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The Tale of Tadric's Time: Part Three


by sharakh

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The wind whipped Tadric's ears back while he strode the rampart of the Citadel impatiently. He had his orders and was eager to be about the business of what would no doubt be the most glorious moment of his career, but his squire was still absent. No matter - Am'ae was out scouting on Tadric's command, and would return shortly. He could wait . . . .

     Oh yes, he could wait a few more minutes for what he had dreamed of so long, the knight thought as he leaned against a crenel, looking out over Meridell. Jeran. That no-good upstart Jeran. Tadric had been one of the most promising pages of Skarl's court - many said he was bound to be the King's right hand. Of course, all of that was thrown out the window once the mysterious and oh-so-noble Jeran arrived in Meridell. The rumors surrounding him only made him that much more commanding, more interesting than a simple Meridell-born Gelert. It was rankling, growing up in Jeran's shadow. No matter how hard he tried in Skarl's court, how many deeds he performed, how many tournaments he won, Tadric could never hold a candle to Jeran's bright flame at the King's side. The gluttonous Skarl had eyes for no other. Those meddling brats led by Jeran's supposed sister certainly hadn't helped matters, either . . . Tadric was all but invisible in the eyes of the court.

     What took the gruel cake was the first war. At first no one in the Meridell army really knew who these strange pets were and why they had come to fight, but stories told to naïve children spread quickly enough. When it was revealed that this war was due to an act of outright theft ordained by the King himself . . . how could one continue to serve such a morally corrupt Skeith? He avoided fighting further, and by the end, when the Citadel was left leaderless, he abandoned his post as a soldier of Meridell and took all those who agreed with him to join forces with the shattered Darigan people.

     Kass arose from the ashes of Darigan's fall, a brilliant General come into his own. It was Kass who saw Tadric's prowess, Kass who knighted him, and Kass who had his undying loyalty. He was one of the Darigan people, as far as he was concerned. The Tadric of old was a faded memory, destroyed by lies and deceit. He was a knight now, a defender of the weak, and he would grind the pompous Meridell fools into the dust to protect what was his-

     "M'lord!" came a soft, quavering voice by his side, interrupting his reverie.

     Tadric released his white-knuckled grip on the crenel and looked down into the wide, watery green eyes of his squire. "Am'ae. What did you discover?"

     "M'lord . . ." the short buzz repeated, her voice shaking, "I- the countryside is alive with rumors about you r-running around out in the open, w-waving your sword around and t-trying to enter Meridell c-castle."

     Tadric turned sharply to regard the buzz. "What?!"

     Her sky blue face went even paler as she continued. "They . . . they say you painted yourself red, that you're t-trying to disguise yourself to get into M-Meridell's defenses." Am'ae cringed away as she finished, one eye fixed fearfully on her master.

     "That's preposterous! I would never do anything so stupid in all-" a loud caw broke off Tadric's tirade. He turned his furious face to the horizon, where a crokabek was approaching, barely staying in the air.

     "Briathar!" the Gelert exclaimed, and reached out to catch the bird before it lost all strength. "Briathar, what have they done to you?" A forlorn caw was his only response as the crokabek nuzzled into his hands.

     Am'ae fussed with her tabard uncomfortably and cleared her throat. "Did… did you get orders from L-Lord Kass?" she asked softly.

     "Yes. I am to strike down the valiant Sir Jeran Borodere," Tadric growled, helping the crokabek perch on his shoulder. "Come. We're leaving now. And my impostor had best hope I don't run across his path . . . ." The Gelert turned flinty eyes over Meridell one last time before stalking away. Am'ae stumbled behind, hot on his heels.

     ***

     Click. Click. Red-furred paws pushed the medallion into the relief on the sword hilt, then pulled away before repeating the action. Finally he stopped. "Maybe if you try clicking it into the sword it'll work, Mso," Friski called to his brooding friend sitting on a rock nearby.

     Msomari grunted. "It won't; we tried it already when I was actually wearing the amulet, remember?" He stood and walked over to the Gelert, taking his medallion from the red-furred hand. "Whatever power brought us here isn't getting us back along the same path, Friskitorius. This is completely hopeless."

     "What're we gonna do then, Mso? I mean, our petpets Skoop and Rahisi are home alone. They can't feed themselves! . . . Do you think the Tiki Tack Man would let Skoop try the Tombola? I've been training him . . . ."

     The buzz snarled, "Stop rambling." Slipping his medallion back on, he took stock of the landscape, red eyes gleaming. "If I remember my maps right, Illusen's Glade isn't too far from here. It's a healthy walk and we'll have to be careful to avoid any battles along the way, but she might be able to help us. It's worth a shot, at least . . . moreso than sitting here speculating. Stir your stumps, Friskitorius. A faerie's magic may be all we need."

     The armored Gelert followed dutifully behind his buzz companion, clanking so loudly that rudely-awakened Whoots scattered from nearby trees.

     ***

     Hours later, Friski came to a cacophonous rest in a small clearing, plopping down on a rock. "I thought you knew where the glade was!" the Gelert grumbled. "My paws are sore and I don't see Illusen anywhere."

     "Friskitorius, I don't have a road to follow. All I have is a memory. Add that to the fact that I'm trying to avoid conflict and it's going to take a long time to get there. Stop the incessant whining and take off the armor if you can't stand walking on two paws," Msomari snapped.

     "Oh yes, by all means, take off the armor," came a basso voice, tight with anger, from a copse of trees. The figure that emerged from the shadows with a slow, measured step wore armor identical to that of Friskitorius. The Gelert inside it, however, was white-furred, haggard, and bore a terrible grimace. Dark circles under his eyes gave him a sinister appearance. "It is not yours, after all. Impostor!" He punctuated his accusation by drawing his sword.

     Friski pulled to his feet clumsily, backpedaling until he stood parallel with Msomari. "You . . . you're Tadric."

     A cold smile spread across the white Gelert's face, not reaching his eyes. "At least you know my name. That is all too rare in my enemies these days." The smile fell away, and the sword came up quickly, leveling at Friski's head. "Tell me where you found this armor you wear. It is uncannily like my own, which was sworn to be unique. The resemblance is astounding."

     "It… It's your armor," Friskitorius stammered, hand fumbling for the hilt of his sword.

     Tadric grunted. "Lies. I have no time for this tomfoolery. AM'AE!" he called over his shoulder. The cowed blue buzz came stumbling out of the brush, looking up at her lord expectantly. "Approach the impostor and inspect his armor. You know how to detect its authenticity. And so help me, red, if you dare attack her, I will end you here and now."

     Friskitorius stood stock still as Am'ae approached him. Her hands trembled as she moved them across the surface of the armor and over the hilt of the sword, mumbling softly in a language unknown to either of the time travelers. Mso watched the other buzz intently. As she finished and turned to go, he caught a flash of metal around her neck underneath her oversized tabard. Their eyes met for the briefest of moments before she hurried back to Tadric's side.

     Am'ae whispered to the knight. Tadric's initial expression of anger and confidence suddenly changed to one of shock. Just as quickly, it was replaced with barely-restrained rage. His burning eyes slid slowly up to meet Friskitorius's wide, frightened gaze.

     "I don't know how it's possible . . ." he rumbled, "but this. . . this travesty cannot be allowed to continue! There is only one Sir Tadric, and I do not allow impersonators to traipse about the countryside making a fool of my name!" He approached, sword raised to strike.

     Friski threw his arms over his head, wailing, "You're a knight! A knight! You're supposed to have honor! This isn't honorable! Don'tkillmedon'tkillme!"

     Tadric slowed and lowered his sword. A sardonic smirk grew on his features. "Oh. Honor, is it? Well. Far be it for me to begrudge my clownish impostor his right to die honorably. We shall duel, you and I. I see you have a second in that buzz watching beside you; my squire will serve as my second. You do know how to use that sword, of course . . . ?"

     "Friski, don't be stupid!" Mso hissed into his ear.

     The younger Gelert lowered his arms and looked across the clearing at his ancestor, the confident smirk on his face. Something within Friski started to boil. He'd seen that look on other people, the superiority, the knowledge that he was no good in comparison. Some people thought he was stupid. Msomari often sounded like he thought as much, like now. Tadric clearly did. Sure, Friski didn't know how to use a sword, but that wasn't the principle of the thing. Bearing witness to that look on the face of his ancestor . . . it rankled. His normally innocent eyes hardened as he gazed at the Gelert he once so frankly admired . . . .

     "Friski?" his friend whispered uncertainly, noticing the change in his face.

     Expression solemn, Friskitorius drew the sword slowly and rested its point in the grass. "Sir Tadric, I, Friskitorius Tadric Gelert, do hereby accept your challenge."

     Tadric looked at his opponent oddly as he gave his full name, but covered his uneasiness with a harsh laugh. "How chivalrous," he said with a sneer. "Well then, 'Friskitorius', let us begin."

     The white knight brought his sword up to his face in a mocking salute. The sneer faded into an expression of deadly concentration. With no further words, the Gelert raised the sword over his head and charged across the distance separating him from his quarry.

     Friskitorius's eyes widened and he barely brought his sword up in time to block the powerful overhand. Sparks flew as the blades slid together. Gelert vied against Gelert, muscles straining, until at last Tadric broke away with a step back.

     "You're strong, I'll grant you, pup. That won't save you, however!" Tadric grinned nastily and thrust at Friski's midsection. The twin sword knocked the point out of the way just in time.

     Blow after blow rained down on Friskitorius, each one met shakily by his own sword, each parry a little slower. He gave ground. There was a manic light in Tadric's blue eyes that chilled the young Gelert to the bone - he was enjoying this.

     Msomari wrung his hands anxiously, standing nearby Tadric's squire. He watched his friend back away from the onslaught, paws uncertain. The fear in Friski's eyes made a pit in the buzz's stomach. "Come on, Friski, don't give in . . . . Do something!"

     CLANG! SHING! CLONK! The two combatants fought around the clearing, Friskitorius backing up, Tadric ruthlessly advancing. The sure, strong strokes of the Darigan knight were wearing Friski down. Each strike came closer to its mark.

     A sudden caw cut through the metallic dissonance filling the air as a familiar crokabek landed on Am'ae's wrist. Surprised, she worked a small scroll off its leg and unrolled it, squinting to read the message . . . .

     CLANK! Friski's sword was nearly knocked away; he bent and scrambled to get a grip, his backside unprotected. Fearfully he shut his eyes, knowing the last blow was soon to come.

     "My lord!" Am'ae called to the triumphant Tadric as he stood over his opponent, sword raised. "L-Lord Kass is . . . is n-no more!" She waved the tiny scroll in the air.

     "WHAT?!" Tadric bellowed. He turned to stare at Amharus, his duel momentarily forgotten.

     Friski was confused. Where was the final strike? Eyes squeezed shut, ears ringing from the battle, he lifted his own sword overhead and brought it singing down upon where he believed his opponent to be with all his remaining strength.

     The resulting CRASH resounded throughout the clearing. Tadric was planted face-first in the soft soil of the clearing. A soft moan emerged from the armor heap. With a gasp, Am'ae rushed over and knelt at her master's side, inspecting the damage. There was a huge gash along the back of the armor and Tadric himself seemed to be out cold.

     Friski collapsed to his knees, his sword falling from numb paws. Msomari walked over, his expression warring between relief and incredulity. "Is he . . . did I . . . ?" the red Gelert murmured, looking to the squire.

     "He's a-alive," she replied, her watery eyes settling on Friskitorius's face. Without another word, she stepped around him and felt along the back of his armor. Friski heard her breathe in sharply.

     Mso slipped to her side and hissed, "By Sloth!"

     "What?" came Friski's exhausted voice. "What is it?"

     The mutant buzz came around to Friski's field of view and knelt. "The armor, in the back . . . it's gashed. Just like Tadric's." His ruby eyes looked troubled.

     "You . . . you don't b-belong here," Am'ae stated, joining them. "The armor is the s-same. Exactly like. . . . You need to g-go back."

     "We don't know how to go back," Msomari growled, his tone despairing.

     The corners of Am'ae's mouth twitched upward for the first time. "I th-think I can help." She pulled a medallion from underneath her tabard, looped around her neck with a fine chain. It was made of some gleaming dark metal, but otherwise matched Msomari's in every detail.

     Mso gaped. "How- but-"

     "For the Brotherhood," she whispered, green eyes glittering with amusement. Louder, Am'ae said, "G-get up, F-fr-fris-frisk-gelert. Please. P-pick up T- . . . the sword."

     Friski pushed to his feet, taking up the weapon. He looked at Mso oddly. "You trust her?"

     "Just do as she says, Friski. For me," the mutant responded, his tone strangely deferent.

     Am'ae's careful, light touch guided Msomari's hands around the sword hilt as well. "This should w-w-work. I d-don't know where you're f-from, but I hope you arrive s-safely. Farewell." With that, she placed her medallion into the indentation on the sword.

     Bluish light appeared, swirling faster and faster around Friskitorius and Msomari. Friski's eyes were on the magic, his jaw slightly agape; Mso, however, watched Am'ae turn to Tadric. Before the light overtook his vision, he saw her shoulders slump as she knelt by her master again, straining to turn him over while the crokabek flew erratically over the pair.

     ***

     Msomari blinked rapidly. The dust, the stone, the warm glow of a light faerie - they were back in the tower!

     A sudden clanking made him turn around. Friskitorius was rapidly shucking off the armor, dropping it into a disorderly pile within the stone chest.

     "What's wrong, Friski? Have a Mootix problem?" Mso asked, his tone trying, and failing, to make it sound like a joke.

     Friski growled as he took off the last piece - the bracers. He dropped to all fours, a quadruped again, and turned to his roommate. "No more armor, no more sword, no more knights, Mso. No more," he replied solemnly.

     "No more," Msomari agreed. He shut the chest's lid. The Gelert nodded, his eyes troubled, and started the descent.

     Mso followed behind, worried about the change in his friend. The happy-go-lucky, innocent Gelert seemed to be gone, replaced by a much more sober, grown-up pet. This was so unlike Friskitorius. Had the events scarred him? Surely facing your own ancestor in battle could be traumatizing-

     "PBPBPBPBPBT!" came a noise from beyond the doorframe as Friski nosed it open.

     "SKOOP!" the Gelert exclaimed, and bounded to his petpet. The Spardel's stubby tail was a blur as he gazed lovingly up to his owner. "What've you been up to?"

     The Spardel stood up and stepped aside to reveal what he had been sitting on: a Tombola ticket, lucky 13.

     Friski laughed in delight. "He did let you play! Good boy! You gotta feel for the zeroes, though! Come on, I'll show you . . . ." He went inside, the petpet frolicking behind him.

     Msomari smiled in relief as he walked after the pair. The Friski of old wasn't gone, after all. Before he entered the NeoHome, the buzz turned back to gaze up at the tower. He'd need to mull over the events in Meridell, of course. There was the whole business with that strange squire. Another medallion existed . . . he'd sworn his was the only one. And then there was the matter of the gash in the armor. It hadn't been there when Friski first donned it. No, for better or worse, they'd changed history. He only hoped it wouldn't come back to haunt them . . . .

THE END

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



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