Origins: Ethel Boortz
"It's my turn to be Goalie!"
"You got to do it LAST time!"
With a sigh, Ethel Boortz slowly eased her way up out of her rocking chair, crossed the porch, and made her way down the steps towards her young grandchildren. "Michah and Kayla, what did I tell you about Yooyball matches?"
Michah, a young speckled Ixi of eight, piped up. "Not to play near the house?" At that point, Kayla elbowed him in the ribs. "Not to argue and to play fair."
Ethel chuckled. "That's right." Now, you continue your game and I'll head to the house to make us some lunch. She ruffled Michah's light brown hair, and watched as he and Kayla slowly began to make their way into the middle of the yard.
They were eighteen months apart, her grandchildren. Kayla was the older one of the two, a headstrong red Ixi with a tendency to be a bit of a rule follower. Michah was the spoiled younger brother, constantly getting into mischief and making those around him laugh at his antics.
They enjoyed Yooyuball, although they couldn't play it the normal way. A majority of the children in Meridell couldn't afford the expensive Yooyu petpet. Only the nobles had that luxury.
So, her two grandchildren were out there with a potato, and some makeshift Yooyuball gear (consisting of pillows, cushions, and a few plastic bowls) trying to score goals against each other. Sometimes friends would join them, but today they each had a team of one.
Ethel shook her head as she grabbed a baking sheet from her drawers. "A one Ixi team is surely enough for today." ——
“Wizard" Windelle couldn't believe that his five year anniversary was coming up. Five years of leading Meridell's Yooyuball team to victory. As the carriage containing his teammates and all of their luggage rumbled through the countryside between Meridell and Brightvale, he looked around at the glum faces next to him. Gregorio's retirement had hit them all hard.
Gregorio Maille had joined the team a few years ago, replacing Vitri Sitol, who (in Windelle's opinion) was the worst complainer in the history of the Altador Cup. After a frustrating season filled with bickering between him and Vitri, the former captain Pollonaire Freidl decided to fire Vitri. Gregorio was hired, and instantly the team's chemistry had changed for the better without the annoying gelert around.
Many didn't know it, but Gregorio wasn't actually from Meridell originally. He hailed from a small country south of Altador, named "Vitis" which (unlike the Altadorian mainland), wasn't as ancient looking. The buildings were old, but not as old as some of the crumbling ruins that Altador sported. Gregorio worked hard during the preseason to develop a Meridellian accent, so the fans wouldn't catch on. He practiced often with Florina and Ilsa Ellits, both of whom had strong South Meridell accents.
They'd had some great times together, winning many matches. Gregorio was a solid player, and a good friend. And when he had told them that he wanted to retire and move back to Vitis, they all had supported the idea. But that didn't mean they'd have to like the idea of playing with a brand new teammate.
“So, have you had any applications for the new position yet, Wizard?" Florina asked, tilting her head inquiringly. Yoris Obbles was asleep, his furry blue body resting up against Ilsa's. "Aye, I'd like to 'now that as well." Ilsa added, keeping his voice low.
Wizard shook his head sadly. "I only got a couple recommendations from the Meridell Yooyuball Council about it, and there's only a few locals that really know how to play, much less toss a Yooyuball. There's strong recommendations that we try to make a deal with another team to get a new player."
Florina was startled. "Surely there's a few leagues around, right? I mean the nobles have enough funds to-“
“Nay. Nay lass. All those nobles care 'bout are their own ventures, and if Team Meridell wins the cup. They don't give a sack of babaa's wool about startin' a league for peasant children." Ilsa said, cutting her off.
“So we're left with ether finding someone on our own, or accepting the council's recommendation.” Windelle replied.
“That's not fair!”
“Aye, 'tisn't, but that's the way it 'as to be, aye?”
Slowly the conversation turned to other things, and the rest of the ride was made in relative silence. They stopped at an inn for the night, and made preparations to head to Meri Acres at first light. ——
“What are we looking for again?” Michah asked, rubbing his nose gingerly to keep from sneezing.
“Recipe cards, pea chia brain! Grannie needs one of them for some sort of pie she's planning on baking.” Kayla replied.
“Why do WE have to do this? Why can't she come up here?”
“She's looking in the cellar, where YOU wouldn't go because you thought it was spyder infested!”
“It sure looked that way with all of those cobwebs.”
The two Ixi swung their lanterns out, letting the light hit the farthest corners of the dark and musty attic. The old boards creaked and moaned under their feet as they slowly made their way towards the middle of the room.
"So where did Grannie say it'd be?”
“In some sort of trunk filled with old stuff from when she was younger.”
“Oh, okay. Are there any spyders or other creepy crawlies in the trunk?” Michah shuddered, his lantern bobbing.
“I doubt it Michah, these trunks look pretty old. They've been here for a while.” Kayla set down her lantern, and made her way to an older trunk with a plaid pattern.
Slowly she raised the lid, coughing as the dust motes flew up into the air around her. After the dust cleared, she gasped. “Hey! Michah! Come here!”
Michah made his way over to the trunk, and his eyes widened when he saw what was inside.
“Yooyuball gear! Look, there's a kilt, and some old photos, and some other stuff in here too!” Kayla chirped.
“I didn't know Grannie played Yooyuball.”
“Look, there's a photo of her wearing the gear. I guess she did it when she was a bit younger.”
“What's the kilt for?” Michah asked.
“She once told me she's related distantly to some of the clans down in South Meridell. They wear kilts, don't they?”
“I guess. It's odd thinking of Grannie wearing a kilt. Her knees are so knobby.” “Michah!”
Kayla sighed, rolling her eyes heavenward.
“Okay, let's go show this stuff to Grandma.”
“But aren't we supposed to find that stupi-“
“Don't worry Michah. We'll find it later. This discovery is just too cool not to show off.” ——
The sudden jolt of the rumbling carriage shook "Wizard" Wendelle awake. He jerked, sitting up swiftly. He and Ilsa shared a worried look for a second as yet another jolt tossed them to the side. “What's going on?” Florina shouted. “No clue, but it doesn't sound good.” Wizard replied, grimly.
Slowly the carriage made it's way to the side of the road, where it stopped. Hopping out quickly, Wendelle looked for Geoffri, the driver. He was dismayed to find the striped shoyru crouching underneath the carriage, examining the underside.
“Broken axel sir, looks like it'll take a while to repair.”
“Can it be done?” Wendelle asked.
“Aye. There's a carpenter in the next village o'er. I'll take one of the uni to fetch 'im. But it'll take at least an hour or two to get the axel fixed. Hopefully we'll reach Meri Acres by nightfall.”
“So we're just supposed to wait until then?”
“Nothing else ye can do Cap'n Wendelle. We've got some minor provisions, so if ye need water and such ye can find it. Although we didn't pack much of a meal. But the locals are friendly, as ye know. I'm sure they wouldn't mind feeding Team Meridell.” Geoffri pointed out.
“I guess so. Thank you lad.”
Wendelle took a moment to look around the road, looking for any travelers nearby. Ilsa walked up and joined him as he searched the horizon to the west.
“I 'ound something.”
“Aye. Small 'ouse to the south 'o here. Saw some lads and lassies playing a round of Yooyuball. Local children, I 'spect.”
“Well, we do need to train, and we have the time…” Wendelle began, a slow smile growing on his face.
“Why don't we join 'em?” Ilsa finished, rushing back towards the carriage. ——
Ethel Boortz sat with her two grandchildren at the table, looking over the items they had brought down.
“Ach. These bring back old memories. I still remember when I first played Yooyuball. I didn't know which goal to run towards.”
“Why did you play Yooyuball in Brightvale instead of Meridell?” Kayla asked, tilting her head.
“Well lassie, ye know full well that there aren't many leagues here in Meridell for Yooyuball. There were even fewer when I was young. But, the main reason was that I went to the university there for schooling, and the league was nearby.”
“What position did you play Grannie?”
“Left Forward. I was always good at scoring goals. I was the fastest on the team in fact.”
“Why don't you play anymore?” Michah said, holding up one of the pictures.
“Well, I eventually settled down and raised a family, and if I hadn't of done that, you two wouldn't be here.” She ruffled Michah's hair, and stood up.
“Well, now that we've got that business done, it looks like your friends want to play a game with you.” She pointed towards the screen door at the front of her home, and the dirty children standing outside of it.
Michah and Kayla rushed out to play, and she got back to cleaning her kitchen as usual. ——
The game itself was pretty rough and tumble, with Michah and Kayla ending up on different sides. None of the children wore any gear and the "nets" were actually comprised of some old rope from a broken down wagon they had found a month back. Ethel had the brilliant idea of stringing it together for the children, and Kayla and Michah had climbed up into the clump of trees on the both sides of the property to hang them. She never did mind having the local children on her property. It kept them out of trouble and it provided Michah and Kayla some friends when they visited her.
She looked out her screen door, checking on the children every couple of minutes. Occasionally she could hear the shouts as they "debated" some call or another that had been made. She had just put everything back to rights and was about to go out on her porch for a while when she noticed a small group marking their way up towards the Yooyuball field. Too large to be children." she muttered, tilting her head to one side. She moved towards the table, where the children had left her old belongings earlier, quickly searched the kilt, and gave a chuckle of delight when she found the silver dagger hidden under the folds. Most Meridellians were harmless around these parts, but it never hurt anyone to have a bit of protection along. ——
“Wizard" Wendell smiled as he and his teammates walked towards the field. It appeared that some sort of argument was going on. Well, he had a feeling it was going to stop within a couple of moments.
“It went into the net!" a young speckled Ixi boy shouted.
“Yeah, but you were outside the field when you shot it in!" A red Ixi girl replied back, arms crossed in a huff.
“How can you tell that? There's no boundary lines.”
“We told you where the boundary was before the game star-“
“Excuse me.” Wendelle said, clearing his throat.
The group of children looked at him, tilting their heads.
“Who are you mister?” a grubby usul boy asked, looking up at them.
Wendelle chuckled, then explained.
“I’m "Wizard" Wendell, and these are my teammates and friends Ilsa Ellits, Florina, and Yoris Obbles.”
“You're Team Meridell!” one of the children exclaimed.
“Yes. Yes we are. Our carriage broke down a few hundred feet that way.” He pointed west.
“So do you need any help? “
Wendell bent down and ruffled the Ixi boy's hair.
“No lad. They're working on it. However, we DO need to practice. How about a game?” ——
As Ethel made her way over, she saw the children give a whoop of joy, and realized the strangers were apparently joining them in the game. “Strange.” she muttered. She still intended to figure out who these people were that had decided to play with her grandchildren, but at least they seemed slightly less threatening.
As she approached, she heard her two grandchildren call out "Grannie!" and run over towards her. She smiled at them politely, and nodded to the other children.
“What'cha doin' out here Grannie?” Michah asked.
“Oh just checking on you and your sister. And coming to greet these guests of yours.” she replied.
Wendell offered her his hand. “Wizard Wendelle madam. Captain of Team Meridell.”
Ethel shook his hand, slightly impressed.
“Well captain, I cannot say I know too much about your team, as I haven't kept up with Yooyuball as much as I did in my younger days, but it is an honor. These two scamps here.." she said, pointing to Michah and Kayla "-are my grandchildren.”
“They look a lot like ye, m'am.” Ilsa remarked.
After the introductions were completed, the children brought up the fact that a game had not yet been played. Ethel watched with a chuckle as the children argued about which teams they would be on. Eventually Wendell took charge and sorted both Team Meridell and the children into almost equally matched teams.
“Seems we're in need of a player, aren't we?" Florina remarked.
“Aye. We just need 'omeone to play left forward….” Ilsa said.
“Maybe if one of us sat out…?” Yoris suggested.
“Grannie could play.” Kayla blurted out.
Everyone turned to look at her, and she almost began to blush.
“N-now children. Let's not get hasty here. That was a long ti-“
“But Grannie, you did enjoy playing right?” Michah interrupted.
“And you did play as a left forward?” Kayla pointed out.
“So why not Grannie? It'll be fun!” Michah asked.
Ethel sighed, then shook her head.
“Okay Michah. I will play.”
“You sure you'll be okay? You're not as young as you used to be.” Wendell said, crossing his arms.
“I’ll be fine captain. Don't worry.” Ethel replied.
After the consensus was reached that Ethel would play, the teams were equal, and play began. Some members of Team Meridell were surprised at the use of a potato instead of a Yooyu, but they caught on soon enough. Soon goals were being scored by both teams as laughter and good hearted banter filled the air.
Wizard watched Ethel during the game, and was surprised to find that she was surprisingly quick and very able as a player. Even though she was more than likely rusty, she still had the ability to not only keep up with the plays made by her team, but she was quick to outguess the other players. He was impressed.
Soon the game ended, and the other children departed for home as the day slowly started to fade into eventide. Ethel smiled at her grandchildren, and then took a look at the hard worked team before her.
“Would any of you like a glass or two of lemonade before you leave?”
“We'd enjoy that very much ma'am.” Florina replied, wiping her brow.
Once inside the small kitchen, Wizard did a double take at the Yooyuball gear still stacked neatly on Ethel's kitchen table.
“Sorry about that. My grandchildren found some of my old gear from my school days up in the attic. They brought it down to show me.”
“You played in a league?” Ilsa asked.
“Yes. I played in Brightvale while I went to school at the University there.” Ethel replied, setting some glasses down on the table.
“Were you any good?” Yoris asked.
“Well, our league did pretty well. We won and lost, but most of all we enjoyed the game.”
“You're a born Meridellian, though, right?” Wizard asked, taking a sip of his lemonade.
“Aye. I was born in the southern part of Meridell. Distantly related to the Kerr clan, although they wouldn't know me if asked.”
Wizard looked around the table at his team mates, trying to judge their reactions. It was surprising after all of these years how he could know what they were thinking just by watching.
Florina was shooting him a knowing glance, Yoris was smiling, and Ilsa was giving him one of his stern nods of approval. Wizard cleared his throat.
“Ethel, would you mind sending the young ones to another room real quick? We have something to discuss.”
The elderly Ixi nodded, shooing her grandchildren out of the kitchen.
“Should I be concerned, Mister Wendell? Was the lemonade too tart?”
Wizard laughed, then shook his head.
“I’m sure you've noticed, but we're down a team member.”
“Aside from today's match, I haven't played Yooyuball in a while. But I do remember something about there being five players. Go on.” Ethel replied, smiling.
Florina chuckled behind them. Good for Ethel. She had style. Wizard liked that.
“Our left forward, Gregorio, decided to retire. And I'm sure you know from experience that Meridell doesn't exactly have a lot of leagues to train new players. So we've had trouble finding someone to replace him.”
“Earlier today, we had no idea what to do, and were considering making a swap for a player with another team. But then our carriage broke down, and we ran into your grandchildren, and you.”
Wizard took a moment to let that sink in, watching Ethel's manner shift from confusion to understanding.
“You want me to join you.” She said.
“Yes. You may be rusty, but you have the ability to do well.” Wizard replied.
Ethel sighed, then hesitantly spoke.
“I’m not as young as some of the other players. That could be a problem.”
“You've shown 'erself to be a pretty good player if I say so meself.” Isla piped up.
“Michah and Kayla do need me on occasion.”
“We train during most of our offseason right here in Meridell, so you'd only be a carriage ride away.” Florina pointed out.
“I’m not the best person for the job.”
“Some would say that about me, since I'm the shortest goalie in the cup by far.” Yoris shot back.
They all chucked, and Wizard stood up from his seat.
“So, are you in?”
As soon as Wizard asked the question, Michah and Kayla burst through the door into the kitchen.
“Come on Grannie! You've gotta say yes!” Michah pleaded.
“You're really good!” Kayla whined.
“Pleaseeeeeee?” They both said in unison.
Ethel laughed, and ruffled their hair.
“Okay you two, because you asked…I’ll do it.”
Cheers erupted from around the room, and Wizard offered his hand to the elderly Ixi.
“Welcome to Team Meridell.”——
Fans received Ethel with some skepticism due to her age, but with time she ended up winning many over. She played her first season well, and meshed well with her entire team. Michah and Kayla even got tickets to come and see her play her first game.
During the off-season, Ethel went around Meridell raising money for a local Yooyuball league to be formed near Meri Acres. In between training sessions with Team Meridell, she would head back to her home and spend time with her grandchildren. Of course, much of that time was spent out on the field playing a match with Michah and Kayla.
“After all Grannie. You need to be in shape if you're gonna win the cup next year.” Michah said one day.
“Yeah. And you'll bring it home and we'll get to tell our friends how our Grannie won it for Team Meridell.”
Ethel could only chuckle.