling here, adjusting there, moving with the confidence of experience. From toe to head they skipped, securing each piece of the strange, lustrous armor. With that task completed, they picked up a black leather sword belt and buckled it on at the waist.

      Tadric's keen blue eyes regarded the reflection in the full-length mirror critically. As always, it was imperative he look his best before his lord. His armor had been polished until it gleamed, the scratches and dents of battle nearly invisible. His fur was carefully groomed up to his long ear-tips. Considering the trials of war and how little sleep he'd managed to catch, he thought he cut a rather impressive figure. He still looked a little tired -- the fur around his eyes betrayed that much -- but it couldn't be helped. The knight grasped the hilt of his sword from where it lay on the table and slipped it carefully into the sword frog at his side. His appearance would have to do; he was expected in the audience chamber. After a last once-over in the mirror he strode from the room.

     His gaze drifted over those passing him as he made his way to his destination. Some held fear in their eyes, others frank hatred of their enemy, yet others the resigned determination of an experienced soldier. No one had been left untouched by the conflict. These people had already suffered through much in the first war; now, again, they were tightening their belts and dealing with the daily tragedies. Tadric's jaw set. He would see this war over and done with, their opponent crushed beneath the combined might of his countrymen, if it was the last thing he ever accomplished.

     He clanked to an abrupt halt as he reached the chamber doors. The herald was dozing off, leaning against the doorjamb; that wouldn't do. With a growl, he cuffed the lazy Techo on the shoulder and nodded sharply to the door. The young herald, wide awake now and frightened, practically threw himself through the portal and called, "Sir Tadric to see you, my lord."

     "Send him in," came the deep, rich voice.

     Tadric stepped in, kneeling after twenty paces. "I have come as you requested, my lord. What do you wish of me?" He kept his eyes focused on the rug as a gesture of respect.

     "I cannot afford to underestimate the enemy," the familiar voice began, resonating throughout the large room. "There are many clever minds at their disposal, and this frontal assault seems too perfect. They must be planning something else, something underhanded."

     The knight's ears twitched, betraying his uncertainty. "Your spies have not uncovered anything?"

     "They've made their reports; I'm not completely blind, Tadric. Still . . . there must be something I'm missing, something the spies haven't found. I won't be caught unprepared. And that, my dear knight, is where you come in." A low chuckle echoed in the hall.

     "What would you have me do?"

     "I must begin preparations for the 'unexpected' here. What I want you to do is act as my riposte. Go to the battlefield, find that twit Jeran, and strike him down. With your knowledge of the land and that simpering squire used as a distraction, I have little doubt you'll cause them grief. Meridell won't be nearly as proud without their precious hero."

     Tadric looked up then, meeting the crimson gaze of his liege lord. A slow smile came to his muzzle. As he stood to leave, he murmured deferentially, "As you command . . . and thank you for the privilege, Lord Kass."

     ***

     "Wait, Mso, hold on. I didn't hear you right. Tadric did what?"

     The buzz glared hotly at Friskitorius. "You heard me perfectly well. Tadric defected. Left. He went to the Citadel when he was just a squire in Skarl's court and was raised to knighthood by Kass shortly before the war. He's a Kass loyalist, Friski. Get it through your thick skull!"

     "But . . . but . . . I don't understand! I mean, Kass is evil! How could . . . how could my ancestor be . . ." Friski's bewildered gaze travelled from the castle behind them up to rest on the looming shadow of the Citadel. "Why would anyone go there and help evil?"

     "Nothing is so cut and dried," Mso murmured, placing a hand on the Gelert's shoulder. "What is evil to one pet may be the pinnacle of all that is good to another. Look, Friski, I'm sorry your fantasy has turned out to be something other than what you believed. That's hard on anyone. But I don't want to stay here until I'm too old to fly. Help me find a way back from here, hm? Friskitorius? Friski?" He tapped the pauldron of his friend.

     The armored Gelert crashed to the ground unceremoniously, sulking. "It's not fair. It's not. Tadric was a knight! Why is he working for Kass . . . ?" he muttered under his breath.

     Msomari rolled his eyes and turned away; this was the last thing he needed. Here they were in the middle of a time in which they didn't belong, and his boon companion was more interested in moping than in finding a way back. Abandoning him would mean that he failed in his sworn duty, and staying here-

     "AAAAAGH!" cried Friski, followed shortly after by a sharp cawing birdcall. Mso whipped around. Friskitorius's arms were in the air, frantically fending off a crokabek. Feathers flew as the Gelert slapped him once, twice, as the bird tried to get close to his neck. After a wild swing, it dove forward, talons digging into Friski's fur. Msomari leapt forward, and together they managed to yank the crokabek free. Flustered and less a few feathers, the bird circled above briefly, then flew shakily off towards the nearby forest.

     "What was that about?" Friski grumped, rubbing his neck. For once, though, Mso was at a loss for words.

     They stood in silence for a while, in the failing light, watching the feathers settle in the scuffed dirt. Finally, in a small voice, Friski whispered, "I just want to go home."

     "Me too, Friski," Mso replied softly. "Me, too."

To be continued...

 
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» The Tale of Tadric's Time: Part One
» The Tale of Tadric's Time: Part Three



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