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fic - the faithful and the brave : 33 [novella] - the turnip patch
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fic - the faithful and the brave : 33 [novella]
Title:  The Faithful and the Brave
Part:  33

The Faithful and the Brave
Part 33

Lord Trant of Yardrow had gone on at length about the strength of his garrison's cavalry, both in regards to his men and his birds.  He spoke about their new developments in chocobo armor.  He mentioned the last two sorties sent forth by their ill-mannered neighbors to the north.  He complained about the quality of the fare coming out of the kitchen lately, and praised the quality of the wine coming out of Bariaus Valley last year.

He had thought Knight Commander Dermail would break before now, but the damnable man had listened patiently this entire time, and even offered the occasional pleasant response.

Trant turned the clenching of his teeth into a genteel smile with dubious success and brought the conversation around to that which he had been quite consciously talking past.  "The stoicism of our garrison here is in large part forged in the Yuguewood.  The revenants to be found there would send lesser men after their mother's skirts, but such is Yardrow's duty to patrol.  I was proud of my men when they told me they had discovered a cache in the Wood.  Most men would not stray from the road."  He paused, but still Dermail held out on him and did not betray any curiosity.  Trant had called Dermail here to negotiate, but things did not seem to be going well for him and he was forced to give a little more ground.  "When they reported their findings to me, I recalled some rumors I had heard.  I do not like to listen to rumors, but you are here, so there must have been some substance to the news."

At last, at last the bastard deigned to respond.  "Why so I am.  I confess, I was not expecting a summons to come from this quarter."

Trant was not certain whether that was intended as an insult or not.  Yardrow was on the Northern border of Ivalice, a mere outpost in comparison to Fovoham's capital Riovanes to the south.  It had been more important during the war, but when both countries had pulled back to lick their wounds, Yardrow had lost its significance.  The occasional encounter with their neighbor was more the mere restlessness of men than any real threat.  "I would not dare 'summon' the Lord Commander of the Knights Templar.  I apologize if you interpreted my message as such.  I sought only to leave word that my men had found something I had heard might be of interest to you.  When I saw the Stone... I knew immediately it was more than it seemed."

"Oh?" Dermail said mildly.  "What did it seem like to you?"

He had intended to answer loftily, but the feeling within the Stone came back to him with a slight shiver and the truth fell from his lips unbidden.  "That it was an object of great power.  That there was something about it, something... alive."

"Hmm.  Yes, they are fascinating objects, are they not?  So strangely beautiful.  And strangely terrifying."

"Hm?"  Trant scarcely heard the end of Dermail's comments, busy as he was exulting over the fact that Dermail was no longer playing coy with him.  "Oh, yes... Terrifying?  Yes, I... can see that."  He rallied back to his cause.  "It seems to me an appropriate collectible for a man of your stature."

"But you are the one that found it.  Would you not like to keep it?"

Trant stumbled in his pitch, hardly expecting generosity.  The man was toying with him.  Well, two could play at hard to get.  "Well, perhaps it could be an object of pride for my men.  A trophy of their brave venture into the Yuguewood.  Two of them took injury on their quest.  I am sure they would appreciate the gesture."

"Or perhaps it would be a shame to break up my collection," Dermail mused carelessly.

Damn the man.  What was he playing at?  Trant scrambled to catch up.  "That is true as well.  There is always greater value in collections when they are whole.  I would be willing to part with the artefact... Though Yardrow could benefit from a new song about our exploits here.  Perhaps we could benefit from this in other ways."

"Oh?"  Dermail smiled somewhat indulgently.  "What would interest you, in exchange for the Stone?"

Finally.  "I would not withhold this thing from you for so great a ransom, Knight Commander.  But... Perhaps you might be able to satisfy my curiosity on a matter.  Now that I have seen that word of your interest in the Stones is true, I must wonder... Is it also true the Church has taken an interest in the succession?"

Word arrived via the Winner family network that Knight Commander Dermail of the Templars had an interest in holy artefacts, and that Lord Trant of Yardrow had notified him that he had located such a thing.

They wasted no time in heading north to Yardrow.  If it was indeed another of the Zodiac Stones, they made tentative plans to liberate it from Trant's possession before he could hand it over to Dermail.  Unfortunately, when they reached a position on a hill overlooking the garrison, they saw two Templars hanging about in the yard watching the men at their drills, and three chocobos sporting the Templar livery.

It wasn't too late for action.  They descended from their position and approached the fort.  Yardrow was not so near the northern border that it feared infiltration from foreign forces, and the war was long enough ago for vigilance to be on the wane.

They scouted out a section of the keep's wall outside any guard's watch.  Entrance became almost trivial at that point with a dragoon on their side.  Trowa landed lightly on top of the wall and lowered a rope for the others.  Duo made the climb first, scampering up quickly to watch Trowa's back while Wufei made the ascent.  Once Wufei could take his place, Duo snuck away for some reconnaissance, and returned as Heero was coiling the rope.

"That-a-way," he said, hitching his thumb over his shoulder in the proper direction.  "Spotted two lords wearing the right colors, chatting each other up in a garden area.  It's got slight overwatch on the men at drills.  We'll have to skirt around the main keep and approach from the west.  North side might be clear, too, long as we don't wander too close to the barracks."

They nodded and got underway.  Whatever discussion they had needed to do had been accomplished on the other side of the wall.  Things would have been remarkably simple if Dermail had taken delivery of Sylvia and had brought her along to Yardrow, but things were never that simple.  In tracking him down and following him, they had hopes of being led to her location.  They had some reservations about the pursuit, however, if he were to utilize another portal, such as his minions had used to carry Sylvia away.

The addition of a Zodiac Stone changed the calculations.  They were not certain what utility they served, given that Dermail seemed to have no interest in recovering the Stone they carried, leftover from their fight with Cardinal Tsuberov and now inert from what they could determine.  Surely no good could come of him having another.

Heero insisted on being open to the possibility of using it as leverage against Dermail for the return of his sister.  He would have his sister by his side once more and to hell with the consequences.  They could deal with them afterward.  Quatre and Wufei had their reservations about such a plan, but either way, the first step was to intervene in this exchange Trant had arranged.

They came into the keep on the side of the kitchens.  Staff bustled about the business of keeping this many soldiers fed.  There were some people outside, hauling water and working in the gardens, but they crept by without undue difficulty and headed on, behind the armory and around the main keep, past a shrine and here they split their party, three to begin the approach, and two to continue on to the north.

"The Church has had an interest in all Ivalice's successions.  Piety is an important trait in our earthly leaders.  Whosoever wins the throne must pay proper tribute to the gods and to the saints."

"And who, um, strikes the Church as more pious in this struggle?"

"The Bartons are great benefactors of the Church, but of course, the lady Relena was raised within it."

"It is said your men ride with the Knights of Romefeller," Trant dared boldly.  "It is also said your men delivered the lady Relena to Zeltennia, to Weyridge.  Such is not the action of a disinterested party."

"I assure you, the Church does not care who wins the throne.  Whoever the Queen is, she shall be the Church's to manipulate."

Trant paused uneasily.  "Either Queen shall be a weak young girl, but not so their advisers.  The men that maneuver to put them in power."

"They'll be dead," Dermail said with a shrug.  "And in no position to protest."

"The dukes like to fight their battles from the safety of their own castles.  True, the winner shall no doubt put his enemy to the death, traitors they will be.  But I expect the victor to survive without a scratch.  This is how the nobles of Ivalice prefer to wage war."

"The Church will have them both killed before it comes to that."  Dermail smiled coldly at Trant's visible surprise.  "Not personally, of course.  But they have agents in place.  And in the inevitable chaos to follow, the Church will step into the void and broker a peace.  And win secular power for themselves in the process.  Is something wrong, my dear Trant?  You're looking a bit pale.  Unprepared for this level of politics, are you?  Or are you perhaps wondering if your life is in danger, now that you know too much?"

"I... My men are within view," Trant stammered out, gesturing faintly at the soldiers in the yard.  "You dare not raise hand against me."

"You needn't die this very moment."  He let that hang there for a few seconds before laughing darkly.  "Or at all.  Fear not.  I have told you of the Church's plan.  I have not told you of mine."

Trant had a brush with relief before realizing the words were not reassuring at all.  His eyes shifted left and right as if in hopes of finding a way out of his precarious predicament.

"Do show some courage.  This is what you wanted, isn't it?  To offer me the Stone, in exchange for... being included somehow, in one of these plots going on over your head?  A dangerous game.  Now is not the time for restraint.  You must show more initiative than that one, who was offered power but refused it!"

Dermail was pointing straight at his hiding place.  A brief glaring contest ensued with Wufei before Heero showed his initiative and stepped out into the open.  "I would rather have my sister."

Startled, Trant stumbled back a step, hand going to the dagger at his belt, but a look to Dermail, who seemed to have the situation in hand, and he left the blade in its sheath.

"Your sister?" Dermail questioned.  "Ah, the conduit that took your place.  Her suitability surpasses even your own.  Such an unexpected delight."

"I don't care," Heero gritted out, hand tightening on his scabbard.  The Knight Commander's words put a definitive end to one of his desperate hopes.  That night beneath Orbonne, trapped inside a room with Duo, with wargs clawing at the door, he had been at their mercy.  Theirs for the taking.  If he had been a more attractive prize to them than his sister, they would not have walked away.  But it had not kept him from hoping that he could somehow exchange himself for her, if it came to that.  "Give her back."

"Certainly.  We shall have no further use for her after she has served her purpose."

"Give her back now."

"Just think, boy.  This would not be the situation, if you hadn't resisted quite so hard.  A pity your skills seem to come from your mother's side."  He turned his attention back to Trant.  "Now.  Will you die a coward, or will you secure a place amongst those who shall wield power over all others?"

Trant wavered but a moment.  "I would stand by you."

"Then give me the Stone."

"Don't do it!" Heero called out.  "Those Stones are evil.  They are possessed of some demonic power --"

"Power," Dermail repeated, looking intently into Trant's eyes.  "Power over all others."

Trant fumbled at a pouch on his belt and produced the Stone, showing no sign of hearing Heero's warning.

Dermail took it in hand.  "True, the Church's plan fits well within my own, but mine is a bit more... straightforward.  Allow me to demonstrate with this, the Aries Stone."

Seeing no other recourse, Heero drew his sword.  Having already been accused of the murder of one high-ranking Church official, there was little to lose from adding another to the count.  "I cannot --"

His words ended in a gasp as dark energy, stronger than any he had thus sensed before, washed through him.

He saw his companions moving to assist, but Dermail spared none of them a glance as he shoved the Aries Stone toward Trant's chest.  A small explosion of sulphuric light burst forth from the point of contact, blinding them all for a few seconds.

"You feel the power of Belias within you," Dermail proclaimed as the spots still danced across their vision.  "It is now upon you to finish the summoning.  Spill the blood and end the lives of all here within Yardrow, and prove yourself worthy to stand with us at the gate of the Necrohol."

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4 comments or Leave a comment
sunhawk16 From: sunhawk16 Date: August 20th, 2017 01:35 am (UTC) (Link)
You could almost feel sorry for Trant who is SO far in over his head. Almost. But Sylvia is a better prize than Heero? So much for backup plans...
And this looks suspiciously like a cliff-hanger. A really big ass cliff-hanger...
turnippatch From: turnippatch Date: August 20th, 2017 08:05 am (UTC) (Link)
The only thing that would have given Heero pause over trading himself for Sylvia would have been the idea that Quatre might put him to sleep before he could pull it off. ^o^

I wouldn't call it a cliffhanger so much as... the rest of the scene might get a little bit long. ^^'
tyreling From: tyreling Date: August 24th, 2017 01:45 am (UTC) (Link)
... well. Good bye Trant.
But then again things don't look at the moment since they basically summoned a demon-sort.

turnippatch From: turnippatch Date: August 25th, 2017 04:42 am (UTC) (Link)
Hm, I think most of the time I pull an Ozzie out of my pocket, it's just 'cuz I need a redshirt. ^^
4 comments or Leave a comment