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A Hero's Journey: Squire

by precious_katuch14


Chapter 4: Pressure

     Cathton stared at the medallion in his hands, which showed the letter “W” over a diamond bisected by a sword. It was heavy, but not as heavy as the words from his mother.

     “You are a Wincott,” the Royal Cybunny intoned as she daintily poured herself a cup of tea. “The heir to one of the oldest and greatest noble families in Meridell. But with all our great wealth and prestige comes responsibility. We expect you to uphold our family values and take care of our fortune.”

     He looked up slowly at her.

     “You are no ordinary child,” Elesia continued, as she poured tea into his cup as well. “Which is why we expect more from you. You need to work harder in your lessons.”

     Cathton shifted his attention toward his cup. He did not raise it to his lips and merely watched Elesia take a sip from hers.

     “I…I guess I’ll try…”

     She scowled at him over her cup. “Don’t ‘try’, Cathton. Just do it!” Elesia groaned, rubbing her temples. “This is why your father lost his temper. You aren’t doing your best at all, you’re just ‘trying’. A Wincott doesn’t just ‘try’, and neither does he waste his time with ludicrous faerie stories like Cavall and the…well, whatever it is.” She flapped her hand dismissively and sighed. “Finish your tea. We’ll go over your accounting homework again.”

     * * *

     When he was quite sure he had placed a considerable distance between himself and the banquet hall, Cavall slowed down and found himself in a corridor full of portraits of great heroes and knights interspersed with imposing suits of armor clutching extremely sharp spears. He looked away from the portraits and focused on his shoes instead, which had been spattered by the Mutton Stew that he had accidentally spilled onto Duke Justin.

     The corridor reminded him eerily of the Hall of Wincotts, back in the mansion.

     The Royal Zafara’s words continued to ring in his head, about how he was a clumsy fool, a disgraceful whelp, how trying was simply not enough…and it was enough to make the Blue Cybunny wrap his arms around himself, sniff, and sink into a pathetic heap in a corner. There was no one in the corridor; he drew his knees up to his chest, hugged them, and blinked back tears, feeling much smaller than usual, especially compared to the imposing paintings that lined the hallway.

     Approaching footsteps made him suddenly leap to his feet. Cavall pondered which way he ought to go and hurriedly wiped his tears with his sleeve.

     “There you are.”

     But the sound of that voice made him stop and stay. It was probably because the voice was nothing at all like Duke Justin’s, which had been harsh and unforgiving. Instead, it was concerned, even a bit gentle.

     He turned.

     “Sir Rohane.” Something broke inside of Cavall, causing his face to scrunch up as he tried to stifle a sob. “I’m so sorry. I really am, I’ll go back and clean…”

     “I think you did enough cleaning for tonight. Why don’t you walk with me for a while? We could both use some fresh air.” The White Blumaroo placed a hand on his shoulder and began ushering him out of the corridor.

     The Cybunny goggled at him.

     “W-Wait, you’re not mad at me?” Cavall blurted out. “I was clumsy, and then you defended me, and if I had been more careful, you wouldn’t have had to defend me and argue with Duke Justin…” His words trailed off.

     Rohane shook his head as they walked together. “There’s no use crying over spilled stew. Everyone makes mistakes…and yours was only an accident. I don’t think I ever told you about the time Jeran and I started a food fight during King Skarl’s birthday.”

     “You what?”

     “There was only one slice of bread left on the platter. He and I reached for it at the same time. We couldn’t decide who would get it…and it didn’t take long for all the other knights to join the fray.” Rohane smiled ruefully. “All of us were sentenced to two weeks of kitchen duty. King Skarl was furious.”

     Cavall couldn’t help but chuckle a little at the image of his knight-master not only participating in a rowdy food fight, but also serving time in the castle kitchens.

     “All I’m saying is, many of us have done worse than spill Mutton Stew on an arrogant noble. Far worse. Don’t listen to anything Duke Justin says.”

     The Blue Cybunny bit his lip. Justin’s words had cut straight into his heart, causing worse memories to resurface.

     “But he also…he also said terrible things about you.” Cavall hung his head. “I made you look bad in front of him. In front of everyone.”

     “No, you didn’t.” The two of them emerged onto a balcony from where they had a great view of Meridell down below against the evening backdrop. Stars twinkled in the sky as the marketplace came alive with a different air, lit with lanterns and garlands. Someone in the market was calling for others to guess the weight of the watermelons on their podium. The place was packed with many Neopians at every turn.

     It was enough to make the squire forget, even for one moment, the shame and disgrace from the Discovery of Meridell banquet. Cavall gasped as he watched the festivities down below.

     “Those are only words, Cavall, even if they can hurt,” said Rohane as he leaned against the balustrade. “They don’t define who you are – or rather, who we are. Only you can do that, and I know you aren’t here to make a fool of yourself.”

     After tearing his gaze from the hustle and bustle in Meridell, Cavall looked at his knight-master, wide-eyed but relieved.

     “I want to be a knight,” he whispered, trying to draw himself up to full height – never mind that his full height wasn’t much. “The best knight I can be. For Theodosia. For my friends. And…and for you, sir.”

     “Then, I hope I can be the best knight-master for you. I don’t know if you know this, but…before I chose you, I never had a squire. You are my first squire, and…” Rohane let his voice trail off as he smiled sheepishly. “I honestly hope I don’t mess this up.”

     * * *

     The squires’ training continued. Cavall sparred with a Green Acara on the training grounds, swords clashing again and again until Cavall broke away to dodge and then hide behind a training dummy. The Cybunny gasped as he ducked a wild swing from the Acara – which sent the dummy’s arm flying – before making a break for it. He tried to vault over a bench, only to trip against it and fall into a heap on the grass. Scrambling upright, he backed away, barely remembering to pick up his weapon.

     The Acara snorted derisively as he pursued Cavall and struck with enough force to cause his opponent to waver.

     I want to be the best knight I can be, Cavall repeated to himself mentally as he tried to regain his bearings. He narrowly avoided the Acara’s next slash.

     “Come on and fight me!” the Acara taunted as he rained down a barrage of blows before bending down and swiping at the Cybunny’s ankles. Cavall jumped aside, only to stumble again and drop his weapon. He looked up with resignation at the Acara proudly pointing his sword at his throat.

     Sir Auxentius clapped his hands. “Well done, Earl, but remember that swordplay is more than brute strength.”

     “I know,” Earl interrupted with a confident shrug. “I knew Cavall would try to take the easy way out over that bench, and he couldn’t last – “

     “And Cavall,” the Orange Shoyru went on, “try to be more aware of your surroundings. Swordplay is also more than defense and evasive maneuvers.”

     Earl shook his head condescendingly as he twirled his sword. “And you’re Sir Rohane’s squire? You, a pitiful peasant?” Tossing his head, he ran off.

     Auxentius turned to the Cybunny, who was slowly getting back onto his feet. “You are improving, but I was hoping to see more out of you today. You won’t win many battles by running away from them, young Cavall.”

     “I understand, sir,” Cavall whispered, wanting to disappear behind the tiniest blade of grass. “Earl just…took me by surprise, that’s all. I’m sorry.”

     “Many battles will take you by surprise. But keep at it; if you only defend, you will eventually wear yourself out instead of wearing your opponent out.”

     Cavall could only nod dumbly as he stared at the sword in his hand.

     “Yes, Sir Auxentius. I’ll go and practice by myself first if that’s okay.”

     The Shoyru nodded slowly. “That’s fine. Come back here in half an hour so I can check on your progress.”

     As Cavall walked away to the far side of the grounds, he berated himself mentally. I can’t believe that spoiled brat Earl of Noil’s Ridge beat me again. I almost want to see his face when he finds out I’m actually a Wincott. Almost. But instead of going through his exercises, once he was away from Auxentius’ line of vision, he sat down on the bench and let out a weary breath, although he did pick up his sword again and give it a few swings before sighing.

     I’ll never be as good as Sir Rohane. Or good enough to be his squire. I can’t do it.

     “Oh, you’re Cavall, aren’t you?”

     The Cybunny looked up and saw a stern Red Scorchio with intense hazel eyes approaching him. His shirt and overalls were dirty, and Cavall tried not to recoil at the stench as he stood up from the bench.

     “Good afternoon, Guardsmaster Lugh. Yes, I’m Cavall.”

     “And a good afternoon to you too, young rip. You’re just the squire I’ve been looking for. The sewers under the castle are backed up again.” Lugh gestured to the muck spattered all over his clothes and wrinkled his nose. “We’ll need an extra pair of hands. There are some stray Slorgs and Sludgies and the odd tentacle monster down there, but they shouldn’t be anything you can’t handle.”

     Cavall stared at him.

     The Scorchio shrugged, unfazed, and plucked something slimy and sticky from the back of his belt. “Sir Tormund himself did clog duty on his first day and look at him now. I heard from the grapevine that you’re struggling in the combat department, so I figured this could help you train. Two Beekadoodles, one stone. What do you think? We’ve got one more section of pipes to go through, I’m sure you can do it on your own.”

     The Blue Cybunny pondered this. He had never been down in the sewers of Meridell Castle before. But maybe fighting something that wasn’t a bratty fellow squire could help him hone his battle skills. He set his jaw in determination, even though the light in his eyes flickered with either uncertainty, or fear, or perhaps both. He clutched his sword tightly and saw, from the corner of his vision, Earl of Noil Ridge gleefully beating up another training dummy while Sir Auxentius watched impassively.

     “I’ll do it.”

To be continued…

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