And His Companion: Part Three
Roberta hung tight to the mane of her Uni as Solarin dove below the clouds. She could feel Tor hanging on behind her, more for old time's sake than anything else. He'd long ago acquired a partner of his own, but him riding behind her on Solarin was nostalgic for both of them.
As the thick velvety curtain of white parted, Roberta could see the great walled city of Altador stretched out below them. It shone like a jewel by the sea shore, white marble glittering in the sunlight.
Roberta realized she had not been back to visit Altador since the advent of the first Altador Cup. It looked much better than it had when she'd been there the first time with Tor, with the shadows of the Darkest Faerie's taint lingering over it. Even when they'd launched the Altador Cup for the first time the city had still been rebuilding itself. But now it was restored to the glory it had held a thousand years ago, before the great betrayal. Nothing in Meridell or Brightvale could come close to comparing.
Solarin landed daintily on the cobblestones before the hall of heroes. Swinging himself off the Uni, Tor gave a theatrical bow and held out a hand. "My lady?"
The Acara swatted his hand away playfully, and he smiled in reply. Jumping off of Solarin's back herself, she found that there was an audience waiting for their arrival.
"Roberta, Tormund!" Fauna called, descending the staircase and wrapping both of them in enthusiastic hugs. "It's been ages, how have you both been?"
Though Roberta was somewhat surprised by the other Acara's enthusiasm, she found herself laughing and returning the hug. Fauna had disguised herself as a servant in Meridell Castle during Tor's squire training, and helped him escape the castle after the Darkest Faerie's hostile takeover. Of all the founders, she was easily the most warm and friendly.
"I wish I could say I was doing great," the girl from Brightvale replied. "But that wouldn't be the truth."
"So Tor mentioned in his letter," remarked the soft, low voice of Jerdana. As Fauna released the two younger neopets, Jerdana put a hand on Roberta's shoulder. "My poor young sorceress, it isn't easy to feel as if the whole world has forgotten you, is it?"
As the Aisha spoke, more members of the Altadorian council walked down the stairs towards them. Torakor, who had secretly acted as a Meridellian arms instructor for Tor while he was a squire; Gordos, the "merchant" who had always seemed to appear with his cart of supplies just when the duo had needed it the most; Kelland, who had given Tor his amulet in the guise of an old beggar; and of course, King Altador, who had played the spiritual mentor counterpart to Torakor's physical one.
These feats, along with Jerdana's gifting Roberta with her amulet, had been achieved by subtle astral projecting on the part of the founders. Their physical bodies had been trapped in stone within their time locked city by the Darkest Faerie. Freeing them had been Tor and Roberta's contribution to the restoration of Altador, as well as their way of returning the favor for all of the help and guidance the ancient heroes had offered.
The Acara and the Lupe greeted each of the council members in turn, and received the warm regards of the Altadorians right back. It seemed that Tor had indeed been right about that much; they still remembered their young friends from eight years ago.
"Come inside, young heroes," Altador said gently. "I think we have a great deal of catching up to do, and it would be much better to do it someplace quiet."
As the others began to walk back towards the Hall of Heroes, Tor talking animatedly with Torakor, Roberta was surprised to feel a hand on her shoulder. She looked up into the kindly face of the orange Skeith, Gordos.
"So I understand you've taken up my old trade, eh?" he asked, his eyes twinkling. "Did I inspire you with my great feats of always being at the right place at the right time with the right goods?"
Despite herself, Roberta laughed. "We could never figure out how you got that wagon ahead of us and set up to sell things through monster infested lands. I almost convinced myself when we first saw you that you were some sort of trap set by the Darkest Faerie."
The Skeith smiled, but there was pain in his eyes at the mention of his former friend. "It isn't something I'd have put past her, I admit."
"Well, you certainly saved our lives with your potions," Roberta said quickly, trying to change the subject. "I don't know how we'd have survived a few of our closer scrapes without your timely arrival."
"It's funny isn't it?" he asked. "It always seems to be the little things that make the most difference. King Altador could have filled his council with powerful magicians like Jerdana and Psellia, and warriors like Torakor and Marik. But he didn't. Among our number are a dancer, a farmer, a thief... a tax collector." He waggled his eyebrows at this, making Roberta chuckle. "Even the king himself was nothing more than a common hunter in his youth."
"But you were all also heroes," Roberta pointed out. "Florin let his own crop whither to save other farms during a blight, Sasha gave people hope with her dancing, you took down a corrupt governor..."
"Yes," Gordos agreed. "But such things happen every day, and those deeds often go unsung. It takes a special sort of person to recognize the value of everyday heroes; Altador is one such person, and it's why he makes such a good king. And probably why he recognized the potential for greatness in a farmboy from Meri Acres and a royal brat of a diplomat."
The Acara flushed. "Brat" would certainly be a good word to describe the way she'd behaved while being forced into the life of an envoy. It was a wonder Seradar had agreed to train her at all, in retrospect.
They had reached the top of the stairs, and Gordos leaned on the doorway as they watched the other council members and Tor mingling. The Skeith scratched his chin pensively. "But just because I have a pretty statue and the respect of the king, that doesn't mean I don't understand your plight, Lady Roberta. When people speak of the heroes of Altador, they think first of the king, then Jerdana, then the faeries. As an afterthought they may throw in Torakor and Kelland. The non-magical, non-warrior members of the council are small potatoes in the common mind by comparison. And I won't pretend it's not irksome, considering how much bloody paperwork I have to do to keep the people of Altador happy and fairly taxed."
"It... it was how She felt, wasn't it?" Roberta asked softly, her eyes fixed on the empty platform amidst the statues of the founders.
"Yes," Gordos replied sadly. "None of the people were giving her the respect and recognition she deserved for her deeds. Caught up in the afterglow of founding our glorious new country even we, her best friends, failed to see her growing discontent. It's the little things that make the most difference- for good, and for ill. Our neglect created the Betrayer."
To the Acara's surprise, Gordos then ruffled her hair. "That's why we vowed when Altador returned to the world that we'd always look out for our friends. What happened was a tragedy, one none of us wants to repeat. You may not have a statue, Roberta, but you are as much a hero of Altador as any in the council. Always remember that you are among friends here. We're never too busy to lend an ear to your troubles."
Roberta wasn't sure what to say. Her eyes stung, and she rubbed her face quickly to hide it. Gordos seemed to feel he'd said all he needed to. With a wink, he followed the others into the Hall of Heroes. Roberta caught sight of Tor, sitting with King Altador on the platform that had once held the Darkest Faerie's statue. Altador noticed her gaze, and quickly excused himself.
"So, feeling any better?" Tor asked when she approached.
"Some," she said. "Though I'm still not happy about going home next week to haggle with penny pinching idiots."
"You're impossible," he informed her. "But if you were anything else I imagine I'd have been down one sorceress companion against the Darkest Faerie and she'd have been up one brainwashed Brightvale envoy."
"Oh, so we're back to that then?" Roberta said. "I'm just your companion."
"Roberta, I didn't mean-" the Lupe yelped, but then he noticed the smirk on her face. "Aw c'mon, that's not fair!"
She punched him lightly on the arm, and he shoved her in response. Then to her surprise, he reached into his shirt pocket. "By the way, Jerdana asked me to give you this."
The Lupe pulled something that glittered out of his pocket. An amulet- her amulet, the one she had left in the lockbox back in Brightvale.
"She said to tell you that even if no one else remembers what you did for Neopia, she does- and you'll be the first person she looks for if the Darkest Faerie shows up again, so be ready."
With a sideways smile, the Acara accepted the amulet from Tor, and returned it to it's proper place around her neck.
"Well, she may look for me, when trouble comes calling," Roberta said briskly. "But I'm not going anywhere without you, Tormund Ellis. After all, someone's gotta be around to fall on his bum and somehow come out with all the glory."
Tor grinned that broad, infectious smile of his, putting his arm around the Acara's shoulder. "Glory can go hang, Roberta. You'll always be my hero."