And His Companion: Part One
"A minor healing scroll? That will be 1699 neopoints."
The blue Acara tucked aside a lock of midnight black hair as she set the scroll in question down on the table. She could see from the muleish expression on her customer's face that he wasn't happy with that price. She heaved an internal sigh. Great; he was going to try to haggle with her.
"You're daft, lass," he informed her. "I could get one of these for chump change at the marketplace in Neopia Central! I'll not pay more than one hundred for it!"
"You could," she agreed. "But it would cost you almost five thousand neopoints to charter a Uni to take you there, not to mention the cost of food on the trip, since it's bound to intersect at least one meal. The extra expense goes towards having it shipped all the way out here. I won't accept less than 1286 for the scroll."
And on it went. Eventually they reached a price that was mutually acceptable, and the man left with his scroll while Roberta stored his coins in her till.
Not for the first time, she wondered how she had ended up doing this job. She'd been born into the royal family of Brightvale, the niece of King Hagan himself. Her lineage had earned her a place as Hagan's personal diplomat by the time she was a teenager, and in that role she had visited countless places in Neopia on behalf of her royal uncle. But she'd never enjoyed the job, and had secretly been learning magic under the tutelage of the royal sorcerer, Seradar.
Roberta smiled to herself at the recollection. Hagan would have had a fit if he'd found out what she and Seradar were up to. The sorcerer had sworn her to absolute secrecy before agreeing to teach her what he knew, and even then he made it a point to try and dissuade her every time the opportunity presented itself. But Roberta was nothing if not stubborn.
There was a gentle chime from the doorway, and the shopkeeper glanced up idly to see who had come into the store. When she saw who it was, the Acara immediately leapt to her feet.
"Tor!" she called happily. "It's been ages, how've you been?"
The yellow Lupe chuckled at his old friend, coming forward to hug her, a gesture she returned enthusiastically. She hadn't seen Sir Tormund Ellis in almost two years, not since the last time he'd been invited to a state dinner in Brightvale. His work as a knight in Meridell usually kept him too busy to make social calls, particularly to the capital of a completely different country. But she and he went back a long ways, having fought side by side against monsters, assassins, and the most feared of all evil Neopians: The Darkest Faerie. They'd saved each other's lives more times than either could count, and and the Lupe would always be Roberta's best friend.
Tor pulled away, grinning broadly. He'd been sixteen at the time their adventures together, and had looked and acted every bit the overconfident, overenthusiastic teenager. Strangers had often expressed surprise and even disdain when meeting him for the first time, not believing him competent or mature enough to protect them as a knight should. Now in his mid twenties, he looked much more like the sort of person one would expect to see when they heard of the hero that, alongside Roberta, had saved Brightvale, Meridell, Faerieland, and restored Altador to Neopia from a different dimension. Tall, muscular, and sporting his scars like a warrior instead of and idiot kid who leapt first and asked questions later. Though there was still a mischief in his eyes, it was tempered with a good deal more experience and maturity.
But one thing that hadn't changed about Tor was his smile- he had an enormous, full mouthed smile that was so sincere it was impossible not to return it.
"Hey, Roberta! Long time, no see! I'm doing fine; not much to talk about, which I guess is a good thing." He chuckled ruefully. "If things are exciting around here that usually means something is blowing up. Or getting attacked. Or both."
The Acara smirked. "Or that it's Altador Cup season. The fans get a little overly enthusiastic about the sport at times."
"Don't remind me," he groaned. "I've lost count of how many times I've had to break up shouting matches between Darigani and Meridellan supporters in the streets. I guess it's a more productive outlet for getting out old frustrations then actually going to war again, but all the same..."
"Hey, you wanted to be a knight," she pointed out. "Glory! Justice! Dealing with inane civil disturbances! Isn't it grand?"
"You tell me," he said, folding his arms and lifting an eyebrow. "How's that sorceress thing panning out? Mastered the mighty mystic art of stocking shelves yet?"
She made a sharp gesture in his direction, and he ducked as a jet of sparkling light shot from her fingers. It whizzed past the space his head had occupied moments before, exploding into a harmless shower of glitter as it hit the wall behind him. He shook his head, muttering in a perfectly audible voice about double standards and mages who took jokes too seriously. He was forced to duck again when Roberta flung her magic a second time.
"Anyway, I'm actually here because I wanted to ask you something," he said, standing up straight after evading the blast. He fiddled with a chain that was sticking out of the collar of his shirt. Roberta recognized it as the silver chain of the magical amulet he'd received from Kelland of Altador years before, identical to one she had gotten from Jerdana. These amulets had protected them from the brainwashing powers of the Darkest Faerie. With them, Tor and Roberta had been able to penetrate the territory that she had corrupted and free it without succumbing to the corruption themselves. The Acara was rather surprised to see Tor still wearing his- with the danger of the Darkest Faerie long since passed, Roberta had taken to leaving hers in a lockbox with her other valuable magical artifacts.
Finally he cleared his throat and spoke. "How busy do you think you'll be in about a week or so?"
The Acara leaned back against the shop counter, her expression pensive. "I don't have anything in particular planned. Why?"
Tor rubbed the back of his neck, his expression apologetic. "Well it seems that someone in Cogham got wind of the fact that my birthday is next week, and they've, ah... decided to have a festival in my honor."
Roberta rolled her eyes. The people of Cogham Village in the Drackon Ridge had a bit of a hero-worship thing going on for Tor. This wasn't entirely surprising- he had single handedly saved them from Ixi raiders when he was still a squire, and with Roberta's help had saved them again when those same raiders were resurrected by the Darkest Faerie. But sometimes they got a little overly enthusiastic about their gratitude, and this seemed to be one of those cases.
"So what's that got to do with me?" Roberta asked, not liking where this was going.
"Erm... See, I sort of hoped you might come, maybe?" he said plaintively, his tail wagging slightly. "I don't really know anyone in Cogham that well, and my family is all too busy with the farm work to come. There's no polite way I can turn down the invitation, but if I have to spend all day recounting the insanely impulsive actions of my squiredom that I've already told people a thousand times, I'm going to go mad."
The Acara winced. "So let me get this straight; you want me to come to your party so I can stand around and be awkward while the people in Cogham act like you were exclusively responsible for stopping the Darkest Faerie?"
Tor looked startled, then his ears drooped. "Aw, c'mon, Roberta, you aren't still mad about that are you?"
She rubbed her temples. "When we released Meridell from the faerie's control, Skarl acted like I wasn't even in the room. He credited you with everything, and most of Meridell followed suit. And you laughed. You didn't stick up for me, you just grinned a stupid little 'oh well, he's an idiot, sorry' grin and let Skarl carry on like I didn't exist. Nowadays I can't even get accepted into the Order of the Red Erisim despite Seradar and Jerdana both being members and backing me. After getting stabbed, poisoned, burned, frozen, almost eaten by Werelupes, and any number of other unpleasant things for Meridell's sake, yeah. I'm still mad."
Tor's face fell, and the Acara sighed. "But you're my best friend, and it is your birthday, so... I'll go. But you owe me, Sir Tormund, got it?"
The Lupe brightened, his tail wagging again. "As many times as you've bailed me out of trouble, I think I already owe you more than I can repay in one lifetime. I promise, I'll try to discourage people from showering me with too much gratitude. I mean it's been eight years since that whole mess with the Darkest Faerie- how bad could it possibly be?"
To be continued...