Status – Complete
Main Character – Glenn/Frog
Other Characters – Ozzie, Flea, Slash, King Guardia, Queen Leene, the Knight Captain, cameo of Magus
Summary – Devastated by the tragic death of his best friend and forced by Magus' magic into the form of a frog, Glenn vows to honor Cyrus' dying wish. The challenges he must face are many. Ozzie is going to do his best to make them insurmountable. Glenn's strange journey toward knighthood begins.
Warnings – centered on the events in the game surrounding Cyrus' death and burial as it is, there are themes of death. Additionally, there is a brief whisper of a fleeting desire for suicide.
Author's notes –
It's logical to conclude that Frog buried Cyrus in the Northern Ruins from statements in the game, and it's theorized here and there that Frog also inscribed the insulting epitaph on the headstone. Given how the inscription changes according to Cyrus' state of rest, I always believed (as is postulated in some places online) that it was Cyrus himself who inscribed it through mystical means. Glenn holds such grief and guilt even after many years have passed, it's hard to square that with him being responsible for the depth of contempt the first inscription holds. Pondering the matter, another possibility occurred to me and I tripped into a fan-fiction. I decided to go all-in, and try to discover plausible reasons for several little things that stood out to me as inadequately explained within the game. Those questions and observations are detailed after the end of the story.
It was here, this was the place of triumph. Ozzie was supposed to be recruiting for Magus' Army, and he knew full-well the Denadoro Mountains had been picked over already, but he just had to return. Magus didn't understand, or perhaps didn't care, what had happened here, but Ozzie did, and he wanted to revel in the moment.
Cyrus, the great and grand Cyrus, who the humans thought would stop Magus and save them from the Mystics, was dead. Dead, dead, completely dead. And Glenn, that upstart squire, or attendant, or whatever the heck he was, the one who – Ozzie lifted his hand to cover the scar on his neck from where Glenn had, in an incredibly lucky sword slash, cut him. No one had ever hurt him before. Ozzie resolved no one would ever get close enough to do that to him again.
Death was too good, too easy for him because of this insult. Rather, Ozzie wanted Glenn dead, oh, he wanted him dead, but he wanted him destroyed, completely destroyed, in soul and spirit and heart as well as body, first.
That was the real reason he was here, instead of out finding new recruits for Magus' Army. The spineless wimp had injured him, and he had to be made to pay. He had been able to hurt Ozzie only because he was lucky and because Cyrus was there. Cyrus the Bold! Cyrus the Inspiring! Cyrus the Hero!
Ozzie looked down and laughed. All that was left of the vaunted hero, several paces away was...
Cyrus the Ash-pile!
A wicked thought occurred to him. The monsters of the Denadoro Mountains were under his orders to block Glenn's path down, and instead drive him up the mountain to this place, where Ozzie waited. Ozzie decided to gather up what remained of Cyrus, and scatter the ashes to the four winds right in front of his hapless former squire's eyes. That ought to be enough to make perfect the human youth's suffering and then Ozzie could...
Then he could kill him and complete his revenge.
Maybe. Seizing him and taking him to Magus' Lair so he could torment him even more might be fun. Who knows? Given the shape the boy was in, he might make good cannon fodder for Magus' Army. That thought appealed to him. Glenn either destroyed by a Guardia defender's attack, or maybe even better, killing some of those he once called friends. It wouldn't be the first time Ozzie had twisted a human's destiny, after all. He floated forward. Or rather, tried to. The wind picked up suddenly and stopped his forward motion. This wouldn't do! The only thought in his mind was doing whatever he could to make his cruel plan a reality. Glenn had to pay for hurting him.
But, he – just – couldn't – move – forward. Even touching down, which he hated, and walking, pitting the strength of his legs against this inexplicable wind didn't help. He could walk, or float any direction he tried, other than the one he really wanted – toward the Ash-pile. He heard someone approaching. Gnashing his teeth in his frustration, he floated over and hid behind some foliage to wait. If there was something Ozzie was very, very good at, it was waiting.
It was sound that woke Glenn. He heard a melodic, continuous susurration that after a moment he identified as water flowing in a stream. Next, he became aware of a low, throbbing pain in his hand. There was an arc of sensation across the middle of his fingers and continuing along his palm, where he had closed his hand around something large, thin, and unyielding. He released the tension of his grip and the pain eased. A general feeling of internal disquiet, the sense that something was very wrong, almost as if he were seriously ill with fever permeated him, but, he didn't feel hot.
No, if anything, it was the other, he felt cold, but cold as he had never felt it before. It was as if he, himself, were radiating cold, instead of warmth, and everything felt wrong, his arms, his legs, his neck, his back, his wrists and fingers, his ankles and toes, every single joint in his body ached and throbbed and felt – wrong.
Unnerved by the all-pervasive perceptions, and a dawning sense of horror as his memory caught up with what the sensations of his body were so insistently trying to make him understand, he leaped up and away, away from the water, away from the pain, away from the memory, now full-blown in his mind, of the death of his friend and the awful searing energy Magus had called down upon him.
He fell down again, unable to balance, completely unable to stand.
Sometime later – minutes? Hours? Lifetimes? – he slumped to the ground next to the stream, utterly defeated. He had tried, with all the strength he could muster, to stand, to balance, to walk. He just couldn't manage to get it done. Everything felt wrong. The core balance point of his body, which he had taken for granted before, was lower and kept pulling him down toward the ground. On hands and knees, or whatever he had now that he had called 'hands and knees' before, he could probably crawl, but that was no way for a man to get around.
He wanted to give up. He wanted to put his head under the water, breathe it in, and just die. He'd heard that drowning was a pretty painless way to go, perhaps even peaceful. Peace. Death. Both concepts appealed equally, and if intentionally drowning himself might do the trick...
He laughed, a raw, rough, mirthless sound. He had seen his altered hands. They were green and bore a faint webbing between the base of his fingers. The equally radical changes in the joints of his wrists, elbows, shoulders, hips, knees and ankles were half familiar. While he had slowly, finally warmed from the unnerving inner-radiating cold that he had woken with, he was certain that the core of his body did no longer bear the usual warmth of a human being.
He didn't know exactly what Magus had done to him when the mage had struck him down with that magic, but he was certain he had been transformed into something – else. Something not human. Something that probably couldn't seek death by drowning as easily as a human could. He felt shame at his own thoughts. He was – no matter what he had become, Cyrus had given his life to try to save him. If he sought death now, that would be the ultimate rejection of his friend's sacrifice. He had not promised to honor what had been Cyrus' dying wish, that he protect Queen Leene, there hadn't been enough time, but he did so now, vowing in his heart to protect her to the limit of his abilities – whatever they had become.
Change. Following Cyrus as he had, being his squire as the knight had claimed the Hero's Medal and the Masamune, Glenn thought he was changing, growing, becoming more courageous and more like Cyrus just by following him. That fantasy had been stripped away and revealed as a complete falsehood. Though Cyrus had constantly urged Glenn to find and hone the strength within, just by being around the knight, Glenn had never had to. Now, with Cyrus gone, in order to survive, in order to do his best to stay true to the code of honor Cyrus had instilled in him, he would be forced to change.
Again, he laughed in bitter tones. Change. How could he change more than Magus had changed him? But he knew he would have to, the painful shedding of comfortable self-lies, facing the hard reality of the world on his own with eyes, mind, and heart cleared of all illusions. He knew he was weak. He knew while he did have the skill with a sword that even Cyrus acknowledged as greater than his own, he didn't have the will to wield that skill effectively. He had fought, but his heart wasn't in it. He didn't want to hurt anyone. No, not quite true. He hadn't wanted to hurt anyone – before. Now...
Now, he wanted Magus dead. Not because the mage threatened Guardia, the kingdom Cyrus and he had sworn to protect. Not because war with the Mystics would harm the people who lived there and upset the queen – perhaps threaten her safety or that of the king. No, Glenn wanted Magus dead – no, Glenn wanted to kill Magus himself to avenge Cyrus.
And, in order to do that, he would need three things. He held the first one in his hand. The Hero's Medal was already in his possession. With it, he might be deemed worthy to wield the Masamune, the only sword that could hurt Magus, the only weapon capable of killing the mage. It had been broken, but Glenn knew swords could be mended. They could be reforged. Hopefully, the Masamune could be reforged too, stronger than it had been when sundered. Of course, in order to do that, he would need to gather the pieces. And they were on the top of the mountain. He doubted Magus would consider them deserving of his notice once he broke the sword, so the pieces were most likely still there, abandoned in the grass where they had fallen. Glenn vowed to make Magus pay for that arrogance.
The third thing would be the hardest of all to find. He possessed the beginning of it in his will, this burning desire to destroy Magus, but the wanting was a far cry from having the skill and honing his will to be able to deliberately strike a killing blow. He looked down at his hands again. He had such skill with a sword once before. There was no reason to believe he couldn't learn it again, and fit the skill to this newly altered form. And that fact, painful as it was, would help him hone this killing will, too. Though the deep pain in his altered joints had eventually eased and disappeared, he was acutely, intimately aware with every movement, with every sensation of his body, with every breath, even while at rest, of the change in him. There was no way his will would weaken into some pacifistic 'forgive and forget' or 'live and let live' platitude as it might have done before...
Before, when he was just Glenn. He didn't know what he was now, but he embraced his two-fold mission. Protect the queen in memory of Cyrus, and to honor his friend's dying command. Kill Magus to avenge Cyrus and show the mage that even though Glenn himself had not known it before, Cyrus did not have a weak and unworthy friend.
In order to complete this mission, he would have to start it. And, it started with a single step. He rose from the ground, pulled his tunic straight, squared his shoulders, ruthlessly pushed down his awareness of how odd the action now felt, and took that first step. He followed with another, and another, slowly becoming accustomed to the rhythm and sway of how his balance shifted while walking in this form. He realized that the creatures of the Denadoro Mountains, which before had forced Cyrus and him into confrontations, seemed to be completely absent on his upward path. He turned and noticed how densely they massed in the other direction.
"Herding me upward, hmm?"
No matter. Upward was where he wanted to go. He was fairly certain Magus had quit the mountain after vanquishing Cyrus and cursing him. Once he had the sword, or what remained of it, in his hands, he was certain his path would be clear. Somehow.
Glenn's newfound resolve faltered at the bridge crossing over to the place where it had all happened, where everything had gone so horribly, tragically wrong. He paused for a very long time, reliving the moments, recalling the fiercely elated emotion he had felt when Cyrus had spied Magus on the other side of the bridge. Cyrus' confidence had been so infectious that Glenn had mistaken his own response to it as courage. Now, it took nearly all his inner strength to gather his courage enough to just cross the bridge.
He finally managed it, but slumped to his knees right away in his horrified realization that the small, sad collection of ash, positioned as it was in the exact spot where Cyrus had died and then, under Magus' magic caught fire and burned, had to be the sum total of his friend's mortal remains. One tiny, emotionlessly rational part of his mind wondered how the ash had not been blown away here so close to the summit. Mostly, he felt misery and sorrow, wallowing in them to the point of tears. Finally, he gathered the scattered shreds of his resolve once more; respectfully gathered the piteous remains of his friend into a pouch, and decided he would find a better final resting place for Cyrus than the wind-swept, lonely, monster-infested mountaintop upon which he'd been murdered.
The hilt of the sundered Masamune was easily found, but try as he might, Glenn could not find the blade. He believed the legendary sword had been broken into only two pieces, but could find not a single trace of the rest of it. Regretfully, as the shadows continued to lengthen around him, he decided to leave the mountain before night fell. He turned, crossed the bridge, and began his descent.
Ozzie ground his teeth, as he had been doing the entire time he watched the weird frog-thing that Glenn now was, poking around on the mountain. Glenn had carefully gathered every trace of the ashes and collected them into a bag. If somehow he made it back to Guardia with those remains, and the idiot humans made a martyr of their fallen hero, the Mystic War with the humans that Ozzie longed to win would be that much harder. An inexplicably missing hero could give people hope; hope that Ozzie could crush whenever he wanted with the truth that their hero was dead and not going to appear to save the day. A hope suddenly dashed at a time and place of his choosing was a weapon Ozzie could use to devastating advantage. Cyrus, as a heroic martyr, on the other hand, could stiffen the humans' resolve, and that would be far more annoying to deal with. By any means he could devise, Ozzie had to keep Glenn from reaching Guardia with that bag of ashes.
"What happens now, big brother?" Mune asked. From their hidden vantage point, they watched as Ozzie, just as night fell completely across the summit of the mountain, turned and floated away from the peak.
"I don't know, Mune," Masa replied. "I guess we stay here and guard this part of the Masamune like we guarded the whole sword before. It's too bad Cyrus was killed. He was a worthy Hero."
"Kind of fragile, though. Why are humans so easily destroyed?" Mune asked.
"To be fair, he didn't falter until after the sword was broken. That power that broke us – seemed familiar, somehow," Masa mused.
"Nevermind." Masa reached over and tousled his little brother's hair. They had opted to shift to their most harmless seeming forms in case anyone did climb to the mountaintop. "Good job keeping that creep Ozzie from messing with Cyrus' ashes. Cyrus may have failed, but he was, even if only for a short time, our Hero. Even his ashes deserve respect – respect that awful Ozzie would have taken away from him."
"Whatever you say, Masa. Easy enough to keep that bloated puffball away when I am the wind. Whoosh!"
Masa watched as Mune spread his arms and ran around the cave where they had placed the broken blade of the Masamune. He didn't hold out much hope that their situation would change any time soon. Considering that it would likely be another few centuries guarding this remnant of the Masamune before anything happened made him unhappy. And angry. Melchior had promised them lives of adventure and deeds of glory and valor, not this endless waiting for a worthy Hero to appear. Masa didn't hold any hope that Cyrus' squire, Glenn, even though he now had the hilt of the Masamune, would amount to anything. He wasn't much to start, even before Magus cursed him. He watched his brother as 'the wind' rushed around the cave and wished he could distract himself as easily.
A few weary days later, Glenn walked into Porre Village and made his way to the cafe. There he discovered the full misery of the curse Magus had placed upon him in how the patrons treated him. Evidently, as he had strongly suspected given Ozzie's teasing just before Magus transformed him, he resembled a frog. Fortunately, for whatever reason or another, the people were content to just joke and comment cruelly on his unique appearance, and not attack him or run him out of town. He was able to stock up on supplies. The Innkeeper was unnerved enough about his appearance that Glenn wasn't permitted to sleep in a bed, but he was allowed to sleep indoors on the reception area floor. He learned that no one was aware of what had happened to either Cyrus or himself. He also discovered that Magus' Army had destroyed Zenan Bridge, yet again. There was no way for him to reach the northern continent.
He very much wanted to find a proper resting place for Cyrus' remains, and the peace of the forest surrounding Guardia Castle was what he decided upon for his friend. But, over the next few days, he was stymied at every turn. Try as he might, he could find no way to get to the northern continent. He began to haunt the newly-built dock by the shore, asking every boat owner, including the smallest fishing boats, to take him to Truce or even just drop him anywhere along the coastline. Not a single one, not for all the money he possessed, would agree.
"I could use a couple of mercenaries like you," Ozzie said. "The biggest problem with this Mystic War is, you know, the Mystics. Fanatical to a fault, but they don't have two brain cells to rub together. You could be officers in the Great Mystic Army – provided Lord Magus is impressed with you. I could put in a good word – depending upon how you do on this mission."
"Eh," Slash said. "War, officer, Mystic, mage – none of that matters to me as long as the pay is good and I'm free to leave whenever I decide to go."
"Hmm. Magus, you say?" Flea pursed his lips together. "I've heard about him. Is he as powerful as everyone claims? Slash might be after the pay, but I am after power. I find it – immensely attractive."
"I have never seen magic more powerful," Ozzie replied in a rare moment of absolute candor. "He will lead the Mystics to the triumph over the humans that we have longed for centuries untold to achieve."
"Come on, Slash. Just this one job. Do it for me? Pleeeease?" Flea begged, batting his eyelashes.
"We're in! What do we have to do?" Flea asked.
"Or, who do we have to kill?" Slash added.
Glenn finally found a boat whose captain was willing to take him to the northern continent, although, it was debatable if the man was a 'captain' and charitable to call his vessel a boat. 'Uncouth mercenary' and 'leaking, derelict wreck' were far more accurate, but Glenn wasn't about to say that aloud. He was desperate. The boat, its disreputable 'captain' and crew just had to get him near enough to the northern shore that he could swim to land.
But, it was not to be. Just as they began to round the north-easternmost jut of land of the southern continent, a terrific storm kicked up. The wind coming out of nowhere whipped the sea into waves of water so tall they threatened to swamp and capsize the boat. The captain and his one, rather insane, crewmate laughed in the face of this storm, but Glenn was terrified out of his wits. He didn't notice when the captain deliberately loosed the line keeping the boom trapped and never saw as it swung wildly across the stern of the boat where he was hanging on to the rail for dear life. The boom struck him hard on the back of the head with enough force to sling him, unconscious, into the spell-maddened ocean.
Hours later, Glenn blearily opened his eyes and realized he was once again draped in an abandoned, graceless heap on a shoreline. Ocean instead of stream this time, but he was getting mightily sick of waking and finding himself half in and half out of a body of water.
"The Northern Ruins," the Innkeeper said. "That's the place for a beast like you, not my respectable Inn. We serve human folk, here. Now, git!"
Glenn hunched deeper into his cloak, and looked up pointedly at the storm dumping at least an ocean's worth of water on everything in great, sluicing, cold sheets of rain. Returning his gaze to the door of the Inn, he hoped to find some hint that the Innkeeper would relent and permit him shelter from the storm, even if just on the floor of the entryway, but all that met his eyes was the stout, iron-reinforced wooden door that the Innkeeper had closed firmly between them.
You'd think that a frog wouldn't mind getting wet, but I do, I really do! Glenn thought morosely. "And, I'm not a beast!" He declared, indignantly. "Not – really."
Not for the first time, Glenn wondered how human he was. He felt the same, inside, even though his body felt so radically different, even now. It had been days already, mayhap a week, since Cyrus was slain and himself changed. He hadn't gotten used to it. He hoped he never did. Maybe, if he ever did get completely comfortable with this frog-like form, he would actually become a frog, not only in body, but also in his mind and in his heart. That might be easier to live with than this ever-present, deeply unsettled feeling inside what had once been his own skin, but...
How could he honor his promises to Cyrus if he did? Better to fight against it, remind himself that though he might have green skin, webbed hands and feet, and the ability to leap several times his own height, that he wasn't a mere beast – he was still a human being where it counted the most.
"Well, then, the Northern Ruins it is. At least until this deuced storm passes," Glenn decided. Some time later he looked upon the edifice itself. "I wonder what it was built for? It doesn't resemble any type of building I know." He shook a weird feeling off, then rummaged about in the woods gathering whatever mostly dry material – wood, twigs, leaves and moss – he could find. Adventuring with Cyrus he had learned how to craft a pallet with what the trees provided. Would a beast make a bed for himself? Aye, they would and they do. Fine, would a frog make a bed for himself? I think not! A true frog would undoubtedly be content to spend the night sleeping in a pond somewhere. Not me. Let's hope these ruins have a somewhat solid roof so I can get out of this blasted rain and get dry again!
"This is more like it!" Glenn stated a while later. He was dry and he was warm, both conditions lifting his mood considerably. He had opted to go up to the second level of the building, instead of down. Aside from dust and a couple of piles of debris where the roof had given way here and there, the structure was fairly sound. Exploring the rooms inside yielded no clue as to what the building had been built for – it wasn't a residence, it seemed ill-suited for use as an inn, store, cafe or keep. Glenn concluded that was most likely why it was disused and falling gently into disrepair. For now, it was a welcome shelter. He had indeed been able to make a fairly comfortable pile of branches, leaves, and moss for a bunk, and had enough material left over to build a warming fire. A hole in the roof in the corner of the room allowed the smoke to escape. Most of the clothes he'd been wearing, soaked by both his dunking in the ocean, and then by the torrential rain still falling outside, were now spread across a few excess branches near the fire. They steamed a bit as they dried. Glenn sat down and took stock of the contents of his pack.
The pouch, that he had buried in the deepest, safest pocket of his pack was wet, but the precious contents were still dry, which relieved Glenn greatly. He had feared that what remained of Cyrus would be lost before he could bury him with the respect and regard the knight, and his best friend, deserved. Glenn found he still had a few coins left, after paying the huge price for the ill-fated boat ride that had landed him here. The Hero's Medal and the broken hilt of the Masamune he placed reverently down next to Cyrus' remains. His second set of clothes had mostly escaped the overall soaking of both ocean and rain, but were thoroughly damp. He leaped up to spread them out to dry as well.
"That's kind of fun, actually," Glenn admitted aloud. He realized that if he were in a room with a lower ceiling, he might have hit his head, he jumped that high. "Oh, Cyrus!" Glenn looked at the pouch containing his friend's remains. "What am I going to do? I know not where I am, and now that I am like this, there is no one to help me. What am I to do now?"
Just then, his stomach gurgled, complaining about how long it had been since Glenn last ate. "You'd tell me to eat, undoubtedly, and sleep, and assess the situation in the morning when the light of day would make the world seem less scary, and the problems not so hopelessly large," Glenn said. Suiting action to words and the imagined advice of his absent friend, Glenn ate some of the rations he had purchased in Porre. As he did so, to avoid ruminating upon the problems facing him, mainly, trying to figure out where he was and how to get back to Guardia, he wondered just what Magus had turned him into. He was larger than any natural frog he'd ever seen; he seemed to retain his mind, intellect, memory and emotions; and while he still felt wrong, like a stranger in his own body, his sight, hearing, and sense of touch seemed unchanged. Food smelled and tasted the same and he had no weird new cravings to find other than human food to eat for which he was more than grateful.
What alarmed Glenn the most was the seeming ease and terrifying rapidity with which Magus had cursed him. Magus had struck him down with the same casual, dismissive expertise with which he'd broken the Masamune and killed Cyrus. If such potent magic was so easily wielded by their foe, he feared that Guardia could not stand for long against it, which made it all the more urgent he find out where he was, and how to return home.
For now, Ozzie was content to wait on Slash's boat, away from the notice and prying eyes of the townspeople. He knew Glenn had been unable to find shelter in the town itself, so he'd gone to the ruins. Flea, indulging in his love for disguises, spent most of his time in the Inn, drinking, listening to, and contributing to the gossip. The townspeople didn't know what to make of Glenn, other than he was some sort of strange beast who could be seen dragging unknown items into the Northern Ruins from time to time. Some speculated that it was treasure, while others whispered that he was concealing the bodies of foes he'd slain. The fact that no townspeople had gone missing or turned up dead did not put these lurid rumors to rest. The only place in town that would have anything to do with him was the shop. Flea made sure to keep the whispers that Glenn was somehow a more dangerous monster than anyone realized swirling. He liked his assignment and played up his role eagerly.
Meanwhile, Slash spied on Glenn from within the ruins. He watched whatever Glenn did, listened to and memorized anything he said aloud, and reported back to Ozzie.
I can't stay here. I have to get back to Guardia and let the King and Queen know what happened to Cyrus and me. They have to know that Magus is far more powerful than we ever suspected. Glenn knew what he had to do, he just had no idea how to go about it. He didn't know where in the world he was. It wasn't as if he could ask, since the townspeople feared him so much. He could see the ocean to the south, past the town, and to the east. The shore to the west was where he'd awakened here. North of the ruins there were mountains. There didn't seem to be any boats, not even for fishing, like he had found in Porre. It seemed as if the people were content to stay right here on their land and had no desire to go anywhere else.
Glenn blearily concluded that he was going to have to swim for it, if he wanted to leave. He had no idea which way to go or how far he would have to swim before finding another shore. He wrestled with the decision for days. He'd been lucky once, with Cyrus' ashes and the ocean, but he didn't want to risk ruining or losing them. He finally concluded that he would have to bury Cyrus here, in this unknown and somewhat hostile land – at least for now. Once he made it back to Guardia, as long as he remembered how he got there, he could return here to take Cyrus to his final resting place. Far better to give him a temporary grave than to risk losing him entirely.
And, no better place to bury him than here, in the Northern Ruins. No one came here. There was no reason for anyone to come here. It was out of the way from the town, and didn't have anything the townspeople needed or wanted. As he had explored the ruins, Glenn discovered a likely place to set a temporary grave for his friend in an out of the way chamber on the very bottom floor of the structure. Even if someone were to come to the Northern Ruins, they would be far more likely to want to go up, as he did, than to risk going down, when the state of the building might make one wonder if it would fall down on one's head.
It took him a few days to dig down deep enough for his satisfaction. Meanwhile, in his explorations of the shores he had found a stone that would make a credible headstone to mark the grave. As of yet he had no way to carve an inscription on it, but just finding the stone was a huge leap in the right direction.
"What has he been up to today?' Ozzie asked as Slash swung himself over the railing and onto the deck of the boat.
"Digging a hole in the ground on the bottom floor of that wreck of a building," Slash replied. "He dragged that stone down there, too."
"Burying Cyrus, no doubt. Maybe he gained something of a spine when Magus spelled him. I think he's thinking of leaving and trying to find his way back to Guardia," Ozzie said. "Not that we are going to let him manage that! Haw, haw!"
"You have a plan?" Flea asked, twirling a lock of his long hair around a finger. He'd arranged his hair in fetching ringlets today.
"Of course! If Glenn has no idea where he is, and how could he, and he can't remember how he got back to oh, Porre maybe, or Dorino, there's no way he will ever find Choras again. No one ever comes here from Guardia. Besides, he's a frog now. More than likely they will stab him through when he tries to enter the castle, if they even let him get that close. We will let him torture himself a bit longer over dear, departed Cyrus," Ozzie sneered. "and then bring this tragic little drama to an end. I'm pretty bored with it – and Glenn – now."
Glenn knew he had to do it, place Cyrus' ashes in the hole he'd dug under the ruins, cover them over with earth, and set the stone in place to mark the grave. He had to leave, but remember every step of the way so that he could find this place again. He knew he would have to depart soon, otherwise he wouldn't have enough supplies to even consider leaving this alien land and finding his way to Guardia again. He didn't want to. He didn't want to leave his friend here, all alone. It felt like he would be abandoning Cyrus when he left. Maybe he could just stay here. Maybe the townsfolk would get used to him and he could find a way to earn something of a living. He could stay here, live in the ruins, and guard the grave.
That night, he dreamed. It started as an awful dream, forcing him to relive that horrible moment when Cyrus died. Then, in the way of dreams, it jumped to another moment, far more welcome, of a memory with Cyrus, then another, and another after that, flooding his sleeping mind with images and emotions all centered on his friend.
"You are stronger than you think, Glenn. You always have been."
"You are more skilled with the sword than I am."
"You really should try, Glenn. You don't want to see it, but you have all the makings of a knight."
"The queen. Take care – of – Leene..."
When Glenn awoke the next morning, he knew this had to be the day. He spent the morning carving Cyrus' name on the stone that would serve to mark Cyrus' resting place with a sharp rock he'd found while digging the grave. It was hard going, using one stone to chisel the letters deep enough to be read in the other, so he stopped after carving just the name. He couldn't think of anything to add other than his friend's name – not now. Not yet. Not while Magus still drew breath.
He couldn't help the tears that flowed as he placed the bag with Cyrus' ashes in the ground. He considered placing the Hero Medal and the hilt of the Masamune there too, to honor the knight who had wielded both as he died, but knew that the only chance he would ever have to avenge Cyrus' death, would be if he, himself, wielded them in turn. He kept both, vowing silently in his heart to his friend as he filled the grave that he would do everything in his power to have the Masamune reforged, learn how to fight again in this form, find Magus, and using every ounce of his will and inner strength seek that vengeance by killing the evil mage. He set the stone, bearing only Cyrus' name, in its place in the ground to mark the spot where Cyrus' ashes lay.
"If I tell him I am leaving, mayhap the shopkeeper will allow me to purchase some supplies. It is worth a try. I know not how long I will need to travel on the ocean before finding a land other than this one," Glenn said. "I shall return, ere I set forth, dear Cyrus. For a farewell and to crave your blessing on my attempt to find my way to Guardia," Glenn said before he bowed toward the grave and left the chamber.
"He's gone to the shop. Says he's going to tell them he's leaving, and hopes they will sell him stuff. He dragged that thing he's been working on to the entrance to the ruins. It might be a raft. I think he's leaving today," Slash reported to Ozzie.
"I doubt Glenn can recognize Flea in his disguise, but better safe than sorry. I want this to be a surprise – not the good kind! Get Flea from the Inn and meet me in the ruins." Ozzie laughed. "Let's go crush whatever hope Glenn thinks he's found."
Slash left on his errand. Ozzie made his way quietly through the woods, floating behind a stand of trees to hide when Glenn walked past him on his way toward the town. After, the Mystic floated into the Northern Ruins to see for himself what Glenn had been doing there all this time.
Cyrus, the fool who challenged Magus, rests here.
Ozzie blinked at the inscription, rubbed his eyes, and read it again. "Geez! Uncharacteristically bitter of you. I approve!" He cupped his chin in thought. "I thought you were Cyrus' 'devoted squire'," he sneered. Ozzie floated back and forth, pacing in the air, unhappy with this turn of events. He had wanted to carve something – well, something like what was already there, to dispirit Glenn. Slash really should have told him the entire inscription! Now, he would have to think of something else.
He didn't want to actually dig up the grave. First, there was the matter of having to touch the dirt if he did, something he detested. The chamber was too small, and the angles wrong to consider using magic for the task. Besides, he shivered, I detested Cyrus, but he has been laid to rest. If there were bones, I could call Cyrus forth as a soldier in Magus' Army to battle Glenn, but... Magus was too thorough with that spell. My magic can't do anything with ashes. If I disturb him now, he might well be able to haunt me, and that is something I don't want to risk.
"Cyrus, I have returned." Ozzie heard from the far stairway. He had a moment to float up and back, hoping he was high enough at the top of the ceiling to avoid Glenn's notice. He needn't have worried. Glenn fell to his knees in front of the grave. Ozzie noted as Slash soundlessly entered behind the frog, taking up a position hidden next to the inner flight of stairs.
"Wha – what?!" Glenn leaped up to touch the carving on the stone with trembling fingers. "Who has...?!"
"So this is what you've been up to, you feckless frog!" Ozzie said, floating down behind Glenn. "Shouldn't you be more concerned with fulfilling 'dear Cyrus' final wish that you protect your 'beautiful'," Ozzie made playful gagging noises. "queen and your fool king? Playing around here in this abandoned ruin in an out-of-the-way, forgotten land hardly, no, really doesn't help them at all, now does it?"
"Ozzie!" Glenn leaped, so high and so far that Ozzie backed up in surprise. The enraged Glenn had the hilt of the broken Masamune in his hand. "You have defiled Cyrus' grave!"
"What of it, frog? What can you think to do to me with that sad, broken relic – scratch me?" Ozzie narrowed his eyes. "You've done that to me once already – never again. Slash!"
"Slash?" Glenn asked in confusion. "Aye, I want to slash – " The rest of his threat cut off abruptly as Slash brought the hilt of his own sword down sharply on the back of Glenn's head, knocking him out cold.
"Bring him you two," Ozzie ordered just as Flea revealed that he had been hiding out of sight, too.
"Where?" Flea demanded. "I thought you wanted to kill him."
"Naw, not now. Look." He pointed to the headstone. "The Glenn I knew of believed in Cyrus with a 'touching'," Ozzie gagged again. "devotion. He would never have carved that. With this bitterness and how people are treating him, he's broken, even if he doesn't realize it. He will kill himself soon enough, but he will continue to suffer before he does. That is a better punishment than anything I could do. Let his own guilt torment him to death!"
Glenn woke again, once more on the margin between the solid ground of a shoreline and the insistent, restless lapping of water. "Where am I now?" he wondered wearily. After some walking, he realized where he was – the southern continent once more. Minus the slight but profound burden of Cyrus' ashes, he was right back where he started. He discovered Zenan Bridge was still out. Having no luck in Dorino he set forth to return to Porre. Maybe the innkeeper there would permit him to stay in exchange for work. Along the way he met a woman walking toward him and away from Porre. Having already had some unpleasant encounters in similar situations, he moved as far to the right as the path allowed, and stepped from the path entirely as the woman came abreast of him.
"Hello?" she said. "You can walk on the path, too. I don't need to hog all of it! You really are a strange-looking fellow, aren't you? Can you speak?"
Glenn nodded. "Aye, I can speak."
"What are you doing all the way out here? Must be heading to Porre. They may not – take to you," she warned.
"I suspect not. I was there a short while ago. They didn't 'take to me' then," Glenn admitted. "But at least they didn't run me completely out of town as Dorino just did."
"Yes, Dorino. Not the most friendly of places. I don't expect they are going to last." She paused and pondered for a moment. "I'm Fiona, by the by. If my husband were home, I would feel comfortable inviting you to my villa, you don't seem to be a dangerous er, creature, but... Where do you call home?"
"Nowhere," Glenn replied bitterly. "There is nowhere I can claim to call home."
She considered him for a very long moment. Glenn noted a bit of wariness in her eyes, and he could tell she held herself ready to run if he made anything she might consider a threatening move, but, there was a basic decency and kindness in her gaze as well. "There's a wood, to the west of here. It's not very large, but the trees are strong and healthy. Toward the northern edge of this wood, there's a small cave hidden by bushes. There are monsters, er, creatures, in and among the trees, but if you can avoid provoking them... It isn't much, but it might be a place you could make your own. That is, if you don't find a more welcome situation in Porre. Everyone deserves a home," she added, all but whispering the last.
He didn't 'find a more welcoming situation'. Like before, they tolerated his presence, which was a small boon compared to the reactions he'd experienced everywhere else. In Porre, at least, they would permit him to purchase items at the store and the cafe was willing to accept his money and patronage, but the Inn flatly refused to permit him to stay, even on the floor like he had before. Despondency dragged at his steps as he turned and wandered toward the small wood Fiona had suggested. Once he entered and grasped the overall amphibian nature of the creatures haunting the wood, he immediately understood why Fiona had suggested it as a possible home for him.
But, he chided himself, she had been kind and the suggestion had been offered from a place of kindness. It had been the first significant act of kindness he'd experienced since Magus had cursed him.
To his relief the creatures were inclined to get out of his way and let him pass. He had purchased a sword in Porre, but needed to practice and get used to how the changes in him affected his ability to fight before trying to use it for real, if he could. Besides, the creatures were here first, he was the interloper. Best not to kill any more of them than he had to. Once he found the fairly well-hidden cave and leaped down, he was pleasantly surprised at how homey it was. It wasn't some dark and dank little hovel in the ground like he feared, it was dry and there was actually a decent amount of space to work with. He might even be able to fashion some furniture so he wasn't just sleeping on the ground like an animal or having to build a new pallet every few days.
Magus might have cursed him with this form, but he was still a man. He might live in a cave in the ground in a cursed wood among amphibians, and he might wear the shape of a frog himself, and... He winced. He was going to have to get used to people calling him that, but he knew who he was. He knew his mission. He might never reclaim his human form, but, he promised himself he would reclaim his name when he avenged Cyrus.
"Oh, Cyrus. I let you down. I know you wanted it, but I never became a knight, and now..." Glenn laughed. "Now I am this, whatever this is. Frog, I guess. Your concern for me led to your defeat and demise. For that, I can never express the depths of my sorrow. Further, I failed. I failed in my mission, and such a simple one. Return to Guardia Castle and find a suitable place to scatter your ashes in the forest surrounding it so you can rest peacefully, secure in the knowledge that even in death, in a way, you still guard the path to the king and queen. You would have liked that. But, I failed, and Ozzie... Ozzie defiled your grave with that horrible epithet. And I don't even know where I buried you, or where the grave is, or how to get back to fix it! It all seems so hopeless! And I am just... Even before the curse, I was not... Oh, Cyrus! I wish you were here! What am I to do now?"
"What about that loser; Cyrus' squire? What was his name again?" Magus looked up from the massive tome he was studying to pin Ozzie with a piercing stare.
"Oh, him. Ha, ha. Human no more, might as well call him 'Frog' now."
"You took care of him?" Magus asked.
"He won't trouble you again, Lord Magus. There is nothing in your way, nothing to stop you from achieving your destiny and the destiny of the Mystics!" Ozzie rubbed his hands together and cackled with glee.
Glenn stared morosely into the cup of ale between his hands. He sat in the dimmest corner of the cafe, the furthest away from the bar and the other patrons, on a rickety stool with one leg shorter than the others, and an equally ramshackle table. It was something of a torture to be here, near enough to listen and witness the brightness and vivacity of human companionship, and not able to take part, but, try as he might, every fortnight or so he simply couldn't stand the isolation and loneliness of his modest dwelling in the Cursed Woods. That was when he would come here, offer to complete some chore, usually heavy work and always outside, for the cafe owner who paid him a little in coin, but mostly in drink. He would spend the evening here, in his little corner, trying to be as invisible as possible, drinking his ale, soaking in the sights and sounds and scents of fellow human beings, longing to be able to join in.
He had learned that if he did anything, anything at all, other than take a roundabout path to the back corner of the bar to get a refill, or, make his way to the exit to leave, the patrons would fall silent and stare. When he had, for the first and only time, offered an opinion about a topic of hot discussion, the cafe had fallen completely still and silent until he drained his cup and left. If he tried to scoot his chair out of the dark corner, the nearest patrons would get up and pointedly move as far from him as they could. He had learned over the months the bitter lesson that they would tolerate his presence here as long as he stayed quiet and mostly unseen on the edges, and probably only that because he did the chores that the cafe owner could find no one else willing to do. That was the extent of his usefulness, so this was the extent of their tolerance of his presence among them.
The low background hum of conversation abruptly ceasing made him look up from his intent study of how the bubbles disturbed the surface of the amber ale in his cup. A soldier, clad in the distinctive armor of a Guardia knight, stood in the doorway.
"...here, so that..."
"Hey!" The cafe owner called over the murmurs. "Does this mean that confounded bridge has been rebuilt, again?"
"It does indeed," the knight nodded. "Once I've made the rounds to inform the rest of the fine citizens of Porre, I'd appreciate an ale."
"You got it!"
Glenn slipped out of the cafe before the knight returned. In almost a daze, he returned home, absently threading the path through the Cursed Woods that didn't provoke his amphibian neighbors into attacking. He looked around the cave and the improvements he'd made to it, having crafted over the months bed, table, chair, chests, and a ladder, mostly out of a need to keep busy in his loneliness than anything else. The cave didn't feel like 'home', but it did feel comfortable. But, with the bridge now repaired, he had no excuse to avoid returning to Guardia Castle. He hadn't let himself think about it, what returning to the castle would be like, dreading the day his duty to impart the news about Cyrus' death to the king and queen arrived.
His apprehension was stronger than ever, he had learned the hard way over the past few months that everyone regarded him as something of a tolerable monster. Glenn feared this understandable, but still unconsciously cruel, behavior would be rife at the castle, too. It would be even worse because these were people he knew, and who knew him, though they wouldn't realize it. He admitted to himself this why he had been relieved Magus' Army kept tearing the bridge repairs apart, and keeping the northern and southern continents separated.
Glenn traveled at night, deciding to cross the bridge when it was most likely to be deserted. Regarding the span across the water, and the water itself, or rather, its length, depth, and relative calmness, he realized to his dismay and shame that in his current form, the lack of a bridge was no impediment. He was fully capable of swimming between the two continents, and had been since the beginning. It was not until he was on the bridge, fittingly near the place Cyrus liked to stand and regard the horizon, that he realized this also meant that he could have swum across instead of chartering that disastrous boat ride. He could have laid Cyrus to rest in Guardia's Forest as he wanted to, instead of in the grave located who knows where. "Oh, Cyrus, the depths of my failure compound! You never would have trusted me with the charge to care for Queen Leene, if you only knew...!" But, the charge had been laid, and accepted. Glenn squared his shoulders, steeled what scant resolve he had remaining, and made his way across to the northern continent, the castle, and his destiny there.
His resolve crumbled underneath him once he got there. He was met with the deepest of misgivings when he presented himself at the castle gates, and requested an audience with the king and queen. That, he expected. What he hadn't expected was to hear Cyrus' name in pretty much every single conversation. The guards spoke of the supposed powers of the Hero's Medal and the Masamune; they recounted Cyrus' legendary prowess with all manner of weaponry; they talked of how they would – once Cyrus was back, successful from his quest and even more able with the legendary powers of both Hero's Medal and Masamune – crush the Mystics as Cyrus led them to victory over Magus and his army. They said openly that they couldn't possibly win without Cyrus leading them, and that once he was back, all would be well, again.
Hope, Glenn realized. Cyrus is their one and only hope. He imagined telling the king and queen that Cyrus was dead. He knew the shock would be great, even if he kept to himself the full extent of the horror and manner of Cyrus' death, but, the way the guards were talking... He realized he would be stripping all hope from Guardia – king, queen, knights, soldiers, citizens – all at once – for not only was Cyrus dead, but he had possessed both Hero's Medal and the Masamune when he was killed.
The broken hilt of the legendary Masamune rested in the chest Glenn had made to hold it back in his cave. He was painfully aware of how shocking the sight of the broken weapon was, and thought to spare anyone else from enduring it, until he found someone skilled enough to reforge it. He only hoped he wouldn't need the original blade itself to accomplish that already monumental task.
The Hero's Medal Glenn wore above his heart, but hidden under his tunic, to honor Cyrus. It reminded him of his promise to avenge Cyrus and slay Magus. Maybe, once I accomplish that, news of Cyrus' death won't demoralize everyone so severely.
Glenn's own thoughts gave him pause. Was he really considering not telling King Guardia and Queen Leene of Cyrus' death?
"There's, uh, a frog to see you, Your Majesty."
"Your pardon, Clive?" King Guardia looked up and pinned his guard with a stern gaze.
"Uh, yes, Your Majesty. And the queen, it, er, he seeks audience with Her Majesty, too," Clive stammered.
"A frog, you say?"
"Er..." the guard's face reddened dramatically within his helmet. "Yes. That is... yes. He's a frog, sire."
"Well, then, my curiosity has been well and thoroughly piqued. Escort this 'frog' in, Clive." The king turned toward Leene. "Either this is an elaborate practical joke or the guards are standing too long on duty, again."
Queen Leene, having spied the individual as he entered the throne room, lifted her eyebrows in surprise and tipped her head toward the far archway where Glenn stood, flanked closely by two guards. "Or, there may be an even stranger reason."
"Hmm, I see," King Guardia admitted, watching Glenn intently as the guards brought him to stand in front of the dais upon which the thrones stood. "Can it be that you speak?"
"Aye, Your Majesty, I can speak," Glenn replied.
"Marvelous! What do you here? Sent by Magus or Ozzie to open negotiations?" King Guardia asked.
Glenn shook his head vigorously. "No, I have nothing to do with those – those – monsters!"
The guard on his left guffawed at that, then, at the king's sharp glance, straightened his spine and looked straight ahead again.
The king stepped down from his throne, circled around Glenn and looked at him curiously from all angles. Once the king faced him again, he stared into Glenn's face for a long, deeply uncomfortable moment. "I am utterly fascinated by you. Not really a frog, not as we know them to be, small, muck-dwelling creatures of pond and stream, but you most certainly bring them to mind. What manner of creature are you?"
"I am – constrained against speaking of it to any great length, but I can assure you that frog though I may appear, I am a man," Glenn replied honestly.
King Guardia considered that. "I admit you behave like a man, and speak as one, too. What do you here?" he asked again. "Why have you come to the castle?"
"To speak with you, Your Majesty, but more to fulfill a vow I made, to Sir Cyrus, to guard the queen."
"Cyrus?! You have met him? Where is here?" the king asked in a rush.
"I know not, now." Glenn wished this statement was not the truth. He had no idea where he had finally buried Cyrus. "Months ago he placed upon me the most solemn duty to make my way to Guardia Castle and guard Queen Leene. I would have been here sooner, but have been unable to cross from the southern continent until the bridge was rebuilt."
"Why?" King Guardia asked. "Why would he send you to guard the queen?" He shrugged his shoulders. "Who are you that he would place such a charge on you? Your story makes no sense."
"I wish... there were a way I could explain..." Glenn mused aloud his gaze darting frantically between king and queen. They had to understand!
"Well, absent that explanation, Frog, though you seem earnest and harmless enough, we have given enough time to this diversion. Guards, please escort him from the castle. Gently, there is no reason to add to whatever else his burdens are, but firmly. There is no place for you, here," King Guardia looked into Glenn's eyes, nodded decisively, and returned to his throne.
"B-but, my promise to Cyrus!" Glenn exclaimed in dismay, settling his gaze on Queen Leene's face. "I shall be forsworn!"
"We have only your claim that you even met my knight, Frog. And you are here, in this troubling form. If not sent by Magus, perhaps to spy upon us, then clearly one he has turned his baleful magic upon. I knew his dark magic could raise my fallen soldiers to fight for him as fearsome undead, but this – you." King Guardia shook his head. "We do not need anyone touched by magic here. Certainly not near my queen." Glenn could see a flash of something cross her face – unhappiness, perhaps? But it was too fast for him to determine exactly what it was. It unsettled him that she hadn't uttered a word, though she did look at him. Leene had always been kind to Glenn and this coolness in her as she regarded him dismayed him greatly.
"Oh, my queen!" Glenn took one step toward her and dropped to his knees before the guards could react. "I crave thy kind regard! Would'st thou consider'est my plea? I seek not to harm thee or thine, but only to honor my vow to thy knight, Sir Cyrus, who place'th this duty upon me!"
"Enough of this!" the king roared. "Time enough has been given, guards, remove him, now!"
"Wait!" Queen Leene called. She stood, stepped down from her throne and walked toward Glenn. "Why – why did you change?"
Change? Glenn thought furiously. Change – what? Himself? He didn't, and, and... "Pardon, Thy Majesty?"
Leene smiled. "That. You spoke in plain terms until my husband concluded your audience. Why have you now started to speak in the high language of bygone times?"
Oh. He hadn't even realized he did. I wonder why? Then, he had it. That summer day more than two years ago, when Cyrus and he had revived the old high court language for a time. It had been for her – for Queen Leene. She had been melancholy and nothing seemed to cheer her. Cyrus, before he was elevated to Knight Captain, was her guard for the day. Glenn, as Cyrus' squire was deemed sufficiently skilled to serve as the second guard for the queen, so it was just the three of them. Cyrus sent Glenn to the kitchen to beg for a picnic lunch, and convinced Queen Leene that an outing for fresh air might do her good.
Glenn never quite knew why, perhaps it was the bright sun, fresh air, and springy grass affecting him, but he began to turn cartwheels, somersaults and other acrobatic tricks. Leene had clapped her hands at his tumbling prowess, spurring him to greater and greater attempts. Cyrus began to announce and narrate Glenn's moves, offering mostly snarky asides of his opinion of how well the moves were executed, which delighted Leene ever further. Glenn stopped his acrobatics, and began to play at being a court jester, trying as hard as he could to get her to laugh. Cyrus followed the change and began to act as the most proper of all knights, offering Leene the most pretty compliments in the stilted, overly polite, artificially distant language of a knight to his liege lady, and the combination of the two of them, silly jester and courtly knight, managed the feat of cheering her up. After that day, whenever Cyrus or Glenn noticed that Queen Leene was a bit sad, they would say something, just a phrase here or there, in that stilted high court manner when she could overhear them, and she would, more often than not, smile.
"Frog though I appear, within my heart I yearn to be a knight. I vowed to Sir Cyrus, whom I greatly respect, from within my deepest honor to guard thee. I would be as a knight to thee, my queen, guarding thee most carefully from any threat, ensuring thy safety and ease of mind, in satisfaction of this vow. The knights of old regard'eth the ladies in their care with the highest of ideals. That is what I feel toward thee, in response to my vow to Sir Cyrus. Please, my queen, consider'est my plight and have pity upon me. I would be shamed beyond all bearing to break my word to Sir Cyrus," Glenn said aloud.
Queen Leene considered that. "It is true that Sir Cyrus is my most favored knight. I don't believe you are trying to deceive us. I cannot help but believe that you did meet Cyrus and he, for whatever reason, exacted this promise from you. I trust him, so far be it from me to thwart his wishes in this matter. Of course," Leene turned toward King Guardia. "my husband has the final say, but I urge you, dear, please consider again your decision."
Glenn looked from queen to king and back again, trying to sense the atmosphere between them. He looked up, locked gaze with the queen, and as he was already on his knees before her, spoke simply from his heart. "I solemnly pledge, with the fullness of my will, and complete clarity of my heart, to guard and protect thee, Queen Leene, with all the strength of my body, with all the quickness of my mind, and with all the skill of mine arms, to my dying breath. Any who would'st trouble thee, must first get past me."
Leene smiled a shade more warmly at him, while everyone else, including the king, gasped. Only then did Glenn realize that he had uttered the formal vow to protect the queen that every Guardia knight swore to uphold. Queen Leene turned from him, stepped upon the dais, and sat once more upon her throne.
"I don't know who you are or why Cyrus would send you to us, but I sense sincerity and no-ill will in you. On the strength of my trust in Sir Cyrus, I accept your pledge. But... I don't think you can make your dwelling here in the castle. Therefore, I ask the king to permit you freedom of access to leave and return to Guardia Castle at your will."
"Leene!" King Guardia protested.
Queen Leene turned and smiled at her husband. "Dear, if Cyrus trusts him, how can I not? And if he is able to serve as one of my guardsmen, does that not free up another to serve elsewhere in this war?"
"We can use all the capable men we can get," the king muttered. "But, your safety is more important!"
"And, you have my promise already that I will not leave the castle. If one guarding me is a little different, no offense," She glanced over at Glenn. "and his presence frees a battle-ready warrior, again, no offense, is that not a boon? Perhaps this is why Sir Cyrus sent such an – unusual person to guard me," Leene suggested.
"But, freedom of access to the castle at will? He could be a spy!"
"No spy of Magus' would address me as he did," Leene replied. "Only Cyrus and Glenn ever used the old high court language."
"That is true. Cyrus must have sent him," King Guardia agreed, finally nodding his acceptance of Queen Leene's suggestions.
"Please – Frog – attend to me," Queen Leene asked, gathering her skirts in her hands as she rose from her throne again. "I am weary and wish to return to my room." Glenn stood and bowed toward the king before walking through the archway on the queen's left toward the corridor that led to the staircase rising to her tower rooms. Once they had made their way to her chamber, the queen dismissed all her attendants and guards, but for one, to the doorway out of earshot with a soft word, seated herself on a far more simple chair than her ornate throne below, and picked up a piece of embroidery. "I find it somewhat interesting that you knew the way to my tower without being told," she said mildly, gazing down at the needlework in her lap.
Uh-oh! Glenn thought. "Cyrus spoke'th of his devotion to thee and thy king often, Thy Majesty. This castle was his most favored of places in all the world. From his fond and vivid stories, I feel as if I know the pathways in the castle already," Glenn improvised quickly. If Queen Leene learned his true identity, he would have to reveal what had happened to Cyrus and he still couldn't bear to think what that would do to her – and everyone else.
"Hmm." Queen Leene placed a few more stitches in the piece, then set it aside. "I don't suppose you will tell me anything of what I can only imagine must be your – most colorful history?"
Glenn closed his eyes for a long moment to gather his thoughts. This was going to be harder and more painful than he thought, safeguarding Leene without revealing who he really was. He sought out her gaze again, and hoped that whatever his eyes looked like now they would convey the depth of his sincerity. "I would not wish to trouble thy peace of mind with the horrors that brought me here – in this form. There is tragedy and sorrow in my wake I would remain private. 'Twould give'st thee nightmares, my queen." Glenn bowed, to break the compassionate gaze with which Leene regarded him before it broke down his resolve to maintain his secret. It was tearing at him that he couldn't tell her, and perhaps ease some of his sorrow by sharing it. "Please, Thy Majesty, allow'est me to guard thee and tend upon thee to the best of my ability, and allow'est me to hold my sorrows in the silence of my heart. I vow they will not interfere in my ability to attend to thee."
Queen Leene waved her hand in front of her face a few times in a dismissive gesture before rising and pacing toward the window. "That I am not in the least concerned about. But, if I am to regard you as one of my guards, and therefore, one of my subjects, matters of your happiness or lack thereof do become my concern, as your queen." She stared out across the landscape as she said this. Leene turned, walked back, and regarded him for a very long moment, before gracing him with a small smile. She nodded her head decisively, once. "But then again, each citizen is also in possession of a measure of privacy. Forgive me – Frog. I do not mean to pry in an unseeming manner. Please accept my interest as deep concern, rather than simple curiosity." Leene sank gracefully to her chair again. "The truth is I am very concerned, worried even, about Cyrus and his squire. They left on a most important mission, and no one has brought us word of them. Maybe we expect too much, but we thought they would have found the objects of their quest, and returned already. Now, to have you return – in this state, speaking of Cyrus sending you to me... My concern only deepens."
Wait, she said 'return'? Does that mean Queen Leene hath realized who I am? I daren't ask, I don't want to confirm it, else I need to crush all hope about Cyrus, and the notion that the Hero's Medal, and the Masamune will aid us against Magus.
"But..." Leene continued. "My concern is mine and should trouble no one else. Aren't we a pair, Frog? I hold to my worry as firmly as you hold to your sorrow. Well then," Leene stood again. "For now, let us put both worry and sorrow aside and go to the kitchen. I am famished and do not want to wait until dinnertime. It's not very queenly to allow one's stomach to gurgle in hunger."
"I daresay not, my queen!" Glenn, despite himself, laughed, Leene's image was so vivid and slightly silly. He could imagine the mild, slightly perplexed look King Guardia would toss his wife's way if such a situation every occurred, but the Chancellor's expression of affronted dignity would be the priceless one.
"King Guardia wishes to see you before you leave the castle," the guard at the front gate told Glenn nearly an hour later. He had shared a snack with the queen, in the knights' dining hall next to the kitchen, of all places. Glenn could not remember a time that Queen Leene had ever set foot into that hall, if she wanted something it was sent to her room. But, as the knights filtered in and out of the hall, Glenn realized that Leene was, in her own way, trying to help him. If she kept company with 'Frog' and shared a meal with him in the dining hall, how could the guards do otherwise?
Uh-oh. Queen Leene seems to have accepted me, at least somewhat, but the king? Mayhap I will be taken into custody or forbidden from returning to the castle. Glenn had misgivings, but did not even think of disobeying the command. He had sworn an oath as Cyrus' squire to obey King Guardia, Queen Leene, and any who were lawfully placed in command over him. Even though no one knew that he was bound by this oath, and therefore he would not be held to any sort of accounting if he broke it, he knew. Cyrus had warned him that the rigors of the path of the knight were not imposed from without, but from the depths of one's own heart – Glenn fully understood what his best friend had tried to tell him now.
"Of course. Where may I find His Majesty?" Glenn replied.
The guard rolled his eyes, clearly indicating with that gesture that he didn't trust Glenn at all in this guise. "The king is in his study. With his guards. The best of our forces, if you take my meaning." The guard slowly closed his hand into a fist. Unable to think of anything he could say to reassure the guardsman that he posed no threat at all to king, queen, or indeed anyone in Guardia, Glenn bowed his head slightly.
"Wherefore is this study of the king's?" Glenn asked, determined not to give himself away, as he suspected he might have done with Queen Leene, by knowing where anything in the castle was before any could direct him. Besides, it might reassure this guard that he wasn't some sort of spy if he didn't already know his way around the castle.
How tedious! Glenn thought as he followed the directions the guard at the gate had given. He knew full-well they were wrong, the guard had his last turn to the left when he should go right toward the very end of the last corridor, but he knocked upon the wrong chamber door as if he didn't know that.
"Enter," the command came.
Glenn opened the door and stepped into the room, right into the dauntingly level and assessing gaze of one who wore the armor of the Knight Captain. Of course, with Cyrus on a quest, a knight would have been elevated to fill that position until Cyrus returned to take it up again. Glenn even recognized the knight who had assumed those duties, Sir Keldrin. Though not the most senior of the knights, he was serious, capable, loyal to a fault, and a good choice to fill the role. Glenn assumed that the guard has misdirected him on Sir Keldrin's order, so that the Knight Captain could determine for himself if Glenn was a threat before permitting him to enter King Guardia's presence again.
"So... You are 'Frog'. You claim to have met Sir Cyrus and been commanded, by him, to come to Guardia Castle to guard the queen. I would know more of this meeting, as we are waiting for Sir Cyrus to return, take up his duties once more, and lead us against Magus in the Mystic War."
Glenn didn't want to lie, but still believed the truth would level a devastating morale blow to Guardia that would leave it vulnerable to the Mystics. "I am under – a curse, and cannot answer such questions as freely as I would wish," he said slowly. "I know 'tis hard to consider trusting me, in this – odd form, but..." He looked up into the other man's face. "Sir Cyrus did place the command on me that I stated, to guard Queen Leene until such time as he could return." Glenn knew there would be no return as the man would assume from his words; in his thoughts he imagined spreading Cyrus' ashes on the approach to the castle in the forest surrounding it. "I have vowed to honor this command. Thou wast present when I gave my formal oath to the queen. Thou dost not know me," in this shape, Glenn added in his thoughts. "but I implore thee to believe'st me when I claim that I do not take oaths lightly, and upon my very life will do all in my power to fulfill it."
Sir Keldrin considered that while his gaze bore into Glenn's eyes. "I cannot help but think you are sincere. Still, a spy of Magus' sent to infiltrate the castle would be able to fake such sincerity. I cannot gainsay the command of my king, or even the wishes of my queen – without proof positive. Rest assured, your every step and word will be watched and measured. If indeed you are a spy – my knights may dine upon the delicacy of frog legs, if you understand my meaning?"
Glenn shuddered involuntarily at that. He himself had never seen the appeal of such exotic food even before Magus' curse, and now – the threat, so lightly given, was deeply horrifying. "Perish the thought!"
"Hmm," Sir Keldrin said. "When you exit this room, leave to the right, then present yourself to the guard on the very first door to your right. That is the king's study."
"If I know Sir Keldrin," King Guardia told him several minutes later. "you have already been to see him. None of us quite know what to make of you. You could intend ill to my kingdom," Glenn started shaking his head at that, until the king held up one hand and continued. "But, my queen trusts you enough to accept your oath. That carries a great deal of weight with me. Leene has always been a good judge of character. I know well that Sir Keldrin will also keep you under his keen and suspicious gaze, and if you have somehow duped us, you will not succeed in whatever your nefarious plan might be."
Glenn's head was spinning trying to decide if the king trusted him, or not. Evidently, he trusted Glenn enough to have the knights guarding him remain by the door, giving his conversation with Glenn some small measure of privacy. Then again, Glenn noticed the king had left off his heavy and hampering formal robes of office and wore his sword, not the ornamental one of court proceedings, but the serviceable and very sharp one he used in battle. Glenn knew full-well King Guardia was a formidable swordsman in his own right. Unarmed as he was, but for a small knife tucked into his belt, Glenn was aware the king was more than skilled enough to cut him down himself if he were of a mind to try anything, which Glenn knew he wasn't but the king had no way to...
"I see that you now feel some of the confusion that we feel regarding you," King Guardia said. "While you are present in front of me, I believe in your sincerity and judge you benign, but when I think about it rationally, it makes little sense and that concerns me. Someone, in the appearance of what my mind tells me is a frog, comes to the castle with an unbelievable tale, and pledges to protect my queen, ordered to do so by the knight I trust more than any other." Guardia stood up and paced to the window. "It is the stuff of myths and legends, but if so, why does it feel so – ordinary? Confusing, certainly, but mostly ordinary. Aside from you, that is. If we are truly caught up in a time of legends, would not everything feel more – special somehow?"
Aye, it should, Glenn agreed in his thoughts. The Masamune, a legendary sword, somehow containing untold power that could stop Magus. The Hero's Medal, the special talisman that proved one was worthy to wield the legendary blade. And Cyrus, a knight strong and true, fully capable to bear the mantle of 'Hero' and skilled enough, loyal enough, brave enough, and noble enough to confront that evil mage and –
Die horribly at his hands. Or spell, as the case turned out to be. Cyrus had been the stuff of legends. Glenn didn't know what went wrong. Perhaps Magus was even more legendary.
"I – admire Sir Cyrus, Thy Majesty. Our meeting was brief," Glenn stretched the truth as Cyrus had never beheld him in this embarrassing form. "But he doth implore me in what I can only relate as the depths of a desperate sincerity, to come here and guard Queen Leene. I am honor-bound to do all in my power to follow that command. If it is decide'th that I must be rejected from the castle, I shalt remain near to hand to do my utmost to guard Queen Leene should she step'eth foot outside its walls. My life is given over to this vow."
"That would be rather harsh on my part, or the part of the Knight Captain, to stymie you so. Again, when I converse with you, you speak with such sincerity it is hard to mistrust you."
"I realize my claim seems as ridiculous as I appear," Glenn said, wincing a little. "But it is true. Mayhap, as time goes by, my actions will reassure thee that I speak true."
"Aye, that must be the way of it. You are to be under observation whenever you set foot into the castle. If you ever, ever seem as if you are about to harm Leene, or indeed, to trouble her in any way, you will not leave the castle again – not in one piece, anyway." The king's threat was uttered in an unnervingly even tone of voice. Glenn had always admired and respected King Guardia, but now, just a little, he feared him, too.
"Thy Majesty, that would go against my solemn oath and more, ever fiber of my being. Should I ever give thee such cause as to doubt'est me, it would be best for thee to act upon that promise, ere I should trouble Queen Leene," Glenn replied.
"Death before dishonor, hmm?" King Guardia smiled at him, a wry smile, but one that held a banked measure of understanding. "That I can respect. So, Frog, my promise to you: if you should ever threaten the safety of my queen, or, how did you put it? Trouble her? Your span of days will come to an abrupt, most likely painful, end." Glenn bowed, his gesture meant to show his acceptance of the King's promise. Guardia shocked him by stepping forward and offering his hand.
Glenn stared at it for a long moment. He'd been struck unconscious from blows to the head; put his coin down slowly and carefully on counters, then waited for shopkeepers to place the items he purchased down in turn and step well back before allowing Glenn to take them, all to avoid the chance that their hands might accidentally touch; stepped aside so that others could pass him without the possibility of contact on narrow paths – but since Magus' curse had taken hold of him months ago, he had not touched, nor been touched by any human being. He looked up into the man's eyes and felt an unexpected rush of affection for the king. He realized the irony of the situation, the king had just promised to kill him if he should ever make anyone worry that he would hurt the queen, but –
King Guardia, by making his promise, and extending his hand to finalize it, openly regarded him as a person – no matter how he appeared. One did not offer formal promises, sealed with a handshake, to a beast or a monster. "Aye, Thy Majesty. Death is always preferable to dishonor." He took the king's hand in his own and accepted the three shakes the king gave him before releasing his grasp.
"As the queen wishes, you have permission to enter and leave the castle at will. I will discuss the matter with Sir Keldrin to make my command known beyond any doubt. For now, return to him before you leave and tell him that I commanded he give you whatever you require, that fits and suits your needs, from our armory. I don't know what skills you have to protect the queen, but I recognize a swordsman's stance and bearing in you. You need gear if you are to be an effective guard for her safety."
Stunned, overwhelmed by the command and the tacit acceptance behind it, Glenn could find no words and found he could only bow in response. The king waved his hand dismissing him, before turning back to his desk.
Glenn was surprised that Sir Keldrin didn't protest the order, given second-hand as it was. He assessed Glenn with his gaze from top to bottom and Glenn was dumbfounded that there didn't appear to be any disdain or disgust behind it. The Knight Captain actually seemed to enjoy the challenge of finding gear to fit properly and serve Glenn in this form. Despite Keldrin's concern given Glenn's height, or lack thereof, Glenn found he could handle a sword. He was nowhere near as proficient with it as before, but a normal sword was not so long or heavy he couldn't manage it. Together they agreed that full armor such as a castle guard typically wore would be a mistake, the adjustments that would have to be made so some of the pieces would fit and stay on Glenn's frog-like shape would hamper his movement too much. Additionally, he would require the help of someone else just to be able to put them on and take them off – help that Glenn was under no illusions would ever be offered to him. A simple breastplate he could manage on his own, though, and fit well enough to offer some protection.
"If you are quick enough, a shield could suit you quite well. Your shorter stature makes it easier to defend yourself without having to resort to armor. Again, depending upon how quick you are," Keldrin opined.
"Take'st thou a swing at me," Glenn challenged.
Glenn shrugged, in part to settle the breastplate more comfortably across his shoulders. "I need to know if I can fight and dodge if I am to be of any use protecting the queen. Thou need'est to know the same. So, take'st a swing at me."
Glenn surprised them both with how far and how swiftly he was able to jump away from the sword blow Keldrin aimed at him. He stumbled a bit upon landing.
"I haven't had cause to fight since I –" Glenn explained sheepishly. "My skills are rusty and – different than before."
"Hmm." Keldrin assessed him again. "Perhaps it is best for you to drill in private, for now, to polish those skills and master the differences. Once you do to the point where you need live practice, tell me. I should know by then who is reasonable enough to spar with you and not try to kill you."
"For now, go away for a few days. You have thrown quite a challenge our way, Frog, and I need time to determine how my knights are going to respond to that challenge. No, no, don't worry that I will bar you from the castle, I am sure Queen Leene would have my head if I were to try, but for now, you are too unsettling for us. Give us some time to get used to the idea, before we must get used to you in the flesh. And practice. You have, or rather, had some skill, but it's too undisciplined now. Develop your proficiency, then I can consider officially assigning you to guard the queen. That is, if you haven't done something to make me consider killing you, first," Keldrin said. Glenn didn't believe that the Knight Captain was teasing, despite the generous help he'd given.
"Aye. I will train. When I believe I am ready, and return here, I should...?"
"The guards will have orders to bring you to me, first, but they will grant you admittance," Keldrin declared.
Glenn nodded, and took his leave.
Back in the cave that he was resigning himself would now be his home, Glenn slung the pack from over his shoulder and dropped it to the table. He unbuckled the sword-belt, with the new Bronze Edge still sheathed, and placed it next to the pack. The cloak found a resting place draped over a chair. It took Glenn a moment to figure out how to unbuckle and handle the breastplate so it wouldn't just crash to the floor, but he managed it. He opened the pack to retrieve the polishing compound and rags for applying it to maintain his armor and sword and found a place for them in a chest. Only then did Glenn realize the Knight Captain had filled the pack he provided with duplicates of nearly everything else he had given him. There was a second tunic, trousers, pair of gloves, cloak and a few pouches of varying sizes. He stepped back and regarded all the equipment spread across his table. It was pretty much everything that was provided to a castle guard. Glenn marveled at the generosity that inspired the Knight Captain to do this for him in spite of Sir Keldrin's stated suspicions. Glenn realized that though he had not found the homecoming he now knew he craved from the castle, and he was openly regarded with deep distrust by nearly everyone, there were a few who were willing to look at him beyond those understandable concerns – Queen Leene, King Guardia, and the Knight Captain, at the very least.
"I am beset by vows and promises," Glenn sighed. "So, I shan't add to them. But, I know I threaten not any in Guardia Castle. I will do everything in my power to honor the kindnesses, strange as they art, that were given to me today." He laughed. "Kindnesses! A royal death threat sealed with a handshake!" Glenn took off his glove and regarded his right hand, the one the king had shaken. Both had been bare-handed. King Guardia had not recoiled in disgust for which Glenn was both grateful and comforted, despite the threat of death that preceded that handshake. "Aye, I shall regard that as a kindness. And dearest Queen Leene, her kindness was not mixed with anything else. Are not ladies suppose'th to be repulsed by frogs? Yet, never once did she appear to be disgusted by me. Even if Cyrus hadn't asked, I would still want to guard her – will guard her, no matter how strange the form I wear to do so! And..." Glenn sighed deeply again. "I am back to repeating vows. Well, then..."
He crossed to the chest where he placed the broken hilt of the Masamune. "I must figure out how to find one to reforge a legend. I dare not face Magus without the Masamune in hand." He considered. "Even if that means I die in the exact same way Cyrus did." He gazed at the broken weapon for many long, memory-filled minutes, before reverently putting it back in its place. "Seeing as how I would rather face Magus and live, it would be best for me, as Sir Keldrin suggest'eth, to practice and master swords again in this form." He turned toward the table, reclaimed the sword belt and drew the Bronze Edge. "Would it not be surprising if, though I am shorter now, I learn how to combine jump and sword-slash? No one would'st expect an overhead attack when confronting me!" Experimentally, Glenn tried it, somehow tripped over his own feet in the air, and fell to the ground in a graceless heap. By some grace of fortune, the sword, which he dropped in the ill-fated attempt, didn't cut him.
"Mayhap I should build up to that," Glenn muttered, blushing even though no one had witnessed his clumsiness as he retrieved his weapon. "Well, then, back to the basics. Without being able to fight with a sword, I cannot fulfill even the least of my vows!"
Alone, in the cave that now served as his home, Frog, who in his former life had answered to the name 'Glenn', struck the most basic pose those aspiring to become a swordsman use, and began to practice.
As mentioned above, here are the nagging little observations and questions I sought to answer in this story.
Magus clearly recognizes Frog, but seems shocked he survived.
Glenn's age is open for debate. My reasoning is that since Glenn's human sprite at the moment he is transformed appears to be that of a late teen, and is clearly different from his post-curse adult sprite (given Lucca's enthusiastic delight in beholding human Glenn for the first time) Glenn is 15 -17 during the first confrontation with Magus. As he is garbed in normal clothes, not armored as a knight, I conclude that Glenn is serving as Cyrus' squire at the time he is transformed and was not, in fact, himself a knight.
While it is generally accepted that just after Cyrus' death, Glenn picked up the hilt of the Masamune and dithered in front of Magus just before he too was struck by magic and transformed, I believe it's equally plausible that Glenn knelt next to Cyrus to try to help his friend, rather than pick up a broken weapon. I believe he returned to the summit and gathered the hilt afterward. If Frog is the beast seen carrying 'something' into the Northern Ruins, and that is how Cyrus came to be buried there, Frog would have had to climb the Denadoro Mountains again to retrieve Cyrus' body and that is when he found the Masamune's hilt. Considering the recent change in Glenn/Frog, it's unlikely that Glenn/Frog could manage to carry a body to another continent. Frog is strong, but... dead people are heavy! The scene of Cyrus' death very clearly shows him burning away to nothing, so it seems reasonable to conclude that Cyrus was reduced to ash by Magus attack.
Ozzie floats everywhere (instead of walking), and he appears to have an overwhelming need to keep people with sharp objects away from him. I invent a reason for this behavior. Nowhere in the game is it said that Glenn hurt Ozzie, but it would explain Ozzie's animosity toward Frog.
Frog recognizes and is recognized by Flea and Slash in Magus' castle during the game and that recognition holds some measure of familiarity in how the villains tease him. It's certainly possible that Ozzie told them about Glenn/Frog, or they may have met during battles through the years (Guardia is battling Magus when Cyrus is killed and Glenn transformed, and they are still battling ten years later) but – Frog is known as Queen Leene's weird frog-thing guard, not a soldier. I believe it is possible they encountered one another, at Ozzie's instigation, shortly after Glenn's transformation, instead.
The dialogue of people in the Middle Ages seems to indicate that Frog is not out-and-out rejected, but not really accepted either. They know of him at the cafe in Porre, but they don't exactly welcome him. No one seems to be comfortable around him with the notable exception of Queen Leene.
Cyrus is the first Knight Captain of Guardia, tasked with guarding the king and queen. He leaves to quest for the Hero's Medal and Masamune. After some period of time, the king would likely have appointed another to this position, and indeed he did as there is a Knight Captain ten years later. I gave this Knight Captain a non-canon name, since names are important in this story.
Nowhere else in the game does anyone use stilted, archaic language – other than Frog. Even in flashbacks, and in the encounter with Magus and Ozzie on the Denadoro Mountains, Glenn speaks in plain language. I postulate a reason for this change in Frog's speaking manner.
Finally - please look for some movement on the long stagnant Shadows of Schala story fairly soon.