Knight & Squire: Preface
Author’s Note: I recommend reading the first instalment, “Unwilling,” before you read this because the framing device occurs shortly after its events. It ran from Issue 991 to Issue 995.
Part One: Legacy
“Hrgh!” Rowan hissed through gritted teeth. “This sucks. This officially sucks.”
Lisha adjusted her glasses and smiled sympathetically at him. “I’m almost done, Rowan.” She continued to rub the medicinal cream on his upper torso. “You’re lucky your magical resistance is so high. I’ve seen much worse from this kind of attack.”
“Guess I’ve won the Neopian lottery then,” he shot back sarcastically
Lisha continued to apply the cream, “Your arms ought to be easier. The burns are less severe there.”
“How’d you learn how to do this anyway, Four—” He stopped, “I mean, Lisha?”
Lisha giggled, “One of my best friends, Kayla, is a potion maker, and there’s some overlap with home-style healing remedies. I prize versatility, so I asked her to teach me. That and Jeran bruises easily.”
“Talking trash about me, Li?” came an amused voice. Jeran smiled as he entered the guest room.
“It’s less about trash talk and more about the fact your skin is surprisingly sensitive,” she replied. “Also, you’re breaking my concentration. Applying this requires more precision than meets the eye; I haven’t even begun applying fresh bandages yet.” She turned her head towards him with a smirk.
“Well, excuuussee me, Ms. Sorceress General!” Jeran answered with mock offence. He placed his left hand over his heart, “I guess I should know better than to disturb a prodigy at work.”
Lisha frowned, “You know I hate that word, Jeran because discounts the sheer amount of effort required to attain peak competency in one’s chosen field.”
“I hate to interrupt this lovely sibling interaction, but I’m the one with magical burns here,” Rowan interrupted. He looked at his superior questioningly, “Besides, aren’t you supposed to be training, Mr. Perfect?”
Jeran smiled at his squire. Rowan’s injuries certainly hadn’t dampened his fire. “Taking a break is just as important as training.” His countenance sobered, “In all seriousness, I’ve come to collect on the promise you made Lisha and me.”
Rowan’s head fell as he began to stare at the floor, “Oh… That…”
Jeran walked closer, “I have no doubt these memories are painful, but it’s also imperative to your safety. And as your mentor, that is my top priority.”
Rowan sniffed, willing his tears away, “Okay, I’ll tell you everything. I gotta keep my promise. Just… Don’t rush me, okay? I don’t really remember Mother, or what happened shortly after I was born. I don’t even remember the War of the Orb.” He rolled his eyes, “My private tutors talked about it to death. Stupid…” He sighed again as he lifted his head and met Jeran’s eyes.
Jeran restrained himself from patting him on the shoulder, unsure about how it would be received, “I’ve got plenty of time. What about you, Li?”
Lisha nodded, “I scheduled a break from my studies for just this occasion. Oh, and your upper torso is finally done. I’ll give you a break before I move to your arms.”
Rowan faced her, expression unreadable, “Thanks. I guess.”
Jeran’s eyes widened for a split second as he saw his little sister squeeze Rowan’s right hand. Was she always this courageous? “Take your time,” she told him. “We’re listening.”
Rowan nodded, feeling reassured. “Thanks, uh, Lisha. Well, Mother died shortly before the War of the Orb…”
The fresh grass tickled Sir Hugo’s feet as he gazed at the tiny, pink flowers sprouting among it. An ocean of green dotted with slight, delicate islands. His ears twitched as he picked up the melodious chirps of birdsong. A nearby flock of Beekadoodle must have been passing by. The red Blumaroo inhaled deeply. The very air was saturated with life. He tried to smile as he thought about His Majesty’s success. The orb had been found.
At least, that’s what he was telling himself. He shook his head to rid himself of troublesome thoughts. Now, Meridell’s people wanted for nothing; they could live.
Except for one. “Ingrid…,” he whispered. Sir Hugo knelt, painfully aware of the precious bundle in his arms, to gaze at the headstone. Fate had dealt her two blows: malnutrition followed by childbirth. And she had never recovered from either. His coal-black eyes swirled with grief. Why had it been her? His best friend turned love of his life?
Tears slid down his face. At least she was still by his side on House Albion’s land. Sir Hugo stood up before uncovering the top of the bundle, revealing two furry ears. He stroked them tenderly, “He looks just like you, my love. Your living legacy.” Sir Hugo sighed. He had to get back home before Tristan woke up. He glanced at the headstone one last time before walking towards his estate. One cannot move forward when one keeps looking back, he thought.
Seven years later
“Again, Rowan,” Sir Hugo ordered as his youngest son dropped his toy sword.
“Daddy, I wanna play with Tristan,” 7-year-old Rowan objected. “He’s reading those shiny-shine books again. It’s so cool!” His amber eyes gleamed with admiration.
Sir Hugo smiled at the name for Tristan’s magical books, “Do it one more time. Then, I’ll let you play with your older brother,” he answered.
“Awww! But I don’t want toooo!” Rowan whined.
Sir Hugo shook his head, “You’re not going to win this one, Rowan. One more time.”
An hour later
Tristan scratched behind his right ear as he stared at the page. What would Mother have done? The 13-year-old frowned. “Let’s try this…” He closed his eyes as he immersed himself in the magical energy that surrounded him, mumbling in an ancient tongue. The page shone brightly as the energy spiked. He smiled to himself, “I knew I could do it. Father will be pleased.”
“Tristan! Tris-tris! TRIS!” a high-pitched, loud voice interrupted.
“I’m in my room, Rowan,” Tristan answered. The red Blumarro smiled, amber eyes shining, as he heard stomping in his direction. His smile stretched into a grin as he saw his little brother huffing and puffing in the doorway. “Are you done with your training, Rowan?”
The green Ogrin pouted, clearly displeased. “Yeah, it took too long. And it was booriinng!” he whined.
Tristan laughed, “I know it’s boring, but it’s important. Especially since you’re going to be a knight someday.”
“Still boring. Whatcha doin’?” Rowan asked. He walked towards Tristan’s desk, standing on his tiptoes. “Lemme see.”
Tristan shot from his chair, scooping his younger brother up in his arms. He grinned as he heard a delighted squeal. “I was reading spells. Do you want to watch it again?”
“Yeah!” Rowan pumped his right fist in the air. “Wait, wait! Teach me! Again, again! I wanna read some more!” He excitedly squirmed in his brother’s arms.
Tristan laughed again, “Easy, Rowan, easy.” He sat down in his desk chair, Rowan on his lap. “Okay, let’s start with theMeridella Arcana again. Do you remember the letters’ sounds?”
Sir Hugo smiled fondly at his two sons from a crack in the door. My beautiful family, he thought. My life, my blood. Whatever I do, I do for you.
Does that include thievery? Be mindful; what example are you really setting?a mental voice asked.
The pang of his conscience was like ice-cold water, drenching his previously warm thoughts.
I did what I had to for their sake. I needed to take care of them, he refuted.
A goal that would have been better achieved by staying home. His Majesty even gave you leave because of your recent bereavement and Rowan’s birth. Instead, you chose to leave them to search for a remedy. You chose to participate.
I have no regrets, he shot back. Sir Hugo inhaled shakily. Now, Meridell can flourish. Her people can live.
At what cost? What of Darigan’s people and their families? Did they deserve famine or disease? Isn’t a knight supposed to defend people?
Only his kingdom’s people, Sir Hugo deflected lamely. This was a battle he was losing. He knew it.
A knight is a knight; location does not change that. You knew better. Do you really think the current truce between Darigan and Meridell will last?
Shut up! Beads of sweat dripped down his forehead. What’s done is done, and I have no regrets. You didn’t stop me then; you won’t stop me now!
The relentless stream of his conscience ceased, morphing into a continual trickle.
Sir Hugo wiped his damp forehead as he stiffly moved away from his eldest son’s door. Tonight was going to be rough.
Tristan yawned, trying not to fall asleep. He glanced at the flickering candle on his desk. Just one more page. Then, he’d sleep. He had to do right by Father. By House Albion.
He drummed his knuckles on the desk. He’d felt the spike in magical energy as Rowan had sounded out the letters in the Meridella Arcana. Could it be? Could his little brother be one of those few? He shook and pushed his anxious thoughts away. No, the page hadn’t glowed. Rowan hadn’t activated the spell.
He clenched his fist. Father loved them both, right? Right. He was heir to House Albion. That’s all that mattered.
“Father was a firm but kind man. He loved Tristan and me, and he would’ve done anything for us,” Rowan stated. His brow furrowed, “But he had horrible nightmares. I remember hearing him talk in his sleep once or twice. Tristan heard him even more because he often stayed up late studying magic.”
Lisha finished tying the bandage on Rowan’s right arm and gave her brother a pained look. Jeran mirrored her expression.
“What’re you two frowning at?” Rowan questioned. “Is there something on my face?”
“There’s no easy way to say this, Rowan,” Lisha began. “But I think Viscount Sir Hugo—
“—was a member of the group that stole the orb from Lord Darigan,” Jeran finished for her. It sounds like he was haunted by his actions.” His face fell in sympathy.
Rowan said nothing as he stared at Jeran and Lisha, expression darkening.
To be continued…