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fic - the faithful and the brave : 6 [novella] - the turnip patch
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fic - the faithful and the brave : 6 [novella]
Title:  The Faithful and the Brave
Part:  6

The Faithful and the Brave
Part 6

Sitting behind his desk in Igros Castle, Treize steepled his fingers thoughtfully, covering the frown that came after hearing the tale.  "Your original orders stand.  Relena must be returned to our custody.  Killed, if necessary.  Eliminate anyone that stands in your way."

"Even your brother?"  Odin was pretty sure he knew the answer already, but there was always the possibility of a last moment change of heart.

"Half-brother," Treize said with a grimace.  "Heero does well not to claim the Khushrenada name.  I was content to leave him be while he sulked among the rabble.  I had thought he might learn the harsh reality of the world.  It would seem he is more stubborn than I gave him credit for."

"I doubt his sense of justice was passed down from his mother's side of the family."

"Father spoiled him."  Treize got out of his seat to pace the length of the room.  "As if full acknowledgment of him wasn't enough.  How simple for him to take the education and training Father's blood afforded him and go swanning about without regard for propriety or politics.  His ignorance has complicated my plans before, and I will tolerate it no longer."  It was in this very office, not very many years ago, that he had had to grit his teeth as Heero informed him that Marquis Septem had been rescued from the hands of White Fang.  Treize had delivered a fine lecture on obeying orders and respecting the chain of command, but his guest at the time, Duke Barton, had helped defuse the situation, and later, the two of them had manipulated events to their advantage once more, turning a former obstacle into an ally.

Odin kept his expression perfectly bland.  "Ah, such brotherly love."

Treize's path brought him to the window behind his desk.  He came to a stop there and settled himself with the scene below.  "Should Heero suddenly realize the error of his ways, I shall be pleased to hear it.  You needn't go out of your way to kill him.  But reality demands consequences for one's actions, and should his impede yours, he must face those consequences."

"What about Duke Barton?  Were those really his men that showed up at Orbonne?  I could have had the princess easily if not for them."

Treize sighed.  "Ah, 'if not for them'.  Those words have surely been the scourge of many a well-laid plan.  Never fear, Odin.  While you have failed to impress me with your lack of results in the face of unexpected circumstances, I do recognize that those unexpected circumstances were outside the scope of your commission.  Yes, those were Barton's men.  It seems my approach to this matter was too slow and subtle for his peace of mind, and he decided he might take matters into his own hands.  I shall be speaking to him about... better communication in the future."

"And Cardinal Tsuberov?  Should he interfere...?"

"You needn't worry about that."

"Oh really?"

"Things have been taken care of on that end."

Odin snorted.  "I almost don't begrudge Heero his ignorance.  The more I know, the less I want to know."

Treize smiled thinly.  "Indeed.  Simply do your job, Odin Lowe, and do it well, and you will not need to worry about any of these trifling matters."

The province of Lionel was considered a duchy by the crown, but the lands were held and administered by the Church of Glabados, which eschewed the ranks of the nobility for its own hierarchy.

The church's religious leadership was based in the holy city of Murond, an independent island city just off the coast in the Black Coral Sea, but as the political leader of Lionel, Cardinal Tsuberov's seat of power was in Lionel Castle.  They met with him in a private audience chamber off of the main hall.  The Cardinal hardly needed any explanation of the situation before agreeing to provide safe refuge to Princess Relena.  The Church had an official position of neutrality in the matter of succession to the throne, but they did not overstep that by offering safety to an innocent caught up in the dispute, particularly not when that innocent was a faithful daughter of the Church.

Attention soon turned to Hilde and the boon she sought for the Cardinal to intervene with the Kurt Trading Company to release her uncle.  "I would be happy to assist in any way that I can," Tsuberov answered.  "The Clockwork City lies within my domain, of course, and I will bring my authority to bear to rein in Kurt's callous disregard for the rule of law.  Worry yourself no longer.  It shall be taken care of."

"Thank you, Your Grace."  Hilde released a sigh of relief before remembering herself and bowing with the proper respect.

"However," Tsuberov continued, tapping his chin thoughtfully.  "I have some concerns for your safety, young lady.  You say these men have come after you, and I am afraid that they might do so again.  Please, I invite you to stay here in the castle while I resolve this matter."

Hilde bit her lip as she considered her words.  "Your Grace is very kind, but I would rest easier if I were to return to Goug to continue the search for my uncle.  These others have agreed to accompany me on my trip."  She gestured to the erstwhile mercenaries in their midst.  "Not that I don't believe you will take care of it, but... anything I can do to help, I will.  If I find anything out at all, I can pass it along.  Also... The Trading Company has proven itself to be ruthless in its pursuits.  I need to make sure they don't begin threatening anyone else."

Tsuberov smiled at her, the wrinkles on his face crinkling benevolently.  "I see.  That is quite admirable of you, Hilde of Goug.  You have so far been quite careful to drop nary a hint of what it is that the Trading Company desires, though.  If you were to say, it might be a good place to start any investigation into this matter."

Her expression tightened.  "I... I'd rather not say, Your Grace."

He hmmed at her.  "Are any of you familiar with the tale of the Zodiac Braves?"

"Yes," Relena answered, light puzzlement furrowing her brow.  "The Zodiac Braves are great warriors who come to us in time of need, when the world is in peril."

Tsuberov nodded approvingly.  "Yes, the last time they appeared was in the time of St. Ajora.  Ivalice was composed of seven separate kingdoms back then, constantly at war, each vying to expand their territory.  At last, the King of Limberry turned to dark powers to try to gain the upper hand, and he summoned a fearsome demon to do his bidding.  But the demon escaped his control, and began to wreak havoc across all the lands.  That is when the Zodiac Braves appeared, and with St. Ajora as their leader, they defeated the demon and put an end to its rampage.  They were called the Zodiac Braves after the Zodiac Stone each of them carried.  A Stone... like this one."  He reached into his robes and drew forth a ruby red stone, about the size of a man's fist.  It seemed to glow with an inner light, and within it, there was a sigil of some sort.

He brushed his fingers over the stone gently.  "This is the Scorpio Stone, a most holy relic of our Church.  The very same stone carried by one of the Zodiac Braves twelve hundred years ago.  I wonder... if perhaps another of the Zodiac Stones has been uncovered in the ruins beneath Goug?"

Hilde startled, her attention having been captivated by the stone on the desk.  "Your Grace, I...?"

Tsuberov smiled again.  "Or perhaps it was something else entirely.  In any case, the Church knows that the Machinists of the Clockwork City have faithfully cared for and protected any and all relics found below, and believes that they shall continue to do so for quite some time to come.  Now, I promise, the Church shall do everything in its power to see to it that your uncle is returned to you unharmed and that the Kurt Trading Company bothers you no further for whatever it is that they seek.  If you are leaving us tomorrow, then I invite you to stay the night and rest up for your long journey."

In the halls of Lionel Castle, they parted ways, Relena and Noin to the richly appointed guest suites for highly ranked nobility, and the rest of them to guest suites of somewhat less stature.  They had been personally invited by the Cardinal, and they were recently the princess' entourage, but they were also no more than common mercenaries and a petitioner at this point.

Relena smiled at them.  "Thank you for your assistance, all of you.  You rose far above what was originally expected of you to do the right thing, and for that, I owe you a debt far greater than any money could ever repay.  If I am ever in a position to return the assistance you have rendered to me, then I shall.  You have my word on that."

Noin nodded at them respectfully.

Quatre stepped up as spokesman.  "You honor us, Your Highness.  We could not have done otherwise, when faced with such an injustice before our very eyes, and particularly when we found ourselves inadvertently a part of it."  The money was a nice bonus, though.  Gold had been exchanged for the princess' safeguard, but that payment had gone to Odin, and in their flight, neither Noin nor Relena had ready recompense on them.  The men had dismissed the need for such payment, but the princess hadn't felt right about it, and in the end, arranged for Tsuberov to make payment in her stead.  She would have ample opportunity to repay the church, rather than a band of mercenaries she might never see again.

"And you, Hilde of Goug," Relena continued.  "I'm happy to have met you, and glad that I was able to play some small part in winning aid for your uncle.  I shall pray for his safety."

"Thank you, Your Highness."  Hilde dipped into another bow, almost getting used to this whole dealing-with-nobles thing.

"I wish you all good fortune in your journeys."  She nodded at them.  They all displayed some gesture of respect for her station, and then she paced sedately toward her suite.

They turned toward their own rooms, walking in silence for a bit before Duo piped up.  "I think she smiled extra special at Heero.  Did anyone else see that?"

No response.

"Sheesh.  Tough crowd.  So, Hilde.  What the Cardinal said..."

"I'm not confirming or denying anything," she declared stubbornly.

"He totally outed you already."

"I'm not confirming or denying anything."

"Leave her be," Wufei scolded.  "She has no reason to trust us."

Duo looked like he wanted to protest, but didn't really have a good argument to back up his claims.

Hilde shook her head, but it wasn't clear if she was denying it or dismissing it.  "Look, you guys said you'd escort me to Goug.  I appreciate that, but... I can't afford to hire five mercenaries, even if I wanted to."

"We offered our services without expectation of remuneration," Wufei replied, casting a stern look at Duo and Trowa.

"That just makes me trust you even less.  Mercs don't work for free."

"Then don't accept our services," Quatre responded calmly.  "But it just so happens that we feel like traveling in the direction of Goug."

"And I've always wanted to see the great Clockwork City," Duo added with a judicious nod.

"So it seems like good practice if you would allow us to be your travel companions on this journey.  The road is long, and there is safety in numbers."

They arrived at their assigned rooms and Hilde gave them all a good, hard look.  "Fine," she declared at length.  "Since we're heading the same direction and all."  She bid them good day for now and swept into her room with all the dignity of a noblewoman.

"Speaking of which..."  Quatre eyed Trowa and Duo.  "Perhaps you'd like to come in and discuss our travel arrangements?"

They looked at each other and nodded.

Once behind closed doors, they all settled in for some conversation.  Quatre opened the floor.  "You two said you'd travel with us at least as far as Lionel.  And now it seems we're all headed to Goug together.  Not that we don't appreciate the company, but I think we'd all be happier with a little clarification as to your intentions."

Trowa and Duo exchanged another long look.  Then Duo looked back to the others.  "Hey, why don't we get clarification on your intentions?  I mean, you were just as merc-y as we were, a few days ago.  How come we're the untrustworthy vagrants?"

"No one ever said we didn't trust you," Quatre said patiently.  "We've fought side by side and guarded each other's backs.  When faced with a moral decision, you chose to side with us when it would have been much easier and more profitable to just follow orders.  We trust you.  But if we're to be traveling together, it seems we should at least know what your goals are."

"What are yours?" Duo asked, chin stuck out just so slightly in a hint of petulant defiance.

Quatre paused, then glanced over to Heero.  It was not an entirely deliberate act and his intention was to look away quickly, but Heero's eyes caught his and held them for a few seconds.

Heero shifted his stance.  "I am not certain what our goals are," he admitted quietly.  "Clearly we will not be rejoining the Bolts.  I do not know what Odin will do in response to our betrayal."

"I rather think he was the betrayer in this case," Duo sniffed.

"Perhaps," Heero conceded with a small nod.  "Nevertheless... he may choose to hunt us down and make us pay.  He may tell others of our refusal to carry out orders, making it impossible for us to find work again.  He may do nothing.  Since we cannot know what he will do, we can only act as our conscience dictates.  For now, that means escorting Hilde to Goug.  Kurt Trading Company is clearly after her, and I would not abandon her to their mercies now.  As to what comes after... Well, it is several days' journey to Goug.  There will be plenty of time for thought."

Quatre gave him a supportive smile before turning back to the others.  "There you have it.  And as for you...?"

"Duo's always wanted to see the great Clockwork City," Trowa said dryly.

"Well, I do!"  Duo crossed his arms as if offended.

Trowa continued.  "I believe we are interested in simply going where the wind takes us for the moment."

"That's not very helpful," Wufei muttered.

"I don't believe your answer was any more helpful," Trowa pointed out mildly.  "But this is how we ended up with the Bolts in the first place.  We will see where we end up this time.  But for now, we are committing to traveling with you to Goug as members of the same group.  Our interests are aligned with yours.  You can count on us."

They had been allotted two rooms.  Trowa and Duo took one room, the rest took the other.  Once they had parted, they took the opportunity to wash the grime of the road off themselves before the evening meal.  They weren't nearly fortunate enough to get an ensuite bath, but water was in plentiful supply, and they made good use of it.

Wufei sat down next to Heero as Heero methodically rinsed, then wrung out a wash cloth.  He waited merely with an expectant air, and was finally rewarded for his patience with a soft sigh.  He took that as a sign to proceed.  "We still have much to think about, it seems," he said diplomatically.

"Indeed."  Heero's gaze passed over the furnishings of the room.  "I know this much for certain, though."  He looked over to Quatre, who sensed his attention and glanced up.  "I have no intention of making you bring me back to my senses again.  Once was already more than I can ever thank you for.  Twice would be a grevious injustice to our friendship."

Wufei reached out to clasp his shoulder warmly.  "We're with you."  He knew better than to try to insist once again that such thanks were wholly unnecessary.

Quatre added his support with a sunny expression.  "We're glad to hear it."

Heero smiled lopsidedly.  "That is not to say that I have any better idea of what to do with myself than last time.  Perhaps Trowa had the right idea -- perhaps we shall simply go where the wind takes us."

"Will they travel with us past Goug, do you think?"

"You'd like that, wouldn't you?" Wufei observed wryly.

"Well, they are such pleasant company," Quatre declared unrepentantly.  "And there is safety in numbers on the road.  And we work so well with them.  Between the five of us, we have the skills to handle almost any job, if we were interested in going that route.  We shall certainly not starve.  There is plenty of money to be made by men of our talents."

"Hmm."  Wufei glanced over to Heero to see if he would add a comment, but he did not.  Wufei decided to prod.  "What do you think, Heero?"

Heero was wringing out his washcloth again.  Only when he was done did he answer.  "It will be up to them."

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11 comments or Leave a comment
From: (Anonymous) Date: April 14th, 2014 02:43 am (UTC) (Link)
They seem to be jumping from one fire to another. May Odin get his sooner rather than later. Treize should only be pooped on by a chocoba. What a jerk... o.o
turnippatch From: turnippatch Date: April 15th, 2014 06:50 am (UTC) (Link)
Odin rates a worse punishment than Treize?
tanuki02 From: tanuki02 Date: April 16th, 2014 02:15 am (UTC) (Link)
Treize makes an excellent evil schemer, doesn't he?
I am very curious about the Clockwork City and the Mechanics! (Somehow, I don't think their high priest/chief gearhead is going to be nearly as dignified as most of the other High Whatevers we've met so far…)
turnippatch From: turnippatch Date: April 16th, 2014 07:23 am (UTC) (Link)
Their chief gearhead thinks Hawaiian shirts are quite dignified, thank you very much. =)
sharona1x2 From: sharona1x2 Date: April 18th, 2014 10:52 am (UTC) (Link)
Usually I don't comment under a reply, but I had to this time. You're making me want to see them go to Clockwork City ASAP. :-) I'm a little worried about Relena and Noin, though. I don't think I've ever read a story where Tsuberov wasn't a bad guy.
turnippatch From: turnippatch Date: April 19th, 2014 07:19 am (UTC) (Link)
I had need of a heck of a lot of older dudes for this story, and luckily the ranks of OZ and the Federation are filled with them. =p I almost started running out of them, even.  But you'll see damn near everyone who had a name get at least name-dropped here. ^^'
ramenkuri From: ramenkuri Date: April 20th, 2014 04:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
The plot thickens!
creepy tsuberov...

Go Trowa!
turnippatch From: turnippatch Date: April 21st, 2014 07:10 am (UTC) (Link)
Like, a year or two ago, I threw up a little post wondering aloud if one could write an AU with, say, a bad guy pretending to be good, and wouldn't it be no fun if everyone just saw it a mile away that the guy was actually a bad guy, just because they knew the bad guy was a bad guy going into it... Then I stopped thinking about it.  That's the kind of thing that can keep a person up at night. =p
ramenkuri From: ramenkuri Date: April 21st, 2014 02:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
Very true, it wouldn't be any fun. Guess that kind of thing is harder to do in fandom.

On a tangent, I guess that one of the more limiting aspects of fandom might be that to some extent I come in with certain preconceptions, and indeed I choose the fic I read based on pairing etc.

turnippatch From: turnippatch Date: April 24th, 2014 07:21 am (UTC) (Link)
I suppose one could pull it off with Treize, Zechs, the Mads... We have a tendency to write them either way, good or bad.  People like Tsuberov, though, not so much.  And I suppose by the same standard, we don't often turn our heroes into villains, either.  But I guess I care more about proper characterization than surprising the reader, so hey, if it's canon-correct to make so-and-so the character that he is, I'm not going to cry about it.

But at the same time... if I was watching a movie and there was a guy with a British accent for no particular reason, I'd probably assume he was an evil mastermind. ^^' When I watch any show or movie, I assume if there's a guy and a girl, they're probably getting together.  Probably quickly.  So I guess it's not a problem limited to fandom alone.
ramenkuri From: ramenkuri Date: May 14th, 2014 02:18 pm (UTC) (Link)
Good point. I used to get super annoyed that the generic Middle Eastern character was always the bad guy in various Hollywood movies.
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