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The Dubious Disagreement

by minkton


      The horizon glowed with the rays of dawn as Dame Grisbane climbed the winding path leading to Illusen’s Glade. Wearing her best suit of armour, the towering Eyrie strode with purpose toward the woodsy lair, her trusty sword sheathed at her side.

      The knight did have a purpose to visit Meridell’s resident Earth Faerie, after all. Today was the day Lord Skarl assigned her the enviable duty of fulfilling Illusen’s most difficult quests. It was up to Meridell’s knights to complete the tasks regular Neopians couldn’t take on themselves.

      As Grisbane approached entrance of the Glade, she heard something that made her halt her stride.

      Those were definitely footsteps, she thought. Instinctively, her paw shot to the grip of her sword. She listened for danger, but all she heard was the rustling of leaves.

      The threat knew she was there.

      “Who goes there?” she bellowed. Her tone was more threatening than it was inquisitive. She didn’t expect an answer. She was readying herself for a battle that could begin at any moment.

      “Dame Grisbane? Is that you?” a familiar, rumbling voice called from just beyond the Eyrie’s field of vision. Grisbane relaxed her posture, rolled her eyes and planted her paws on her armoured hips. She waited for her heartbeat to slow before bellowing a reply.

      “Ah, Sir Hoofstad,” Grisbane said shortly. “It’s a Gallion of a morning isn’t it? I imagine that’s why I find you wandering the Glade instead of gobbling gruel, or puckering your lips for some sleepy Mortogs.”

      “Find me? I found you, Dame Grisbane. And let me remind you, that is no way to speak to a fellow knight of Meridell -- especially one who was defending these lands when you were a just babe.”

      Hoofstad emerged from a shadowed part of the Glade that had not yet been touched by the light of dawn. He, too, was adorned in his finest armour. The sound of clamoring metal and hooves crushing leaves accompanied Hoofstad as approached the fellow knight. The white Uni frowned at the young Eyrie and tossed his head so that the tail of his braided mane fell with a dull thud onto his chest plate.

      “What lures you to the Glade on this morning?” Hoofstad asked Grisbane grumpily. “Shouldn’t you be stuffing your beak with massive wheels of cheese? Or maybe counting moldy potatoes?”

      The knights used to be good friends. But a simple quarrel about something neither of them could remember had made them bitter enemies. They argued every time they were within earshot of one another, but never brought up why they stopped being friends in the first place.

      “Today is the day I report to Illusen and carry out her most challenging quests,” Grisbane said proudly.

      Hoofstad raised his overgrown eyebrows.

      “But I have been chosen to report to her today, young one,” Hoofstad barked. “We will just have to see which one of us she prefers!”

      Like children in a footrace, the two knights rushed to the door of Illusen’s home and began to knock loudly and rapidly. The magical wooden doors soon swung open, revealing the Earth Faerie’s sprawling green grounds.

      “Hello, Dame Grisbane and Sir Hoofstad,” Illusen said in a calm, lilting tone that rippled across the Glade. She floated to the ground before them.

      Forgetting her manners, Grisbane blurted: “I’m afraid Lord Skarl has accidentally assigned us both to your duties today, m’lady. It – it must be a mistake, so I ask that you choose which one of us would be better fit to help you.”

      Grisbane shot Hoofstad a triumphant look.

      “Yes, m’lady. Please, choose the better knight. One of us must report back the king and tell him of his error,” Hoofstad said, leering at the Eyrie.

      Illusen’s laugh echoed throughout the Glade.

      “Today, you both will help me,” said the amused Faerie. “I have a task that I feel will put both of you to the test.”

      Both knights leaned forward, listening intently for what this task could possibly be. Visions of besting terrible monsters and solving impossible puzzles jumped to their minds.

      “I need you to find me …”

      The knights leaned in closer.

      “… The item that will start you both back on the path to friendship.”

      Grisbane’s beak hung open in shock. Hoofstad scoffed as quietly as he could.

      “M’lady … I don’t think any such item exists,” Grisbane said. “And even if it did … where would we find such a thing?”

      Illusen’s kind smiled disappeared. Her demeanor and tone became austere. The knights had never seen her be so unfriendly.

      “I believe that is for you to find out,” she said dryly. “You have until sunset.”

      Grisbane and Hoofstad waited until leaving the Glade before quarreling.

      “This is foolery!” Hoofstad grumbled. He charged toward the castle, attempting to outpace the Eyrie as she followed.

      “We can both simply return to Lord Skarl and explain the mistake,” he continued angrily. “This is a quest destined for failure.”

      Grisbane was too furious to think clearly, but she knew the route back to the castle would never yield the item Illusen wanted.

          “Lord Skarl has been fatigued with our bickering for years, Hoofstad. He may be in on this plot, too,” she said.

      They stopped suddenly and glared at one another.

      “What do you propose we do then?” Hoofstad asked.

      Grisbane sighed. “Maybe we can attempt to bond again over some Meat Kebabs at Merifoods?”

      “I hate Meat Kebabs.”

      “What about a round of Ultimate Bullseye? We can return with the target that we fill with the most arrows,” Grisbane said.

      “I refuse. That Turtum is suspicious. I heard he doesn’t play fair.”

      Grisbane stewed silently for a moment.

      “What about …” she said through gritted teeth, “… table poker?” She was sure Hoofstad would create some reason to reject this idea, too.

      “Well,” the Uni said, resigning himself to the fact that he would be spending the day with the Neopet he disliked more than anyone else in Meridell, even though he couldn’t quite remember why that was. “We did spend a generous amount of time there together, long ago. If there’s anywhere to begin this futile search, it would be there, I suppose.”

      It was still early in the morning when Grisbane and Hoofstad arrived at a poorly lit poker shack near the castle. It would be at least an hour before the kingdom’s subjects would awaken and begin bustling about, but oddly enough, many of the same Neopets who the knights frequently played poker with many years ago were already seated at the table.

      None of the poker players looked at the knights as they entered.

      “Would you like me to cut you two in?” a Bruce named Friar Asquith asked.

      Grisbane and Hoofstad were too busy arguing about the trustworthiness of Turtums to notice the question. Asquith began tossing cards in front of the two chairs where the knights would seat themselves, flustered and frustrated.

      “Long time no see,” said a beautiful Aisha named Lady Vanella.

      “Illusen has tasked us with finding an item that will revive our friendship,” Grisbane said with an irritated flutter of her wings.

      None of the poker players looked surprised.

      “It’s a wonder you two agreed to embark on such a quest,” said a Kacheek named Footpad Joe.

          A Meerca wearing a green archer’s hat named Nigel of Meridar snickered.

      “We didn’t have a choice,” Hoofstad grumbled.

      The poker players and the knights began their game in silence.

          “Why did you two stop being such good friends?” Footpad Joe asked cautiously as he threw a few Neopoints into a pile in the middle of the table.

      The tension in the room thickened.

      “I believe it was because Dame Grisbane became a buffoon shortly after becoming a knight,” said Hoofstad, looking down his nose at his cards.

      “You were threatened by my success, Sir Hoofstad,” Grisbane retorted, turning to face the Uni. “Admit it.”

      “I cannot admit that which is not true, I am a knight of Meridell, after all,” Hoofstad said dryly, still refusing to look at Grisbane. “You became arrogant after you were knighted. And you are still that way.”

      Uncomfortable silence fell again. Nigel of Meridar silently discarded two of his cards and picked up two others in what seemed like eternity.

      “I remember it was a very … small disagreement,” Lady Vanella said meekly.

      Hoofstad snorted, discarded one of his cards, and picked up another.

      “Honestly, I cannot remember how the quarreling began,” Grisbane said, a hint of sorrow in her voice.

      Silence again, except for the shuffling of cards and dropping of coins.

      “I still remember when Dame Grisbane came to me in tears that day,” said Friar Asquith loudly. He glanced at Hoofstad’s face for the first time since they had all sat down to play. The Uni was grimacing in what could have been anger, or an effort to remember the incident that ended his friendship with Grisbane.

      “She was broken up about the fight you two had moments before, Sir Hoofstad,” Friar Asquith held his voice steady as he continued. “Lord Skarl had just named Dame Grisbane a knight of Meridell a fortnight before. That had been a joyous day for the both of you, mentor and mentee.”

      Friar Asquith paused as he discarded most of his hand and picked up new cards. All of the poker players had their eyes on him.

      “But on the day Dame Grisbane came to me crying, Sir Hoofstad, she said you were showing her how to clean her new plate armour. You suggested she should polish it clockwise. She thought it looked more lustrous with a counter-clockwise polish.”

      “You two flung insults at each other, and THAT is the silly exchange that ended one of the best friendships Meridell had ever seen,” Friar Asquith finished.

      The knights searched their memories for such an exchange.

      “That wasn’t it at all, Friar,” Lady Vanella said. “Your memory fails you. I still remember the day Sir Hoofstad came to me, furious about what Dame Grisbane had done.”

      The beautiful Aisha had the undivided attention of everyone at the table.

      “It was three days – not a fortnight – after Dame Grisbane was knighted. She had promised to meet Sir Hoofstad at the bridge to Brightvale at daybreak, but she arrived five minutes late! Insults flew, and they could never repair their wonderful bond again.”

      Neither knight could recall that incident, either.

      “No, no. You both have it wrong. Dame Grisbane and Sir Hoofstad came to me after it all happened,” said Nigel of Meridar, pushing his green archer’s hat away from his eyes. “Neither could agree on whether Brick Cheese was made of bricks or of cheese. I wouldn’t choose sides, and that’s when everything fell apart between them!”

      “That is enough!” Hoofstad yelled, standing suddenly. “Dame Grisbane, if the item Illusen seeks actually exists, it isn’t here. We have already wasted half a day, and recalling the past just won’t help us.”

      “I … I agree, Sir Hoofstad,” said the Eyrie as she stood. “I appreciate you all trying to help. It was wonderful seeing you all again.”

      The poker players sighed in defeat and watched the knights leave the tent.

      The knights journeyed to Ye Olde Petpets on the whim that a cute Symol may help them settle their differences, but soon left the store in a huff after arguing about the diets of Vullards. They ventured to the Turdle Racing grounds, but couldn’t agree on which racer to bet on, because the one with the best odds looked “shifty” to Hoofstad. Grisbane wanted to bet on the Turdle with the worst odds because she felt bad for it. They left the racing grounds angrier than they arrived.

      The day was winding down just as the knights arrived at potato farmer Alton Moughbry’s home. He was mumbling into a barrel presumably full of potatoes.

      “Seventeen … eighteen … n-nineteen … wait a sec! Darn it,” the Kacheek said. “One … two …”

      “Good day, Mr. Moughbry,” Grisbane said tiredly. “We need your help.”

      The Kacheek stopped counting and looked up slowly at the knights, as if just realizing they were there. His young face cracked into a smile.

      “Wow, I can’t imagine why you would need my help, but I’m happy to oblige,” Moughbry said. “Usually, anyone looking to count potatoes just visits my cousin these days. He’s a lot cooler than I am, and a lot better at making counting potatoes fun.”

      “This has nothing to do with counting potatoes, Mr. Moughbry. We come to you out of desperation,” Hoofstad said.

      “Illusen has requested that we bring her an item that will rekindle our friendship. We don’t know what that item is, or where it is,” Grisbane explained. “But … we’re hoping you might help us. Where would you look for such a thing?”

      “Such a shame, I heard you two hadn’t been friends since disagreeing about whether Bomberry Elixir tasted more like Bomberries or blueberries,” Moughbry said. At no surprise to them, the knights could not recall that either. “Have you tried the Rubbish Dump? I tend to find some pretty valuable things there that people never meant to throw away.”

      Both knights groaned.

      “We might as well check it out, Sir Hoofstad. It’s about the only place we haven’t looked for this thing … whatever it is,” said Grisbane.

      “Thank you, Mr. Moughbry. Good day,” Hoofstad said politely. And with that, the two knights started toward the Rubbish Dump.

      Moughbry watched them go, grinning widely.

      Sunset was quickly approaching as the knights arrived at Meridell’s largest, most vile heap of trash. Grisbane held her paws over her beak to mask the smell. Hoofstad didn’t seem to notice.

      “We don’t have much time left,” Hoofstad said with a sigh. “Let’s split up, give the place a quick search and report back to Illusen with the bad news.”

      Neither knight had ever met defeat before. They tried to think of ways to explain how they failed as they began to scan endless piles of putrid trash.

      It wasn’t long before Grisbane spotted something in the rubble. She didn’t know what it was, but she instantly knew she had found the item that would fulfill Illusen’s wishes.

      “Sir Hoofstad! Sir Hoofstad! I’ve found something!”

      The Uni bolted to Grisbane’s side.

      The Eyrie picked up a poster in pristine condition that was sitting on the very top of a mountain of trash near the entrance to the Rubbish Dump.

      She unfurled it and read it aloud.

      “You too can be a knight …” Grisbane read slowly. “Join us in the fight for Meridell …”

      The parchment had a large drawing of the great hero Sir Jeran at the center, pointing at the viewer.

      The knights stood in silence for a moment, not seeming to notice the darkening sky or the stench surrounding them anymore.

      “This … this poster is from Kass’ terrible reign …” Hoofstad said with amazement. “This is the poster I saw … that made me become a knight.”

      Silence again. A Crokabek squawked in the distance.

      “… Sir Hoofstad, I want you to know that you are the reason I became a knight,” Grisbane said hesitantly, smiling at the Uni. She handed the poster gingerly to Hoofstad.

      “During this journey, I realize I cannot for the life of me remember what made us become enemies,” Hoofstad said gently. “But while trying to recall that, I did come up with many happy memories we shared.”

      “As did I, Sir,” Grisbane said. Her smile grew. “Maybe … maybe there are more happy memories between us to come.”

      And with that, the two knights chased the sunset to Illusen’s Glade, catching up on years of friendship that pride took away from them.

      The End.

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