Steel rang against steel. Shouts and cries heated with anger and fear permeated the air around him. The smells of torn up earth, smoke and sweat assaulted his nose. A fierce battle cry came from his front. A comrade yelled for him to block. He brought his sword up just in time to deflect a savage blow. His eyes met the crimson of his attacker. The yellow fur on his paw just inches away from the dark purple of his opponent. His foe drew back again, bringing his sword high above his head. He got ready to block again as the enemy swung with evil intent. He roared just as the enemy roared and jumped forward....
Kelpin the yellow Lupe awoke with a start. He blinked numerous times while he made sure he was still in his cottage in Meridell. A log on the fire split and made a loud noise, making Kelpin jump. He took a deep breath to steady his frazzled nerves. There was borovan in the kitchen. He needed some. Now.
He left the chair he had dozed off in and walked to the kitchen area. The limp in his left leg was barely noticeable. His paws were fraught with tremors as he poured himself a mug of the stout drink. Kelpin gulped the liquid down, leaning against the counter for support. His nightmares were getting worse. Instead of coming only at night they plagued him during the day as well, catching him unawares as he napped.
Crazy Old Kelpin they called him. He snorted. He wasn't crazy, was he? The yellow Lupe took stock of his psyche, swirling the last dregs of borovan around his mug. People in the village normally stayed away from him. He was pretty anti-social, had been for as long as he could remember. He didn't blame them. He guessed he was a little crazy. It was normal, so they say, for soldiers fighting in wartime to have lingering effects. This war was long gone. Years and years gone. Meridell had been at peace with the Darigan Citadel for the longest time. No pet looked at the Citadel floating in the sky with fear anymore. Only a few remember the time where farmers, who were only trained in the Art of Growing Things, had to take a crash course in the Art of the Sword to defend their land. Kelpin sighed again. Thinking of that jogged his memory. He had to tend to his garden today. Potatoes weren't going to grow themselves.
He set the spade on the ground and sat back on his haunches. The sun was hot but there was a nice, steady breeze that tickled his ears and dried the sweat on his back. All of sudden he heard crashing, shouting, a battle cry! Kelpin jumped to his feet. His left leg went weak in protest but he simply shifted his weight. He wasn't as young as he used to be. He brandished his spade, eyes darting around his surroundings. There was movement on the top of hill! He ran to his front gate in time to see two small Neopets, an Ixi and an Acara, play-fighting with wooden swords and shields. Their laughter drifted down to him along with the sounds of their pretend-play. Then, the Acara hit the Ixi's shield rather hard, causing the poor young one to fall backward and tumble down the hill.
Kelpin ran out of his yard toward the young ones. Oh, this was not helping his leg at all. He was panting by the time he reached the Ixi, about the same time the Acara had managed to get down the hill without falling.
"Sreeno, you alright?" the Acara asked as he reached his friend. He stared at the yellow Lupe suspiciously.
Kelpin pulled off the wooden helmet Sreeno was wearing. His eyes rolled around as if he was dizzy and his neck strength was not what it should be.
"Don't you think you hit him a little hard?" Kelpin grumbled at the young Acara.
"I didn't know it would make him fall down the hill! And he was askin' for it!"
Sreeno moaned and lifted a hoof up to his head. "Fezzin, you did that on purpose."
"I did not!"
"ALRIGHT!" Kelpin shouted. Both boys jumped and stared. Kelpin reigned in his temper. (He was never really good with children. Something the village just loved to point out.) He said to Sreeno, "Look, you've got a good-sized lump on your head from your tumble down the hill, and you don't need to be walkin' right now. Let's go inside and I'll get you some ice and you can have something to drink. Sound ok?"
Sreeno nodded dimly. His eyelids were half closed and his mouth turned down in a grimace. Fezzin had his mouth set in a pout. He was mumbling under his breath. Kelpin thought it was most likely something about how he did not, in fact, make the Ixi fall down the hill on purpose. Once they were inside, Kelpin helped the hurt Ixi sit on his counter and gave him a handful of ice wrapped in a scrap of cloth from one of his potato sacks. Sreeno mumbled a thank you and held the ice pack to his lump, wincing when it touched.
Kelpin turned to Fezzin. "Now, your friend is going to-"
"He's not my friend," Fezzin interrupted.
"Excuse me?" Kelpin asked, irritated he got interrupted.
"He's not my friend. He's my brother."
Kelpin blinked. "OK... your brother is going to be fine in a few minutes once his head stops spinning. That was a steep hill he fell down. You kids don't need to be playing like that."
Fezzin crossed his arms and bumped his toes on the ground. "We was just playin' war."
Something within Kelpin frayed a little more. "Just playing WAR?! You don't play war! War is real! War hurts! It's dangerous and scary and you loose people that are close to you and-" The look in Fezzin's and Sreeno's eyes stopped him. What was he doing? These two boys were children! They were still dreaming of war being all about heroes and epic battles. They had no business knowing the real side of war.
The Lupe swallowed thickly. "I've... I've just been in a war. It's a little... er... touchy for me."
Sreeno's jaw dropped. "You've been in a war?" His eyes shone with excitement. Fezzin's did too. "Which one, which one?!"
"I... er... I was in the Meridell war, but it was a long time ago and I did nothing special and-"
The two boys started talking at once. "What was it like?" "Did you know Jeran?" "Who fought with you?" "Did you get any medals?" "What was your weapon?" "How many weapons did you know how to use?"
Kelpin backed up, his eyes wide. He was being bombarded! "BOYS! Boys! Quiet down!"
Fezzin and Sreeno stopped, looking at him with eye wide and hopeful. They bounced slightly with their excitement. Kelpin smiled ruefully and went to his old chair and motioned for the boys to sit down in front of him.
The Ixi and Acara scrambled in front of the chair and plopped down right at Kelpin's legs. they were grinning from ear to ear as if they were about to be told the best story ever.
"It was... hard, but ok in the end. I did lose a lot of people I cared about, but knowing I had defended my land did give me a good feeling. I didn't know Jeran, but I saw him a few times. He was a great leader. Very good speech maker, oh yes. I had everyone fighting with me. Farmers, menders, soldiers, all who came to the aid of Meridell. I didn't get any medals and I only know how to use a sword..."
As he went on, he realized the boys' lighthearted and eager questions made him look on his experience in a new light. Something inside him was mending, slowly, but mending none the less. Maybe it was the questions they asked, or the pure, radiant innocence of a child that shone light on his darkened soul. Kelpin was never really good with children, but these children were being very good to him.