A Spy's Tale: New Life - Part Four
Audri rushed forward to catch Leon, mumbling obscene language about pirates. The smaller Gelert grasped him from under his arms firmly; she easily dragged the knight across the sand to a large palm tree, cutting down three pirates on the way. In the fray, she glimpsed Leon's parents fighting side by side.
After taking off her helmet, she grasped Leon's spotted face and pointed it towards her darkened one. "Leon," she whispered to his fluttering eyelids, "Come on; look at me, Leon!" Using the turquoise dagger she salvaged from a fallen pirate, Audri began to cut strips from her oversized tunic to use as bandages. She gasped when she lifted his mail shirt to wrap the wound; the gash was deeper than it looked. The small white Gelert propped Leon against the trunk of the palm tree and wrapped bandages around his torso to help close the cut.
While she was wrapping his bandage, Audri accidentally brushed her paw against the skin next to the cut. Out of the corner of her eye, she thought she saw her embroidered blue bracelet glow faintly. She stared at it for a moment, but a deep breath from Leon brought her back to reality.
"Leon!" the white Gelert exclaimed, as he opened his eyes.
"Audri, I told you not to come h—" The knight cocked his head. "How'd you do that?"
Audri was thoroughly puzzled. "Do what?" she asked, raising a questioning eyebrow. Her eyes dropped to the bandage around his chest. While she was wrapping the bandage, a crimson spot had appeared and steadily increased in size, but miraculously, it had stopped growing.
"The pain," Leon said, "It eased up by a lot." Lifting the bandage with her dark grey paw, Audri's mouth shot open when she saw that the wound was partially closed. She touched it gently with her finger; again, she saw her bracelet glow slightly. A moment later, Leon's cut knit itself completely closed.
Suddenly remembering that he had meant to ask her about her bracelet, Leon inquired, "Where'd you get that bracelet?"
"It's just a piece of the hem of my father's cloak," she replied, "I didn't know it could heal people. I didn't even know that there was a bit of magic in it."
"Did your father bewitch it or something?" he wondered.
Audri shrugged. Changing the subject, she said, "I'm glad your cut healed. You have no idea how much you scared me."
"Sorry," he apologized. Shaking his head in shame, he told her, "I'm such an awful knight. I can't even defeat a few pirates."
"That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard," Audri said, giving him a don't-be-so-modest look. "You killed a ton of pirates before you started fighting with that Wocky. He cheated, that's all! If he'd been fighting with just his sword and not his weird dagger, too, you would've beaten him."
"Ah, well, I suppose you're right," Leon said with a wry smile. "Faeries, Audri! How am I going to thank you? That's the second time you've saved my life. I owe you."
Audri simply stared at him as though he was insane. As soon as he began to sit up, she shoved him back down and pointed a finger at him. "Leon, must you be such a git? You don't owe me anything! Yeah, I saved your life. You gave me a new life! You brought me to the castle, got me off the streets, helped me get a job as a spy, brought me to this beautiful place, and most importantly, you became my friend. I couldn't ask for more! So don't act like you owe me anything; we're even."
Leon had no time to respond to her lecture; Audri immediately stood up and sprinted back to the site of the battle. Amused, the knight watched his small Gelert friend disappear into the fray with her stolen turquoise dagger held high.
* * *
"Audri, please," Baron Rhyes begged the small white Gelert, slinging an arm around his Baroness's shoulders, "You saved our son's life twice. Is there anything we can do to thank you?"
Audri shook her head. "All I need is a nice bath to get this stuff off me," she said for the third time, rubbing her usually white cheeks in an attempt to remove the dark grey powder from them. "Besides, the fact that Leon is alive is a good enough reward for me. Thanks for your offer, though."
In the past thirty minutes, Audri had turned down enormous sums of neopoints, favors, gold, jewelry, and even a beach house near the Emerald Coast. She simply would not take a single reward.
Her stubbornness made Baroness Kaia, who also still had her red disguising powder on her face, sigh. "Well, if you truly do not want any reward, I suppose we'll have to oblige," she said with a slight hint of regret in her eyes. "But I agree with Audri; a bath is definitely in order."
Kaia, Rhyes, and Audri retired to their rooms; the latter met Leon on the way.
"Hey, Audri!" the knight greeted her. Audri noticed that he had already taken his bath; he smelled of soap and cologne. "Can you come to the kitchen when you're done taking your bath?"
The small Gelert nodded her head and continued down the hall to her room. After her refreshing bath, Audri dressed in a lilac tank top and tan breeches.
"You smell like vanilla," Leon realized, sniffing the sweet-smelling air as she walked into the kitchens.
Audri smiled. "It's vanilla spice soap."
"Nice," he replied, nodding in approval. "I want to show you something. Close your eyes and I'll bring it out."
The white Gelert raised her brows, but closed her eyes when he gave her a pleading look. A moment later, she heard a clunk on the teak table near her.
"Can I open my eyes now?" Audri asked hopefully.
"Hold on... Okay, now."
Audri opened her eyes and blinked twice at the lumpy brown object in front of her. She smiled when she recognized it as a messily frosted cake.
"Aw," she said as though looking at an adorable petpet, "How thoughtful! Thanks, Leon."
"No problem," he replied with a grin.
"Sooo," Audri began, "Is this a treat for fighting in that battle?"
Leon shrugged. "Sure."
"Aw, thanks." Looking at a large clock on the wall, Audri suggested, "It's almost lunchtime. We should all eat this after lunch."
Though Leon's chocolate cake would have never won the Beauty Contest, it was so scrumptious that it didn't even last an hour. When Baroness Kaia asked Leon if he had commissioned the cake from an excellent local baker, he smiled and shook his head.
A day later, Vera finally recovered from her cold. For the remainder of Audri and Leon's visit, they spent long afternoons at the beach with Leon's parents and sister. With a pang of sadness, Audri wished that she could reunite with her parents and enjoy such a lovely vacation with them.
On the fifth day of their trip, Leon and Audri waved goodbye to Leon's family and Emerald Coast sadly. Audri was not only glum because she had to leave her new friends and the beautiful ocean. The petite white Gelert knew that her spy training would begin soon, and therefore, she would have to associate with a certain despicable, revolting skunk Moehog.
Nearly three weeks later, her nightmares became reality.
"Well, well, well," Jaute sneered when Audri entered his office at nine-thirty in the morning. Ignoring the skunk Moehog, Audri studied the spies-in-training who had lined up against an incredibly messy bookshelf. She counted fifteen pets in all: twelve males and a mere three females.
"It looks like some of you have finally showed up," Jaute drawled, staring directly at Audri.
"My apologies," Audri replied insincerely, "You failed to specify a time. So I decided to come now."
The ugly Moehog did not acknowledge her comment. Instead, he plopped into a tattered chair behind his cluttered desk and shuffled through a few papers. When he found the one he needed, he said, "I'd ask you all to sit in a circle and introduce yourselves, but only a few of you are still in kindergarten, so I won't." The class rolled their eyes. "Roll call!" Jaute announced.
Everyone was present in the class, though a rail-thin shadow Ixi named Aiden jokingly said, "Absent," when his name was called. He promptly received a scowl from Jaute.
"Alright, my dear little Babaas," said the spymaster lazily, "We're going to play a game. Follow me."
The fifteen spies-in-training trailed behind Jaute like Mallards in a row. Audri and a forest-green Acara named Brandt were the sole first-years. According to Aiden, who happened to be a third-year, Jaute treated all first-years like dirt. Audri was not surprised. She was surprised, however, when she met Fiona, a blue Kacheek who had lasted five years under Jaute's training.
"Here we are," Jaute drawled, holding his arms outwards ostentatiously; the class stood in the Cobblestone Plaza, a large paved area outside of the palace that was surrounded by beautiful gardens.
"Couldn't you do something different?" Dhruv, an orange Blumaroo, groaned. "We play this 'game' every year."
"Hush," Jaute demanded. "Ah! My good friend, Lady Ethel," he said suddenly, striding towards a disgusted royal Moehog. She began to step backwards, but Jaute put a hand on her shoulder.
"I didn't know Jaute had friends," Aiden whispered to Audri, causing her to grin. Thankfully, Jaute didn't notice.
"The rules are simple," Jaute explained, "I chat with Ethel, and you have to lip-read our conversation. Whoever memorizes the most of our conversation wins. All of you, go stand by that tree." He pointed towards a large tangella tree that was out of earshot.
The spies-in-training trudged towards the tree, grumbling their curses to Jaute. With any other spymaster, this activity would have been exciting, but not with Jaute.
As soon as the spies reached the tree, Jaute began his conversation. "Ethel, my dear old friend, how are you?"
The royal moehog put her hooves on her hips; the expression on her face clearly stated her agitation. "Don't make the mistake of thinking we're friends, Jaute."
"Did I read Lady Ethel's lips wrong, or did Jaute just get rejected?" Audri asked Aiden with a grin.
"I believe you're right," the shadow Ixi replied, returning the grin.
Meanwhile, Jaute could only gape at Ethel in fury. "Could you at least play along? My students are lip-reading every word we say!"
"Well, in that case..." Ethel said with a false smile. She turned towards the spies-in-training and mouthed, "Can you believe this idiotic git?"
The noblewoman received grins and chuckles from her audience. "Oh, and Jaute?" Ethel said sweetly, turning back towards the infuriated skunk Moehog, "Lip-read this." She shouted a few unladylike words at him and stormed back into the castle.
"Finally," Dhruv whispered happily. The spies-in-training began to walk towards Jaute, until he yelled angrily, "Class dismissed!"
As soon as he was gone, the class burst into laughter. They were still chuckling when they waved good-bye to each other and headed to their rooms.
* * *
By the middle of the week, Jaute had picked on Audri and yelled so many obscene words at her that she was starting to wish she had never become a spy-in-training.
"Leon, I can't take it!" Audri exclaimed one evening, pacing around Leon's room. Still fuming from her class that morning, Audri plopped down in a large, squishy chair and buried her face in her hands.
She heard a loud sigh from Leon. "I know. But if you want to be a professional spy, you have to be taught by the spymaster."
"Are you kidding me?" the small white Gelert asked, lifting her head. "Jaute hasn't taught us a thing! He just tells us to do things. There's never any technique or challenges involved; he just makes us do things we've been practicing since we were little kids! And to top it all off, he treats me like I'm some idiot, when in fact, he's the idiot!"
Leon shook his head in sympathy. "Even training to be a knight wasn't that bad. Sure, I had some strict teachers, but they actually taught us some extremely important skills. And they never picked on certain students."
The two Gelerts remained silent for a moment. Breaking the silence, Audri stuck her chin out stubbornly and said decisively, "That's it. From now on, I fight back. When he says something rude to me, I have all the right to say something rude back."
Leon and Audri's ears simultaneously twitched when a knock sounded on the door.
"Come in," the two Gelerts said at exactly the same time. The two grinned at each other.
"Hey, guys," said a large brown Lupe, entering the room with his eyebrows raised in mirth.
"Hey, Tabur," Audri and Leon chorused.
Tabur stared at the two with a disturbed look on his face. "Okay, that's just creepy."
The three Brightvalians looked at each other and cracked up. When she finally stopped laughing a few moments later, Audri realized that the two knights had just made her day much better.
As the two knights' laughs reduced to mild chuckles, Tabur said, "So anyways, I came here to ask you guys if you wanted to go get some dinner in the city. How's that sound?"
Audri clapped her hands excitedly. "Yay! Let's go to the Glazier's Inn! You two will absolutely love it."
"Sounds great," Leon said calmly, giving Audri an amused look.
"I'm gonna go get dressed." The white Gelert strode towards the door. Pausing in the doorframe, she told the two knights, "Oh, try not to act too knightly. Let's just say that knights aren't the most welcome guests at the Inn."
Audri saw them exchange their typical "Fyora, help us" glances as she shut the door and headed off.
Once she stood within the walls of her dressing room, Audri quickly pulled on a knee-length peach dress. It was a duplicate of her mother's old dress, which Audri had worn for nearly three years. Audri stood in front of a full-length mirror and looked at the small white Gelert she now knew, staring at her spotless white fur and her clean, silky black hair. Moving her eyes slowly down her reflection, she paused to gaze at her wrinkle-free dress. Though her it was in perfect condition and incredibly stunning, it did not share the same feeling as her old one.
Audri shook her thoughts from her mind, slipping into a pair of suede moccasins and heading for Leon's room. She was not surprised to find both Leon and Tabur already heading down the hall towards her room.
"You guys ready?" she asked, sauntering straight past the knights with a small leather bag hanging from her shoulder. Leon and Tabur spun around. When Audri glanced at the two knights behind her, she saw them trotting to catch up with dazzled expressions on their faces.
Outside the castle, the warm, breezy air felt wonderful against the three Brightvalians' furry faces. The moon filled the navy-blue sky with a hazy glow, casting silvery light on the dark, damp cobblestone street. Audri grinned at the air and rested one paw on the strap of her purse.
After a few minutes of walking in silence, Audri, Leon, and Tabur arrived at the Glazier's Inn. Audri was surprised when she didn't hear the loud blend of familiar voices and clanging of glasses that could usually be heard from the streets. Instead, the only noises she could hear were low murmurs and the occasional sound of mugs against a wood counter.
Puzzled, the Gelert yanked open the door and stood in the doorway with her eyebrows raised. The regulars in the room were utterly silent as they stared at the girl they hadn't seen in months.
Suddenly, grins appeared on everyone's faces and the room returned to its old self.
"Now, that's more like it!" Audri exclaimed, entering the busy Inn with Tabur and Leon at her heels. The white Gelert strode towards the bar counter, extracting her wallet from the bag on her shoulder.
"Where's George?" Audri asked one of the bartenders, a thin starry Draik. As if on cue, a plump red Bruce strolled out of the kitchens and smiled broadly.
"Audri!" George exclaimed happily, "Sweet Fyora, you've changed! Where've you been in the past months?"
"I got a job doing what I do best," the Gelert replied with a cheeky grin. "You know what I mean."
"I didn't think that sort of job would have personal body guards," the Bruce mused, scratching his head.
Audri chuckled. "Oh, of course not! These are my friends, Tom and Reggie. They work with me." She motioned towards Tabur and Leon, not even sure which one was which.
"Well, why don't we have something to drink in the back?" George suggested.
"That would be great, thanks." Audri beckoned for Tabur and Leon, who were thankfully silent, to follow her and George. George quickly poured four mugs of cider and handed them out.
"Audri!" a voice yelled. "Where're ye goin'?"
"Yeah, come sit with us!"
"Sorry, boys, not tonight," she called to the pouting customers with a wry smile.
In the back room, Audri quickly rummaged through a chest to find pieces of fabric. With the fabric, the Gelert filled the space under the door and covered the keyhole on the doorknob. She pulled the curtains on the windows closed, and finally sat down at the large round table in the center of the room.
"I trust that everything I'm about to tell you will not be told to anyone who visits this inn, is that right?"
"Of course, Audri," George replied, settling into a chair. "As long as it's not something like destroying all of Brightvale, I won't say a word."
"Tabur, Leon," Audri called, motioning for them to sit. "These are knights. Oh, don't give me that look, they're not going to arrest you! Sir Leon of Emerald Coast and Sir Tabur of Halstead, meet George the Innkeeper."
Hovering over their mugs of cider, the three men mumbled, "Nice to meet you," to one another.
"Well, anyways," Audri began, turning towards George, "We should get something to eat. I have a pretty long story to tell you."
Instead of placing an order with the waiters, George offered to take their requests directly to the kitchen. When he returned, Audri told him everything, starting from the first time she met Leon and Tabur. She had to pause her story when a waiter knocked on the door. Tabur quickly stood up to let him in, moving the fabric under the door out of the way with his foot.
Balancing an armful of steaming plates, a blue Meerca entered the room and set his load on the table. Audri, Leon, Tabur, and George said their thanks and waited until the Meerca left. Audri quickly repositioned the fabric under the door and continued her story as she let her tomato soup cool.
When she ended her story with the previous few days' events, she noticed that the others were over halfway through their meals. Audri quickly ladled a few spoonfuls of tomato soup into her mouth in an attempt to catch up with her friends.
"Let's hope Jaute attempts something really bad," Tabur said after thoroughly chewing a bite of chicken from his salad. When Audri glared at him, he explained, "That way, we can report him to King Hagan. He'll fire that old creep in a heartbeat."
"Done," Audri agreed, her gaze softening.
"Done," George also agreed.
"And done," Leon said, "But if Audri gets hurt in any way—"
Audri punched Leon in the arm, slightly harder than she probably should have. "It's final," she decided, ignoring Leon's quiet "ouch". The four clanged their mugs together and took long sips of cider. During the remainder of their meal, they chatted about everyday happenings and hobbies. As they all took their last bites of food and sips of cider, Audri pulled a curtain aside and peeked through the window; the sky was pitch black.
"George, we'd better get going," she said to the chubby red Bruce sadly. Audri discreetly placed a few coins on the table to pay for their meal.
"Ah, well," George replied, getting out of his chair. "It was nice seeing you, Audri. Nice to meet you, Tabur, Leon."
"Nice meeting you, too, George," Leon said sincerely. He shook the innkeeper's hand and opened the door for the others, scooting the fabric out of the way.
"We'll see you soon," Tabur promised, offering his hand to the Bruce and stepping out the door.
Audri walked out of the room backwards, waving and saying, "Buh-bye, George!"
The red Bruce waved goodbye to the Lupe and Gelerts before stacking the plates and collecting silverware.
Once outside the Inn and well out of earshot, Tabur asked, "Are you absolutely sure that George won't tell anyone at the Inn that we're knights?"
Audri looked up at the brown Lupe. Though not nearly as tall as Leon, he did tower over the small Gelert. "George is like an uncle to me. He won't tell a soul even if he's got a knife against his throat," she assured him. Grimacing, she added, "Let's hope that doesn't happen though."
* * *
As Discovery of Brightvale Day approached, Audri's spirits rose, and not just because of the gifts she would give and receive. Much to Audri's relief, Jaute had chosen to ignore her.
One evening, Audri decided to go into town and buy gifts. Her first stop was the Brightvale Weaponry, located next to the Brightvale Armory. She knew that the road to the two shops was quite long, so she took a shortcut instead.
Audri strolled through an empty alley, clutching a small yellow wallet. The night was surprisingly chilly; a cold front was passing through Brightvale. The Gelert pulled her thin, navy blue cloak tighter around her shoulders.
"Lookit," whispered someone farther behind her. She thought that she recognized the nasally drawl, but continued walking without glancing back.
A chill ran down her spine as her acute hearing sensed footsteps behind her. She whirled around, unsheathing her dagger in one swift motion. Audri froze; standing in front of her were the pirates she had knocked out months ago. They were all grinning. The Kougra, however, seemed to be biting his lip, but Audri pushed the thought aside.
"All alone, she is," said the Elephante wickedly.
"Let's show 'er what bein' knocked out feels like," the Kyrii suggested, brandishing his club angrily.
"I don't know who let you pups out of your cages," Audri said through her teeth, "but when I find them, they'd best pray for mercy."
"Someone make 'er shut up," the Kyrii demanded, rolling his eyes.
The white Gelert heard a thunk behind her and whirled around. A shadowy blob loomed into her vision; Audri realized that the thunk was actually the sound of something incredibly hard hitting her head. Her eyelids flickered closed and she dropped to the ground.
To be continued...