The Ghost of Meridell: Part Three
Much to the relief of Sir Gavin, the two squires had shown up right on time, and both were quite anxious to get going. Finding armor for Danner proved to be a bit of a challenge because of his smaller frame; Jeran was just the opposite.
After the task of fitting them with armor was done, it was time to give them their weapons.
“Danner,” the Kougra knight said, “because you’re better with a crossbow that’s what you’ll be using. But you’ll also have a sword just in case.” Gavin handed the blue Wocky a sword and crossbow, then directed him to go to the stables to get a Uni. It was only after he left did the knight turn to Jeran. Gavin smiled at the Lupe squire. “I have something for you Jeran.”
Jeran watched the King’s Champion with questioning eyes as he walked to a thin brown cabinet in the far corner. He opened it up and very carefully took out what was inside. Jeran’s jaw hit the floor as the knight handed him a brilliantly crafted sword. It was the greatest sword Jeran had even seen in his life. The blade was made of pure silver and had patterns etched on both sides of it. The hilt was made of gold, and the handle of bronze.
As the squire held it he realized it was surprisingly lightweight considering what it was made of. “Sir Gavin,” Jeran breathed. “I’ve never seen anything like it. I can use this?”
“You can keep it.”
Jeran’s head shot up. “I—I can?”
The Kougra nodded. “I was going to give it to you after you passed your test of knighthood, but I thought you should have it now.”
“I can’t thank you enough, Sir Gavin,” the Lupe said as he sheathed the sword and tied it around his waist.
Gavin put a hand on Jeran’s shoulder. “Just do the best you can, today and after you become a knight. That will be thanks enough.”
The journey to Brightvale was relatively uneventful, save for a few wild petpets that wandered on to the road and refused to move under every kind of prodding the knights could think of. Of course, it didn’t help that they were on the back roads that wound through the woods.
While Sir Erick drove a cart pulled by two Unis, Gavin and the other knights rode on Uniback.
Suddenly, Sir Gavin’s mount stopped short.
“What’s the matter, old friend?” the Kougra asked with concern.
The shadow Uni shook his head. “Nothing, I suppose... I just got the strange feeling that someone was watching us.”
Carla, the white Uni on which Jeran was riding, stopped next to them. “I had that same feeling,” she said with a nervous twitch of her ear.
Jeran looked at his mentor. “Should we turn back?”
Gavin thought for a long moment. “I suppose that would be the wiser thing to do. But King Skarl insisted that whatever it is we’re going to get needs to be brought back to Meridell no matter what. He wouldn’t be pleased if I told him we turned back because of a feeling. Let’s keep going, but be on your guard.”
As the knights continued their journey a sly figure slipped further into the shadows of the trees. That was too close for comfort, even for Krystal. The ghost Lupess watched the unsuspecting knights as they proceeded down the road. She decided it would be best to stay far behind them for a while. She knew where they were going; there was no reason for her to give away her position for the sake of proximity.
Krystal looked up at the treetops. The trees would probably serve her best if she were in them. It would make it easier to follow them unnoticed as well as giving her better cover. The Lupess climbed up a nearby tree and perched on a low branch that was thick with leaves. Looking out from her vantage point she could see the knights in the distance. She smiled impishly. This would be perfect.
Jeran, Danner, and the four other knights kept a sharp eye on their surroundings as Sir Erick and Sir Gavin carefully loaded a fairly sized chest onto the cart. Getting to Brightvale had been the easy part, but something told Jeran that things wouldn’t be so easy on the way back. The Lupe squire winced as he realized that more than half the time his feelings were correct. And that worried him.
As the group was pulling out Carla kept her pace slow, staying at the back of the group. “Is there something bothering you, Jeran?” the Uni asked.
Jeran mentally cursed himself for not remembering how sensitive Carla was to others’ moods. The Lupe looked down at her. “Not really...”
Carla snorted and furrowed her brow. “Jeran, are you forgetting they used me to teach you to ride? And, out of all the squires, you’re the one who’s ridden me the most? I can see right through you.”
“Okay, okay,” Jeran said in surrender. “I just have a bad feeling, that’s all...”
Jeran rolled his eyes. “And what if I can’t handle it? What if there’s trouble and I freeze? Sir Gavin is depending on me.”
“Sir Gavin only asks that you do your best. That’s all anyone can ask.”
“But what if—”
“Jeran, there are no other phrases in this world more haunting than ‘what if’. And if you keep saying ‘what if’ then you won’t be able to do your best. Instead of thinking about what might happen, try just focusing on the task at hand and doing your best to complete that task. Trust me, no one can hold you in the wrong for something as long as you tried your best.”
The rest of the trip was spent in silence as Jeran thought about the Uni’s words. Maybe she was right.
It was just past sunset when Sir Gavin called for a halt. They were about halfway to Meridell and no one had any doubts they could make it the rest of the way in a matter of hours. But it would be a foolhardy gamble to walk through the woods after nightfall. There were too many places for thieves to hide, and the knights would be prime targets for an ambush.
Sir Gavin ordered the other knights to get some rest while he took the first watch. As he was turning to leave, Jeran stopped him. “Sir Gavin?”
The Lupe squire hesitated for only a second before speaking. “Well, I was wondering if... maybe I could take the first watch?”
The Kougra looked his pupil up and down. “You want it?”
Jeran nodded eagerly.
“Well then, far be it from me to keep it from you. All right, have at it. Just don’t forget to wake someone up for their turn.”
“Yes, Sir Gavin!” With that Jeran took up his post next to the cart on which the chest rested. Maybe Carla was right. Maybe he could do this after all.
As Krystal sat on her perch in the trees she looked down at the knights’ camp with amusement. Sir Gavin must either want that treasure of theirs to be stolen, or he has too much confidence in that Lupe squire. Or there was the third option of him just being absolutely foolish.
Krystal, of course, opted for the third choice. “This is going to be fun,” she said to herself with a grin of pure, unfettered glee. The Lupess pulled out a fairly sized rock that she’d been keeping for just this very moment.
She held it up, ready to throw it, when she suddenly froze. Someone, she realized, was behind her. A lifetime of training kicked in and, in one smooth motion, she unsheathed her dagger; whirled around and pointed it right at her visitor’s throat.
The Wocky’s hand went up, palms out to show he had no weapons. “Easy!” he whispered as loudly as possible without being heard by the sentry below.
“Miles!” Krystal barked. “What are you doing here? I could’ve killed you!” she snapped, sheathing her dagger.
“We’ve got a problem. We think some knights might have found the stronghold by the cliffs. We need to move the supplies from there to the main base. Raylac is pulling every available thief from their missions to help.”
“Raylac says don’t worry about them right now,” Miles said, motioning to the blue Lupe below. “You know where they’re going; you can find out what they have later.”
The ghost Lupess nodded. “Okay. You go on ahead; I’ll catch up.”
Without another word Miles took off, jumping effortlessly from tree branch to tree branch. Krystal watched him until he was well out of sight. Once sure he was gone Krystal again prepared to throw the rock. She had been following these guys all day, and she wasn’t about to leave without first having a little fun.
The rock flew from the Lupess’ hand and into a far off bush where it conveniently struck a larger rock that was nestled just on the other side. Jeran reacted just as Krystal had hoped. He drew his sword and immediately went to investigate.
The Lupess climbed down and skipped happily over to the cart. She picked the lock on the chest and carefully lifted the lid. What was inside was something she didn’t expect. There, nestled on a soft pillow, was a gray colored orb.
Intrigued, Krystal reached out her hand to touch it; never once noticing that the tiny sphere on her necklace began to glow red. Just as her fingertips brush the orb’s surface, there was a shout. “Hey!”
Instinctively Krystal whirled around and hurled her dagger in the direction the voice had come from. As she fled in to the woods she saw out of the corner of her eye the blue Lupe squire ducking out of the way of the oncoming dagger.
Within seconds she could hear the sound of Jeran’s feet hitting the ground as he followed her. Krystal picked up her pace in an attempt to lose her pursuer.
Finally after what felt like hours of running, Krystal could no longer hear the Lupe squire crashing though the woods behind her. Confidant she had succeeded, she slowed her pace, then stopped completely. She held her breath and listened... nothing.
It was then the Lupess realized where she was. Just ahead of her in a clearing was the stronghold. She looked around but saw no one. Well, she couldn’t say that was odd. If knights were watching this place, traffic would have to be kept to a minimum.
Krystal darted for the building. She couldn’t risk getting caught; the safest place to be right now was in the stronghold. She quickly opened the door and shut it tight behind her. She had made it.
The Lupess looked around, half expecting to find Miles and some other thieves quickly gathering the supplies; instead there was nobody around. Well, I did tell him to go on without me, she thought. He probably already left with some stuff. I’ll just take what I can carry and meet him and the others when I come back.
Krystal hurriedly started gathering some weapons and other miscellaneous items. Just as she was headed to the door, there was a sudden blast of heat and flames right in front of her. Even as it knocked her backwards, her mind raced, trying to think of where it could’ve come from.
As the intense heat and roaring flames pushed her towards the back of the building she realized what this whole thing was. It’s a trap... Miles tricked me, she thought with disgust.
Her dark thoughts on what she was going to do to Miles when she got out of this were interrupted when she saw something that made her blood run cold. Sitting on a shelf closest to the flames were several potions that, of course, exploded when exposed to fire.
The Lupess cursed under her breath as she looked for any options she might have. The only one was a window just behind her. This would’ve been great if the window behind her didn’t lead to a fifty-foot drop off the side of the cliff. This day, Krystal decided, couldn’t possible get any worse.
Krystal grabbed a nearby rope and made a loop on one end of it. After making sure it was tight, she braced herself and hopped that she was right. Or else... well, here goes nothing.
Krystal launched herself at the window with all her might. The glass shattered into hundreds of pieces as the Lupess was carried out the window by her own momentum and began to fall. She tossed the looped end of the rope blindly while she held tightly to the other. The loop caught onto a tree root that was jutting out the side of the cliff, immediately stopping her fall.
Above her she could hear the stronghold explode. Krystal was in the middle of using every word she’d ever heard against Miles when she saw something falling towards her. It didn’t look like a piece of debris. By reflex her hand reached out and caught it as it passed by. It was only after she caught him did she realize it was the Lupe squire.
“How did you get here?” she barked crossly, though she knew she’d get no answer. He had been thoroughly knocked unconscious from the blast.
Suddenly Krystal heard something snap. She looked up only to see that the rope was breaking. She rolled her eyes in exasperation. “Oh fine. For the sake of Fire Faeries, how much do you weigh?”
The Lupess slowly began to swing herself back and forth, steadily building momentum. With each swing she could feel the rope starting to give way. At the peak of her fourth swing she tossed Jeran with all her might, and just as she planned, the Lupe landed safely on the edge of the cliff.
But the same couldn’t be said for Krystal. Before she could even think of trying another swing, the rope broke in half and sent Krystal plummeting into the icy water far below.
To be continued...