Eagle Perfect - Chapter Fourteen: Homecoming, Part II

Eagle Perfect: Legend of the First is a parody of dystopian young adult novels, in which two ‘chosen ones’ vie for the status of world-saving protagonist. New readers should start at Chapter 1, or you can consult the Table of Contents.

Chapter Fourteen: Homecoming, Part II

The amphitheatre went quiet. Students turned to one another, seeking confirmation of what they thought they’d just heard. Then they went silent again, unsure what to do with the information that Legend had defeated Viper Sloen in battle, regardless of how accurate it may have been.

A boy in a red tunic threw his fist to the sky and shouted “Leg-end!”, giving a peculiar equality of emphasis to each syllable. Others joined in, fists to the sky, calling out his name. Soon, the entire audience was chanting as one. And despite the Administration’s teachings to the contrary (primarily contained in the early reader Unt the Unremarkable, but subsequently reinforced in countless directives, codes, and public scalpings) this display of appreciation made Legend feel good. Even more confusingly, the students also seemed to be enjoying themselves, despite their actions constituting an outward admission of Legend’s superiority. He soaked up the new sensation, and secretly hoped it would never end.

The very next moment, Legend found himself on a staircase, staring through an iron grille at a teenage girl in a red tunic and pigtails. He felt a vague disappointment that a pleasurable experience had suddenly come to an end, but also realised that that made no sense, since the previous five minutes had involved being dragged up a staircase by Eleanora while his Guardsmen grew excruciatingly distant on the platform below.

“Little girl,” Eleanora called out. “Run and fetch Nurse Butcher. There’s a student here who needs urgent help.”

After a pause, Eleanora added, “I’m not going to hurt you”. The little girl cleared her throat, let out a piercing scream, then ran away. Legend somehow knew this would happen, but he also knew that Eleanora had just told the little girl to run and fetch Nurse Butcher, which went some way to explaining his illusions of precognition.

“Eleanora,” said Legend.

She looked down at him expectantly, but Legend had completely forgotten what he was going to say. Tell her to run.

“I’m not quite sure why, but I think you might want to run,” he said.

“Nonsense,” Eleanora replied. “Nurse Butcher is one of the few people at the Lyceum I can trust. Besides, I’ve run out of throat salve, and hers is better than anything you can get from the Administration.”

So they sat and waited, as the sun marched steadily across the sky.

Several hours later, the little girl returned, shielded by a carefully groomed man with straight teeth. Eleanora turned to run, but succeeded only in turning.

“Eleanora Dant,” the man beamed.

“Schoolmaster,” Eleanora replied, frozen in place.

The two continued to converse, each word boringly familiar from the moment it left its speakers lips. The Schoolmaster gave Eleanora a necklace, the grille disappeared, Eleanora left, and the Schoolmaster turned his attention to Legend. Legend did his best to feign surprise at several key junctures, and made sure to ask questions that seemed appropriate but that he was sure he’d already asked.

Soon they were walking through the grounds of the Lyceum, past statues and fountains that some odd personality had decided to label. Legend spotted an oubliette, and felt a sudden onslaught of nausea. He cupped his hands to his mouth, as the contents of his stomach bubbled like water in a hot cauldron.

“Something the matter?” asked the Schoolmaster.

The feeling of nausea was replaced by an intense desire to answer the Schoolmaster’s question, just as peculiar as the nausea but less disruptive to Legend’s digestive processes.

“No, Schoolmaster. I simply felt a little unwell when I looked at the oubliette. I think I was expecting to see an earless farm boy, chained at his wrists and ankles, followed by a red-headed girl and a tall man with bright green skin, but I can’t think of a good reason for that to have been so.”

The Schoolmaster looked deep into Legend’s eyes, his eyebrows scrunched so tight and so aggressively that their respective follicles began to twist into a host of elaborate knots. He whispered something under his breath then, with a flick of his hand, returned to his former welcoming demeanour.

“I’m sure it was nothing,” said the Schoolmaster, which only served to make Legend suspect that it wasn’t nothing, or rather, that it was something. Whatever or not it may have been’t, Legend felt sure that something would come of it.

* * *

“Reach into Iron Joe’s mouth,” boomed the Schoolmaster, “and you will find your greatest humiliation.”

As he’d known he would, Legend had made his way to an amphitheatre, where a crowd of students (including Eleanora) were applauding his impending humiliation. But Legend had a sense that the contents of Iron Joe’s mouth would instead be impressive; so impressive in fact that the crowd would chant his name in adoration. And despite Legend’s reservations, he knew that such a reception would be a positive experience for all involved.

Legend wasted no time. He flung open Iron Joe’s front hatch and thrust his hand inside. Ignoring the envelope containing his “embarrassing” accomplishments, he emerged instead with a hefty slab of charcoal.

He turned to face the scaenae frons (Legend appreciated the label on this occasion), and smeared his name in thick, grubby letters.

“I was born Legendiah Obadiah Faramiah the First. But to you, I am simply, Legend.”

A few students giggled. One suggested that Legend was a “Legendary Wanker”. Legend assumed this was a compliment, but would need to see a helpfully labelled wanker before he could know for sure.

“I am the youngest ever invoicing operative to come from Hospitality Sector TZ33.”

More laughter rang out amongst the crowd. Legend continued undeterred, unleashing a string of increasingly bold claims, culminating in the questionable assertion that he had defeated Viper Sloen in battle. He had no recollection of this occurring, but something told him that it would be a good thing to say, and that it would all make sense soon. Legend sincerely hoped that to be the case, since all he had succeeded in doing so far was to stir the crowd into an unpleasant combination of giggles, heckles, and more accusations of being a “Legendary Wanker”. It was becoming increasingly likely that a “wanker” was not something to which one should aspire.

Open the envelope. That’ll shut them up.

“Don’t believe me?” he cried out, before plunging his hand into Iron Joe’s mouth and retrieving the envelope. He tore it open with a flourish, and made a show of clearing his throat before he started to read.

Then the colour fled his face.

“Read it, boy, read it,” Iron Joe insisted.

Legend took a deep breath.

“I didn’t stop wetting the bed until I turned ten.”

The crowd burst into laughter, and Legend was disappointed to see that Eleanora was laughing the loudest. The derisive reaction did at least mean that no one was heckling, but Legend drew little comfort from this realisation.

“My feet are so hairy I always wear socks, even on the hottest of days.”

The laughter intensified. Instead of slapping their hands together (which Legend knew constituted applause), students now started slapping their thighs. There was no label for this, but the swelling ball in Legend’s throat was enough to tell him what it meant.

“I have no memory of defeating Viper Sloen in battle, and in fact, the only time I remember meeting her, I was a prisoner: tied up and terrified.”

Splat! Something red and squelchy landed on the sawdust beside him. A tomato. That explained the scent that had been boring its way into Legend’s nostrils since he arrived, though there must have been a lot more tomatoes in the vicinity to produce such a comprehensive aroma.

There were.

Within seconds, an armada of fruit was sailing through the air towards him, and within a slightly larger number of seconds, that armada had made ground on Legend’s face, body, clothes, hair and shoes. Several tomatoes disappeared down his ear canals, suggesting that maybe Legend’s hearing organs were a little larger than he’d previously allowed himself to believe.

Legend sank to his knees, as the fragrant, flavoursome, and nutritious tomato juice sucked the remaining resilience from his body.

“Very good,” said the Schoolmaster as he strode to the centre of the stage. “I hope you have learned the value of punctuality. Now for your Classification.”

Eleanora had been right: this was a barbaric place. Legend had revealed embarrassing personal details, and not a single person had assured him that he was perfect just the way he was. It was as if his feelings were of no consequence, or at least, of lesser consequence than other things, such as the delight to be had at his expense.

“One at a time,” the Schoolmaster continued, “I will call out each of the three categories. Brave, Cunning, and Nondescript. You will know in your heart when to step forward and take your tunic.”

Legend closed his eyes and silently begged to be classified as Nondescript. But what about his ears? Were they too worthy of description? And if so, what category was left? He did not feel particularly brave or cunning.

“Brave!” the Schoolmaster called.

Legend stayed put. A healthy cheer erupted from the handsome red tunicked students, punctuated by manly huzzahs.

“Cunning!” the Schoolmaster called.

Again, Legend stayed put. Hisses of glee spewed forth from the pale, ugly students in the black tunics.

“Nondescript!” the Schoolmaster called.

This was his chance. But Legend could not move, much to the vague pleasure of the remaining students.

“As I suspected,” the Schoolmaster announced. “You, Legendiah Faramiah Obadiah the First, are neither Brave, nor Cunning, nor Nondescript.

“You are Brave and Cunning.”

The red tunics let out heroic sighs, while the black tunics hissed with disappointment.

“And your two Guardsmen are Nondescript.”

The nondescript students also reacted.

“That can’t be,” cried Legend, “I’m every bit as Nondescript as the Guardsmen, but no more, and no less either.”

“Describe them for me,” said the Schoolmaster.

Legend tried to remember what they looked like. They weren’t identical - at least, Legend was fairly sure they weren’t identical - but he struggled to identify one point of difference between them, or between them and anyone else he had ever known.

“They have crossbows,” Legend finally managed.

The Schoolmaster smiled. “Precisely. But you, Legend, have a string of accomplishments so memorable that none present shall forget your name! Be grateful for your bravery and cunning, as you are unlikely to make any friends.”

Legend had to agree - the Schoolmaster was willing it - but a small part of him wondered whether Eleanora would reciprocate any overtures to friendship. Given how she had laughed at his bed-wetting revelation, it seemed unlikely. Still, he risked a glance in her direction.

But Eleanora was nowhere to be seen.