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fic - the faithful and the brave : 15 [novella] - the turnip patch
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fic - the faithful and the brave : 15 [novella]
Title:  The Faithful and the Brave
Part:  15

The Faithful and the Brave
Part 15

"I must ask for your sword once more, Sir Noin."

She did not deign to look at him for a few seconds, sweeping her gaze over the impromptu battlefield instead.  They had been outnumbered eight to four, and ambushed on top of that, but the fight had gone their way.  Fortunately, Zechs had considered the odds and promptly handed over her sword to assist in the princess' defense.

Noin finally acknowledged him with a steady gaze.  The odds were three to one now, once again not in her favor, and worse yet, Princess Relena was closer to the two other knights that accompanied them than she was to her.  The adrenaline from the fight was only just now fading, and it was an effort to temper her resistance.

Zechs met her eyes evenly.  "I hope we have just proven our desire to see the princess safely to Duke Weyridge.  We shall allow no harm to come to her before we reach Zeltennia.  Will you not trust us with that duty?"

"Will you not trust me with mine?" she answered, sweetness barely covering the steel beneath.  "I hope I have proven that I can carry my sword without cutting you down where you stand."

He cracked the briefest of smiles.  "Ah, but I am afraid propriety does not allow for that.  Nor prudence.  You have just proven that you can take down three men on your own, milady.  I would be a fool to underestimate your prowess."

She suppressed a derisive sound.  As if flattery would subdue her.  "And if assassins should attack once more?"

"Then you shall have your sword once more, milady.  Though I doubt Duke Barton would send another group of men after the princess so soon.  But until such a time..."

She made no move to surrender her weapon.  "I am a Knight of the Holy Sword."

"And I shall treat your sword as the holy artefact that it is."  Her eyes narrowed, and Zechs thought perhaps charm would only be taken as mockery.  He slid easily into another tactic.  "There are many forces in play here.  You may not think highly of Duke Weyridge's ambitions, but at least he does not wish the princess dead.  You are a Knight of the Holy Sword, milady, and you agreed to safeguard Princess Relena against threat and foe.  Escorting her into the custody of a man who would protect her with an army against all threat and foe seems well within your mandate."

"All threat and foe, save himself."

"True.  But then at least you would only need to protect Princess Relena against the one."  There was almost a mischievous glint in his eye.  Almost.  "Unless you give me cause to reconsider... I will return your sword as soon as we reach Zeltennia, and you will to all eyes be nothing more than Princess Relena's trusted and faithful bodyguard."

Noin regarded him with cool mistrust.  He seemed to be offering her a fresh start, so to speak, with no one questioning her place by the princess' side.  Though it pained her to admit it, even to herself, Weyridge's camp did appear to be the best option at the moment.  Even were she to free them from their undesired escort, where would they go?  And moreover, what would they do?  Princess Relena was heir to the throne, legitimately or not, and though she had spoken of relinquishing her claim, it had been only for the cause of peace.  Relena showed no signs of wishing to flee her fate, to live on the run, hunted by both sides of the conflict.  When even the Church had decided not to stand apart from the situation, perhaps Zechs was right -- perhaps the best choice was to run with one's fate instead of away, and perhaps manage to steer its course.

With one last frown, she surrendered her sword to his custody.

He accepted it solemnly and mounted his chocobo.  "Your Highness.  It's time to move on.  I do apologize that we are unable to escort you in a fashion better suited to your station."

After a quiet word with Noin, Relena allowed herself to be shepherded along.  "It is not one's trappings that determines one's nobility, but rather one's duty to the people in one's care.  Your friend Heero told me that."

"Did he, now?  Good to know at least one Kushrenada is still keeping the faith."


He glanced sidelong at her to see her politely confused expression.  A look beyond her to Noin showed similar non-comprehension in a raised eyebrow.  "Ah, that's right.  Heero has been traveling under the name of Yuy, hasn't he?"

"He was introduced to me as such, though he did mention that... it was not his family name.  He is a Kushrenada, then..."  Relena had not yet had the leisure to study as she had wanted to, but the House of Kushrenada needed no introduction.

"Heero is half-brother to Duke Treize."

Noin made a suspicious sound.  "The Kushrenadas have sided with Duke Barton."

"As one might perhaps deduce, Heero has been travelling his own path for some time now, if that is of some concern to you."

"Have you been observing him on that path?" Relena asked innocently.

Zechs glanced curiously at her, unwilling to answer the question until he understood her reason for asking.

She obliged with a tone of gentle rebuke.  "He thought you were dead all this time.  Your death has weighed heavily upon him."

His brow rose fractionally.  It was many long seconds before he responded.  "I too have chosen my own path to walk."

"Do you consider him your friend still?"

It was even longer this time before he spoke.  "I suspect the two boys that were once dear friends are dead and gone now, Your Highness.  One of them more dead than the other," he added quietly to himself.

"I think I would not relinquish such a friendship so easily.  But perhaps I know too little of friendship, having so few friends myself.  Or perhaps it is exactly that scarcity that causes me to value it all the more."

Zechs smiled faintly as her words registered.  The Peacecraft blood did not run through her veins, and yet peacemaker she surely was.  "It would seem Heero made quite the impression on you, milady."

"He offered me kind words when he had no need to do so.  And I fear such moments shall be in short supply in the coming days."

It took several days for the political situation to become clear, and even then they could not be certain of their interpretation.  It all started with King Peacecraft's death.  Whether his illness finally claimed him or he fell prey to the weapon of one of the half dozen different suspects, it was a fact that the King was dead.

And after that, events tumbled quickly.  Duke Barton and his daughter moved swiftly to proclaim Mariemaia the new Queen of Ivalice.  It seemed Princess Relena made it safely into Duke Weyridge's custody, for she too was proclaimed the new Queen of Ivalice at roughly the same time.  The order in which the announcements were made was irrelevant to the nobles scrambling to position themselves in the coming war.

They had held out hope that it would not come to that.  The rumors flew fiercely at first, that one side or the other had already won the throne in this spectacular and bloody fashion or that.  Most were too incredible or too terrible to believe, but in the end, it seemed certain that armies were gathering on both sides, and that civil war had come to Ivalice.

The five men gathered in one of their rented rooms, sorting through the stories they each had heard during the day.

Duo punched the bedding in frustration.  "Damn the nobles.  We're not even recovered from the last war, and now they start a new one!"

"Are the two sides evenly matched?" Trowa asked.

Heero answered.  "Duke Barton will have the armies of Romefeller at his side, as Duke Weyridge will have the armies of the Southern Sky.  Both have more than capable generals, well-seasoned by the last war.  Should they go head-to-head..."  He could not bring himself to articulate it aloud and instead only shook his head grimly.

"The nobles are aligning themselves," Wufei mused aloud.  "But the Church has thus far maintained its neutrality.  Do you think perhaps Tsuberov was the beginning and the end of that scheme?"

Quatre frowned.  "If only things were so simple, Wufei.  It is possible that the Church is no more involved in the succession than Tsuberov's machinations, yet we know there was more to Tsuberov's scheme than the matter of the succession."  He paused for a heavy moment to let them all remember the matter of 'his' resurrection.  "We also know that it took almost a week for rumor of his death to start to spread.  That there was someone left to orchestrate a cover-up implies that he was not working alone.  Perhaps the time has come for us to... give some thought to the situation."

They glanced uneasily at each other before yielding to the inevitable.  It had been easy to simply concentrate on being normal and inconspicuous and forget why they were lying low in the first place.

Duo sighed loudly.  "What exactly did you have in mind, Quatre?  Because I for one am pretty content just to wake up in the morning and open the door and not find an army of hellspawn outside."

Trowa snorted.

"Hey, I'm a simple guy.  Let's face it.  We stumbled on something, completely by accident.  In the pursuit of something that wasn't an accident maybe, but I'm pretty sure none of us saw that coming.  And now, I dunno, I suspect you're implying we have some sort of moral imperative to do something about it, just because we happened to survive the encounter."

"Are you suggesting we just forget that ever happened?"

"If it's a matter of killing it before it kills us, that's something I understand.  But if you're talking about going way out of our way to hunt down some big bad nasty -- actually, an even bigger badder nasty than the one we've already met, one that may not even know that we exist yet, well... maybe you oughta think about that, eh?  Let's just not overlook all our options, yeah?"

"Think about him, and what he said.  If... if a 'bigger badder nasty' really is involved, even if it's not coming after us personally... I doubt it has good intentions for this land.  I doubt there is such a thing as 'this doesn't concern us'.  I have a feeling it will concern us all, if left unchecked."

"Quite likely," he agreed evenly, surprising Quatre.  "And you're proposing that we be the courageous young fools that do the checking?"

"Well... it seems we are uniquely positioned to do so."

Duo grimaced, then waved his hand at Trowa as if to say, 'he's your crush, you deal with him.'  His own crush seemed to be lost in thought and barely paying attention to the conversation.

"We still have it," Trowa mentioned, with a nod toward Wufei to clarify his oblique reference to the Scorpio Stone.  "What do we know about it?"

"I asked some of the white mages I've been working with about them.  I didn't learn anything new from them.  They didn't seem to know anything more than what we've already heard.  It seemed like the best place to do more research into the matter would be at Orbonne Monastery, but..."

Wufei shook his head.  "I, too, have done what research I can while here.  Which is not much.  I have found no connections between what we encountered and what we have."

Duo huffed impatiently.  "He pretty much straight out said it isn't what we think it is.  That sounds like a deep, dark secret to me.  You know, the kind you're unlikely to suss out without risk to life and limb."

"Well, it had to be done," Quatre said pleasantly.  "Let's not overlook any of our options here."

"Okay.  What other options have we got?"

There was a weighty pause in the discussion.

"We should go to the capital," Heero said abruptly.

There was another pause, and then Duo leapt into the breach.  "Huh?"

Heero blinked his attention over to the thief.  "My brother is at the capital."

Duo stared at him for a moment before shaking his head slowly to demonstrate his utter lack of understanding.  He glanced at the others in confirmation, then glanced back.  "Huh?"

Heero frowned faintly and went back to focusing on nothing in particular.  "There is an unknown player in this war.  We saved the princess from Barton's assassins... and were convinced to deliver her to Lionel rather than Zeltennia."

"Are you implying our old friend is in league with...?"  Wufei trailed off, in part for discretion, and in part because the idea was simply disturbing.

"I do not know," Heero answered softly, his frown deepening.  "I cannot believe... I do not wish to believe that that is the case.  That he would..."  He shook his head sharply.  "There may be even more layers to this than we yet realize.  Regardless of his role in this, we know that Tsuberov delivered the princess to Weyridge in the end.  Yet we also know that Tsuberov directed Odin to finish us off, when Odin was on contract with Barton.  Was he playing both sides?  And to what end?  And if it ties into the rest of it..."

"If perhaps your brother were made aware that some third party might be manipulating the political situation in service to some dark plot," Quatre concluded thoughtfully.  "I doubt it would put an end to this civil war, for both sides have committed now.  But he could make an effort not to play right into the hands of those who wish Ivalice harm... Yes, you're quite right, Heero.  We may not know the extent of this plot, but we can take steps to safeguard against it."

Trowa leaned back in his seat, stretching his long legs out in front of him.  "Lesalia may be a difficult city to navigate."

"We've been there before," Wufei pointed out.

"But not while it was the headquarters for one half of a civil war.  There will be a lot of traffic there."

"On the other hand, if we're heading out, the sooner the better," Duo recommended with no hint of his earlier reluctance.  "Situation's only gonna get more serious as things go on.  At least it'll be pretty straightforward to get some work heading that direction."

"So you're agreeing to take some action?" Wufei asked with deliberate casualness.

Duo shrugged carelessly.  "About time we were moving on anyway, I'd say.  We've been here long enough, done what we came here to do.  As for the details of your plan... I'm gonna point out that I didn't hear Quatre suggest that Heero's brother might actually be an ally of ours or anything.  So that part's sounding a little iffy to me.  But hey, what's north of here?  Zeklaus?  There's some good opportunities in Zeklaus."

Zechs strode confidently into the receiving hall and made his bow before the seat of the Duke.

Weyridge gestured for him to rise.  "So, you're the knight that rescued our Queen Relena from Barton's men."

"Zechs Merquise, Your Grace, of General Bonaparte's Third Unit, under the flag of the Eastern Command."  He bowed once more.

"Bonaparte's command...," General Noventa mused from his post to Weyridge's right.  "I thought his unit wiped out in the battle at Tchita."

"Quite nearly so, my lord."

"Ivalice is in your debt," Weyridge pronounced benevolently.  "I have been told that you have information you wished to deliver to me personally."

"I do, Your Grace.  We searched the bodies of the men that attacked the Queen.  That Duke Barton was behind it, there is no doubt.  But it seems he is not alone in his treacherous plots.  I recovered this packet from one of the men."  He untied a pouch from his belt, and a knight in Weyridge's colors came forth to take it and present it to the Duke.

Zechs kept his head respectfully lowered as he watched Weyridge sift through the contents of the pouch.  The Duke seemed an efficient man to him, scanning the material quickly for an overview before going back to review what had caught his eye.  He was not the type that relied overmuch on his advisers to conduct his business for him, that was clear.

A frown grew on Weyridge's face as he read, and Zechs bided his time.

One of the Duke's advisers, Lord Daigonegell, leaned forward with interest.  "What is it, Your Grace?"

"Troubling news?" Noventa asked.

"Troubling news, indeed,"  Weyridge straightened the papers into an orderly stack before gesturing to his guards.  "Take Lord Daigonegell into custody."

The guards hesitated, but after a moment, two stepped forward to surround him.

"Your Grace!" Daigonegell squeaked indignantly.  "What is the meaning of this?"

"These papers here name you traitor and spy.  Written here is information that few were privy to."

"It must have been one of the others, Your Grace!"

"There were others, true.  Nor were you the only one to advise that I turn my eye from Barrett's Keep.  But you are the only one to have done both."

"An ill coincidence, Your Grace.  I am neither traitor nor spy!  I have served you always --"

"Guards, please see to it that Lord Daigonegell is held with respect while his chambers are searched."

Zechs stood to the side as they escorted the protesting man out and General Noventa excused himself to oversee the search.  He continued to stand silently while Weyridge mulled over the papers for a moment longer, and finally he was called back before the Duke.

"If my suspicions are correct, it seems we shall be in doubly your debt, Sir Zechs."

"Good fortune and happenstance placed those papers in my hands, Your Grace," he demurred humbly.  He could well afford the humility, knowing they would find all they needed to find the adviser guilty of his crimes.  He hadn't even needed to plant it.  The ridiculous truth of the matter was that Daigonegell truly was a spy.  It was the man's misfortune that the men that paid him decided his last task would be as sacrifice.

How easily these nobles used each other.  What a despicable lot.

for those of us that haven't consulted a master list of gw characters lately, the internet reminds me that daigonegell was the alliance dude that took sanq, for which zechs killed him.

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8 comments or Leave a comment
sharona1x2 From: sharona1x2 Date: April 19th, 2015 07:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
I would not want to get on the bad side of Zechs. I'm only surprised that he didn't have to do any framing. I could easily believe he'd do that, if he thought he needed to. He'd have no regrets.
turnippatch From: turnippatch Date: April 20th, 2015 08:03 am (UTC) (Link)
Sometimes, corrupt nobles just make things too easy. =p
lavendarlizard From: lavendarlizard Date: April 21st, 2015 03:05 am (UTC) (Link)
You do what you gotta do. I still want to smack the crap out of him.

This is like a nautilus shell; all twists.

turnippatch From: turnippatch Date: April 23rd, 2015 04:32 am (UTC) (Link)
All twists I didn't even have to invent myself!  Well, no, I did have to do some work.  In the original, the Zechs character accused the guy, then promptly murdered him in 'self-defense', and golly gee, too bad that guy isn't around to defend himself against my accusations anymore... -_- That didn't really fly with me.
sunhawk16 From: sunhawk16 Date: April 22nd, 2015 12:42 am (UTC) (Link)
What a despicable lot.... of which he is pretty much one. :D
turnippatch From: turnippatch Date: April 23rd, 2015 04:32 am (UTC) (Link)
Perhaps they deserve each other.
ramenkuri From: ramenkuri Date: April 22nd, 2015 04:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
I hope Noin has more opportunities to kick ass.

Lol, um, yay for corrupt nobles?
turnippatch From: turnippatch Date: April 23rd, 2015 04:35 am (UTC) (Link)
I'll be happy if I have more opportunities to write her so she doesn't seem like she's got a Holy Sword stuck up her backside. =p
8 comments or Leave a comment