A Tale of Two Bori: Part Ten
Trealiy coughed violently, expelling salt water onto the wooden planks of the dock. His head was pounding, a migraine that radiated from the crown of his skull, and all he could smell and taste was bitter brine from the ocean. The last thing he could remember was Slorgs... catching them in a crate, and then... the crate broke open, and they all oozed away... Someone had chased him...? The memories were foggy, obscured by his aching head. Something had hit him there, though he could not recall how he ended up in the sea. Woozy, the ice Bori raised his head, trying to figure out where he was.
There was a crowd of Neopets standing over him, pointing and whispering as they saw him move. They were not dressed like the Meridellian peasants or castle dwellers; instead, their costumes were colorful silk, red and gold, or patterned with flowers or birds, very ornamental with hair accessories and jewelry. 'Exotic' was the phrase that sprang to his mind, especially when he realized they were speaking a language he did not understand. A flicker of movement on his level caught his eye, and he turned in time to see a startled white Bori crouched low on the dock, behind the rest of the crowd. They locked eyes for just a moment, before hers rolled back and she passed out, crumpling on the pier. Shocked, Treal's squire training kicked into gear – he tore the tangled fishing net from his claws and jumped to his feet, ignoring the wave of dizzy pain that swept over him.
"Are you all right, milady?" he called, rushing to her side. The crowd parted before him, appearing too nervous to want physical contact with his icy fur. He ignored them, kneeling over the only Bori he had seen in months. She was not dressed like the other Neopets here, and the only belongings she carried were a scroll wrapped in a silk cloth, and a snow Slorg curled comfortably on her shoulder. He blinked in surprise at the Slorg, wondering if it could have washed ashore from Meridell with him. Seemed unlikely, although the exact progression of the night's events were hazy. Deciding to ignore it, Trealiy gingerly wrapped his arms around her, cradling her limp form to his chest. No one else was helping her, and she clearly needed medical attention.
"Is there a healer here?" he asked, addressing the crowd. Their murmurs faded, watching him with suspicious curiosity. Treal frowned, realizing they did not understand the word. "Doctor? Medic? Apothecary?" he tried, each time being met with blank indifference. His tail lashed anxiously behind him, frustrated by the language barrier. Finally a large figure muscled his way through the crowd, growling several harsh words until the motley assortment of Neopets cleared a space for him. It was a towering blue Grarrl, equipped with a gold spiked helmet and shining pauldrons, white knuckles gripping a long spear with a red tassel decorating the tip. Treal flinched before what was clearly a warrior, but still met the Grarrl's intense stare, hoping he would understand the situation. The spearman gave him a curt nod, waving for the Bori to follow him.
They walked in silence through the village, up a winding stone path that led to a suspended rope bridge. Treal held the unconscious white Bori close, trying not to look over the edge into the foggy abyss. The Grarrl was leading him to a mountain in the heart of this land, other peaks visible jutting from the mist that concealed the ocean below them. The passage of time was difficult for him to judge; it felt like the bridge stretched on forever, each step bringing another twinge of pain to his aching head. He would have been impressed by the beauty of this place if he was not so confused as to how he had gotten there in the first place. He had been chased away from Meridell for a mistake he made, and then... he had fallen, hadn't he? That would explain the ocean, the current must have brought him here... Regret twisted in his stomach, etching a frown onto his icy face. He had not wanted to leave the kingdom, but fate had other plans.
He bumped into the Grarrl's armored back, having not noticed the hulking guard stop. The Grarrl did not react, other than motioning with his spear for Trealiy to continue forward. Treal stepped cautiously around the spearman, paws feeling cool stone beneath them instead of the rickety slats of wood. They had reached the palace. Stone statues of Noils lined the long tiled path, meticulously arranged bamboo plants forming a screen behind them. Smooth red pillars rose to meet a sloping roof of gold, several tiers making the building soar majestically towards the sky just like a medieval castle. He had been led to whatever royalty this land swore their fealty to.
Humbled, frightened, and still aching, Trealiy moved down the path to enter the palace. The Bori in his arms had not stirred at all, but her Slorg companion was still clinging to her, snowy color blending well with her white fur. The doors were open, wide entrance marked with two more guards clad in the same armor as the Grarrl. They must be the knights of this country, Treal determined, noticing they used spears more than the Meridellian swords. When they saw the strange sight approaching them – a foreign Neopet composed of ice, cradling another in his arms – they visibly readied themselves, adjusting their posture and tightening the grip on their weapons. Treal hesitated before stepping through the doorway, but the guards did not move to stop him, merely staring after him with overt curiosity. He sighed internally, feeling the same eyes on him wherever he traveled.
Inside the grand hall, sunlight streamed through tall windows, shining on an array of vases on pedestals and painted scrolls that decorated the walls. It was very lavish, richer than King Skarl's stone castle in Meridell, and strangely quiet in comparison. Treal edged deeper in nervously, his ice claws scraping noisily against the hardwood floor. His head ached fiercely, exhaustion threatening to pull him back into the darkness of unconsciousness. A flicker of movement drew his gaze – there was someone standing nearby. He turned in time to see an open room on his side marked by a circular symbol, evenly balanced with black and white halves. Someone was emerging with an armful of gauze bandages, and dropped them as Treal came into view. He sagged, falling to his knees and letting the white Bori slip to the floor. His head hurt so much, and dehydration made it difficult to concentrate on anything or anyone.
"Healer... she needs a healer..." he mumbled, burying his face in his claws as he curled into a defensive ball. He would not ask for help until the other Bori received it first; that was part of the knighthood code, and he was not about to break that, even if he had no hope of becoming a knight anymore.
A flurry of activity surrounded the semi-conscious Bori; he felt hands pulling at him, leading him to a pallet on the floor he could lay down on. Hands examined him, hushed voices speaking around him in a strange language. Through bleary eyes he saw the white Bori being carried to a nearby pallet, being examined by other healers. He smelled incense burning in the air, an exotic odor that made his nose itch. Bandages were wrapped around his head, weaving around his large ears, secured tightly against his brow. Someone pushed a cup into his claws, urging him to drink the pungent liquid it contained. Trusting them blindly, Treal gulped the medicine, gagging on the bitter flavor and nearly spitting it out again. Fatigue forced his eyes shut, laying his weary head down. Staying conscious took too much effort, so now it was time to sleep.
When Trealiy awoke, he thought for one confused moment that he was in the squire quarters, resting on his straw mattress for another day of grueling training. Reality slowly filtered in; his bandaged head still ached, meaning it had not all been a dream. He was in a foreign country, being tended to in a palace. The ice Bori sat up, examining the chamber he had been brought to. It was clearly some sort of sickbay, with bamboo pallets arranged on the floor for resting patients like himself. There were several others sleeping nearby, including the white Bori he had carried with him. He was relieved to see she was alright, whoever she was. He turned to study the wall, noting the black and white symbol was woven into a tapestry that hung above a small shrine where the incense was burned. The healers were not present, and he realized it must be nighttime outside.
Rising cautiously to his feet, Treal tested his balance – the dizziness he felt earlier seemed to have subsided, and he felt well enough to walk. He peeked through the open doorway to see if there were any guards in the hall, but the corridor was empty and dark. The coast was clear. Without any purpose other than exploring, Treal padded down the hallway, staring curiously at the oriental treasures that the palace contained. He had never heard of a place like this, not in his books, and not in Meridell. A sliding door on his left was partly ajar, and he slipped through it, emerging into a wide courtyard hidden within the walls of the palace. The night air was cool, lit sporadically by buzzing Lightmites that flickered over the stone tiles. Several trim cherry trees were planted at regular intervals, perfuming the air with their sweet fragrance. He sat on a carved stone bench, settling his chin atop his claws.
It occurred to him that this courtyard must be a training ground. There was a rack against the wall holding spears and curved swords, all marked with the same red tassels he'd seen the guards wielding. Red and gold was a recurring motif here and presumably was the royal family's colors, just like King Skarl's crimson and blue. Treal felt a pang of homesickness; he had poured so much work into making Meridell his new home, and it had gone to waste. At least he still remembered his training as a squire, even if he could not become a knight. On impulse, the ice Bori stood, moving to the weapons rack and selecting one of the guard spears. The wooden pole was solid, heavier than he had expected, the sharpened spearhead slicing cleanly through the air. He could still practice his basics, keep the lessons fresh in his mind.
He began running through his drills, thrusting and parrying imaginary sparring partners, relaying the same moves over and over to practice control. His muscles protested the workout at first, but his movements grew more fluid as he got into the rhythm. The scraping of his icy claws against stone were the only sounds echoing in the courtyard – he had always been a quiet Bori, preferring to listen rather than speak. The other squires liked to shout with each strike, and he did not miss their clamoring voices. He let his thoughts fall away from him, moving as if in a trance until the choreographed routine reached its end.
Treal leaned heavily on the spearshaft, trying to catch his breath. His head was throbbing fiercely, and his tongue was parched from thirst. He needed more time to recover, he knew, but at least there was a sense of satisfaction from completing his practice. It was then he heard the sounds of someone else in the courtyard – two voices, engaged in a whispered discussion. He turned, startled and embarrassed to have an audience.
Two Neopets sat on the stone bench, both females clad in expensive-looking costumes. One was a Cybunny, her long dress red and blue with gold trim, her dark hair pulled back and pinned neatly in place with long thin sticks. The other was taller and thinner, a Gnorbu with a more practical outfit including a headband to keep her green mane from falling into her eyes, and a sleeveless tunic bound with a gold sash. When they saw him looking, the Gnorbu began clapping her hands together, applauding his performance.
"Did I... disturb you? My apologies, miladies," Treal said after a confused moment, unsure how to respond to them. Their garb suggested they could be powerful nobles, especially the Cybunny. But it seemed odd to see nobility out at night, particularly at a training ground like this. They whispered to each other in their foreign language, giggling. He stood uncomfortably, still breathing heavily and leaning on the borrowed spear. At least they didn't seem upset.
Finally the Cybunny spoke, rising from the bench as she addressed him in his dialect. "You have much skill, wintry one. I have heard the entire palace buzzing about your arrival, but none have described you as a warrior." Her fingers brushed against a small blue amulet she wore, some sort of precious stone. The Gnorbu remained on the bench, watching her companion speak.
"My name is Lunara, and this is my sister, Terrana. We wanted to meet you earlier in the day, but we were told you were in poor health and needed rest. It seems that may have been an exaggeration." A faint twinkle of mischief gleamed in her pink eyes, setting Trealiy slightly more at ease. He did not recognize the names, but the way Lunara spoke seemed very formal and polite, further cementing the concept that she was of high status. He tried to straighten up, square his shoulders and appear presentable. The Gnorbu said something then, her high voice rattling off the foreign words at a rapid pace. Apparently Terrana did not have the mastery of language that her Cybunny sister did – or she simply wanted her words to remain encrypted. Lunara nodded in agreement, before addressing Trealiy again.
"My sister is a warrior of Shenkuu, and invites you to join her training. You can reside here at the palace, where our tutor can also school you in our native language. Is this something that would please you, wintry one?"
Trealiy blinked in surprise. Shenkuu, so that was the name of this misty land? The offer was incredible; it would allow him to essentially pick up where he left off, becoming a knight of this oriental country. He opened his mouth, about to pledge his allegiance to them, when... something made him pause. It was an echo of Sir Jeran's words, the advice he had been given on his first day in Meridell castle. 'To have someone to protect... that, verily, is the source of all courage.' There was another Bori in this land, and though he did not even know her name, he already felt more loyal to her than he did this palace or their guards. He no longer had a reason to train his body; he wanted to find courage, and the way he had acted when he rushed her to the healers despite his own wounds had proven that he had begun to unlock it within himself. He would never have tried to save another Bori during the Bringer of Night's onslaught. He finally had proof that he was changing for the better, and maybe she was the key.
"Miladies Lunara and Terrana, I thank you for your most generous offer. But... I must decline. My time is better spent at another's side. I hope you will understand." He bowed deeply, laying the spear on the stone tiles at his feet. He would remain in this palace until the white Bori regained consciousness, then ask if she would accept his protection as a hired guard. Fate had led him here for a reason, and he could not shake the feeling that it was to be with her.
"It is a pity," Lunara said, and genuinely looked sad. "You must at least tell us your story, traveler. We would both like to know how you became this way..."
To be continued...