Chronicles of the Altador Cup: Team Meridell
Dedicated to the All-Knighters, and anyone who supported Meridell during the Altador Cup 2.
The sun beat down on the Altador Colosseum. Within the walls, Team Meridell practiced in the arena. They passed the Yooyu back and forth tirelessly, though it was clear that they longed for shade. Sweat rolled down their faces, and they breathed heavily.
Running down the field, Fiorina, the right forward, passed the glittering snow Yooyu to Ilsa Ellits, the center defender. Ilsa passed to Wizard Windelle, the center forward, and Wizard passed to Gregorgio Maille, the left forward. Gregorgio sped toward the goal, where Sir Pollonaire Freidl, the team captain, waited.
Freidl shifted his weight from foot to foot, ready for the ball to come his way. Gregorgio released the Yooyu from his sling, and it slowly but steadily made its way to the goal. Being so slow, the snow Yooyu gave Freidl plenty of time to get to it. He threw it to the referee, who was supervising. The referee threw a normal Yooyu into the field.
Wizard caught it, and passed to Gregorgio, who passed to Ilsa, who then passed to Fiorina. Fiorina sped down the field. Freidl prepared himself for her shot. With a power belonging to her alone, Fiorina flung the Yooyu toward the net. Freidl dived, but he was just a fraction too late. The Yooyu soared into the goal.
Fiorina looked over her shoulder at her teammates. They were all slumped, breathing hard. She looked back at Freidl, who was hauling himself to his feet. Fiorina placed her hands on her knees.
“Freidl,” she panted, “we have to take a break.” Freidl tossed the Yooyu to the referee.
“I agree,” he said. The five teammates dragged themselves to the shade, and each sat down with a loud thump. Fiorina picked up a towel and began wiping sweat off her face.
“Whew! I thought you were never going to let us take a break, Freidl,” sighed Ilsa, wiping sweat off her forehead. “You worked us harder than usual.” She glanced at him questioningly. Freidl picked up a water bottle and took a drink.
“I’m just a little nervous about tomorrow’s match. Some of the Terror Mountain team members came by this morning, before all of you got here,” he replied, setting the water bottle down. Fiorina stopped wiping her face and emerged from behind the towel. She looked surprised.
“Terror Mountain? What did they want?” she asked.
“Taunting, mostly. Part of it was rubbing in my face the fact that they won yesterday, and we lost. They’re up to something,” replied Freidl with an exasperated sigh.
“How can you be sure?” Wizard asked slowly.
“They had that look in their eyes,” replied Freidl.
“Well, I’m going to do my best tomorrow,” said Gregorgio brightly. He drew himself up to his full height, which, for a Meerca, was pretty tall. “I’m small, but I’ll do my absolute best!” I promise, he thought. That seemed to comfort his teammates.
“Well, that’s all you’ve been doing this season,” said Fiorina, smiling.
“What will you do if a larger opponent stands in your way?” asked Wizard, suddenly serious. Then he braced himself; Gregorgio was going to say something serious, but it would make them all laugh. Wizard could sense it.
“I will run between their legs!” cried Gregorgio. They all roared with laughter. I knew it, thought Wizard, laughing along.
“We can always count on you to make us laugh, Gregorgio,” said Ilsa through fits of laughter. Soon the laughter died down.
“Well, we’ll a practice a little longer and call it a day,” said Freidl. His team nodded as one, and they rose from the bench, took another Yooyu, and walked back onto the field. After 16 goals and 21 saves, Team Meridell called it a day.
* * * *
The next day, the Colosseum was packed. Fans cheered, waved flags, clapped like crazy, and just made the general noise of an excited (and huge) crowd. Freidl slipped on his goalkeeper’s gloves, and Ilsa put on her sling, lost in thought. If we win, we get closer to the Cup. If we don’t, Freidl might get mad. I don’t want to lose. For some reason, though, I have a very bad feeling about this game. Like someone will get hurt. I wonder... Suddenly, Fiorina’s voice broke through her daze.
“Ilsa! Are you awake?” Fiorina asked sharply.
“Lose the tone, I’m awake,” Ilsa said dully.
“Okay, what’s on your mind?” Fiorina softened, and sat down beside Ilsa.
“I have a bad feeling about this game. Like someone’s going to get hurt,” Ilsa started to explain, but Freidl cut her off.
“Fiorina! Ilsa! We have to go, now!” he called.
Fiorina glanced at Ilsa, then said simply, “Come on.”
They stepped into the light of the arena, and strode across the field to a roar of applause. Fiorina was nervous, but she didn’t let it show in her stride. She heard boos in the direction of the Terror Mountain fans, but she held her head high, and continued walking until she was in her position. The fire Yooyu was released, and the game began.
The Terror Mountain team captain rushed forward and snatched the fire Yooyu, and sped toward the Meridell goal. Ilsa ran forward and stole the ball. She quickly ran to the other half of the field. She looked over to her left, and saw Wizard. He was open, so she flung the ball toward him. He caught it easily, and threw it toward the goal. The ball breezed past the goalkeeper in an instant. The Meridell fans roared.
The next Yooyu, a normal one, was released. Lidel, the right forward on Terror Mountain, rushed toward the goal with the ball. She flung it at the goal. Freidl dove, catching the ball just as he hit the ground. The Meridell fans roared again. He threw it hard into the middle of the field, and Gregorgio caught it. Freidl stole a look at the stands closest to him. A little blue Spardel, decked out in an imitation Meridell jersey and waving a Meridell flag, was sitting in the front row. She grinned broadly, and waved crazily. What is that Spardel doing here? Freidl wondered. Then he noticed that there was a little green Turdle next to the Spardel. Is the stadium being overrun by petpets?? he thought. He turned his attention back to the field, where Ilsa had just scored.
The next Yooyu was released, a mutant. Rinok Fitel was speeding toward the goal. Fiorina dashed after him. Oh no, you don’t! she thought furiously. She started to circle him to get to the ball, but before she could, he threw the ball with all his might. In that instant, time seemed to slow down. The Yooyu soared for the goal, aimed for the upper part of the net. Freidl went back, all the way back, leapt into the air, and flew toward the top of the net, arms outstretched. He caught it, and slammed into the frame of the net. The referee blew his whistle, signaling a timeout. The crowd suddenly went silent.
Wizard gasped, eyes wide. He watched Freidl sink to the ground, the Yooyu still in his hands. Wizard was dimly aware of Gregorgio rushing past him. He shook himself, and ran after Gregorgio.
Fiorina dashed forward, and without really thinking, dropped her sling. Freidl lay motionless, facedown on the ground. Ilsa, Fiorina, Gregorgio, and Wizard gathered around him. Fiorina and Gregorgio knelt beside Freidl.
“Freidl?” asked Gregorgio. “Freeeeeidl?” He nudged the team captain. No response. He exchanged anxious glances with Fiorina. Oh, Fyora, let him be okay, prayed Gregorgio. Please!
Fiorina shook Freidl gently, and Ilsa knelt behind her. Still no response. Fiorina sighed, then said softly, “Freidl, please, get up. Come on.” Freidl didn’t move. Fiorina paused a moment. Then, forcing herself not to think about what she was saying, she burst out, “Pollonaire!”
Freidl was suddenly aware that Fiorina had called his name. No, not his name, she had called him by his first name. His eyes snapped open. He found the ability to move again, and pushed himself up onto his elbows. He looked at the relieved faces of his team.
“Are you okay, Freidl?” Ilsa asked anxiously. Beyond her, Wizard stood there. He looked worried, too. He walked forward, and extended his hand.
“Yes, I’m okay,” replied Freidl. He reached up to take Wizard’s hand, and was hauled to his feet. “Just a little bruised. Don’t worry, I can keep playing.” He breathed deeply. “Okay, back to your positions.” He saw his teammates grin, glad that he was himself again.
They got back into position, with Fiorina reattaching her sling. As she walked toward her spot on the field, Fiorina glanced back over her shoulder. She noticed that Freidl had glanced her way, and she quickly put her mind back to the game. Several goals were scored, several bruises added to the players’ bodies, and several times the audience roared. In the last ten seconds, Fiorina had the normal Yooyu in the sling, and was running for the goal. Fitel was on her heels, and gaining. Fiorina threw the ball just as Fitel dove. He caught her ankle, and she went down, but the ball was already in the air. Fiorina pushed herself up, and saw the ball sail into the net.
The referee blew his whistle, and the game was over. Fiorina thrust her sling into the air, and Ilsa ran over and pulled her up to her feet.
“We won!” cried Ilsa, ecstatic.
“Seven to six!” Freidl yelled, coming over and joining the two girls. The entire team stood together, pumping their fists in the air. The Meridellians went wild, especially the Spardel and Turdle that Freidl had spotted earlier. Suddenly, the crowd quieted, though some didn’t stop screaming. A look to the left told Freidl why. Prytariel, the Terror Mountain team captain, was walking toward them. Freidl strode forward, wondering what she wanted.
“Good game,” she said, extending a hand.
“You were a pretty good team to play,” Freidl replied, shaking her hand, a sign of good sportsmanship. The two captains returned to their teams. Team Terror Mountain left the colosseum, but Team Meridell remained, savoring the taste of victory that seemed to come so rarely.
Night soon fell, and the stands were empty. The team walked off the field, talking animatedly about the match.
“When you went down, Freidl, I thought we were doomed!” exclaimed Gregorgio.
“Ah, but we weren’t,” said Wizard wisely.
“It was a pretty close save. I almost didn’t catch it,” Freidl admitted.
“But you did,” said Fiorina.
“That’s true, but I almost dropped it,” said Freidl.
“But you didn’t,” Fiorina pointed out. “And that attempted tackle was terrible. He should have known I’m that fast. Although, hitting the ground was pretty painful.”
“So I was right,” Ilsa said quietly.
“What do you mean?” asked Wizard.
“Before the match, I had a bad feeling that someone on our team was going to get hurt, one way or another,” Ilsa explained. After a moment’s pause, she asked grimly, “And I was right, wasn’t I?”
“But they’re okay!” said Gregorgio. Turning to Freidl, he asked anxiously, “Right?”
Freidl touched his side gingerly, and said nothing. After a few moments, the others resumed talking, this time about the rest of the Altador Cup teams. While they talked all the way back, Freidl remained silent. He waited until the others had left the room, then he spoke to Fiorina.
“I know you called me by my first name,” he began.
“It was the only thing I could think of,” she replied. “Besides, no one ever calls you that. Doesn’t it bother you?”
“I’ve gotten used to it,” he said, shrugging. “But you’re right. It can get a little annoying at times.”
“Well, it’s awfully late. We should go before the janitor kicks us out,” she said, laughing. Freidl laughed, too. They rejoined their teammates outside the door.
The moon began to rise, bathing the Altadorian landscape with a milky light. The five players walked away, side by side, down the path, over a small rise, and disappeared into the valley below.