Facing Knight

by Charles Matthias

Matthias slept in that morning. It had been a long evening last night at the monthly Gnawer's Support Group meeting. He had finally escorted Kimberly back to her room. That she choose to live in a room that was well out of the way of others was not really surprising, most of the rats did. At least she had the common sense to not live in the cellars like some of the other rats. Her room of course had no mirrors, something that Charles understood quite well. For him, becoming a rat was somehow liberating, it was somehow a guarentee that his life would be different in a positive way. Not becuase of what rats do, but what he was just incapable of.

Of course, he did have important matters to take care of, and he rolled out of bed onto the stonework below. He stretched for a moment, his mouth opening wide, his tongue reaching up to push against his incisors as he did so. His tail slipped from beneath the covers, as he walked over to his dresser to slip his loose fitting tunic about his middle. He slipped into his trousers, making sure to slip the button through over his tail as always. He glanced at himself in the mirror he kept over his desk, he did look rather handsome, for a rat. He had been one for five years now, it had been quite some time, and it seemed like he had never been anything else, nor did he want to be anything else.

He cleaned himself up and had a little bit of breakfast from the bread and cheese he had snuck out of the meeting last night, before heading towards his morning ritual. He knew it was necessary, he liked to say hello to his fellow rats each morning. It was only good and proper, he wanted them to come up out of the cellar more than once a month. Of the eight rats, only three lived above ground, Kimberly, another rat named Tallis who was also the only other rat in the Writer's Guild, and of course he himself. The other five all stayed beneath the masonry, avoiding the light of day when they could help it.

They gave sundry reasons for it, but each one Matthias knew came back to the fact that they were ashamed of being rats. They may look like rats, but they did not have to live in filth and out of the sight of others like rats. The life of the rat was one of darkness and shadow, something that Matthias wanted no more a part of. He may look like a rat, he may have the dietary needs of a rat, and sometimes when he was frightneed the instincts of a rat, but he was still human beneath the fur. As a human he had a certain amount of pride, and that pride had in his years turned towards two avenues; his writing and being a rat.

Of course explaining it to anybody who was not a rodent was about useless. He had tried to tell Doctor Channing about it once, and had received some mystical reply; it had been something to do with the motion of the stars, and it sounded quite sage-like, but Matthias did not understand it. He was familiar with the motion of the stars, having on several occassions been invited up to Doctor Channings tower. Still, astrology was a field beyond his own abilities. He once tried to write a story about the stars, but it because quite clear that he misunderstood their purpose. He simply could not fathom the concept that the stars were anything but points of light, that was what he saw after all, even through Doctor Channing's telescope. Then the idea that the world was round! Hah!

Matthias stopped himself as he began to descend the large causeway stairs into the basement. He should not laugh at the theories of his esteemed colleague, as the goose did know much more about such matters than he did. He had seen the red planet through the telescope, and had been amazed by what was there. Certainly the sky held greater mysteries than his simple mind was capable of reckoning - even when coupled with his imagination!

He looked back out through one of the arched windows, all the more reason to live above ground, he thought wryly to himself. There was a beauty to be seen that was lost in the darkness of the catacombs. He put his hand back on the rail, nodded his head to a passerby, and continued his descent. The flickering of the torches along the far wall cast a faint and shimmering illumination about the rest of the passageway. After only twenty feet down the corridor the last light of the upper world was left behind and he made his way into the dank nether portions of the Keep.

The cellar of Metamor Keep was mutllayered, much like the rest of the keep. There were several subbasements, the lowest of which touched upon an artesian well which was one of the prime sources of water in the keep. He had never been down that far, but he knew that it was situated off a good thirty yards to the side of the wall so as to not flood the Keep itself. Some of the other levels had also ben set aside for prisoners when the Keep had been so inclined to keep them. He recalled stories from one particular criminal who had escaped during the conflict, how he had just somehow managed to avoid Nasoj's spell when it was cast. He remember that man's tales of the people changing forms so suddenly. He remember that, and knew then where he had to go. He idly wondered what had happened to that man with no right hand, or at least, he never showed his right hand.

The were other things in the cellar aside from dungeons and wells. There was also the meat storage room, which was kept as cold as they could keep it. He knew that he was nowhere near that place, it was on the other side of the Keep. Ever since the hcange apparently it had become quite important to keep the meat well preserved. The scent of salt in those chambers was so overpowering that the one time he had ventured over there he had to be dragged out on his stomach.

Then there was the wine cellar. He'd been there before. Probably a few too many times. He chuckled slightly to himself, his taste for a good liqour had not changed by becoming a rat. Au contraire, it had intensified. One of these days he was going to have to introduce Michale to the fine art of wine tasting. Copernicus and Phil sometimes accused him of doing more than just tasting the wine, for which he had to admit he was guilty. He was not a heavy drinker by any means, but there were those nights when he had to indulge himself. Phil told him he did have a good singing voice though, not that he ever remembered anything he'd ever sung in his life. Of course, he had been cutting down, for Kimberly's sake. He knew she disapproved of it, and he did not want her to think of him as a silly drunkard. He was not a drunk! He only got a little tipsy, he steadfastly insisted to himself.

The sputtering torches cast flickering shadows along the halls as he moved towards the living quarters in the basement. The shadows jumped and skidded over the cold stone masonry, creating fantastical images of otherworldly creatures and brief glimpses of horros beyond the worst possible nightmares. Perhaps he had drunk too much mead at the meeting, Kimberly had thought so. The thought of her changed the content of the flashing images. The scenes were suddenly serene amidst the chaos and turbulence, the shadowws showing him her face, that sweet little nose, those twitching whiskers, her black eyes and the slightly pinkish ears against her tannish fur. He could see it all, and he had to admit his heart did jump a little at the thought of her. That he was attracted to her figure as a rat spoke volumes to him. His whole body had completely changed, and now his attractions were no longer those thin women with the firm breasts and the nice plup thighs. Now, his tastes were rodential. Even after five years, somehow that felt like a bit of a blow.

Charles stopped in his tracks, and looked down at his hands, clawed, furred and scrawny. He liked being a rat, but the more he thought about it he realized that he had lost something in becoming a rat. He had lost the rest of the world. Before he came to Metamor Keep, he had travelled far, seen many things of such grandeur and beauty that they took his breath away. Now he was forever trapped by these walls. And he looked up Kimberly as beautiful because she too was a rat.

The second problem suddenly seemed to him to be quite insignificant, and he had dealt with the first before. Why shouldn't he be attracted to her because she looked like a rat? He was a rat too, and the urges were still there, he was quite male, and she was very obviously female. Perhaps someday, he could take her beyond the walls of the Keep, show her the things he had seen in his youth, show her the world that he had known before.

There were something that he simply could not do, places she could not see. Not because she might be offended, but because it would destroy him. He had become a rat to escape the Sondeckis, he would not take the chance of coming into contact with them again.

He sighed, looking about the corridor, his paws stepping up and down on the cold stone floor. There was no heating in the cellars other than what the inhabitants themselves could provide. The guttering torches provided little warmth, and only if he was standing close to them. Their dancing light was almost erotic; such sanguine beauty in the flame. He was not one that usually waxed poetic, but on this occassion he made an exception. He gazed into the fire, watching as one color lapped upon another, as the bright and flightly yellows and oranges licke dupwards, while the pale and indistinct blues stayed calmly at the base of the torch, slowly feeding off of the oil-soaked wood.

A sudden noise coming from down the corridor brought him out of his pyrotechinical contemplation. It sounded like metal against metal being slapped on, and a few opening and closing of doors. He knew the sound all too well. Saulius was dressed up in his armor again. Matthias really wanted to smaks himself for the crazy idea he had when it became obvious that Sualius was finished changing. He'd had the armorer resive the suit to fit Saulius's new found size. As he should have known, Saulius took to wearing it about and in his delusions attacked whatever looked like a threat. Over the years at least he had begun to recognize his fellow rats as friends, though at first he had tried to slay them, the filthy vermin.

Matthias dashed down the corridor, and around the bend. The sight he saw before him was one of mayhem. Saulius not only had his armor on, but he also had his showrt sword in his right paw and was swinging it about. He was offering challenges to all the other snearby, his mind having slipped back once again. This was not good. Saulius was prone to mood swings, and sometimes when he because really depressed would begin to think he was still a knight in his old kingdom and begin to attack the others as being his captors.

To stop his psychotic rampaging, Matthias had managed to convince Saulius that they were fellow prioners during these lapses. Once he returned to sanity he realized what had happened to him, and where he was. He usually felt terrible about it afterward as well. Matthias could think of no rat he felt more sorry for than Saulius. He wanted to bring this man back out into the world of joy. He wished that Saulius would use his skills to help on patrols, but Saulius steadfastly refused. He called his form testament that he was not worthy to serve others, but instead he was vermin only to be despised.

If there was anytihng that brought all the rats together, it was in trying to help Saulius overcome his emotional problems. Not a single one of them wanted to see him suffer like this. Some becuase they knew it was a danger to their lives, but some of the others were more concerned about Saulius as a human being, and what would become of his mind if he did not snap out of it soon. Matthias had known him for quite some time know, and there seemed to be no end in sight.

"Art thou all vermin that thou wilt not challenge me man to man in fair combat?" He bellowed, swinging his sword about. "Ye scoundrels hath imprisoned me in this body liek unto yeeselves, but I shall escape forthwith, and thy foul plans shall be for naught!"

Matthias had to be glad that at least he recognized he was a rat, that might make it easier to talk him down. "Sir Saulius." he called out, motioning for the other four rats that were watchign him closely to stand back. Matthias was the only one with enough guts to stand up to Saulius when he was like this. That sword could easily slice through him, but he was good at talking, and if he did it right, Saulius would back down and hand him the sword.

"What is that sound that I doth hear upon mine ears? Could it be that these wretched vermin doth speak as well?" Saulius went on, trying to deliberately goad him into anger. Matthias grimaced, it seemed Saulius was not only delusional but he had also retained his intellect and wit as well.

"Saulius, it is I, Matthias who doth speaketh unto you." Matthias tried his best to imitate the archaic form of speech that was still common in the lands that Saulius hailed from. "Thou art wroth with me, but I mean ye no harm."

"Do thou seek to disuade me from mine intent? Thou art a fool if thou thinkest I shall fall so easily into thy nefarious ploy." Saulius was waving his shortsword like a master before him, keeping Matthias at bay. Matthias stood his ground, he would not show fear or weakness to him. He was not sure exactly what he was supposed to do in this situation, but it was becoming increasingly clear that simple words were not going to be enough. He wrinkled his nose in disgust, would this fool actually try to attack him?

"Sir Saulius, thou art a brave and noble knight, but I am a lowly scribe who doth seek thy wise counsel. Thou art angered at my presumptiousness, and I beg thy forgiveness. Please desist in thy course of action; innocents who not how your honor hath been offended may fall beneath your terrible blade if thou dost not stop."

Matthias was a bit proud of his little speech there, his use of the somewhat cumbersome dialect becoming much smoother and less haltingly. However, Saulius was only further enraged by it, for reasons that Matthais was not sure he could fathom. His snarled in anger, and his sword flashed in an instant, lunging forward to strike him a blow that would skewer his chest. As if by instinct, Matthias found himself ducking to the side, just barel missing the sword, and the stepiing intowards the armored rat. His palm moved forward without even thinking, and came directly into contact with his left breastplate.

It all happened so fast that it took Charles a moment to figure out where Saulius had gone. Looking down the corridor another five feet he saw the sprawled form of Saulius moaning on the floor. The other rats were looking at Matthias in shock and awe. Matthias looked at his stance, and then quickly stood up stright, pulling his legs together, and his hand back into his shirt, curling it into a fist. He looked back at the other rats, and shook his head, his face one of confussion. Inside, he was in terror. What had he just done? If it hadn't been for the armor, he would have just killed Saulius. Even as a rat, he had not completely escaped. No, that was not it, just a temporary lapse, nothing more. He was free, or at least, mostly free. The first time in five years, not bad, but now he had to make it ten, or twenty, or never again.

He crept up to the figure of Saulius. His left breastplate was marked by a deep indentation of Matthias's palm. He pushed the visor up on the helmet and stared into the rather dazed face of Saulius. Archaic speech forgotten, Charles asked, "Are you all right?"

Saulius was still trying to catch his breath, "Sir Matthias?"

"Yes, it is I." Charles said, nodding.

"My chest doth hurt, what is wrong with it?"

Matthias grabbed the breastplate, and began to quickly undo the straps. He pulled the metal casing off and saw the place where the metal had touched the rat's flesh. He could see how the ribs had beenc racked slightly by the impact. Any harder, and it would have gone into the man's heart. He looked back at the other rats and quickly yelled out, "Somebody go get Coe! Now!"

He turned bakc to Saulius as he heard a few scamper off to go find the healer. Matthias put a paw on Saulius's chest, feeling the breath come shallowly, "You're going to be all right my friend. You are going to need some rest, but you will be fine. One day soon, you will fight again."

Saulius nodded, "Thou art a gentle rat, Sir Matthias."

Matthias would have cried if he could.

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"Facing Knight", copyright Charles Matthias