A Tale of Two Bori: Part Six
Trealiy stepped cautiously forward, leaving the rocky bluff behind him and heading into the tall fields of grass. It was as though when he left his old life behind, he had entered the medieval world of his favorite book. High noon was warm here, warmer than any day in the history of Terror Mountain, and yet to his delight, his ice fur did not melt in the slightest. It was a powerful enchantment indeed, whatever forces had made him this way – and for the first time, that acknowledgment did not leave him feeling sick with disgust. He might always be reminded of his cowardly past, but for once, he felt like he had a future in which he could change.
The Bori moved deeper into the valley, passing farmland where crops of marrows, potatoes, and berry bushes had been cultivated. He knew nothing of farming or plants other than what he had read in stories, but he was still exhausted and hungry from his sea journey, and tempted to eat some of the unripe harvest. His large ears swiveled forward with interest, hearing a harsh cawing noise in the field. Several birds with dark plumage and eerie red eyes – Crokabeks – had gathered around the leafy shrubs, plucking berries with their wide beaks and devouring them noisily. Trealiy felt his stomach rumble as he watched the flock feasting, and didn't wait long to wriggle under the wooden picket fence and join them. He had eaten wild Snowberries on many occasions, so this felt all right.
In mere moments, his ice-blue face and claws were stained deep purple from the sweet berry juice. He had underestimated his own hunger, and was now greedily plucking the tiny fruits from each stem, gulping them as quickly as he could. He was so focused he did not even notice the Crokabeks flying away, nor did he hear the sound of approaching footsteps. Abruptly, a loud crack sounded, and he was knocked face-first into the dirt.
"Another thief tryin' ta rob me blind, eh? Ye don't get ta 'pick your own' unless ye pay me first, crook!"
The farmer loomed over him, baring his teeth and wielding his pitchfork menacingly. Trealiy looked up, face daubed with mud, eyes wide with terror. Why was he under attack from the tall yellow canine? He looked like a Lupe, but the ears were too long, the fur too short – Treal had never met a Gelert before. Without waiting for further painful blows to rain down upon him, he scrabbled back under the fence, bolting down the pathway.
It was a long while before he slowed down, fully expecting the strange local to still be giving chase. When he saw that the coast was clear, Treal sank to his knees, wheezing pitifully. This had been such a harrowing day. He didn't know he wasn't allowed to eat the crops. The Bori tribe did not have the resources to farm, so they scavenged for their meals out in the snow. Whatever they found, they could keep. This land seemed so fertile and lush, but the farmer had appeared harsh and greedy. He hoped fervently that the castle dwellers were of a more noble persuasion, like the fairytale knights.
Treal rose wearily to his paws again, hearing the nearby sounds of a river. Remembering that he was still sticky with berry juice and loam, he padded over to the bank, dipping his claws into the cool water. Hopefully no one was guarding this resource as well. It felt good to splash the clean freshwater on his face, rinsing off the muck and residual brine from his journey. He froze, though, as he caught a glimpse of his own reflection against the glassy surface of the running water. It was unnerving to see himself, pale blue like a ghost, staring hollowly back. He shuddered, and quickly crossed the nearby stone bridge, eager to put distance behind himself and the icy spectre of his reflection.
As he walked further, his swiveling ears caught different sounds from the peaceful rustling of grass, rushing river water, and crowing of the local birds, as it had been. There were the sounds of others working – creaking carts, thudding tools, clattering metal and hooves, and most of all, the droning of conversation. He had reached the village. The bustling townsfolk, the sights, the scents, it had Treal energized again. With the beginnings of a smile, he stepped forth, trying to drink it all in. He saw colorful tents where the locals practiced the sport of archery, and nearby it, a game played with cards at a table; there was an enticing aroma wafting from a food stall, where the merchant was slowly spit-roasting something over a merry fire; a trader had built a small wooden pen to enclose various wild petpets they had captured, animals with tiny hooves and shells and horns to navigate the wild green terrain. Everyone was wearing such quaint clothes, like little hats with a feather on top, or jerkins with tights, much of them crafted from leather or rugged cloth.
It was all so much more exciting than his lonely burrow on Terror Mountain, though he soon faltered as he felt all eyes on him. His smile faded into a worried expression; they had never seen a Bori before, had they? The locals here were mostly unfamiliar to him as well – Ixi, Meerca, Techo, Kacheek – with the exception of some scruffy Lupes, the faces were none he recognized. And they did not look friendly. Most of them were openly pointing and whispering, suspicion in their hard eyes. Trealiy's icy hackles rose, distressed as he was reminded of his treatment back home. Without speaking to them, he hurried down the path, whip-like tail lashing behind him. These peasants were not worth his time, not when he was so close to the castle.
He reached the wooden drawbridge that spanned the watery moat, feeling relieved to see it open. He was uncomfortably certain that the peasants were still staring at him, no doubt because of the way the sunlight glittered and flashed against his icy hide. He needed to get indoors, where it was darker and safer and not out in the open. His footsteps clattered against the bridge, stopping abruptly as he reached the cool stone floor of the castle. There was a paw resting on his shoulder; someone was behind him.
"Art thou an interloper from the Darigan Citadel, winter beast?"
The voice was smooth and confident, with an undercurrent of strength. Treal's ears fell back nervously against his skull, suddenly afraid to turn around. He swallowed, unsure how to answer. Was he not allowed into the castle without permission? Wait, the name Darigan was familiar. Wasn't that the evil lord from the storybook?
"N... no, sir, I am not a... a Darigan interloper... I hail from the Ice Caves of Terror Mountain... sir," he added awkwardly with his eyes tightly shut, intimidated by the commanding presence. The hand flexed on his shoulder, spinning him around to face the unknown presence.
"What a strange creature!" the voice exclaimed, curiosity replacing the tone of suspicion. "I am not acquainted with thine mountain of terror; forsooth, it must be a fearful place to mould beasts out of pure ice!"
The strange dialect actually set Treal at ease, recognizing it from the old book he had memorized. When he relaxed enough to open his eyes, though, his jaw dropped in shock. Towering above him was a Lupe knight clad in polished ivory armour, intense golden eyes offset by dark blue fur. It was the exact figure from the cover of his book... The Legend of Jeran.
"Y-you're-! Sir Borodere! The King's Champion, Jeran!"
Treal was beyond belief – not only did the castles and knights exist, but the hero he had tried to emulate was here in the flesh? Jeran chuckled knowingly, letting his paws drop from Trealiy's trembling shoulders. "Verily, it is I, though mine reputation precedeth me. What bringest thou to Meridell?"
So it really was Meridell. A wide smile spread across the Bori's pointed face, lighting up his countenance. Fate had been kind to him after all, washing him ashore here. "I... I want to be a hero like you! Can you make me a knight?"
There was a kindly look in Jeran's gaze, as he beckoned Treal to follow him into the castle. "Wintry one, thou can joineth the squires, and train thineself in the ways of knighthood. Meridell is often beset upon by her cruel neighbor Darigan, and there will be many chances for thou to proveth thineself on the field of battle." He paused, gathering a wistful quality as they stepped quietly through the halls. "But to be a hero... that is an essence thou must garner for thineself. To have someone to protect... that, verily, is the source of all courage."
Trealiy was silent, awed by the mere presence of this Lupe. His words held such wisdom, backed by the legendary exploits he had become famous for. Treal's scant training as a mountain guard was nothing compared to the famed knights of Meridell, elite warriors atop their flying Uni partners, that together could defeat any monster. But courage... that was something he lacked. He had failed to defend his ancestral home from the Bringer – would he be any more useful here, as a shield-bearing squire? It made him weak in the knees to picture another battlefield. It had been deafening, all the shouting and clashing of weapons. Truly, he had never been more terrified in his life. Even remembering the anxiety now made him feel queasy.
Jeran must have noticed the change in the Bori's attitude, for he clapped him encouragingly on the back, knocking him forward several paces. "Despair not! If thou dost not have one to protect now, verily, thou shalt find one. And that, wintry one, is when thou shalt be a hero. Come! This corridor leadeth to the squire chambers, where thou shalt dwell. Thine training hast already begun!"
To be continued...