Caught Between Kingdoms: Part Seven
A brisk wind blew between the two as Jeran rushed forward, leading into an uppercut. Setarian studied the knight's actions, taking quick note of his movements.
From the right.
Setarian spun away at the last second and held the sword as he normally would have: "Too high." With all the force he could muster, the former Darigan swatted away Jeran's sword. The force of the collision sent him hurtling to the ground. A small crunch could be heard as he landed on his sensitive Niol-like tail.
"Ow!" he managed to say as Jeran recoiled. The knight stared at him with curiosity, twirled his wooden blade, and let it rest by his side.
"Think you could show me that again?" he asked, paw resting on his chin. For that moment, is fighting posture relaxed. He tilted his head to the side as if perplexed. "And that tail of yours... are you okay?"
"As I said." Setarian's voice shook when he stood again; he kept his tail as still as possible. "My blade need not be so low." That would be ineffective, he mentally added. "And I'm fine, so come at me again."
Admitting otherwise would be a display of weakness. And that, he decided, would never be acceptable. Even if Jeran would never know who he once was, Setarian would always know who Jeran is: a knight of Skarl and at one time, a formidable foe. Looking weak in front of Jeran... it would be unforgivable, even if Kass was not around to scold him. He could almost imagine his fellow generals pointing and laughing at his sorrowful state, saying what a failure he was to the cause.
You can hardly strike back, the voices taunted. Look how pitiful you have become.
I'm not pitiful, he found himself countering. And I'll prove it to you all, right here, right now.
"If you say so," sighed the knight, gripping tightly the now raised blade. "But this time, I'm not holding back." A look of concentration flashed on his face as he charged forward. Setarian's eyes narrowed on him and shifted to the right just as the blade came down.
He blocked by slashing away the sword at a diagonal. Splinters of wood burst from the clashing blades. Setarian did not fall but his arms ached. Maintaining balance required the help of his throbbing tail; his wings still felt sore from the tussle with the rogue guards.
Jeran's eyes narrowed on him with his lips slightly curled, revealing pointed teeth. Setarian sucked in his breath. As if to flick off a switch, Jeran exhaled loudly, the tenseness in his shoulders and face all but gone.
"Was I too good?" said Setarian, attempting to calm the formerly tense air. When the knight's response was not immediate, his ears flattened.
"You may just be," he responded airily, shaking his head. "I'm guessing you'd like a break?"
Setarian's muscles would have gladly accepted, but he pushed back the achiness and forced a smile.
"A b-break? Why would I need something like that?"
Jeran's eyes were closed as he inhaled deeply the fresh Meridell air. His paw still rested upon his chin.
"Okay." His eyes snapped open. "Just let me know if anything seems... new to you, okay?"
Setarian laughed lightly, balancing again on his sore legs. "Oh, don't worry." He swished the sword about. "I'll make sure to tell you."
The two practiced for another hour until Setarian's legs caved under him and he collapsed to the ground, panting.
Jeran bit his lip. "I think you've had enough for one day."
"Don't be... ridiculous..." Setarian breathed, rolling over on the side with his good wing. "I'm... fine..."
Jeran twisted his mouth before walking over to pry the wooden sword from Setarian's clutches. Setarian resisted, but the knight quickly won over the weapon.
"Head back to my chamber, Serian. I asked one of my squires to make a cot for you."
"Now, Serian." The Eyrie was taken aback by his tone. It reminded him of the citadel's caretakers. They looked after him as much as any other Darigan orphan: whenever convenient.
Setarian got up on all fours. His back legs burned so fiercely that it was hard to stand.
"If I must," he replied meekly.
"You must." Jeran's voice was firm as he pointed towards the castle. "And leave your training garments near the hallway. The King's servants will take to them. I'll finish cleaning up here; expect me there in a couple of hours."
The walkways seemed much steeper than before. Each step took more effort than the last. Few passersby gave him notice except for the caped Blumaroo he had met shortly after waking in Jeran's chambers.
"Are you oketh, Serian? It's me, Borith," the Blumaroo said, subsequently taking out the plastic fangs from his mouth. His gaze traveled up and down Setarian's body. "Jeran really did a number on you."
"I asked him to," he murmured in response, pushing Boris away. "Now let me be, friend of Jeran. I have no time for your pity."
Boris crossed his arms decisively. "Heeey, that's not a very nice thing to say. And here I was going to ask Kayla to help you out..." A mischievous grin slid across his face as Setarian eyed him wearily. "But I could reconsider if you said sorry? Or we could play a game of deadly dice to see—"
I have no time to deal with the antics of children, he thought, barreling his way past. Jeran's friend continued to blather, something about him 'just kidding' and token words of apology. Setarian tuned him out.
Twice on the way he nearly blacked out. No one said a word as he waddled towards a large wooden door with an ornate golden handle. It easily budged when turned. Reaching a feather bed draped with wrinkled sheets seemed like a Lord's luxury for his pain. Hastily, he squirmed out of the training gear and left it outside the chamber before crawling under the sheets. Just as his eyes shut, there came a tap at the door followed by the mutterings of a mousy voice.
"Is anyone there?" it called, knocking twice more.
Setarian covered a pillow over his head. "Leave me alone..."
Light poured into the room from the hallway followed by the light footsteps of what was surely another nuisance.
"I brought something to lessen the pain, if that's okay," it called. When Setarian refused to budge, it came closer and removed the pillow from his grasp. Kayla stood above him, looking all kinds of concerned. She wore her typical star and moon covered robes and hat, but had a large brown bag slung over her shoulder branded with the words, "medical supplies." One glance at him nearly sent the blood red potion out of her grasp and crashing to the ground. "Sweet Mortogs, what happened?" she gasped.
"Jeran and I trained. I asked that he not take it easy on me. He obliged. Can you go now?"
"Uh, no. 'Fraid I can't do that, Serian." She uncorked the bottle. Aromatic scents filled the room instantly as the liquid fizzed. "Now open your beak and I'll pour this right down. It tastes super sweet, I made sure of it."
"I have no need for your services."
She poked one of the bruises, causing Setarian to let out a yelp. "Uh huh. Sure you don't."
She gripped his paw gently, causing Setarian to bury his face in the sheets. "You have nothing to be afraid of. We're your friends, Serian. We're here to help you whenever you need us." He stopped struggling but did not move from the bed. When approached again, he grunted loudly and turned his head to the side.
I have never needed any friends so why should I start now? Because a knight and his sister have shown me kindness?
"Would it be alright if I gave this to you?" she asked again in a gentle voice. "I taste tested over twenty brews. This is by far my best batch."
"Alright, alright! Fine." He jetted up from the bed, digging his paws into its soft surface so forcefully that he left trench-like marks on the cloth. "But at least give me the decency to drink it myself."
"I... I guess." She gingerly handed him the bottle, which he seized from her paws. Red fizz popped from the brew. It tickled his paws. He gripped the bottleneck tightly, causing the skin beneath his white down to pale. With a look of disgust, he chugged the potion in two gulps. Liquid sugar slithered down his throat.
Kayla was right; the potion was sweet. Too sweet. He gagged a couple of times and could feel his eyes watering, but at the same time, a golden glow enveloped his body. All of the bruises faded and the pain dulled from screaming sores to minor aches.
"Feeling any better?" she asked with a proud grin.
The Eyrie bent his arms back and forth and did the same with his legs. They felt as good as new. Well, almost. One particularly large bruise still felt warm and stung at the slightest touch.
"I suppose I am." When she refused to stop staring, he hastily added a "thank you," but made sure to back it up with a "why are you still here?"
"Well, I thought I could cheer you up with a story now that you're feeling better. I know some really good ones."
"Do you now?" he looked away before rolling his eyes. "Let me guess. You have an arsenal of stories that would appeal to someone of a child's age."
She blinked a few times. "Um... yep. That pretty much sums them up. Is that okay with you?"
Not in the slightest.
Outside, Setarian could hear the sounds of metal clashing, but none of the shouts of battle. A training session, he assumed. He glanced back at the deflating Zafara and shook his head. The bookshelf passed his view.
"Actually," he said to the now frowning potion maker, "I think there is something you could read to me."
After all, it would be a hassle to reach it on my own. Lisha just had to put it on the top shelf, didn't she?
Kayla immediately perked up, wiggling her nose as her ears swung from side to side.
"Hurray!" her voice reverberated about the room and carried outside the window. Jeran could be heard laughing in the distance. "I've always wanted to read a story to a Medieval Neopian!"
"A wha—oh, never mind. Just pick up the glossy bound book on that shelf over there."
"The Mischievous Angelpuss?"
"No, no, not anything like that." He grew restless of her dawdling and began to scrunch the bedding between his paws. "I request that you bring me Meridell: A History." He was tempted to say 'now,' but figured it would not work in his favor.
Within an instant, her expression changed to that of worry as her arms swung to the side.
"B-but, that's Lisha's book from school. I dunno if she wants me reading it to—"
"I have an interest in Neopian history," he interjected with a sneer. "Nothing would be more... fascinating than a review of the recent events."
Kayla's thumbs twiddled about as her lower lip dropped. Meanwhile, Jeran's voice could be easily heard from outside, barking commands. She nervously glanced out towards the window, muttering something along the lines of, "how about watching Jeran train instead?" but Setarian would have none of it. He licked the roof of his beak, attempting to force out appeasing words. None would come. After a minute of silence, Setarian grumbled a word out of his almost closed mouth.
She hunched over, defeated. "Okay, okay. I guess I can show you a couple of pages, but no more, alright?" She grabbed the empty flask from the cot, put it in her pack, and turned towards an organized shelf. With a loud, drawn out sigh she stood on her tippy toes, barely touching the top of the book's binding. After knocking the book from the shelf, it tumbled to the ground with a loud clunk. She turned her head towards the door for a second before bending down, gripping the dusty tome tightly. Its glossy cover seemed to enrapture her, as she stared at it in silence before turning back to Setarian once again.
"How about the history of knights in Neopia?" she finally said, picking up a wooden chair and putting it down next to the cot. "There is a really interesting section on that. One of my personal favorites, I must admit."
"Actually, assuming you all fought in the War, I'd be interested in learning about it. Maybe even..." he drummed a paw against his chin while Kayla squirmed. "The orb that started it all."
She lowered her voice to a whisper. "If you wanna hear about the War, I can tell you about my experiences. I mean, I guess I didn't do too much back then, but I suppose we may have caught Skarl off guard when we kind of appeared in his castle..."
I doubt your stories would be half as interesting.
"Just read the book."
She whined softly and her ears fell back. Setarian almost felt sorry for being so blunt with her, but the remaining soreness made it hard to care. Without another word, she bent back the book's front cover. Its binding snapped and popped as the pages slid over one another. Setarian craned his neck to sneak a peek at the pages. Many of them had been bent at the corners; notes and the occasional doodle were scribbled between passages. Without Kayla's support, the back of the book would have surely swung down and dangled. On the second to last page, she skimmed through a list of topics and found "The First Great War." Setarian's brow furrowed.
"First Great War? I haven't heard of any other ones."
Kayla turned the book away, suddenly flustered. Her eyes seemed to be wet around the corners. "Um, um... have you ever heard of speculative fiction?" When Setarian tilted his head, she continued with short pauses every couple of words. "That's what everything else is. A lot of stuff they think could happen."
Setarian seemed perplexed. After all, who would waste their days transcribing historical theory when there were far more important things to write about? It just did not make sense.
Her paws were shaking as she frantically flipped to a section titled, 'The Beginnings of War.' Drawings and records of Meridell poverty covered the pages. Many of the depictions showed Meridellians piled in a sick room, skinny as skeletons. A faded picture of Darigan Citadel—the grandiose castle it was before the orb was stolen—filled the opposing page. The faded images of suffering common folk evoked little response from the Eyrie, but seeing the citadel in the peak of her glory sent his heart fluttering. Setarian felt drawn in by its beauty.
Under the Citadel's picture it said, "Depiction of the pre-war citadel from a lieutenant's journal."
"Wait," Setarian found himself saying before he could stop himself, anger stinging in his eyes. "Where did they obtain this journal, and more importantly, who gave them the right to take it?"
"I wish I knew," she answered cautiously, "but this is what you wanted to see, right? Just sit back and I'll read you the passage. And... don't tell anyone I read this to you, alright?"
"Why would I?" he shot back. "Skarl forbid that the war's actual history be known." His throat felt like sandpaper. Kass forbid, he mentally corrected.
"I... well... anyway," she continued, "Here we go." She placed a red furred finger on a word and began to read aloud in a hushed whisper. "In the year 120 BN, Meridell was suffering from one of its worst starving periods. Death tolls continued to rise as famine and poverty grew, leading to frequent riots. King Skarl had sent a few of his knights to scour for solutions, led by the tragic Sir Agris, a champion of the commoners." She licked her finger before turning the page. A beige colored inset featured a yellow Kyrii sporting plate mail. Setarian strained himself to read the passage from an angle, determined that he had been a commoner who rose to greatness, found peace for Meridell, and was attacked and killed by Darigans four years later. Kayla continued to read and scattered his thoughts. Even with his ears perked and his mind focused, it took a great deal of concentration to make out every word.
"On the third day of Celebrating that year, King Skarl received word from a Kyrii mystic who had claimed the existence of a miracle orb. Some historians claim that the orb held a strong magical power, but without remains, no one has been able to confirm this theory. Unwittingly, the envoy King Skarl sent stole the orb from a distant land known as Darigan Citadel, which had maintained a long era of peace prior to their invasion. A few years after the orb was obtained, Meridell flourished; wealth returned, sickness disappeared, and the restlessness of the city all but disappeared. The opposite was true for the citadel, where a series of plagues left survivors horribly deformed. This one act led to what was known as 'The First Great War,' a conflict to last well over a decade."
A loud knock came at the door. She shut the book in a hurry (Setarian narrowly missed being clamped on the beak) and stowed it in her bag.
When no one responded, the door opened slowly. Disheveled and panting, Jeran walked in and said, "I'm back." He then did a double take, which Setarian found rather amusing, when he saw Kayla sitting in the room.
Within an instant, she stood up, scurried over to the corner of the room, and left the chair near Jeran's deck.
"H-hi, Jeran! I was just reading a story to Serian over here. I just finished, so I'll be going now. You two have fun!" She whipped the large brown bag over her shoulder and clutched it tightly.
"After you," responded the knight between a broad yawn. She darted out, nearly plowing him over, and called, "feel better, Serian," as it shut.
Jeran removed his dented metal helm and placed it on a wooden countertop. He cricked his neck and rubbed it with one paw as if sore and achy. Once Setarian noticed he was on Jeran's bed, he hopped onto the cot. The padded bottoms of his paws felt the warm, welcoming feel of Babaa wool, so he stretched out and for the first time all day.
He's bruised all over. I wonder what they were doing out there?.
The headboard proved a comfortable enough place to rest. Setarian crossed his paws behind his head and snuggled under the covers. He turned about, watching as Jeran busied himself with vague interest, and occasionally sparing glances to the assorted objects in the room. All the while, Jeran never removed the blade from his side. It remained sheathed, but accessible. Setarian felt his gaze shifting towards the weapon, wondering its purpose on an off-duty knight.
"Serian," he said quietly, "you fight well."
Setarian grinned complacently. "Of course I do. Would you expect anything else from me?"
"I suppose not." Jeran's paw slid closer to the sheathed sword with a casual swing of his arm, causing Setarian to tense up. Few else would have paid such an action notice, but Jeran never acted secretively. Like an open book, he thought.
"Is something wrong?" Setarian's heart started to race. It was probably nothing.
"Well, no," he said, looking Setarian right in the eyes, "but I never knew that Darigans trained their recruits so young."
To be continued...