Chapter 1: Bedelia and Pluto are paired and compete in Tier One.
Chapter 1 Tier One
Bede Illia Orascis Ossis Muscimbus muttered an oath as she looked at the assignment possibilities for the day's Tier One Practical Exercise. Like some kind of conspiracy everyone seemed to have a partner booked in advance. She was the only one left untaken, no surprise there, except for Rudgar. Poor Rudgar, who next to her, had just been voted the least likely to succeed.
Demetrio, the instructor, walked over and put his arm around her shoulder. “I know how discouraging this can be, but one of these days we’re going to find someone who’s just right for you.”
“Look, you don’t have to apologize… Squire Demetrio.”
“I was thinking,” he continued, like there was really any other choice, “of seeing how you and Rudd match up as partners. Maybe the two of you have the right chemistry.”
“The only chemistry I have is called Bad Karma,” Bedelia replied, “who my partner is doesn't matter.”
“Maybe you’re just the ticket,” he continued, ignoring her pessimism, “to settle Rudgar down.”
“Sure, why not?”
“Anyway, he’s on his way over….good luck.“
Rudgar was a hazard to his partners, worse than all the Gnomes, Trolls and Bat Wraiths put together. He had stepped on Shirley Velt’s foot the prior week and she was still limping. Audra Rassen, he'd knocked unconscious with his elbow. Then there was Mona Ilsley. He allowed her to get carried off to the "Brothel" and everybody was still kidding him about that.
“Hi Bedelia, I’m Rudd… Guess we’re going to be partners today.”
“Guess we are Big Guy,” she answered. Actually he was quite good looking and there was a kindness about him that you didn’t need telepathy to realize… but he was so awkward…Elves are supposed to be lithe and graceful!
He was carrying a huge sword and thick oaken shield. Everything Rudgar had issued came in size "Extra Large.”
“So it’s your turn to be stuck with me.”
“Actually I’ve been hoping we’d pair up.”
“Because you’re fast on your feet and I don’t have to worry about stepping on you.” He winked, but the gesture was lame.
She glanced into his mind…He’s pretending a confidence that isn’t there.
“I’ll remember that,” she promised. It was an easy promise to make because she always knew what others were going to do, at least an instant before they did it. So the problem was not avoidance, but being strong enough to respond. That was the true irony of her life. Everything came down to that. Knowing what to do was not enough without the power to do something about it.
The last memory of her Mother floated through her recollection, I told them what was going to happen and nobody would listen.” She had caught the psychic thread of her mom's anguish through the oaken door of the kennel. It was a final link to her past; a nagging and chronic recollection. It would flood into her awareness, most unexpectedly at times, making her cringe at what happened twelve years earlier. She shuddered, shoulders trembling as the fear washed over.
“Since this seems to be a time for soul sharing,” she said gathering herself, “you ought to know that I’m not much help… the Gnomes just laugh at me.”
“I can deal with them,” he said good naturedly, “All you have to do is provide some distraction and any help with the Bat Wraith would be appreciated."
“Then let me worry about that, not that you should be getting your hope’s up.”
Her willingness to make a commitment beforehand, came as a surprise. It was uncharacteristic, and fanned the coals of an unexpected determination. I can do this, she told herself, undoing the lid to her knapsack. Then she took the Training Aid and tucked it inside. It was a rag doll and part of the simulation she hated most. It represented a child it was her duty to protect. Whenever she failed it made her feel like a bad mother.
She strapped on her sword. It was only slightly larger than the boot blade of a seasoned fighter. Her Bow was the smallest in the arsenal. Putting on her diminutive helm she adjusted the chin strap. Reaching back she felt for the quiver of arrows, one last time.
“It’s time” said Rudgar, stepping into the Battle Alley.
The six tier Home Defense Course was a requirement for citizenship. It was made up combat sequences that got progressively more difficult. These sequences were battle scenarios a citizen and wife could expect to encounter in a last ditch battle defending their homes. In the initial scenario of the first tier, the warrior and his "bride" took on a single Gnome, then two and finally three and a Bat Wraith. A holographic/telepathic apparatus, operated by a retired veteran, would project these creatures in a simulated street scene and the husband and wife were expected to defeat them. For Rudgar it was a matter of coordination and quickness. The threats, particularly the Wraith, moved too fast. For Bedelia, it was a contest of strength. Then, there was the dying experience that accompanied failure. The depression of getting killed followed for days like a headache you couldn’t get rid of.
The Gnome rounded the corner and bore down on them swinging a sword. Rudgar set his feet and crouched. Bedelia, canted her bow, fumbling with an arrow. Dread swept over her as she nervously notched the end. Stepping out from behind Rudgar, she drew a bead and let fly. The arrow ricocheted off the Gnome's chest plate and he hardly noticed. She notched a second and let fly. It stuck in his shield.
“Draw your sword,” ordered Rudgar, “Cover my right side.”
She stepped to his right, sword drawn.
The apparition feinted at Rudgar and then stepped sideways, intending to take Bedelia out of the action. His blade struck her buckler, knocking her head over heels. The maneuver proved fatal. Before the Gnome could recover Rudgar was on him. The powerful young man swung and snapped his wrist at the same instant. The blow went deep into the beast's vital organs. With a groan the creature sank to his knees, breath whooshing out like a deflated balloon.
“Awesome!" said Bedelia, looking up from all fours.
Demetrio blared through a bull horn. “How many times do I have to tell you Bedelia?” With that dinky bow you have to shoot for the head. You keep making the same dumb mistake over and over again. What is it with you anyway?"
“What is it with you anyway?" She repeated. Her petulant face mimed the Squire's as she muttered under her breath. Rudgar was amused and chuckled, breaking into a broad smile. “Sorry I wasn’t much help Big Guy,”
“You were a distraction that worked perfectly," said Rudgar. "Just remember, this time there'll be two of them. I can’t cover my right and left both. After the arrows, take the one on the right. Maybe we’ll get lucky.”
Bedelia felt something behind her neck. When she'd taken the roll, the head of her doll poked out, staring vacantly from from the flap of her knapsack. ”Poor little thing, I know how scared you are precious. Don't worry, Mommy and Daddy won’t let anything happen to you.”
“Here they come, Bedelia, get ready."
She notched an arrow, stepped to the right and let fly. The Gnome dipped and it flew over his shoulder.
She notched the second and fired. It grazed an ear and blood ran down the creature's face...they kept coming. One from the left, the other from the right.
In coordination they struck from both sides. Bedelia tried to fend the blow of her opponent. She raised her shield and the impact of his sword tore into it. It stuck in the wooden rim. The Giant planted his foot right in the center pulling free his sword. In tore loose suddenly and she careened backward.
Meanwhile, Rudgar got beneath the guard of his adversary. The thrust severed a heart artery. Bedelia struggled to her knees sputtering with defiance. From afar came a cry of absolute rage. The other Gnome turned in surprise, too late, as Rudger's blow bit deep into his neck and shoulder. With a loud groan, he buckled collapsing like a felled tree.
She noticed Rudgar was wide eyed and shaking uncontrollably. Glancing into his mind she saw nothing but raw and unbridled emotion.
He's really taking this personally., she noted.
"That was better, much better." Demetrio's voice echoed through the megaphone. "Quit shaking Rudgar!...calm down now and get a grip...! BEDELIA!, did you see the Gnome juke to avoid your first arrow? Sometimes they telegraph that move....watch how they bob their heads....more to one side means that’s the side they juke to. RUDD, your movements are getting more fluid and you're bringing a load. I like the way the two of you are working together. This last Simulation will be much more of a challenge....good luck."
“Save your second arrow for the Wraith,” said Rudgar through the side of his mouth. “We’ll do this like we did before. Now, instead of two, there'll be three, and the Flyer. Try and keep them from ganging up on me, all at the same time.”
Three Gnomes came around the corner. One of them was bobbing his head from side to side. He seemed to fit the profile. She drew back and his head juked. Giving him a lead she let fly. His head popped back into the trajectory of the arrow. It passed through his temple and he crumpled.
“Yes!” said Rudgar, "Yes!, Yes!". “Get ready Bedelia, this is where the Wraith usually shows up."
"I think I hear it," she answered, “I know its around here somewhere. Oh my gawd, it's behind us.”
“Damn!” said Rudgar, staggering as he turned.
Bedelia barely stepped clear, as he stumbled backwards. In a blur, she notched the second arrow, drew back and fired instinctively. It was one of those great shots you get, once or twice in a lifetime. It caught the bat just as it banked and began swooping in. Feathers flew as the winged serpent convulsed in mid-air, and skidded into the ground.
Then the two Gnomes closed . Bedelia had no time to draw her sword. Instead, she swung the bow like a switch pummeling her surprised foe.
Rudgar wasted no time and attacked. Their swords rang. Then they grappled, straining mighty, with hilts beneath each other's chins. Stepping to the right the Hume slammed a pommel into a broad pimpled face. The Gnome gave way, just enough for the point of Rudgar's sword to find a chink in its armor. The hulk bellowed and came crashing down.
At the same moment the second swung a mace at Bedelia. She leaned backwards, trying to avoid the arc. The spiked ball slammed into her shield sending splinters everywhere. The impact lifted and sent her sailing through the air. Hitting hard Bedelia rolled to the side, coming to her knees. Helmet askew, and vision impared, she struggled to find her feet.
A cry of outrage resonated in her ears. The Gnome turned ideways, facing an unexpected new foe. His mace twirled on its chain. It struck Rudgar's shield and lodged tight knocking him off balance. With a jerk the beast tore it aside exposing the youths breastplate. He weighed in pulling his adversary close. Rudgar was in deep trouble. Suddenly the Gnome cried out. An Elven blade had entered from beneath this arm pit and now protruded through the side of his neck. He gurgled on the blood and let out a loud sigh. Rudgar let the slumping body drop.
Bedelia stood there, eyes glazed over, extending a long bony finger, Her face was contorted in rage as she kicked the bloated corpse over and over again.
Rudgar watched transfixed. An unexpected malice warmed his veins. An oily creature filled his awareness with inky darkness. His ears rang with demonic laughter. "DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT KILLING MY HUSBAND!" screamed a strangely familiar voice.
From afar Demetrio shook his head in amazement. "One Elvenhume, nose to nose with three Gnomes....who will believe it?"
"Nobody," answered the nearby sergeant. "Did you chance to watch that freakin monkey girl?"
"Guard your mouth," replied he Squire, finger to lips. Raising the bullhorn he bellowed, "Congratulations on passing Tier One."
“See little one?” cooed Bedelia, “Mommy and Daddy will always be there for you.”
Rudgar started, still shaken by the intense vision. His stomach rolled with nausea. The sound of Bedelia's lilting voice brought him back to reality. "Want to walk me to the gym?"
Before he could answer, they were set upon by the other students who gathered around excitedly slapping them on the backs and offering congratulations.
“Hey Rudd,” said Audren, “you got a little emotional when they started knocking your wife around.”
He flushed red with embarrassment and everyone squealed and laughed at his discomfort…
Bedelia came to his rescue, With a hand to her forehead she began hamming it up. “My husband and I have had a very trying day." she sighed melodramatically. “I think we’ll go home now, put our baby down and enjoy some quiet time together.
Rudgar blushed scarlet…The words were so unexpected that even their friends paused momentarily… then realizing the joke they started clapping and laughing in good natured delight as she led him off to the gymnasium.
“Try not to blush when they tease you,” she said, “it only encourages them.”
As they walked together, Rudgar wasn't saying anything. She took a quick peek into his mind and saw why. Something had left his brain awash in a sea of conflicting emotions. She couldn't make hide nor hair of it.
“Are you going to talk to me?” she asked, “or just shuffle along.”
“Sorry, Rudgar answered,taking a deep breath. “You have no idea how happy I am right now… we passed Tier One… we actually did it!”
“In fact, I do, because I feel exactly the same way.”
“That was fancy shooting… especially the way you popped the Wraith. I knew when you did, we had a chance.”
“You were pretty awesome yourself, Big Guy.”
"Yeah, but that last SOB had me dead to rights. I was done if you hadn't showed up."
"It's over now, and time we put that nightmare behind us."
“After we get cleaned up,” he continued, “would you mind if I walked you home?”
“Since when do you know where I live?”
By your uniform for one thing and for another, an old girl friend of mine lives there.” She saw the visage of Martha Tropolof, flash through his mind.
“Martha was your girlfriend?”
“He stopped and looked in dismay… I didn’t tell you what her name was.”
“Err… sorry…, but I'm strong on telepathy...don't tell me you didn't know. Its the only thing about me that everyone seems taware of.
“I guess I did, now that you mention it. I don’t have the gift. I’m an Elvenhume.”
“I know, so you better start paying attention to what you daydream about,” she said teasing.
They arrived at the gym. “Meet me in twenty minutes,” she told him.
Inside she went to her locker…. Her mind reeled from all that had happened and the implications of what had just happened. We actually passed Tier One, She twirled around like a ballerina and danced into the latrine. Opening a stall door she dropped her trousers and squatted on the commode. With a flatulence her bowel emptied followed by the tinkle of urine. Taking a deep breath she willed her heartbeat to slow down. This was a good place to think and relax. A sudden thought came to mind. Rudgar will be waiting.. Wiping herself she stood and stepped out of a pair of leather leggings. Removing her undeurblouse, she skipped naked into the shower.
Was this a fluke she wondered, or is there hope for a repeat performance?" As the water cascaded over her shoulders Bedelia relived every minute of the contest. No doubt about it, She and Rudgar had connected. The recollection sent a tingle down her spine. She began singing.
"Little bird little bird
Have you heard?
Bede and the big Guy
Made it on the first try
Thats the word
Thats the word."
I don't know
But I think I might
Dance like a sprite
In the pale moon light
Bede and the big guy
Made it on the first try
Thats the word, little bird
Thats the word."
What do I do
If he says He loves me
What do I do little bird
I'm way to young to marry
Just the thought is scarry
Whats the word little bird
Whats the word?"
Getting dressed, she replayed Rudgar's memory over and over in her mind. He definitely seems to like me, she thought to herself. It was the first time in her life that anything like this had ever happened.
Outside he was waiting. His eyes lit up when he saw her skip through the door and they fell into step walking up the avenue.
“What’s it like being able to listen in on someone’s thoughts?” he asked.
She shrugged; “It’s not something I can turn on and off. It’s like when you look at something with your eyes and simply see it. You can’t just pretend it isn’t there. Instead, you just overlook most of what you see. It’s the same way with telepathy.”
“Doesn’t it embarrass you to know what everyone else is thinking?”
Sometimes, but I’m used to it… plus I don’t always know what everyone else is thinking. There are many who can cloak their minds.”
“I can’t do that, but I usually know when the High Brows are nosing around in my head, not that it happens all that often, mind you. Still, I feel a shiver when they start poking around. But with you, I don’t feel anything, unless you give yourself away.”
She took his hand. “You could learn some basic cloaking skills if you wanted, but if you intend to hang out around me, get used to the fact that there isn’t much you can hide.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
“So, your girlfriend is Martha?”
“Was," he replied, "...and not exactly what you're implying. We were "Promised" as children. When she opted for the Warrior Track and went to Belmont, the contract went out the window.”
“That must have been painful.”
“Actually, it was a weight off my shoulders."
"Martha and I were never like boy and girl friends."
"Like hugging and kissing and that sort of stuff."
"You shared no physical intimacy?"
"Yeah, none of that physical intimacy. A recollection drifted through his memory and he knew he was in trouble."
"You're lying to me."
"OK, OK, only once and that was a fluke." He remembered racing with Martha around the lake and tackling her at the finish line. He remembered rolling on top, his hands searching between her legs, hers groping with his belt buckle... an overwhelming and urgent need had swept over them... Then the recollection of the hikers walking up and a mad scramble to pretend the whole thing never happened.
"Enough!" Bedelia raised her hand.
"Anyway that was the only intimacy we ever shared. After that our friendship was never the same. Every time we looked at each other it was unnerving and all sorts of red flags went up.
"Stop!... I don't want to see or hear any more about it."
"Well now you know. “I still like Martha. You both have that same glow, only yours is a whole lot more intense."
“I hear you.” It was more than hearing. Inside he was churning like a dynamo."
“What else have we got in common?"
He paused as his thoughts coalesced. His mind cleared.
Here comes the comparison. How do I compare with her? “...go on?”
“Your eyes, you both have witchy eyes.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“The red changes hue. You and Martha both have that in common."
She glanced into his mind wondering where this was going.
My bio-mom is a Valley Witch, so maybe Bedelia is too... then again...
"You think I'm a Valley Witch?"
He started! There was a pause as the source of her insight, registered. "It crossed my mind but the more I consider..., No, I don't really think so."
"What changed?" She already knew his answer.
...Bedelia's a Blue-Blood if I ever saw one. That chiseled face and poise... no doubt about it, she's eaten up with elf aura.
"I'm what they call a Simian."
Surprise registered on his face.
"You're one of those from Myrocena?".
Are the whispers are piling up?
"I overheard my parents talking about it."
There was no prejudice in his voice... she delved deeper into his awareness taking a closer look.
"Why do they call you Simians?"
He didn't know... it was an innocent question. "Because Big Man... my mom looked like a white four hundred pound ape."
Instead of shock, Pluto expressed wonder. "No kidding?"
It was not at the response Bedelia had anticipated. In Tristan City many considered her the product of a disgusting Bio-Experiment.
"Your Dad must have been a whole lot smaller..."
His reply was genuine and innocent. It was like a joke. The gulf between expectation and his answer were so far apart that the words touched a chord of humor. She laughed with a hitch of hysteria. "On top of everything else, my father was a Wizard."
"An unlikely combination," Rudgar blurted...
Again his reply was so totally unexpected.
"I had you pegged from the start as one of those Aristocrats."
"You know Blue Bloods, like Shirley and Audra."
Shirley and Audra were beautiful. They had a sophistication and elegance to kill for. The comparison came as a complete and total shock. Bedelia, couldn't doubt Rudgar's sincerity. Not only his words and body language bore it out, but the truth was etched behind his forehead.
“You're a blooded Elf through and through, or haven't you noticed.”
"Let's just say it hasn't always been self-evident."
"To me it has."
A thread of his recollections opened to her. It showed flashes of him watching her from afar He's been paying me far more attention than I ever did him. How did I miss that? We've been in the same class for over a month. His honesty touched her heart. "...and I appreciate your words."
Rudgar went on, “So how am I supposed to act, knowing you might be inside my head?”
“It’s better that you don’t think about it; Just express honest thoughts and whatever you do don’t go bumbling around, trying to cover things up.”
“What about emotions, can you read those too?”
“Emotions trigger thoughts and those are easy enough to see, but to really feel your emotions I have to get under your skin.”
“Actually, I think you already have.”
“Well actually, I haven't. Until today I hadn't really noticed you existed." She regretted the words, as soon as they parted her lips. They were calloused and insensitive. She could have spared herself the worry. They went right over his head.
“Would I know if you tried?”
“I doubt it…Now! You know what? I think its time we changed the subject. All you can do is be yourself, and if I like what I see then I’ll be happy and if I don’t there’s not much you can do about it. We can talk just like everybody else and get along just fine.... unless you decide to try something devious, and that would not be a smart thing to do.”
She squeezed his hand. It was a fall day in Tristan City. The avenue was ablaze with the changing leaves and a fresh breeze was blowing from the North. Everything that existed in the Capitol, blended with the surroundings. A home or office was built into the contours of the earth and made to blend with the natural setting or feature. The more affulent the owners, the more a property surrendered its identy to the landscape. There were trails, and streams and ponds and brooks leading everywhere. Nowhere was their a straight line… it was like taking a walk in a park but it wasn’t really a park. If you wanted to see the Park, it was in the middle of the city it looked like a primeval forest. It was integrated with the zoo, except there were no cages or fences and the forest creatures walked about unfettered and unafraid. Along the river, there were ducks and geese and cranes and all manner of water foul. For the uninitiated it was astonishing but for the Elves it was all taken for granted, an expression of the way things were supposed to be.
When they reached the woods where the Woman's Barracks was nestled away, they hated to see the moments end. Smiling, Bedelia turned loose of his hand.
“I really enjoyed the walk," Rudgar told her, "maybe we can do this again.”
“Isn’t it a bit out of your way?”
“Naw,” he answered, “I go home this way all the time.”
She looked him in the eye and shook her finger.
“Well sometimes…” she continued wiggling it back and forth.,
“Occasionally,” she raised her eyebrow. “OK Never!” He finally admitted it and she nodded in affirmation.
“This is going to take some getting used to,” he said… Monday then?
Bedelia rose up on her tiptoes, with her hands barely reaching to his shoulders. He inclined his head and she kissed it. His mind clouded with euphoria and she giggled in delight.
“Monday,” she promised.