Jeran: Guardian of Meridell
It was a hot day in Meridell. The sun refused to hide behind any clouds, mercilessly beating down on a blue Lupe sitting alone in a field with only a sword for company.
Jeran could feel the sweat dripping from the nape of his neck, dampening the collar of his shirt as he polished his sword. He was glad he had opted not to wear his battle armor today; he had a sneaking suspicion that in the suit, the sun would have baked him alive.
The hilt of his sword was nothing special—just worn leather wrapped around the metal—but the blade was nearly a piece of art. The steel was engraved with several ancient runes, spells to guide those of pure intent. Unfortunately, the markings had an annoying tendency to get encrusted with dirt and grime from his daily training, and so Jeran spent a few minutes every few days fishing out the grime to keep the engravings crisp and legible.
At the sound of his name, Jeran slipped his sword into its scabbard and turned his head. Kayla, the young castle potion maker, was approaching him from the other end of the field. It took Jeran a few seconds to realize that the red Zafara was not alone. Held in her arms, cradled, was a young green Mynci no more than a year old.
"Hi Kayla," Jeran greeted as he stood up. "How are you today?"
"I'm alright," the potion maker said with a tired smile. She looked down at the Mynci, who was tugging at the embroidered gold stars on her cape. "This is my niece, Alesandra. She's my sister's daughter."
Jeran waggled his large blue fingers at the child. "I didn't know you had a sister."
Kayla shrugged. "I'm not surprised. We're several years apart and she lives in the Lost Desert so I don't see her often." She shifted Alesandra in her arms, but the baby continued to prod at the stars. "She's actually in town this week, but she wanted to spend a day doing some tourist-y things—cheese rolling and guess the weight of the marrow and all that—so she asked me to keep an eye on Alesandra. The thing is..."
Jeran smiled as Kayla trailed off. He could see that her hair was disheveled, as if she had spent a lot of time raking her hands through it. "What are you trying to say, Kayla?" he teased. "That the Zafara who created giant Turtums can't watch a baby for a single day?"
Kayla sent him a look. "You don't work in a shop that sells highly dangerous potions, Jeran. I took my eyes off her for one second, and she had a bottle of Condensed Faerie Essence in her mouth!"
"I'm assuming that's bad."
"Very." Kayla looked up at Jeran, her magenta eyes pleading. "Could you please keep an eye on her for me? I only need you to do it for about an hour during my afternoon rush. I'm worried she'll get into some trouble, and I just can't have anything happen to her."
"I've never really babysat before," Jeran admitted, looking at the small child.
Kayla sent him a look that was part mocking and part challenge. "Are you telling me that Jeran, Guardian of Meridell, is afraid of a young child?"
Jeran rolled his eyes. "Of course not!"
"Then...?" Kayla looked at him expectantly.
Jeran couldn't help but chuckle. "I think I can handle her for an hour."
Kayla's face lit up. "Thank you so much!" the red Zafara cried. She carefully passed the young green Mynci into Jeran's arms. "Just drop her off at the potion shop at 3:00. I should be able to keep a better eye on her then."
"It's really no problem," Jeran said. Alesandra squirmed in his arms a little bit, nuzzling her head against the crook of his elbow. She was dressed in a light blue one-piece suit, and had wide hazel eyes.
"Thank you, thank you," Kayla said, slipping a stray piece of red hair behind her ear. "Now to get back to work! I'll see you two in an hour!" And with that, she pulled out a clear bottle from her pocket, uncorked it, and poured the liquid at her feet. A moment later, the air filled with sparkling white smoke, and Kayla vanished.
"Neee neee neeee!" Alesandra cooed, reaching an arm out to touch the wisps of glittering smoke dissipating into the air.
"Yeah, I know," Jeran said with a laugh. "Your aunt is a bit odd."
Jeran decided that the best course of action was to head back to the castle; there was no way he could continue cleaning his sword with a young toddler to look after. As he walked across the field, Alesandra gurgled to herself. Jeran glanced down at her often, making faces to see if she would smile at him. Carrying her brought back a faint memory of when Lisha had been born. He had only been four at the time, and his mother had sat him down on the couch and gently placed his new sister into his arms. He remembered how small the yellow Aisha had seemed, with her ear stalks twisted like curly vines, as thin as blades of grass.
After a few minutes of walking, Jeran entered the town. The streets were paved with crooked stones that caused the wheels of carts to clank noisily as they rolled along. Men and women sauntered by him, carrying baskets of produce and farm tools in their arms as they entered shops or paused to watch people play Kiss the Mortog.
It was as they were passing the Turdle racing ring that Alesandra began to squirm in Jeran's arms.
"Shyy! Shyyyy!" she gurgled, clenching at his fur and tilting her head to look over at the ring. The Turdle shells glinted in the light as they lined up at the starting line and people placed their bets. A moment later, a loud bang sounded, signaling that the race had begun.
"Yes," Jeran said, trying to keep the child still. "They're ra..."
The sentence died in his throat as, right before his eyes, Alesandra vanished.
Jeran would later deny that this had happened, but the blue Lupe—the Guardian of Meridell, the champion of the Great Battle—screamed.
Jeran spun around in a panic, bumping into people as the cry escaped his throat. He had not dropped the Mynci—he was sure of that—and yet the child was no longer in his arms. One second he had been looking at her and she had been clutching at his fur, and the next she had simply disappeared into thin air.
"Stop!" he yelled at an incoming cart, waving his arms. He was terrified that Alesandra was somewhere on the ground about to be trampled. "Has anyone seen—?"
"IS THAT A CHILD ON NUTTY?" a woman shouted, her shrill voice cutting through the din.
Jeran spun around and saw a large crowd forming around the Turdle racing ring, larger than he had ever seen for the small local betting venue. Oh Fyora, no... he thought, darting towards the crowd. He pushed past several people until he was pressed up against the low fence that separated the crowd from the dirt track.
And then he saw exactly what everyone was staring at: sitting on the back of Nutty, one of the racing Turdles, was Alesandra. The small Mynci was laughing, clutching to the rim of the Turdle's shiny shell as it scuttled around the track.
"She's mine!" Jeran cried, vaulting over the fence without a second thought. He heard people shouting at him, yelling at him not to interfere with the race, but he didn't care. In one fell swoop, he scooped Alesandra into his arms and leapt back over the fence, cradling her to his chest as he ran.
The shouts of angry men and women followed him, but eventually died down as he crossed the wooden bridge to the castle courtyard. However, Alesandra had begun to cry with intense vigor. "NEEEEEEEEEE!" she screamed, batting at Jeran's chest with her tiny hands.
"Shhhh...." the Lupe cooed, but his mind was so frantic he could hardly think straight. How did she get over there? he thought, his heart pounding in a panic. Kayla wasn't kidding when she said that she has a way of getting into trouble.
"Come on, now," Jeran said, bouncing her on his shoulder. "Shhh, it's okay. It's okay."
Alesandra looked at him, her lip quivering, but stopped eventually crying.
Jeran smiled. Okay... that wasn't too hard.
The castle courtyard wasn't nearly as crowded as the streets of Meridell. There were a few small stands selling street food and T-shirts with King Skarl's image, but the main focus was the castle itself. The walls of Meridell castle were made of white marble, and the crenelated parapets had been built of golden stone imported from the Lost Desert. The roofs of the turrets, however, were often cited as the most stunning; the shingles were a bright red that reflected the sun and looked as if they were made of luminescent glass.
"Shyyy..." Alesanda gurgled, the small Mynci's eyes trained upwards towards the high castle walls.
"Yeah, it's a beautiful building," Jeran said.
"Neee! Nee nee!" She reached her arms outwards, as if believing she could touch the stones from so far away. She wriggled in Jeran's arms.
"Easy," the Lupe said, finding it hard to keep a good hold on the child. "You don't want to fall—"
And that was when it happened again. Suddenly, Jeran's arms were empty, and Alesandra had vanished.
Jeran's stomach flipped. He was one hundred percent sure this time that he had not dropped her. And so, instead of looking down at the stone courtyard, he trained his eyes upwards, to the very castle Alesandra had been pointing at. And his heart nearly stopped in his chest.
Alesandra was perched on the tallest turret hundreds of feet above him, seated amongst the red tiles.
Unlike at the Turdle racing, no one except for him seemed to have noticed the small child seated precariously atop the roof; the men and women in the courtyard walked past him, oblivious. But Jeran's heart was racing, and his palms felt clammy and cold. He did not know what to do. His eyes scanned the castle, but there was no nearby window that he could try to reach the child from, and even if he knew of a way to scale the building, he was concerned she would fall before he even reached her.
"Jeran, what are you looking at?"
Jeran only spared a half a second to glance over at who had called his name. It was his sister, Lisha, crossing the courtyard with a stack of books in her arms.
"Lisha! Thank Fyora you're here. I was babysitting Kayla's niece and she somehow managed to get to the top of the castle. She's stuck on the roof and I don't know how to get her down."
"Jeran!" the yellow Aisha yelled in shock, dropping her books and smacking her older brother. "How could you? How... how did she even get up there?"
"I don't know," Jeran mumbled miserably, rubbing his arm. "I think she has some magic in her... she seems to be able to teleport."
"Well that makes sense since she's Kayla's niece," Lisha muttered. The yellow Aisha squinted through her round spectacles, and then cupped her ear stalks. "What is she saying? Is she even old enough to speak?"
"Not really," Jeran said, watching as Alesandra shifted over on the sloped turret roof to observe some more tiles. "I've only heard her say two syllables all day. 'Shy' and 'nee'...."
Jeran trailed off, and his eyes widened.
Lisha stared at him. "What?"
"Shiny! That's what she's been saying all day! She must like shiny objects!" Even now he was surprised he had not figured it out earlier. The golden embroidery on Kayla's cloak, the sparkles in the air after Kayla had vanished, the shining backs of the Turdles.... Alesandra had been entranced by it all.
"Well, I'm glad you've figured out what she's saying, but how are you going to get her down?" Lisha commanded.
But Jeran had a plan. "Like this," he said confidently, pulling his sword out of its holster in one fluid movement. The blade shone brightly, the symbols imprinted in its side refracting the sun in beautiful arrays. He was thankful that he had spent the afternoon polishing the metal.
Lisha's eyes widened in concern as she gazed at the sharp edges of the sword. "Jeran, are you sure this is a good idea? I can grab my wand from inside and maybe try to get her down...?"
But Jeran's full attention was on the child. "Alesandra!" the blue Lupe shouted, waving the sword around and drawing curious stares from those around him in the courtyard. "Look over here!"
Almost immediately, Alesandra's eyes latched onto the shiny sword. "Shyyy neeeee!" the Mynci babbled, trying to stand up. However, after taking a single step, her foot caught on a shingle, and suddenly she was falling through the air, down from the highest heights of the castle.
"No!" Jeran screamed, reaching out his arm, but he knew he could not catch her. She was falling too fast, just a blur of green against the blue sky...
...that suddenly vanished.
A moment later, Jeran felt a weight in his arm as Alesandra materialized out of thin air. "Shiny!" she cried happily, reaching out to touch his sword with a wide toothless smile.
Jeran could feel the sweat dripping down his forehead, and he smiled wearily as Lisha shook her head. "Yes, Alesandra. Very shiny."
* * *
When Jeran pushed past the tinkling door into Kayla's Potion Shop, the red Zafara paused from wiping down the counter and squinted at her niece in his arms. "Whose necklace is that?"
Jeran glanced down at Alesandra who was playing with a necklace, particularly the large diamond pendant hanging from the gold chain. The young Mynci ran her tiny fingers over the smooth facets, her eyes alight with wonder as light bent through the gem.
"The pendant belongs to Lisha," Jeran explained. "She let me borrow it to keep Alesandra occupied. We figured it was a safer plaything than my sword."
Kayla stared at him for a moment. "You give my niece your sword? Please tell me you're kidding."
"Not at all," he said with a grin, shifting Alesandra in his arms. "By the way, you never told me that your niece can teleport. That probably would have been nice to know."
"You never asked," Kayla said, sticking out her tongue. "What sort of trouble did she get into today?"
"She got to ride on a Turdle at the races, and she ended up on the roof of one of the castle turrets."
Kayla laughed and leaned her elbows on the counter. "Not too shabby for an hour. Maybe she'll be an adventurer when she grows up. What do you think, Jeran?"
"I think she definitely likes shiny stuff enough." He looked down at the child, smoothing back a tuft of her fur, before carefully passing Alesandra back to her aunt. The little Mynci looked up from the pendant for a moment in confusion as she switched arms. "You can keep the pendant for now if you want. It may stop her from getting into too many of your potions."
"Thanks, I think I will. And thank you for keeping an eye on her."
Jeran shrugged. "It was no problem—actually, that's not true. But I enjoyed it. It made for an exciting afternoon." He waggled his fingers goodbye to Alesandra, and the child gurgled. "I'll see you later, Kayla!" he said, heading out of the shop. "Send your sister my regards!"
"I will, Jeran!"
When the shop door shut behind him, Jeran took a deep breath. He had to admit that he was going to miss the little Mynci. However, he had only taken a single step away from the shop when something materialized in front of him. It was only his quick reflexes that allowed him to catch Alesandra as she appeared out of thin air.
"Shhyyyyy!" she cooed, her hazel eyes laughing.
Jeran stared down at her. "Wh-what?"
The door to the shop flew open and Kayla burst outside. When she saw Alesandra in Jeran's arms, she visibly relaxed, easing into one hip. "Thank Fyora she didn't go far!"
"Why did she do that?" Jeran asked. Alesandra was still staring up at him, all wide-eyed and giggling. "I don't have anything shiny on me!"
Kayla smiled. "I think she just likes you."
Jeran held Alesandra in his arms. She smiled, nuzzling her small head into the cotton fabric of his shirt. "Nee nee," she whispered.
Jeran couldn't help it; he smiled. "You know, Kayla, I think I can watch her for just a little longer..."