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A Hero's Journey: Squire


by precious_katuch14

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Chapter 3: The Discovery of Meridell Banquet

     Lotham peered at his son from across the large mahogany desk, frowning sternly with a sheaf of papers in his hands. A golden monocle was over his right eye.

     “This is the best you can do, Cathton?” the royal Usul asked. His voice was even but tense, like a bowstring drawn taut and ready to shoot. His brows furrowed more deeply as he scanned the papers.

     The Blue Cybunny met Lotham’s eyes for about a second before deciding to focus instead on his hands gripping his untucked shirt. He opened his mouth slightly, suspended on that fine line between saying something in response and holding his tongue.

     Then Lotham flung the papers back at him, letting them slide across the surface before they fluttered in all directions. Cathton remained motionless as he rearranged his expression into something that he hoped was devoid of all emotion and braced himself.

     “Unacceptable.”

     There it was, Cathton told himself mentally. He just hoped it would pass quickly, like a fickle summer storm.

     “We’ve been through this same lesson again and again. You missed the tax deductions.” Lotham slapped the table with his fist. “Look at me, Cathton! How do you expect to learn anything if you don’t pay attention?”

     Silence. But Cathton did as he was told, and looked at his father, who was becoming more livid by the minute.

     “Redo those computations. You’re a disgrace! How can we entrust the Wincott fortune to you if you can’t even perform basic accounting?”

     * * *

     “Redo that routine, Cavall. From the beginning.”

     Cavall swallowed hard, gripping the practice sword in his hands tightly. He spread his feet into an acceptable battle stance, raised his weapon, and began swinging it upward, downward, from side to side. But as he did so, the sword slipped from his grasp and tumbled to the ground. His last-ditch attempt to save it sent him sprawling after it.

     He gritted his teeth as he remained there, his nose full of the smell of grass. As he tilted his head up, he saw the other squires on the grounds practising with their knight-masters.

     That is, until his own knight-master stepped forward to block his view, reached out and took him by the hand to pull him back into a standing position.

     “Well, there’s your problem,” said Rohane calmly. He bent down to pick up the sword before Cavall could. “Your legs are too stiff. Relax your stance and let all your movements flow into each other.” Then he offered the sword to his squire, who stared at it silently.

     No, I’m the problem, the Cybunny thought to himself as he tentatively took the sword again. Shaking his legs, he tried to find a way to stand that didn’t feel stiff to him. Once he thought he was ready, he swung his sword wide – only for Rohane to catch it squarely with his own broadsword and push it down gently. Cavall got the message and lowered his weapon.

     “Don’t be afraid. You’re hesitating, I can tell.”

     Cavall mumbled something.

     “What’s that?”

     The squire said nothing but struck out blindly and forced his way back into the exercise routine, which only ended in his sword falling out of his hands again. He sighed and lowered his head.

     “Come on. Pick up your sword. We’ll try it again.”

     “It’s no use,” whispered Cavall. “I just keep messing up.”

     The Blumaroo knelt in front of him, placing a hand on his shoulder. “The more you practice, the less likely you are to make mistakes like that. I used to be worse than you – I was pretty clumsy, and at one point I sent my sword flying straight into a bush.”

     “You did?” Cavall’s eyes widened in surprise.

     Rohane laughed softly. “Oh, my brother still remembers that. He’ll never let me forget it. Do you want to try that routine again, or do you need me to give another demonstration?”

     After two seconds of silence, Cavall said, “Can I see it again?”

     “Sure, but right after that you’ll be doing the routine.”

     The Cybunny finally retrieved his sword and then stood aside to watch his knight-master in action. He was not surprised when he heard and saw Mulligan and Philip approach to stand on either side of him.

     “Did you know that Sir Rohane is sometimes called The Bladedancer?” asked Mulligan, the heavyset Shadow Grarrl.

     “He is?” asked Cavall, blinking.

     “He doesn’t use that title, but it’s a perfect fit,” the Brown Moehog added.

     Cavall saw for himself why and gaped at the demonstration. Everything that Rohane performed on the grass with his own broadsword, from the beginning stance to the succeeding thrusts, swings, and flourishes, seemed flawless. Everything blended in a single fluid move, and he made it all look easy.

     “Wow,” the Moehog and the Grarrl breathed reverently. Cavall watched closely, quietly, not wanting to miss anything. When Rohane’s demonstration was done and he returned to a normal standing position, all three squires clapped.

     The Blumaroo shook his head and smiled sheepishly. “It’s just basic forms and exercises, that’s all.”

     “But I couldn’t even do the basic forms and exercises,” Cavall muttered, thinking he would not be heard. He was wrong.

     “Maybe not now, but with more practice, you can. You will.”

     Mulligan clapped Cavall on the back, although he tried to do it as gently as possible. “Yeah, Sir Rohane’s your knight-master, he’s got you.”

     “Definitely. See you at the Discovery of Meridell banquet later tonight!” said Philip as he and Mulligan ran back to their respective knight-masters, leaving Cavall alone with Rohane.

     “You really think I can do that…as well as you?” asked the Cybunny.

     “I don’t think, I know. Come on, from the top. And don’t forget your stance.”

     * * *

     “I’m so nervous,” whispered Mulligan to Cavall as they stood in the castle kitchens. “What if I bump into someone? What if I knock Sir Oakley over while trying to give him his favourite Slorg Meatloaf?” The Grarrl fidgeted in one spot and flinched as a passing Draik cook shoved a large platter of Roast Pork into his claws.

     “You’ll be fine, Mulligan,” said Philip before Cavall could answer. “Besides, Sir Oakley seems like the type with a healthy sense of humour. Maybe he’ll laugh it off.”

     “Lady Colleen has a sense of humour, but I don’t think she’ll be amused if I mess up tonight,” Joanna commented grimly.

     Cavall looked at his reflection in the large pitcher of grape juice he was holding. A nervous Blue Cybunny wearing a frilly white shirt, a neat scarlet vest and dark brown breeches stared right back at him.

     “Cavall? Are you okay?” Joanna asked. A similar pitcher was passed to the Green Zafara. Unlike the boys in their frilly shirts, she wore a simple periwinkle dress with a ribbon tied at the back and a lacy collar.

     “Huh?” He glanced up, feeling as though his stomach might disappear at any given moment, and bit his lip. “Oh. Uh…yeah. Sir Rohane is the kind sort, and really patient with me. Even if I’m still terrible at fighting…”

     “You’re still the best in math,” Philip pointed out. “And who knows, you could be good at this service thing. I don’t understand why we need to do this. We’re gonna be knights, not kitchen staff!” He paused. “Not that being kitchen staff is a bad idea. I mean, you’re surrounded by food, you get to cook the food, and if you’re lucky you can sneak a taste of the – “

     The same Draik who had given Mulligan the Roast Pork unloaded a humongous dish full of freshly baked loaves into the Moehog’s arms.

     * * *

     Cavall, cautiously clutching the pitcher of juice, topped up Rohane’s goblet. After a moment’s hesitation, he asked, “Um, is there anything else you’d…”

     “No, Cavall. That will be all.” Rohane shook his head. “Shouldn’t you be eating with us by now?”

     The Cybunny shook his head. “Master Ward and Mistress Haidee told us we can’t sit down until everyone is properly served. We’re going to the nobles and King Skarl’s officials next.” He looked up in time to see a Gold Eyrie glaring in his general direction. “Speaking of Master Ward…s-sorry, sir!” Without another word, he took off and left the Blumaroo knight to sigh and glance upward as though the chandelier had answers to all his questions.

     “Even if he’s not very good in combat, Cavall seems like a good kid,” Oakley remarked as he pulled the half-decimated Roast Pork platter toward himself. “Something wrong?”

     “I feel really uncomfortable about our squires serving us before they can sit down with us to eat,” said Rohane as he passed a huge slab of butter toward Jeran. “We’re more than capable of serving ourselves, we don’t need them to wait on us.”

     Jeran buttered the bread bun on his plate. “I get what you mean, but Master Ward and Mistress Haidee believe this will teach them proper manners and give them a new perspective on work in the kitchen and the banquet hall. Mistress Haidee, that fussy Yurble, gave me a long lecture when I asked about it.” After setting the butter aside, he helped himself to the gigantic Potato Cheese wheel in the middle of the knights’ table. “They’ll also get to know everyone else in the castle – everyone they may work with when they become knights.”

     “Still, they deserve to enjoy the Discovery of Meridell banquet as much as we do.”

     “I agree,” Oakley put in. The Striped Kougra raised his goblet as though he wanted a toast. “Mulligan’s been working hard. He deserves a break.”

     “All of them do,” a Strawberry Pteri agreed as someone passed her the bowl of berries. “They’ve all been working so – “

     Conversation at the knights’ table and elsewhere ground to a halt at the clang of a dish hitting the floor and a furious yell. Every head in the hall turned toward the source of the sounds and a flurry of whispers, glances and gasps rippled through the crowd. A Royal Zafara angrily stood up from his seat, his clothes liberally coated with Mutton Stew dripping onto the floor. At his feet, Cavall was hurriedly mopping up the part of the mess that had missed the Zafara.

     “I’m so sorry, Duke Justin…”

     “You clumsy fool!” Justin bellowed, plucking at his stained jacket. “Why didn’t you watch where you were going? Unacceptable!”

     “I’m sorry, I didn’t see the spill on the flo – “

     “If you can’t see spills on the floor, how do you expect to be a knight, you disgraceful whelp?”

     The Royal Blumaroo beside him tugged at Justin’s cape and whispered, “Stop it, Justin. He already said he was sorry.”

     “’Sorry’ isn’t going to clean my favourite outfit, Colleen! How would you feel if your squire sullied your dress?”

     “It’s only a dress,” Colleen reasoned, continuing to try and pull him back onto his seat. “You’re making a scene. Sit down. You can see Cavall is already trying to take care of this.”

     “I-I-I can try to c-clean your j-jacket and trousers, Your Excellency,” stammered Cavall.

     The Zafara huffed as he yanked his cape out of Colleen’s grasp. “’Try’? Is that the best you can do? What a terrible excuse for a – “

     “That’s enough, Duke Justin!”

     The entire banquet hall fell silent at the raised voice and turned to see Rohane standing up from the knights’ table.

     “With all due respect,” he hastily added.

     At first, Justin froze, no longer paying any attention to Cavall quickly picking up the fallen dish and passing it to Joanna, who ducked into the kitchens with it. Instead, he glared at Rohane while attempting to clean the stew off his clothes with his napkin.

     “This whelp is your squire, Sir Rohane?”

     “Yes, which means you have no right to scold him, especially not in front of a crowd,” the White Blumaroo declared, his tone carrying throughout the entire hall.

     Justin gestured to Cavall with his stained napkin. “Which means this mess is also your responsibility, and as much your fault as it is his.”

     Jeran frowned and whispered, “You know Duke Justin can be a very pompous, stuck-up jerk. Don’t let him – “

     “It was an accident!” Rohane slapped the surface of his table, completely ignoring Jeran and narrowly missing his goblet. “One that he is already trying to – “

     “An accident that could’ve been prevented, had you been more circumspect in your mentorship,” retorted the Royal Zafara swiftly with a flourish of the napkin.

     “Excuse me?”

     Justin continued his verbal assault. “You may be one of Meridell’s most decorated heroes, but you are not Sir Reynold.” He flicked his hand again toward Cavall, who was now frozen to the spot, clutching a mop. “You can’t even handle a squire.”

     “And this is how you would handle him? Telling him off where everyone can hear? Calling him a fool?” Rohane shouted back.

     “Know your place, Sir Rohane!” Justin cried. “This isn’t one of your raucous taverns, this is Meridell Castle, and you are one of its knights! Without your title and your accolades, you are nothing but an uncultured country bumpkin!”

     The duke’s tirade was punctuated by the sound of wood falling onto stone. Leaving his mop behind, Cavall ran across the hall and toward its open doors, avoiding everyone’s stares and raising a hand to his eyes. No one tried to stop him.

     “Cavall!”

     Pushing his chair away from the table and paying no heed to the napkin he just dropped to the floor, Rohane ran after him.

To be continued…

 
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