Ballad of the Faerie's Champion: Esteem - Part Nine
"It isn't your time yet, Squire Garrett Diamonte of Brightvale. Come back."
A voice? Whose-
Gary gasped softly, his lungs protesting as they filled once more with air. His heartbeat seemed so loud after the absolute silence, the very air made his nerves hum with pain. His eyes would not focus, and his brain couldn't make sense of their input-
"There we are," someone said; it was a female voice, one he didn't recognize. "You gave Aya quite the fright, young one."
"Aya?" he asked, the word emerging as a hoarse whisper.
"Me, silly," said a voice he did recognize; Ayame. "Aya was my nickname when I was a little girl."
The squire blinked, trying to clear his eyes. Gary couldn't remember anything except the Werelupe lunging at him. What had happened? How much time had passed?
He almost jumped out of his skin when he saw a huge pair of emerald eyes looking down on him, but a gentle hand held him down. Closer inspection revealed that these were not hate-filled eyes set in the face of a monster, but kindly ones. Their owner could only be one person.
"Illusen?" he asked. "Illusen the earth faerie?"
"The very same," she confirmed. "But there will be time for explanations later; now there is a very desperate battle being fought, and I must aid the besieged."
Remembering the bandit attack on Abyssal Acres, Gary pushed himself upright and nodded. "Right. We have to help them."
However, when he tried to stand, his legs buckled under him and only the large purple neck of Ohu ducking under his chest kept him from hitting the ground face first. There was no strength in his limbs, and his nerves were still humming. There was also something wrong with his back, but he couldn't quite figure out what the odd sensation was.
"Squire, you are not well," Illusen admonished. "When we found you, you were hovering perilously close to the edge. I was able to call you back and heal you, but I had to take extreme measures to do so. It will be a while before your body recovers."
"Extreme...?" However, before Gary could give voice to the question, he finally got a good look at the fur on his hands. It was supposed to be yellow, but it was not. Reaching back to where he could feel the oddness on his back, he was astonished to find his hands touching something thin and delicate. Something thin and delicate that was connected to the Bori's nervous system, so that he could also feel his hands touching it.
Wings. Illusen had turned him into a faerie Bori.
"You've done more than enough today," the faerie said firmly. "Now it is my turn. Let's go and send the Werelupe King and his bandit allies home were they belong."
Ayame helped Gary onto Ohu's back, not bothering to climb on herself; likely after the distance he'd just run he wouldn't have been able to carry both of them. The Bori was too weak to sit properly, instead leaning forward against the Uni's warm neck. Then, Ohu and Ayame were surrounded in the green glow of Illusen's magic, and all of them were airborne.
"You're an idiot, you know," Ohu said blandly. "That was a very stupid thing to do, jumping in front of the Werelupes like that. You know you're an abysmal fighter, you didn't stand a chance. You're not a hero, boy."
The Uni's attitude irked Gary. Finding an untapped reservoir of strength, he sat up in the saddle and addressed his mount.
"Look, it weren't about me playin' the hero, alright? I'm not stupid. I knew when I jumped off I didn't have a prayer. All I was trying to do was hold 'em off so you and m'lady would have a better chance to get away."
Ohu didn't respond at first. Finally he said, "Alright. I'm sorry for snapping at you. And... I have to admit that I was wrong before, when I said you weren't suited to this because you were beaten. You have courage and determination that would make some full knights envious, even if you're a mediocre swordsman at best." His voice was soft as he added, "And even the most skilled knights can be overpowered if you take them by surprise."
At a more moderate volume, the Uni said, "But try to remember this; a knight can only protect his people if he's alive to take up his sword. So don't be so rash, all right?"
Gary wasn't sure what to say at first. Finally he nodded, leaning forwards into Ohu's mane again.
* * * * *
The Werelupes and bandits had been caught completely off guard by Illusen's arrival. With her help, the castle defenders were able to turn the tide of the battle, capturing most of the raiders and sending the Werelupes scurrying home to their Woods.
Gary, still weaker than a newborn, had been forced to watch from Ohu's back, high above the main conflict. It chaffed him not to be able to help, but as the Uni and Illusen had pointed out, he was no hero and had already done his part. There would be other battles.
Finally, it was safe enough for the Uni to land. He paced towards where Illusen was talking to Prince Skarl and Sir Valrigard, his rider half-dozing. A cry of excitement brought the Bori to wakefulness with a jolt.
"Gary! Gar', you rapscallion, you're alright! By Kreludor, what happened to you?"
The Bori looked around, spotting his best friend riding up to him on Grace's back. Both of them were looking rather worse for the wear, but the Aisha's eyes glittered with excitement as he clasped hands with Gary.
"It's good t'see you too, Rue," Gary remarked. "I got hurt, and after Illusen fixed me up I looked like this."
"The blacksmith's gonna have a fit, y'know," Rue pointed out impishly. "You already had to get your mail shirts let out 'cause you got so tall, and now you're gonna have to punch wing holes in all of 'em!"
"I'm sure that the blacksmith will accommodate him," a deep voice rumbled, startling the two squires. "After all, he did an extraordinary service to the realm today."
Gary, every hair on his pelt bristling, turned to see that the speaker was none other than Prince Skarl. The blue Skeith had lost some weight during their time at Abyssal Acres, but he was still of a generous girth.
The Bori gulped hard. It had been years since the last time he'd been this close to the prince; ten in fact. Even after all this time he still felt a mixture of awe and discomfort at the man's presence.
"I must thank you personally for your actions," Skarl went on. He grinned up at Illusen, who was standing beside him. "I understand that you provided a distraction for the Werelupes pursuing you, so that Lady Ayame and your Uni could fetch Illusen to our side. A valiant effort, worthy of a defender of Brightvale. Who is your knight-master? He must receive commendations too, for training you to understand chivalry so well."
The Bori felt a flush creeping up his face, and looked away. "I, ah... I'm sorry, your highness, but I have no knight-master. I'm unattached."
"You are?" Skarl said, sounding flummoxed. Valrigard, standing nearby, coughed softly.
"Actually, sire," he said slowly. "I was thinking... young man, Garrett, would you like to be my squire? I judged you a little too hastily, I think, back in the city. You've shown yourself to have a solid foundation. I'd like the chance to see what you can become, given the right mentorship."
Gary's hands tightened on the pommel of Ohu's saddle. Sir Valrigard? His knight-master? A warrior with enough skill and experience to be chose as Prince Skarl's personal military advisor?
For three years he'd been longing for someone, anyone, to ask him to be their squire. Now that it had finally come, he was so overwhelmed that he couldn't find the voice to speak.
Ohu snorted, breaking his trance. "Your senior asked you a question, boy. Politeness dictates that you give him an answer."
Gary coughed to hide his embarrassment. Sitting up as straight as he could in the saddle, he said, "You do me an honor, Sir. I would like nothin' more'n to be your squire."
Behind him, he heard Rue give a whoop of joy. "You did it, Gar'! You're a real squire at last!"
The Aisha grabbed Gary, pulling him into a bear hug that the Bori was too weak to resist. Ayame, laughing, pulled the two apart.
"Alright, I think we've kept Squire Garrett from his bed long enough. There is still much to do to clean up here, and the sooner he is rested the sooner he can help us."
"Make no mistake, Squire," Valrigard put in with a smirk, "I mean to work you like a draft animal. Enjoy the sleep while you can, because you'll need it."
"Yessir," Gary replied.
A pallet had been set up for Gary in the room that housed the Unis; just as well, since he doubted he could have walked anywhere else. As he tried to lie on his back, he winced in pain and was forced to roll over on his side to avoid crushing his wings. They would take getting used to.
Still he was alive. Alive, and under the mentorship of a true knight-master at last. Soon enough, he would learn the skills necessary to ensure that the next time he stood between a victim and an attacker he would be more than a meat shield.
Maybe Ohu was right; he wasn't a hero. But there was time. After all, his story had only just begun.