The Girl Guard
"You'll do fine, Brynneth. Just keep a cool head, don't fight with anyone, and mind your temper…" Father babbled, handing me my satchel and smoothing down my hair. I sagged under the weight, looking on into the pale morning sky.
"I'll be fine Dad. Do you really think I'd do something bad on my first day of guard training?"
Father sighed, looking pained.
"Okay, you win. Just be careful! Maybe you'll understand when you have your own child," he said, anxiously adjusting his glasses and surveying my Brightvale trainee uniform. It was well worn and slightly too big, creases forming where I was scrawniest. To me, it felt shiny and new, giving me the energy to stand straight and proud, like a proper guard.
"Don't worry! I'll be home every weekend, and on holidays. It'll be like I'm not even gone," I reassured him. He glanced at his battered wristwatch, eyes widening.
"You're late! You have to go!"
"Alright, Dad. Bye!" I said, running down the stone path. He waved half-heartedly.
"Goodbye… Brynn," he called back. I kept on running until I was out of breath. I looked back to see Father still standing there, a pin prick of orange in the distance.
I entered the arena, stomach twisting in knots. It seemed rather small, dirt covering the ground with a patched roof so the rain wouldn’t get in. Different weapons aligned the walls, from spears to maces to weapons I doubt Fyora could name.
But what made me nervous though were the boys talking amongst each other. I recognized most of them as they had walked by my house just a few days ago. I ought to thank them in a way, because their taunts had made me want to join the guard in the first place. They all turned staring at what they expected to be the new boy.
“Are you lost or something?" a spotted Gelert asked uncertainly.
"No, quite the contrary," I said coolly. He didn't respond, his jaw dropped in shock. A yellow Lupe eyed me with suspicion.
"You're the girl from the bookshop, aren't you? Don't tell me Teacher actually let you join!" I raised an eyebrow at him.
"If he didn't, why would I be standing here?" I asked.
"Wow, the guard is going to the petpets," he said darkly. I didn't say anything back, as a yellow Grarrl had walked in. He looked intimidating, sword strapped to his back, and yellow sun on his chest, but I knew better. The captain had been willing enough to accept a girl into his guard - something other lands probably considered impossible.
"Good morning students," he greeted us. "I trust you have met our newest student, Brynneth." There were lots of nodding heads looking at me with curiosity. I could feel my face burning with embarrassment.
"Today, we will be practicing our basic sword tactics. This will be very important this month, as we are going to have a beginner tournament. I want you all to be prepared and to try your very best," Teacher said. Excited chatter spread through the arena. I cast a worried glance at the swords hanging on the walls. They were beautiful, polished and gleaming with intricate carvings etched on the blade.
"We will be using wooden swords, so no one will get hurt, but remain vigilant. I don't want to explain to anyone's parents that their child got stabbed in the eye," he explained. Well, that was a relief. Now I didn't have to worry about being gored!
Teacher passed out wooden swords to each of us. We started practicing different stances. Some of the other kids wobbled, but I tried my best to stand firm. Some of the better boys got bored in the middle of the lesson and resumed their mutterings.
"Will you be quiet?" I hissed, trying to hear Teacher's latest command.
"Make me," he spat back, smirking.
"William, would you please be quiet?" Teacher echoed, annoyed.
"Brynn keeps on talking to me! It's not my fault," he said innocently. I shot him a nasty glance.
"All of you just keep quiet!" he snapped and continued the lesson.
A week passed. I soon found out that we usually switched between teachers during the week, so that they could patrol. One of our teachers was a blue Skeith who was nice, but was very distracted. The next day we had a yellow Draik. He was the complete opposite. He was so strict that if any one talked, he wouldn't hesitate to throw us out of the arena. Somehow for my first patrol, I got stuck with him, much to my dismay.
"Brynneth! Pay attention!" He barked, snapping me away from my thoughts.
"Sorry," I apologized, thinking of how much longer I could take of him. Suddenly, I felt a slight tug at my purse on my belt. I whip around, and spot a blue Ixi, holding a Neopoint. He started running, but I grab him by the arm.
"You aren't going anywhere, thief," I hissed.
"Aw come on…" he muttered, disgusted at being caught, but he didn't struggle.
"Sir?" I called the Draik. "Can you lend me your hand cuffs?" He eyed the thief and nodded at me with grudging approval and hands me his hand cuffs and keys.
"Lock him up, and don't lose him; you can handle the likes of him," he told me sharply. I hoped his threats were empty, at least. The thief rolled his eyes, once we were out of his sight.
"I'm glad I took his money bag," he said, casting the Draik a dark look.
"What?" I yelped, knowing somehow he would blame me for this. "Turn out your pockets," I commanded. He held up his hands, which were in cuffs.
"I would, if you'd unlock these," he said, flashing a grin. I roll my eyes and dig into his pockets myself, pulling out a satchel of Neopoints. I put it in my own pocket, to give back to later. The thief looks longingly at my pocket.
"But that was my dinner!" he protested. I raise an eyebrow.
"Don't thieves usually steal, instead of buy their food?" I asked. He shrugged.
"I usually would, but the Brightvale fruit vendor recognizes me. Last time I tried to steal there, he chased me with a broom," he said, wincing at the memory. I laughed. It seemed like I hadn't done so ever since I joined the Guard. The thief looked at me in surprise.
"I haven't seen a girl guard around here; are you new?" he asked.
"Yes," I admitted wearily.
"Hey, look guys! Brynn caught the scrawny thief! He's probably the only thief you'll ever catch," a voice said scathingly.
"William," I sighed. Usually, I would've said something back, but the fight had been drained out of me. There just wasn't a point anymore.
"And I bet you caught Kanrik before, you big eared creep," the thief called. William seemed shocked, opening and closing his mouth several times. I led the Ixi away from him, before he got into real trouble.
"How did you do that?" I asked in surprise. He shrugged.
"It's a natural instinct," he said with a charming grin. "A master thief knows more insults than in a dictionary."
"Since when were you a master thief?" I interjected.
"Since the day I was born," he said smugly. He dropped his look as we arrive at the cells. I put him in one of the cells, unlocked the handcuffs and locked the cell door. He suddenly grinned brightly.
"What's your name?" he asked. I give him an odd look.
"Brynn," I answered. "What about you?"
"Hanso, master thief," he said, making himself comfortable on the bed in the cell. I roll my eyes again, but I start to smile. I never knew what a thief was like before...
It was finally the day of the tournament. My stomach had been churning since breakfast, so I hadn't eaten anything. Instead, I tried making a strategy in my head, but nothing seemed to turn out right. The only outcome was always him beating me.
Deep in my own thoughts, I didn't notice the green Zafara approach me. Almost everyone was gone, but he seemed anxious, glancing around.
"Hey, Brynn?" he called, snapping me from my thoughts.
"Huh?" No one had ever come to talk to me during breakfast. I recognized him dimly, he was in a class a year older than mine.
"I'm Jake," he said. He lowered his voice. "You should be careful in the arena today. Will is out for blood."
"Like I didn't know that," I mutter, annoyed. "Why does he pick on me?" I asked, mostly to myself. Jake gives me an odd look.
"You two are the best in the class," he said shrugging. "You're his competition."
"Competition for what?" I asked bewildered. Jake looked at me a little guilty.
"Will wants to be Captain of the Guard one day," he said. ."Just like his Father."
"His Father?" I repeated blankly. There weren't any Lupe teachers around here...
"Yeah," Jake said bleakly. "He died a few years ago, when some thieves raided Brightvale…" he said, looking down. My eyes widened as the memory flooded in my mind…
I was three, building a book fort in the middle of the shop. Father would have usually been hysterical if he had saw, but today he was in the market shopping.
A crease of worry appeared on Mother's forehead/
"What's wrong?" I had asked, sensing her distress.
"Your Dad should have come home by now…" Her electric blue eyes glance towards the window for a second, and widen.
"Brynn, go to your room," she said suddenly.
"But Mom, I just got these walls up!" I said, pouting.
"Brynneth," she warned. Worry danced in her eyes, and something else I couldn't recognize at the time… fear. "I have to go to the market. Don't answer the door for anyone."
I cocked my head, but didn't say anything back. As I headed up the stairs, I heard Mother mutter to herself.
"Fyora, please don't let it be the Thieves Guild…"
I didn't know then that it would be the last time I'd see her, fur and blood.
"Neopia to Brynn! Are you listening?" Jake called, waving a paw in front of my face.
"Uh, yeah," I said, expressionlessly, blinking. "Thanks for the heads up." Jake nodded at my response. I hurried away, to get ready.
Once I was ready, I entered the arena. Most of the others were quaking in their armour, while some were still struggling to stand up in it.
Teacher stood in the centre of the arena. He handed out the swords, like he did on our very first day. He then surveyed us thoughtfully.
"Just try your best," he advised us all. It didn't seem to give us much comfort.
Much to my amazement Jake was right about one thing. Most of the boys didn't try very hard against girl, which I used to my advantage. My mind just went on autopilot. I made it through until, there was only one pet left to battle.
"Great, I'm forced to beat up a girl. You could always, you know, forfeit right now so you don't get humiliated," he said with his usual smirk.
I glared. "You wish," I answered shortly.
Teacher arched an eyebrow. "Don't kill each other now," he warned. He blew his whistle, and the battle began.
William swiped at me. We were supposed to be aiming to disarm, but I guess to trying to scare me into dropping my sword. Ha, if I was going down that easily!
He lunged, and I swiftly sidestepped. As he stumbled I pressed my sword against his, in an attempt to make him drop it, but his grip was like steel. He pressed back, the force behind his sword a tenth of his hate for me. I knew I couldn’t win against his strength. My hands started to felt slippery with sweat. William pressed harder, almost savoring his victory…
I did the most logical thing that came to mind. I withdrew my sword, and let gravity do its job. William, all brute force; fell face first into the dirt at my feet, sword skidding from his hands.
"Brynneth is the winner," Teacher boomed. William stayed where he was on the ground, too ashamed to show his face. Here he was, the big bully, the one who stopped at nothing to make my first month in the guard miserable. But now, all I seemed to see was a Lupe who was just
trying to be his Father. I suddenly felt a stab of pity, and I offered him my paw.
"Here," I said. He looked up and took it reluctantly.
"Thanks," he said. To my surprise, there was no loathing in his voice.
A murmur ran through the arena. I waited for someone to jeer an insult, but none came.
Then, someone started clapping. I look up at the audience in surprise, and to my astonishment, everyone is clapping, whooping, cheering the girl guard. I felt like I was glowing. William got up, wiping dirt of his knees. He looked at me, grudgingly, but impressed; all the same.
"You know what? I think I'll let you stay in my guard after all," he said. My eyebrows arched.
"Your guard?" I interjected, smiling a little.
I walk down the cobblestone path of Brightvale. The path is so familiar I barely watch where I'm walking, soaking up the scenery instead. I never knew it would be so hard to say goodbye, and I hadn't even faced the Brightvale Guards yet. So much had changed, me now wearing shining armor and a pink cape. I had left my helmet in my new room at Fyora's Castle.
I come up to a charming cottage with a faded sign reading 'Brightvale Books'. Smiling, I turn the knob. The old bookshop doesn't look neglected, I was pleased to see. Of course, I knew Father would never neglect our home.
I approach the rapidly aging orange Ixi at the counter. His dark blue eyes under round glasses don't stray from the page he's reading.
"Dad?" I call, to gain his attention. He looks up and his old mouth curls up into a grin.
"Brynn! I thought you'd be in Faerieland," he says, hugging me warmly.
"I should be," I agree, returning his hug. "But I'm just trying to say goodbye." He nods.
"It isn't easy, is it? Of course you'll come and see your old Father every now and then, right?" he asks. I smile.
"Every time I can," I promise him. "It'll almost be like I'm not even gone."
"You don't even know how proud I'm of you," he says. I grin, but he continues. "I knew you would help the bookshop one day!" He beams, gesturing at a pile of comic books. I pick one up reading the title, 'The Faeries' Ruin'. My eyes widen and I thumb through it quickly. The artists got almost everything right, to my horror.
"Did you… read this?" I gasp. He arches an eyebrow.
"Of course I did. I thought it was so good, I gave copies to everyone in the guard," he says, eyes gleaming. "They sell very well." Suddenly visiting the guards didn't seem like such a bright idea.
"Dad!" I groan.
"Oh, and I was wondering, when can I meet the Hanso I've heard so much about?"
"Um…" I said intelligently, blushing blood red. "Maybe I'll go visit the guards now…" He smiles good naturedly at me and pats me on the back. His gaze turns thoughtful, like he's recalling something.
"You look like your Mother," he said. "She would've been proud of you too." My smile is a bit wobbly. Even though I never really knew her, from the way Father told me about her I did, in a way.
"Thanks Dad," I say gratefully. I turn away and head towards to the door. He waves silently, smiling.
I approach the building with dull sign of the Brightvale crest and a key over it. I walk to the yellow Garrl at the desk. He looks up and his face breaks a gleaming grin.
"You've finally decided come to visit us then? Or was it just busy in Faerieland?" he asks.
"It was busy," I admit. "I got the day off today."
"Well then, I'm glad that you decided to spend it here," he says. "Most of the guards are on duty or teaching the new trainees. Would you like to join them?" I grin, remembering what I always wanted to do once I was done training.
"Will I be disturbing anyone?" I ask, secretly thinking of those comic books. Teacher leads me into the arena.
"I think you'll see some familiar faces," he says showing off his sharp smile.
I surveyed the room. It was still small, dirt littering the ground, with various weapons hanging on the walls, including the beautiful swords I had admired on my first day. But now, I had my own in the sheath on my belt. A blue Gelert looks up from her sword lesson.
"Brynn?" she asks, astonished. I seemed to be getting that a lot today, not that I minded.
"Tori! You should know better than interrupt my less-" The yellow Lupe looks up. "Brynn?" he echoed. I grined.
"You're teaching the girl guard?" I ask with a smirk.
He sighs, cracking a half-smile. "She's really good," he admits grudgingly, gesturing at Tori. I smile at the students; they are a colourful array, of species, of boys and girls. "Maybe even better than you," he added, just to annoy me.
"That's great!" I said. "You can take his job then," I told Tori. She giggled in response.
"Well then? We were all expecting to see your boyfriend," Will says loftily. I flush pink and unsheathe my sword, pointing it straight at his neck.
"DON'T YOU DARE!" I screeched, giving him a death glare. He cringed, stepping back.
"Don't kill each other now!" Teacher called, leaning casually against the door.
"Yes Teacher," we both said harmoniously. I sheath my sword again and shake my head.
"Look at us, arguing like kids again."
"I doubt you would've pointed a sword at my neck when we were kids," he said, eyeing it at my waist. I finally notice that the students are starting to look restless, wanting to continue their lesson.
"I'd better let you continue your lesson Captain Will," I said. He smiled genuinely.
"Thanks," he said. I walk out, giving Teacher a quick hug, and wave goodbye to everyone.
The sun has already set as I walk down the Brightvale streets. The street lights are lit up, casting a warm glow and making wonky shadows on the ground.
I hear a faint rustle, followed by a snicker. I pull out my sword and look around, eyes narrowing.
I could see a pair of amber eyes, just watching me…
"For Fyora's sake Hanso, stop lurking in the shadows!" I snap, rolling my eyes.
"You should've seen the look on your face!" Hanso says, coming out of the shadows with a grin plastered on his face. I sighed exasperated.
"Will you ever grow up?" I ask.
"Never when you're around, sweetheart," he replies. That reminds me painfully of the comic books.
"Don't call me sweetheart," I said snapped.
"Are you going to miss it?" Hanso asked, catching me glancing back at the Brightvale Castle, standing tall and majestically as ever.
"Yeah," I admit. "But I can always visit again."
"I'm going to miss it here too. I liked the guards," he said with a smirk.
"You liked being put in a cell?" I asked, rolling my eyes
"No," he says with his usual cocky grin. "They were all easy to pickpocket. And you were there too."
“You only liked me because I forgot to take away your lockpicks the first time I arrested you,” I smile despite myself.
Hanso laughs at the memory. “You were so dumb.”
I don't say anything back, deciding I'd get payback when we arrived in Faerieland by pushing him into the Healing Springs. But my gaze seemed to soften as Brightvale starts to fade in the distance.
"At least I got to keep my favourite guard," Hanso jokes in an attempt to lighten my mood.
"Lucky me," I mutter, but a smile plays at my lips.