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fic - the faithful and the brave : 13 [novella] - the turnip patch
version 2.0
fic - the faithful and the brave : 13 [novella]
Happy 2/12 day!  I tried to throw some quick romance together, but that didn't work, so I guess this will just have to do instead.

The Faithful and the Brave
Part 13

They took their rest before the walls of Zaland Fort City came into view.  The sun had not yet set, but they intended to pass the city after dark, after the traffic of everyday life had dispersed.  Once past Zaland, they would be on their way out of the duchy of Lionel.  That border was perhaps mere mental comfort, but they were in sore need of some mental comfort at the moment.  There had been no debate amongst themselves in the aftermath of their battle against the demon that had once been a Cardinal.  They felt neither shame nor regret for their actions, for clearly Tsuberov had consorted with dark powers and brought his own ruin upon him, but even now they could not imagine a single scenario that might end well for them if they had stayed to try to explain what had happened, and thus they had been left to sneak out of the city as if they were guilty of murder and treason.

They huddled around a fire, waiting for their early supper to finish cooking.  They had no need to fear its light being seen since the sun was still out, so they took advantage of the situation to get a hot meal while they could.  The last day and a half had been hard on them as they pushed to put as much distance between them and the castle as possible.  Avoiding all notice as they departed was impossible, but Duo had been doing a good job of passing them off as average, everynight characters going about their business when they had noticed a red glow in the night sky above the castle.  "Looks like fire," a shady character nearby had observed, and Duo took a moment to agree with a folksy cynicism before hustling them along at precisely their previous pace.  He didn't care whether it was the saints deciding they would no longer tolerate a hellspawn within their sanctum, or more likely a candelabrum knocked over during their fight starting a slow burn that finally found some proper fuel, so long as no one thought they were the arsonists.  They made their escape without raising any alarms and since then had seen no signs of pursuit.  They took all reasonable precautions to make sure it stayed that way.

Conversation between them had been limited to the necessities thus far.  This was really the first opportunity they had to sit and contemplate their sorry circumstances.  Their rough-sketched plan carried them out of Lionel and then into a murky future.

"The Impure King," Wufei said suddenly.  The others turned their eyes to him and he cleared his throat self-consciously.  "Cúchulainn, the Impure King.  His name was familiar.  I have only just remembered why.  It is said the gods created him to purify the world by swallowing the impurities of the world into himself, but the world was filled with so much impurity and corruption that he was overcome by it and --"

"-- turned into a fat poison freak?" Duo finished sardonically.

"Ah.  Perhaps.  If the stories hold any truth.  If the demon we met was indeed the Cúchulainn of myth."

"What connection has he to the Zodiac Stones?" Quatre wondered.

Wufei was silent for a moment as he thought.  "For that, I have no sure answer.  When last the Stones were seen in Ivalice, it was in the company of St. Ajora.  The King of Limberry had summoned some sort of evil from beyond, and St. Ajora and the Zodiac Braves rode forth to defeat it.  Perhaps the evil was sealed within the Stones?  I'm afraid I am no religious scholar."

"But it seems unlikely that Cúchulainn was the demon thusly summoned.  Let us not forget his words to us, that we would dare 'to stand in the way of his resurrection.'  I fear the answer to the obvious question."

"You don't think there's one of those demons inside every Stone, do you?" Duo asked with urgent concern.  "What about the one we left behind?"

"They should be safe," Wufei assured him, stopping himself from looking at his pack where the Scorpio Stone was currently hidden.  They had no desire for it, nor its power, but it seemed imprudent to leave it behind and it had fallen to the mages to stand watch over it.  "This one has been quiet since... that night.  And that one has been hidden for who knows how long.  If it hasn't woken thus far, I doubt it will now, all on its own."

"But how do we--"

"We don't.  But they're in no more danger now than they would have been had they never unearthed it."

Duo worked his jaw for a few seconds before swallowing it down with a sour expression.  It was too risky now to do anything other than leave things as they were.  "What should we do with ours?  Throw it down Mt. Bervenia, you think?"

"Volcanoes sit at a confluence of the earth's energy, where it crashes together, sometimes violently.  I would not throw any thing of great power into a huge pool of volatility."

"Yeah?  Sorry, not all of us went to mage school."

"But setting aside the technical aspects of your suggestion... There may be answers within the Stone.  We would be hasty to rid ourselves of it so soon."

"Damn.  Thing gives me the creeps now."

"Oh?  And how would you like to walk with it in your pack?"

"Huh.  Good point."

Heero reached out silently to rotate the birds on their spit.

Quatre studied him with his healer's eye.  Heero was tired, though he did not show it much.  The march hadn't smoothed his recovery any.  "Something troubles you, Heero, and I don't think it is the Stone."

He settled back into his seat before replying.  "There is no shortage of things to be troubled by, my friend."

"What do you find of particular concern?"

He contemplated the fire for a good long moment before shaking his head.  "There is no shortage of things to be troubled by, my friend.... My concerns are my own, Quatre.  I would not needlessly add them to the mountain before us."

Duo snorted.  "If we're already sitting on a mountain of woes, what's another boulder or two?"

Heero smiled fleetingly, but declined to speak.

Quatre gave it another shot.  "It's a mountain we're climbing together."  He got a raised eyebrow for his troubles, but continued unfazed.  "If there is another trouble as yet unforeseen lurking on the horizon... Well, I would rather know it sooner rather than later."

Another darkly amused sound came from Duo's quarter.  "Get all our worrying done at once, shall we?"

"And no reason for you to carry more than your share of the load," Quatre finished.

"It is none of your --"  Heero's sharp words lost their edge abruptly as he stopped himself from completing his sentence.  His lips twisted in irritation at himself, and he spent several breaths chastising himself before offering his apology.  "I fear my brother may have had a hand in Princess Relena's kidnapping."

That gave Quatre pause.  "What makes you say that?"

Heero lined up the tidbits of data in his mind and gave them a hard stare before exhaling audibly.  "He keeps coming up," he concluded softly.  "I had thought it only natural that they would see my blood, my family, for thus it is among the nobility.  The names we bear can be more important to some than our selves.  But Odin was no noble, and... he spoke of my brother with familiarity.  That he would know my brother by reputation, I have no doubt, but the manner of his speech suggested personal experience.  And when I said my brother had naught to do with this, Odin laughed.  Tsuberov, too, made a point of mentioning him.  Perhaps Treize did not personally order the Princess' abduction, but at the very least, he is in the thick of things, as I would expect of him.  He would not stand on the sidelines of something so important as the succession."

"Heero..." Quatre said with a significant look and a subtle tilt of his head toward the others.

It took a moment for him to understand.  "I'm certain Duo was paying attention when Odin declared that my father commanded the Knights of Romefeller.  He has held his tongue thus far, but let us not pretend any longer.  It does not take a scholar in the noble Houses to figure things out from there."

The sudden frankness caught Duo flatfooted for a few seconds.  "Well... the past forty-eight hours have hardly been the time to discuss these things," he commented, glancing apologetically at Trowa, who merely shrugged.  "But now that you've brought it up..."

Quatre studied the two of them.  "You're not surprised."

"Yeah, well... Can't say the House of Kushrenada was very high on our list, but we hadn't crossed it off yet."  It probably ought to have been higher on that list, but for the sheer absurdity of it.  "Since we're not beating around the bush here... Let me see if we have our facts straight.  You're a bastard born to a common mother, but your father fully acknowledged you?"

Heero nodded, just enough to get the point across without being stiff or rude.

"Huh.  Lucky bastard.  Heh, literally.  What did his lady wife think of that?"

"His lady wife died three years ere I was born."

"Hm.  How old is your brother?"

"He is nine years my senior."

"How is it your father did not remarry?" Trowa asked while Duo was mulling things over.  "An heir and a spare.  That's the general policy, isn't it?  You don't really qualify as the spare, no offense."

"An heir and a spare," Heero echoed distastefully.  "Yes, that's true.  Father did his duty to his House.  Treize had a younger trueborn brother.  He died of illness at the age of nine.  But by that time, my sister and I had already been born, and Treize was twelve, healthy and strong and well on his way to manhood.  My own mother died two years later.  Father could have remarried without complications, but he did not.  Whether by choice or by lack of a suitable candidate, I will not guess."

"Just as well, I suppose.  The succession to the throne is a pretty sticky matter, but I imagine succession to the right hand of the throne could get pretty sticky, too."

"Treize is heir.  There is no dispute there.  Things only get 'sticky' if he dies without issue.  At worst, the king steps in to decide.  It's not as if such a thing has never happened before."

Their fire hit a branch not as dry as the others.  It smoked and popped and Wufei soothed the flames with an absent thought.  "Too bad no one's in a position to step in and decide for the throne."

Duo snorted.  "I think it's the opposite problem, really.  We've got more than one person stepping in, trying to decide."

Wufei tilted his head in concession of the point.

"Had enough of them?" Wufei murmured.

Heero nudged his chocobo into matching pace with the two birds beside them.  "A good squad leader makes the time to talk to all of his men," he answered blandly.  He kept up the innocuous look for all of a few seconds before wincing in advance of whatever Karl was about to say in vehement rebuttal of Zechs' cool remark.

"And knows when to stay out of the crossfire?" Quatre finished.

He made a neutral sound in response.  Ahead of them, Zechs and Karl had been engaged in unfriendly debate for most of their journey back from their task.  Karl believed killing monsters to prevent damage to a farmer's crop to be somewhat beneath him.  There were brigands to fight, rebels to put down.  But there was also drought to the east, and fields still lying fallow from when their farmers had been drafted for the war, perhaps never to return.  The war was over now, and though Ivalice had not officially lost against its neighbor Ordallia, it certainly had not won, and fifty years of war took its toll.  The unrest among the returned soldiers would not be calmed if there was a shortage of food.

Karl was from the east himself, Heero recalled, but food supplies seemed far from his mind.  The rescue of his lord Marquis Septem had not calmed him significantly.  Rather than returning to Limberry with his lord, he had received permission to remain at Igros for a short term to further his training, and Karl seemed particularly intent upon honing his skills against the rebels of White Fang.  Naturally, he still thought Heero a fool for letting Quinze go, but Quinze and his men had laid low since the incident, giving Heero no cause to second guess his decision.

The only thing he had to second guess at the moment was his agreement to allow Karl to patrol with his squad.  He wondered how they could pretend to keep the king's peace when there was no peace amongst themselves.  Karl was the easily agitated type; Heero accepted that with a philosophical shrug and did not try to alter the man's character.  Zechs was generally a levelheaded companion, but he had a temper when provoked, and Karl said a lot of provocative things.

Heero didn't agree with most anything Karl said, but it didn't get under his skin the way it did for Zechs.  Mostly, he was just sad that there were people that thought the way Karl did, that believed that the common born were less than the noble born by mere virtue of their birth.  Karl had gone on about how helping the farmer was a waste of the duchy's resources, that the farmer should have been able to take care of the problem himself somehow.  Zechs had argued the point from a practical standpoint of the importance of farmers and their produce, of the farmer's own lack of ability to deal with monsters himself and the lack of resources to hire someone to do it for him.  But Heero saw it from a different angle entirely.  The pledge between a farmer and his liege lord went both ways.  His father had taught him that.

Through the southern gates of Igros Castle, Heero could see that something was wrong.  There were too many guards in the courtyard, and they were agitated, on alert.  He pushed his chocobo past the others and made haste down the road.

He was halted by two guards, but they recognized him easily enough after he identified himself and his crew.  "What's going on?" he asked them.

"We're not clear," one of the guards answered tensely, keeping an eye on the activity behind them.  "We've word that there may be an assassin in the castle."

He drew in a sharp breath.  "Assassin?  Treize?"  He tried to think of where his brother might be at this time of day, but Treize was a busy man, and Heero came to no conclusions.

The squawking of chocobos to the east had everyone turning their heads in that direction.  Heero's own chocobo pranced beneath him and he struggled to rein it in before sliding off and running in the direction of the eastern gate on foot.  Once he got line of sight, he saw chocobos squabbling in the courtyard, escaped from the nearby corral, men milling around the edges of the ruckus trying to calm them, and as he neared, he smelled the reason why -- the tangy sweet scent of sylkis greens, likely scattered across the ground in the middle of that knot of chocobos, all eagerly jostling for position around the unexpected bonanza.

He wasn't quite there yet when he saw a man pull himself up onto the back of one of the unruly birds.  His manner of dress would allow him to pass at a glance as an off-duty guard, perhaps, but as there was an opportunity of a few extra seconds to study him as he turned his chocobo around, Heero noted that no guard of House Kushrenada would be so shabbily garbed.  With a demanding hand, the man wrenched the protesting bird around and made a run for the gate.  Shouts chased after him, and one man tried to pull him from his seat while two more tried to block his path, but he slipped past the one and nearly ran the other two down as he made it out the gate.

A guard managed to get herself astride one of the chocobos, but it took her almost another ten seconds to get the bird's attention off the tasty distraction and out the gate in pursuit.  Three other guards managed the same and followed in her wake.

Heero entered the courtyard as Une emerged from a door into the keep with nothing but fury in her eyes.  "Report!" she snapped out, her voice cutting through the hubbub.

"Sir!"  A nearby guard saluted her hastily before reporting what he knew.  It was not much more than Heero had been able to surmise on his own, that someone had thrown a basket full of sylkis greens stolen from the stables' storeroom into the courtyard and the chocobos had gone wild for them, jumping the fence of their corral to get at them in a fervent mob.  The assassin had escaped during the distraction, while also hobbling their ability to pursue him.

Une swept an icy glare across the courtyard.  "Well?  What are you all waiting for?  After him!  Bring him back, dead or alive!"

The flock was beginning to settle down now that most of the greens had been snatched up, so one by one, a detachment of guards managed to follow her order.

Heero strode anxiously to her side.  "Une.  Treize...?"

Her eyes flickered over to him, and he nearly took a step back.  He knew her to be stern, but kind, and generally patient with and tolerant of her lord's young half-brother.  None of that was evident in her cold expression.

She was about to speak when he looked past her and into the keep.  "Treize!"  He ran within, down the hall to where Treize was limping stubbornly along with two knights and a healer orbiting him.  The Duke of Gallione had a hand pressed to a wound in his side while the other hand swatted away the concern of the healer.  There was another slash in his shoulder, but it was shallow and the bleeding had already stopped.

"Lord Treize!"  Heero had not heard the sound of her running behind him, and yet Une somehow reached Treize at the same time he did.  Where Treize had brushed aside the attempts of his knights to aid him, he accepted Une's arm offered in unobtrusive support.  "The assassin caused a distraction in the courtyard and fled through the eastern gate on chocobo.  We have men in pursuit.  The assassin will not escape justice, my lord, I swear it.  He shall pay for this daring crime!  I will not rest until -- Lord Treize!" she exclaimed as he wavered.  She guided him over to a bench against the wall.  "What are you waiting for, healer?"

"I'm sorry, milady, he refused --"  The healer decided she was not interested in explanations and set to healing the duke immediately.

"Worry not, milady," Treize said calmly, eyes fixed on the scene out the door.  "The assassin failed.  He has accomplished nothing but his own demise.  I have complete faith in your ability to see the task done."

She bowed deeply.  "Yes, your Grace."

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6 comments or Leave a comment
lavendarlizard From: lavendarlizard Date: February 13th, 2015 03:28 am (UTC) (Link)
I kinda don't feel like sleeping in the dark tonight. O.o

I also hope Quatre's working on that other magic thing. Heero's had a pretty sucky day, poor guy.

turnippatch From: turnippatch Date: February 13th, 2015 08:15 am (UTC) (Link)
Perhaps your kitties can pounce on any demons hiding underneath your bed. =)

Heero's tough.  He'll manage. ^_^
sharona1x2 From: sharona1x2 Date: February 14th, 2015 02:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
Treize was very lucky to not get hurt worse than he did. That was a clever attack. I'd hate to be that assassin when Une gets a hold of him!
turnippatch From: turnippatch Date: February 15th, 2015 06:57 am (UTC) (Link)
Nothing riles Une up like someone putting her precious Treize's life in danger!
sunhawk16 From: sunhawk16 Date: February 15th, 2015 11:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, good that's all out in the open now... makes them feel a little bit more like a band of merry men, and a little less 'us and them'.
And Une is just scary....
turnippatch From: turnippatch Date: February 17th, 2015 06:32 am (UTC) (Link)
Well, that's out in the open, but there's one more big thing that really needs to get out in the open before they're a proper band of merry men...
6 comments or Leave a comment