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fic - the faithful and the brave : 4 [novella] - the turnip patch
version 2.0
turnippatch
turnippatch
fic - the faithful and the brave : 4 [novella]
Title:  The Faithful and the Brave
Part:  4



The Faithful and the Brave
Part 4


Once all were properly mounted, the party made their way through Araguay Woods.  They numbered seven now, a crowd a bit too conspicuous for their liking.  They did not take pains to stay off the main road, but they did split up.  Princess Relena, Sir Noin, and one of the others stayed in the center of their loose formation while two pairs scouted around them, and in this fashion they came within sight of the great walls of Zaland Fort City by dusk.

With apologies to the lady, they decided to make camp outside the city.  They had found no signs of pursuit throughout the day, but it seemed wise to make sure things stayed quiet by not drawing attention to themselves.  Good hunting in the afternoon provided for their dinner, and Duo and Quatre were sent into the city in the morning for supplies.  They would be able to catch up with the others easily later that morning.

More easily than expected, really.  They hadn't gone much farther past the city when a woman appeared before them as she crested a small hill.  She took quick stock of their party, threw a look over her shoulder, then headed straight for them as quickly as she could make her way down the uneven slope.

They came to an uneasy stop, hands on their weapons as they assessed the situation.  Soon enough, four men came over the hill in a rush after her, shouting in their pursuit.  They had the look of mercenaries about them.

"This doesn't look good," Heero murmured, calming his fidgety chocobo with a gentle hand to its neck.  He glanced over to the princess, and back again.

"Help her," Relena said after only a moment's pause.  "Sir Noin can stay with me."  The apparent injustice occurring before their eyes was enough to persuade the Holy Knight to indicate her agreement.

"Wufei," Heero decided quickly.  The mage nodded tightly, accepting the duty to see to their primary task of protecting the princess.  He could intervene from afar if there was need.  Trowa and Heero spurred their chocobos toward the woman.

The men chasing her noticed them and called out.  "Stay back!  This matter does not concern you!"  One of them picked up one of the many small rocks littering the hillside and threw it at their quarry as she neared the bottom.

The stone missed its mark, but came close enough that she reflexively ducked as it flew past her, and in doing so, she lost her footing and stumbled awkwardly to the base of the slope, ending with a rough roll to arrest her momentum.

Trowa sprang from his chocobo's back with all the alarming grace of a dragoon and landed before her, sweeping his glaive in a wide arc to draw the mercenaries up short.  They hurriedly drew their weapons, but hung back warily.

"This woman stole something from us," one of them declared, pointing his sword accusingly at her.  "We just want it back."

"Like hell I did!" the woman shouted feistily as she eased herself upright.

Heero pulled up beside her and slid off his bird to help her to her feet.  She didn't look much like a typical thief in her worker's coveralls, but it was clear she would have had the gumption to pull it off, if she'd been so inclined.  "Why are these men after you?"

"I don't know.  What does a group of thugs normally chase a woman down for?"

The spokesperson for the 'thugs' made a derisive sound.  "Just hand it over and we'll be on our way."  At her obstinate glare, he rephrased.  "Just hand it over or we'll take it from you."

"I don't know what you're talking about!"

"Fine, then."  They attacked.

Trowa and Heero immediately countered, and taking advantage of the distraction, the woman bolted.  She had put enough distance between herself and the fight to feel out of harm's immediate way when a spray of ice crossed her path and she skidded to a halt with a tiny shriek.

"Where do you think you're going?" Wufei called out coolly, drifting toward her, letting more of his attention stay on her when it became clear that his two comrades had the situation well in hand.  "We're saving you.  The least you can do is stay to thank your rescuers."

She graced him with a baleful look.  "Yeah, right.  Thank you sooooo much for saving me, however shall I thank you?  You're no better than those thugs!"

It took Wufei a moment to understand what she was implying.  And then he rolled his eyes.  "I don't suppose you've noticed the two ladies travelling with us?"

Her eyes darted guiltily over in their direction before her expression hardened again.  "That doesn't necessarily mean anything."  Ladies, certainly, but nobility just as certainly.  The nobility had a nasty habit of finding nothing wrong with taking what they wanted from those beneath them.  She waited tensely for a chance to escape, but her all-too-capable rescuers had already concluded their skirmish and were heading her way, leaving behind them two men on the ground and allowing the other two to flee.

"Are you alright?"  The noblewoman, the one without the armor and sword and glower, smiled benevolently down at her from chocobo-back.

"Yeah..."  She studied the noblewoman for a few moments, taking in her innocuous expression and lack of airs, and thought perhaps she had some good luck today to balance the bad.  Hopefully the noblewoman's humility was true, because she seemed far more pleasant a prospect to deal with than the hard-edged people surrounding her.  Possibly some grace might smooth the way.  "Thank you for helping me."

"Why were those men after you?" the one with the armor and the sword and the glower asked, though the glower was perhaps slightly less pronounced now that she had expressed her gratitude.

"I told you, I don't know."

The first woman slid off her chocobo and held her hand out for the wrist being nursed absently after its owner's tumble.  After a brief pause, it was offered.  She took it gently, and with a tiny frown of concentration, white magic soothed away the sprain.  "What is your name?"

"Hilde."  She reclaimed her limb and rotated her wrist carefully, feeling the distinct lack of pain.  "My thanks, milady."

"My name is Relena.  Will you be alright now?  Do you think those men will come after you again?"

"I should be fine.  I'm sure you scared them off."

"They were after you for a reason," the female knight pointed out suspiciously.  "However much you might deny it."

"Sir Noin," Relena murmured with the faintest of reproach.

Noin paid it no heed.  "They were no common thugs.  They were too uniformly equipped for that.  If they were hired to do a job, they'll come after you again."

"They were members of the Kurt Trading Company's private little army," the lancer observed.  "If you've run afoul of them, they've got plenty of resources to throw at you."

Hilde was unable to suppress her wince at how much information they already had about her situation.  She had had a small stab of guilt when she'd run toward them, intent on using them to cover her escape, but clearly this group was no one's patsy.  "I'm aware of that, thank you."

"So you do have something that Kurt is interested in?"

"I didn't steal anything from them!  If anything, they stole something from me!"  She wilted a little under the heavy looks she got from all sides.  "They've got my old man."

Noin's nose wrinkled in distaste.  "In exchange for... whatever it is they want from you?"

"...Yeah.  And he's only safe so long as they don't get it."  She bit her lip as she stared off into the distance.

"What will you do?" Relena asked kindly.

"I..."  She looked at them, hesitated, then decided there was little harm in disclosing her plan.  There wasn't much to it.  "I'm heading for Lionel.  I plan to ask the Cardinal to intervene."

"The Cardinal?" the mage echoed, an eyebrow raised.

She colored in the face of his skepticism.  "I know I'm unlikely to get an audience with him... But I don't have any other options!  Cardinal Tsuberov is still known as a hero in these parts.  We remember what he did for us in the Fifty Years War, what he did for his people.  Surely... Surely he would be willing to go up against the Kurt Trading Company!  Their criminal activity outweighs their legitimate business these days, and everyone knows it."

"Yes, perhaps the Cardinal can help you," Relena murmured thoughtfully.  "We happen to be travelling to Lionel ourselves.  Perhaps you'd like to accompany us?"

"Your Highness!" Noin protested, softly and respectfully.  "I do not--

"Your Highness?" Hilde repeated, a bit faint.  The name hadn't been so unique, and Hilde had more important things to worry about than the absurd squabbles of the nobility, but she knew enough to attempt a curtsey.  Her lack of skirts quickly foiled her, and she instead dropped to one knee hastily.

Noin threw her an impatient look before resuming.  "Your Highness, I do not advise that we --"

Relena stopped her protest with a slight raise of her hand.  "Hilde?"

The girl in question swallowed nervously.  When she'd managed to get a good look at the lady being escorted, she'd noted the simple dress and thought perhaps the lady had some connection with the church.  It wasn't uncommon for nobles to send their daughters to the monasteries for a variety of reasons, though their degree of piety varied greatly.  Hilde had considered it only a wild, desperate thought that it might help her get a foot in the door with the Cardinal, considered it so incredibly unlikely that this noblewoman would do anything other than snub her that she'd stuck with her original plan to use this band of travelers as a distraction to delay her pursuers and cover her escape.

And now such a choice opportunity fell into her lap.  All of the lady's stern-faced guardians seemed to be telling her to say no, but this was not an opportunity she could afford to turn down.  She had her old man to save, and if any of them had a problem with that, they could take it up with their princess.  "I would be honored to travel with you, Your Highness.  Thank you for your generous offer."



"You've done well, Heero."  Treize smiled benevolently after his report.  His band of cadets had taken care of the thieves quite tidily.  "You're proving yourself worthy of the Khushrenada name."

Heero was quiet for a moment before giving himself a mental shake and bowing his head in acknowledgment.  "Thank you, Brother."

"And now.  This is the man you aided on the way back?"  He looked to the young blond man that had fidgeted impatiently in the background the whole time Heero had delivered his report.

He stepped forward and bowed with some urgency.  "Karl of Limberry, in service to Marquis Septem.  Your Grace, the Marquis was abducted two days ago by White Fang, taken from his carriage enroute to Fort Besselat.  We must organize a rescue!"

Treize leaned back in his seat.  "I am aware of the Marquis' abduction.  I have already sent Une out to see what she can find."

"What would you have us do?" Heero asked.

"Nothing, for now.  If Septem is still alive, White Fang may demand ransom."

Karl leaned forward anxiously.  "Your Grace!  I beg you, lend me fifty of your men to avenge my comrades' deaths!"

Treize looked down at him with an unimpressed stare.  "That will not be necessary.  As I said, the matter is being attended to."

"Lord Khushrenada!"

"Remember your place, squire."

Karl flushed appropriately and backed down.

Two days later, he was still smarting.  He, Heero and Zechs were on their way to meet Quatre and Wufei for an idyllic stroll in the countryside, otherwise known as 'guarding the castle'.  Igros was far from any hotspots, but despite this, or perhaps because of this, Treize had assigned Heero's crew to the duty.

Heero had thought about requesting another posting.  Khushrenada he may have been, and cadet he may have been, but he did not need to be coddled.  It was, in fact, a strange contradiction to Treize's praise those two days prior.  But orders were orders, especially when they came straight from Treize, so he accepted the light duty with a philosophical shrug.

Karl was less than enthused.  "Why have we not heard anything about the Marquis?  We should be out searching for him!"

Zechs sighed loudly.  This was hardly the first time they'd fielded such a complaint.  "And what do you think you can accomplish?  Do you fancy yourself more effective than Duke Treize himself?"

"Of course not," Karl automatically demurred.  "Nevertheless!  We cannot simply bide our time and be patient.  His life may be in danger!"

"Either White Fang intends to keep him alive, or they've already killed him."

Though Heero agreed with Zechs' drawled assessment, he offered some placating words to the upset squire.  "I'm sure we'll hear from the scouts soon."

"And then what?" Karl demanded.  "I've yet to see your brother make plans for a rescue."

"If indeed a rescue is necessary."  Zechs' unnecessary addendum was a touch snide.

"How can he make any plans without knowing the situation?" Heero asked reasonably.  "Despite his relative youth, Treize has already established himself as a worthy successor to my father's command in the Knights of Romefeller.  He did not simply inherit the position -- he earned it.  You can trust in his judgment."

Karl kicked irritably at an innocent rock in their path.  "Curse those wretched peasants."

Zechs' expression twisted into a mild scowl.  "White Fang does not represent all of the peasant class."

"White Fang expresses the jealousy of nobility that resides in all of their hearts.  The peasantry supports them, openly or not."

"Jealousy?  Had you said 'resentment', you might have an argument, for who would not resent having such capricious persons capable of destroying him at a whim?  Who would not resent the man who promised much and delivered nothing?"

Heero suppressed a sigh as they continued to argue the point and looked off to the distance.  Karl only seemed to be hanging about them because they were likely his best chance at inside information.  Once this business with the Marquis was resolved, Karl would go home to Limberry and they wouldn't have to deal with him anymore.  Heero's preferred approach was to simply not pay attention to Karl's strong opinions, but Zechs couldn't seem to resist responding.

When the best possible distraction walked through a nearby archway, Heero smiled genuinely.  "Une!  You're back."

"Heero."  His brother's aide greeted him with a friendly salute.  "And look whom I ran into on the way here."

He looked past her and lit up.  "Sylvia!"  He closed the distance between them and caught her up in a hug.  "I didn't think you would be back this early."

Sylvia kissed him on the cheek, heels lifting off the ground as she stretched up to reach him.  She was only two years younger than he was, but two years could make all the difference in a teenager's growth.  "Heero.  They dispensed with some of the formalities this term."

"How was school?"

"Not nearly as exciting as your 'schooling' has been, I'm sure.  I heard from Une about your recent exploits."

Une offered praise and a respectful nod.  "With all of this field work being counted as your final senior trials, I'm sure you'll graduate at the top of your class."

"Thank you."  He complemented his words with a slight bow.  "Une, are you on your way to see Treize?"

"I am."

Karl stepped forward and introduced himself quickly.  "What have you found?"

Une measured him with a cool look before answering.  "White Fang has demanded a ransom."

"Ransom?!"

Zechs hmmmed thoughtfully over Karl's indignant sputter.  "That's odd.  They've never been interested in ransom before.  Their aims have always been political, social change.  This is out of character for them."

"This only proves that they are no more than bandits!" Karl declared.  "Kidnapping good, innocent men for their own profit!"

"I agree with Zechs," Heero said to Une.  "This is not what we have come to expect from them.  Do you think perhaps they have some special need for the money?"

"I can picture any number of possible needs, from the mundane to the sinister.  Speculation is pointless.  We can only act on what we know to be true."

"What will you do next?"

"I must report to Lord Treize.  The decision shall be his."  She looked him over carefully.  "We used to have a man on the inside.  We lost touch with him almost a week ago.  I suppose the issue is moot at this point, now that we know what White Fang wants."

"Is that so?"  Heero studied her bland expression for a few seconds to make sure he was certain of the situation before proceeding.  "Where was he seen last?"

"Dorter Trade City.  He was a good man.  'Tis a pity we don't have the time to look into what happened to him."

"Truly, a shame," Zechs murmured.

"Igros is quite far from all of the action, isn't it?"  Une smiled placidly.  "Well.  I must be off to deliver my report.  Good luck on your patrol."

Once she was gone, Heero and Zechs looked at each other and nodded in agreement.  "Let's go meet up with the others," Zechs said, walking off with Karl trailing in his wake.

Heero turned to Sylvia apologetically.  "Forgive me for leaving so soon.  We will talk more after my return."

She held her arms open for a hug, which he obediently delivered.  "Oh, Heero.  Be safe.  And don't push yourself too hard trying to live up to our father's name."




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12 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
lavendarlizard From: lavendarlizard Date: February 19th, 2014 11:54 am (UTC) (Link)
Thickening... I think I see why Heero is with his little band. O.o

I feel like Heero needs more than a hug. With relatives like Treize... And Zechs is being kind of a snot.

*gnaws on desk*

turnippatch From: turnippatch Date: February 20th, 2014 07:38 am (UTC) (Link)
But he also has a relative like Sylvia!

And gosh, wouldn't you be a snot if you had to deal with good ol' Karl all day long? ^^'
tanuki02 From: tanuki02 Date: February 20th, 2014 11:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
what had first seemed to be a pretty straightforward quest has suddenly taken a left turn into all kinds of potential crazy!
turnippatch From: turnippatch Date: February 21st, 2014 07:45 am (UTC) (Link)
What's life without a few good side quests? ^o^
ramenkuri From: ramenkuri Date: February 22nd, 2014 08:40 am (UTC) (Link)
The plots thicken! Woohoo!
turnippatch From: turnippatch Date: February 24th, 2014 04:37 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh yeah, the plot's gonna turn into a lumpy cold porridge soon enough. ^^
sharona1x2 From: sharona1x2 Date: February 22nd, 2014 08:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
I enjoyed seeing Sylvia become part of this story. It's also interesting to see her having a positive relationship with Heero. I'm curious to find out what you'll be doing with her.

I figured that had to be Hilde as soon as she showed up. :-)
turnippatch From: turnippatch Date: February 24th, 2014 04:45 am (UTC) (Link)
I had need of lots of crusty old dudes in power for this story, and as luck would have it, GW has plenty of them. =p I used nearly everyone I could get my hands on, I think.

Canonically speaking, I think Sylvia would be right up there in Heero's life story along with Relena and the Girl with the Puppy.  They probably only spoke for like five minutes, but I could see those five minutes being a positive turning point in both their lives.
sunhawk16 From: sunhawk16 Date: March 9th, 2014 01:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
Side-quests and flash-backs, oh my! :D I'm with Noin... not at all sure Hilde shouldn't be run through and left behind a bush somewhere. >_>
turnippatch From: turnippatch Date: March 11th, 2014 05:54 am (UTC) (Link)
Huh.  Really?  But she's got gumption!
sunhawk16 From: sunhawk16 Date: March 14th, 2014 09:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
And her own agenda...
turnippatch From: turnippatch Date: March 16th, 2014 06:20 am (UTC) (Link)
Which just barely survived in the face of so many glowers. ^^'
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