Meldrick's Tales Chapter 19, A Tale of Tails
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Meldrick the Elder
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Knight of Zantarni
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Sat Jan 09, 2010 8:20 pm
Chapter 19 A Tale of Tails


It was a cool fall day, the leaves had all fallen from the trees and the clouds appeared dark and foreboding. Meldrick sat in the small covered gazebo just inside the gates of Edingtol, to escape the impending storm.


A few others had gathered there and were talking about the recent influx of Nagas in the land. Meldrick smiled as one of the younger ones told their parent that they bet Meldrick had seen Nagas before they arrived here…and not just the legends of Nagas.


Finally one turned and asked Meldrick if he had known of the Nagas before they had shown up here in Edingtol.


He smiled, “I have met the Naga on a journey to the far east. . . . .

-------------------------------------


Meldrick and his brother Aaron said good bye to Mother Marla as they started off on their journey to gather spices in the far east region of NePhar. The Gypsy Elves had been trading with the people of NePhar for as long as they could remember. . .trading the salt they mined for the NePharian spices. Only one wagon and no more than 2 of the Gypsy Elves were allowed into this very guarded society.


Mother Marla felt that it was time for Meldrick to meet the NePharians and since Aaron had made the journey several times, he was the perfect one to travel with Meldrick.


Aaron was a gentle giant among the people, standing at over 7 feet tall. A quiet man who loved to joke with Meldrick and others, he was always willing to lend a hand and his back, if needed to help others. That he had picked up some of the NePhar language made him invaluable to the tribes dealing with them.


“Now, Mellie, the first thing you need to remember is not to stare as the NePhar consider staring to be rude. They have even been known to attack someone for staring.” Aaron started as the pair traveled away from the caravan. Meldrick knew that Aaron had his best interest at heart but he also knew that Aaron loved a good practical joke; so he was taking everything he was told with a ‘grain of salt’, so to speak.


Aaron leaned closer to Meldrick, preparing to impart a great secret to the lad. “Have you heard of the Naga, Mellie?”


“Only from the tales of the Elders. . .aren’t they supposed to be half human-half serpent?” Meldrick looked to his brother, trying to read if Aaron was preparing him for another of his jokes, but he saw the seriousness in his brother’s eyes.


Aaron gathered his thoughts before he spoke again and Meldrick could see that what he was about to say, was serious and true. “Mellie, they are not a myth, they trade with the people of NePhar and are sometimes seen in the village where we trade with them. . .if you see them, do not stare at them.”


“Have you seen them, Aaron, these Naga?” Meldrick was truly curious about these creatures. . .no, people, that he thought were a myth but now knows are real.


Aaron took a moment to answer, a slight blush came to his cheeks, “I have, Mellie, I have and they are a beautiful people. The way they move is incredible, snakelike but not quite. . .my words don’t do them justice, but you may see for yourself.”


Meldrick smiled and could not help but tease his brother, “Aaron, it sounds like you may have stared at them…just a little…” Meldrick chuckled as he teased his ‘brother’ who smiled and blushed a little. “Well, maybe once or twice…” Aaron smiled as his eyes seemed to be far away from the wagon they were riding in.


Looking at his brother, Meldrick realized there was something more that Aaron was not telling. “Aaron, what’s really going on. . .I have never seen you so moon-eyed. . .” Meldrick stopped as he was struck by a quick flash of insight, “Aaron. . .you have talked with the Naga. . .and a female one at that, haven’t you?”


Aaron looked to the horses and then to Meldrick, “Mellie, I have. . .” he smiled as he gathered his words, “She is incredible, so beautiful, and smart and strong. . .she is the first woman that I can talk eye-to-eye to, about anything and everything and nothing at all.” He looked to his little brother, then back over his shoulder.


“I have talked to Mother Marla about her, that is partly the reason you are here, Mellie,” Meldrick looked confused, and Aaron chuckled, “You are here as my second. . .”


Meldrick looked at Aaron, “Your second. . .like as in a duel?” he stared at his brother, not knowing what to expect for an answer.


Aaron looked a bit more serious, “Yes, Mellie, exactly. . .my second for a duel, it will be your job to make sure that the rules are followed and so on.” Aaron started whistling and Meldrick looked at him oddly.


“Aaron, you are taking this rather calmly. . .for someone who is about to be involved in a duel.”


Aaron smiled, “You don’t understand, Mellie, I love Seshara. . .” he turned to look deeply into his little brother’s eyes, “We are soulmates. . . it is our destiny, and I have to fight this duel to show her how much I love her and that I am willing to die to prove my love for her.” Aaron gently slapped Meldrick’s thigh, “You’ll understand when you meet her, Mellie. . .” he smiled and returned to his driving as they neared the Gates of NePhar.


For once in his life, Meldrick didn’t know what to say as Aaron directed the wagon to a stable inside the city walls and tossed a coin to the stable boy as he and Meldrick dismounted. Meldrick grabbed his backpack from the back of the wagon and was about to ask Aaron about taking turns guarding their salt, when Aaron placed his hand on his shoulder.


“We will not need to guard the salt, little brother. The NePharians would take that as an insult about their honesty.” Meldrick smiled and shook his head, then looked back at the stable boy who was already moving their wagon inside the stable and unhooking the team of horses. Meldrick nodded and looked back to his brother. “I will remember that for my next trip, Aaron.”


Aaron chuckled as he knew that his little brother never forgot anything he was told, which not only made him valuable as a storyteller; but as a trader for the tribe. “I have no doubt about that, Mellie. . .now, let’s go get ourselves a room.”


Meldrick had only stayed overnight when he went on one of his adventures, to actually spend a night or two in a NePharian Hotel, would be an unexpected treat. He walked with Aaron, who obviously knew where they would be staying, keeping his eyes on everything around him. The sounds of the open bazaar were intriguing as were the aromas floating about from the various food vendors. He mentally made a note of the ones that he wanted to check out once they were settled in their room.


Finally, Aaron led him to a beautiful two-story adobe building with a covered balcony wrapped around the second story. As they entered, Aaron removed his hat and spoke to the proprietor in the NePhari language. The proprietor smiled and said, “Welcome, brother of Aaron, to my humble establishment. Your brother has spoken of you and your adventures. I am glad to finally meet you Meldrick, I am Hasis NaPha.” Hasis bowed and Meldrick bowed, following his lead.


Not knowing the proper etiquette, Meldrick smiled, “I am glad to meet you Hasis NaPha.”


The proprietor smiled, “Hasis, please as we are among friends here.”


Meldrick smiled, “Hasis it is.” He said as he looked about the lobby of the small hotel. The floor was covered in beautiful colored tiles, while the walls were covered in tapestries depicting scenes from the past. The effect was much like being in a museum of art and Meldrick took it all in eagerly.


Hasis turned to Aaron, “Aaron, my friend, the trade will go as usual, but there will be a 10% increase in the amount of coriander, as the gods have smiled on us this year.”


Aaron smiled and bowed, “My people thank you and the gods for this bounty and we will be sure to make an additional offer of 10% on our salt with the next season.” Aaron and Hasis shook hands and then Aaron turned to Meldrick, “All right Mellie, let’s go to our room and prepare for the duel.”


Meldrick looked to Aaron, not quite believing the non-plus attitude that he was taking as Hasis called after them, “Aaron my friend, may the gods be with you and may your heart be true.” Aaron smiled and waved back at Hasis as they started up the stairs towards their room.


After entering and before Meldrick could say anything, there was a knock on the door and two young NePhari, brought in a large copper tub and several pails of hot water. . “For your bath, Uncle Aaron, “The one boy called out as they quickly left the room.


“Your bath ‘Uncle’ Aaron?” Meldrick questioned.


“Why yes, you would not want me to go to my duel unwashed after our long journey, now would you, Mellie?” Aaron said as he started pouring the hot water into the tub; then slipped out of his clothes and into the tub.


“Mellie, by the window there, there should be some lavender soap and some oils. I would appreciate it if you bring them to me.” Meldrick looked and found the soap and oils and brought them to tubside. Aaron took the soap and smiled again.


“Mellie, please, this is all a part of the ceremony, the duel and I will need the oils once I have cleaned the road dust from my body and my hair.” He continued with his bath as Meldrick set the oils down on a small table near the tub.


Looking about the room he saw that it was finished much like the lobby, but with two beautiful glass doors that led out to the balcony. He looked back at Aaron and called out, “Aaron, I am going out on the balcony, call me when you need my help.” Aaron smiled and nodded and Meldrick stepped out on the balcony.


He smiled as the warm, sweet scented air filled his lungs as he looked about the shoppes and bazaar from his perch on high. As he turned back to say something else to Aaron, he stopped as there on the balcony with him was a Naga. . .his mouth dropped open and he had forgotten about Aaron’s warning about staring, for she was truly incredibly beautiful, from the golden scales that shone along her tail to the soft, golden hue of her skin. He smiled and blushed as he realized he had been staring and he looked down and apologized, hoping that it would be accepted.


She giggled as she touched his chin lifting it slightly so that she could gaze into his eyes. He looked back into her golden, cat-like eyes as her long golden tresses flew about in the soft breeze. He stammered a bit as she smiled, “You. . .you. . . must be the Lady Seshara.”


She giggled softly as her eyes went to his right hand, she reached for it and lifted it. . .gazing upon the deep scar, “And you must be Aaron’s brother, Meldrick. . .blood brother to a Great Red Dragon and young teller of tales.”


He smiled and bowed his head slightly as she continued to hold his hand as if examining it with the skilled eyes of a fortuneteller. “If I may be so bold, you are even more beautiful than Aaron described you.”


She smiled and kissed his palm, still holding his hand, “I believe your brother to be a man of few words, unlike you, Meldrick,” she smiled and looked towards the rooms’ door, “Which is something that I love about him.” She closed his hand and held it. “I can tell that you are worried about him and this duel he is to fight. . .and I am here to assure you that it is a ceremonial duel, a part of our tradition. . .and that he wanted you to be here as he loves you as a true brother.”


Meldrick blushed a little more as she closed and held his hand, “I know that he must truly love you to be willing to go through a duel to prove it and I can see in your eyes that you truly love him and it touches my soul to know that he has found such love, Lady Seshara.”


Seshara gently squeezed his hand, “I must be going, Meldrick, but I will see you at his side very soon.” With that she turned and swiftly moved off. Meldrick was at a loss to describe the way she moved; it was a fluid movement, not unlike a dance, but it was something more; something so full of grace. He stood there for a moment before going in to rejoining his brother.


Aaron finished his bath and Meldrick poured the oils into his hair. His brother smiled as he worked the oils into his long red hair. He then dried off and changed into a golden robe he had brought with him. Standing and looking into a mirror that was in the corner, “Meldrick, something is missing, don’t you think?”


Meldrick chuckled and smiled, “Your braids, my Brother. . .if you sit, I shall braid your hair for you.”
Aaron sat and softly chuckled, Meldrick knew that Aaron loved to have his hair braided for special occasions. . .and what was more special than a duel for the one you love. Meldrick fixed each braid and clipped small golden beads at the ends to hold them in place. The gold of the beads was not unlike the gold that reflected off of Lady Seshara’s tail.


Hasis’ sons came in and removed the water from the tub and refilled it with fresh hot water and rose petals. Aaron chuckled, “That is for you, Mellie, I cannot have my second smelling like a road rat, now can I?”


Meldrick shook his head and chuckled, “I guess not Aaron.” He removed his clothes and got in the bath. The hot water soothed and cleansed him and he almost fell asleep until Aaron had lightly tapped him on the shoulder.


“Time to get dressed, Mellie, we cannot keep Seshara waiting.” Meldrick got out and dried himself off, then looked about to find that Hasis’ boys had brought him some clothing to wear, NePhari clothing, a gold silken puffy shirt, and a red braced vest, puffy white pants and a red sash belt and, lastly, black curved-toe shoes.


Meldrick looked at himself in the mirror, as Aaron placed a red Kepi on his head. Meldrick chuckled, “I guess this is what all the best-dressed ‘seconds’ wear.”


Aaron smiled as he handed him a serpent-handled, curved edged dagger, “Yes, Mellie and I need you to carry this in your sash belt. . .when the duel starts you will need to offer it to me. . I will refuse it, and you will try to convince me to take it. I will not.” Meldrick looked into his brother’s eyes and nodded. “All right, Aaron.”


He started to turn, then paused looking back to his brother, “Are you sure you know what you are doing?”


Aaron smiled and nodded, “Mellie, I have never been more sure of anything.” He gently punched Meldrick’s shoulder, “It is time to be off, Mellie.” They left the room and headed down the stairs. Hassis held the door for them and his sons sprinkled clover buds on the floor before them, to walk on.

As the reached the door, Hassis took Aaron’s hand in arm. “Good luck my friend, may your heart be true.” Aaron smiled and thanked him.


Outside of the inn they were met by two armed Naga males who blindfolded them and moved them along to the ‘Place of Challenges’. Upon arrival, the blindfolds were removed and Aaron and Meldrick were herded into the middle of a small arena. Aaron gently clutched Meldrick’s shoulder and whispered, “Mellie, follow their lead and make me proud, for I am doing this for the noblest of reasons, I am doing this for love.” Meldrick nodded as he looked about.

The crowd in the arena seats were a mixture of NePhari and Naga. He spotted a cloak figure back near the entrance, there was something very familiar about the figure, even though they were shadowed and backlit. He then spotted Lady Seshara at about the same time Aaron did. She was sitting on a raised dais with two cushions on a lower dais. Aaron again whispered, “Once the duel begins, you will sit on the left side pillow, the other second will sit on the right. . .do not leave the cushion until everything is over, is that understood?”


Meldrick looked to his brother, “I understand, Aaron.”


The crowd let out a roar and Meldrick turned to see a large Naga male enter, whose scales and skin were as red as blood. Along with the Naga, was a NePhari, dressed similarly to Meldrick. The crowd hushed as the Naga reached a point across from Aaron.


The NePhari stepped forward and stood in front of Meldrick. “I am Ruben, second for Triredin, son of Maredin, of the Naga. . .Triredin is here in defense of the honor of Princess Seshara, daughter of Sharedin, Lord King of the Naga.” He turned and bowed to Princess Seshara. “Your Majesty, do you accept Triredin as the Defender of your Honor?”


The Princess raised herself up and bowed her head, “I accept Triredin as the Defender of my Honor.” The crowd let out a gasp as they knew that there would be sport this evening, for Triredin was an undefeated Champion and no one dared trifle with the affections of Princess Seshara.

The second removed a white glove from his hand and slapped Meldrick across the face. The crowd quieted as Meldrick stood there and looked from his brother to Princess Seshara. “I am Meldrick, second of Aaron, Brother of Aaron, who is son of Mother Marla of the Tribe of Gypsy Elves, who is here to defend his true love and devotion to Princes Seshara, daughter of Sharedin, Lord King of the Naga. . .” then remembering what his brother had said, he added, “and he is willing to die to prove his love is true.”


Meldrick turned to face Princess Seshara, not quite sure if his words would convey what truly was in Aaron’s heart, “Your Majesty, Aaron’s love for you is true and pure and he is willing to die to prove that love. . .” He looked to his brother, who was standing tall and looking at Triredin, “Will you accept that love, if he proves his true devotion to you in his willingness to die for what he feels is the greatest treasure he could ever hope to obtain. . .your love?”


Princess Seshara looked from Meldrick to Aaron and then back to Meldrick. A golden tear slowly trailed down her cheek, “Oh, yes. . .yes, I will accept his love when he proves it here in combat.”


Meldrick bowed and turned back to look at Ruben, realizing he had forgotten his own gloves, he took Ruben’s from him and slapped him across the face.
“Aaron accepts Triredin’s challenge and will fight, even to the death, to prove his love for Princess Seshara.” The crowd cheered as Ruben turned to Triredin and offered him a dagger, similar to the one Meldrick had in his sash. Triredin accepted the dagger and raised it high in the air for all to see. The cheers grew louder.


Meldrick turned to Aaron and offered the dagger to him and he refused it, “Aaron he is much larger than you and he holds in his hand a dagger like this. . .” Aaron smiled as he touched Meldrick’s shoulder, “Brother, I do not need a dagger to defend my love for Princess Seshara. . .put it away and join Ruben on the pillows below her.”


The crowd erupted in even more cheers as Meldrick replaced the dagger in his sash and joined Ruben in walking to join Princess Seshara, remembering to take the cushion on her left, he sat and turned to bear witness to his Brother’s love.


As Princess Seshara ‘sat’, a gong sounded and the battle commenced.


Triredin feinted with the dagger and swept his tail, expecting to catch Aaron sleeping; but Aaron was prepared for the attack and moved more rapidly than one would have thought that someone his size could. As he dodged the tail sweep, he struck the hand holding the dagger and loosing it from Triredin’s grip. The dagger slid away from them as the two combatants grappled.


Meldrick could hear Princess Seshara’s breathing and he could tell that she was more than a bit worried about Aaron. Meldrick looked again to the entrance and noticed that the shadowy figure had not moved but stood there watching the proceedings. He couldn’t shake the feeling that it was someone he knew, but who, he could not tell.


The match continued, as Aaron was able to put an arm-bar on Triredin, pushing him onto his back; but Aaron had forgotten to account for the agility of Triredin’s tail as it wrapped his feet, making it impossible for Aaron to get the leverage he needed to make the Naga submit. He eased up on the armbar and Triredin was able to flip around away from him. The Naga scrambled to the upright position and instead of attacking Aaron, he looked about for the dagger; which gave Aaron the opportunity to strike again, grabbing the Naga and putting him in a headlock.


Triredin lifted himself and was able to break Aaron’s hold; then smacked him with his tail, send him closer to the raised dais where the Seconds and the Princess sat. Triredin then recovered the dagger and closed the gap to where a woozy Aaron was trying to stand. Aaron came out of his fog as the Naga struck at him with the dagger by grabbing the wrist that held the dagger and flipping Triredin on his back.


But this time the Naga held fast to the dagger and flipped himself upright. Facing Aaron, he charged and as Aaron tried to move out of the way he stumbled and Triredin was upon him, wrapping his arms to his body with his tail. The Naga looked down upon the Elf, placing the tip of the dagger under his chin. Meldrick started to rise until he felt Princess Seshara’s hand on his shoulder.


He heard a gasp from the hooded stranger and realized who it was. . .Mother Marla had come to be witness to Aaron’s testament of love. Meldrick’s heart went out to her, for her to have to witness what looked like it would be the death of a son, had to be the worst of all possible scenarios.


Triredin leaned close to Aaron’s face, the tip of the dagger lightly piercing the elf’s skin. “I give you one chance Elf. . .denounce your false claim of love and you will live!”


Aaron’s eyes flashed to Seshara’s and then back to Triredin’s, “I cannot denounce my claim of love for Princess Sephara, as my love for her is true and pure. I am willing to die to prove my love for her. This duel, witnessed by all of those in attendance, is proof of that.”


He turned his head towards Princess Seshara, the blade lightly nicking him again as his blood lightly slid down the curved blade. “Princess Seshara, I love you with my whole heart and soul, I am willing to die to prove my love.” Aaron continued to gaze upon Princess Seshara’s face, “and if I am to die, your lovely face shall be the last thing that I see in this worldly plain. . .I will gladly take this vision with me for all eternity.”


Aaron continued to gaze at Princess Seshara, he never heard Triredin’s words as all he saw was the woman he loves.


“Then you shall have your wish!” Triredin raised the curved dagger high over his head as the crowd gasp; and as he started to thrust downwardly, Princess Seshara ‘stood’, “Stop, Triredin, for Aaron has shown me his heart, his true feelings and I accept his love as being true and pure!” Triredin turned the blade at the last second driving it into the ground beside Aaron’s head.


Meldrick had to force himself to breathe as he heard Mother Marla’s sigh. Triredin released Aaron’s arms and moved aside as Princess Seshara moved from the dais to lean over Aaron, her hand reaching out tenderly to stroke his cheek, “Aaron, son of Mother Marla, brother of Meldrick of the Gypsy Elves, I love you, too.” She then leaned and kissed him and the crowd went wild.


Meldrick had joined Ruben in following the Princess to Aaron’s side. Ruben leaned and removed the dagger from the earth and then removed his silken sash and carefully wrapped the dagger in it. Meldrick watched as he did, noting that Aaron’s blood still glistened on the blade. When Ruben was finished he handed it to Meldrick “As second, it is your duty to hold and keep this testament of their love safe. . .” He then looked to Aaron and Princess Seshara, “It is the custom of the Naga that if their love ever to fades, your brother is to take this blade and finish the vow he made here this day.”


Meldrick placed the silk-wrapped blade within his own sash, understanding Ruben’s statement. He bowed, “Ruben, I do not believe that their love will fade, but I shall do my duty and hold onto this testament of their love as a memento of this day.” Ruben bowed and smiled, “I do not believe that it will ever be used again, too, Meldrick.” He then reached out and shook Meldrick’s hand; then moved to Triredin’s side.


The large red Naga was smiling and gently patted his second on the back, then helped Aaron stand and raised their hands. . .the crowd roared again as Triredin shook Aaron’s hand, “I have no doubt of your love for her, Aaron.” He then took Princess Seshara’s hand and kissed it, “I hope I have dispatched my duty of defending your honor, properly, your majesty?”


Princess Seshara hugged Triredin and softly kissed his cheek, “You have, my cousin, thank you.” He smiled and lightly half-bowed to her, then turned and raised his hands, the crowd cheered him loudly as he and Ruben moved into the throng.


Meldrick looked to where Mother Marla had been standing and realized that she had lowered her hood and joined him and Aaron and Seshara in the center of the arena. She had taken salve from her bag and started to apply it to Aaron’s chin; that was when Aaron realized that she was there. “Mother Marla. . .you came.” He seemed genuinely surprised to see her.


She smiled as she applied the salve, “Of course I came, did you really think that I would miss my eldest son’s wedding?”


Meldrick looked from Mother Marla to Aaron who was smiling broadly and he had not noticed that Princess Seshara had sidled to his side until she rested her hand on his shoulder. He looked up into her golden face as she smiled, “Meldrick, you shall be holding that dagger for a very long time. . .” She leaned over and kissed his cheek. . . .

------------------------

The storm had passed as one of the children looked up at Meldrick, “Sir Meldrick, do you still have the dagger?”

Meldrick smiled as he reached into his old leather bag, “I do, as my brother Aaron and Princess Seshara have been happily married lo these many years.” In his hand he opened the red silk sash, showing the still blooded blade. . . .
_________________


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