5-5-2004

Title: An Ordinary Tale 6/?
Author: Ume
Pairing: 1+2/2+1
Disclaimer: I don't own Gundam Wing. Please don't sue.

 

An Ordinary Tale
Chapter 6
----------------

“Two hours, Hilde,” grumbled Duo as he paced back and forth. “Not one, but two.” He held up two fingers to emphasize the significance of the number. Stopping before the stairs, glaring daggers at Relena’s room, Duo growled in frustration. “She’s been in there for ages. She’s taking forever. How long does it take to put on a stupid gown?” he demanded before turning sharply and resumed his restless pacing.

“I bet he’s not even going to show up,” said Hilde, bringing Duo to an abrupt halt.

“Who?” Duo asked, his curiosity piqued.

“Prince Odin, of course. We are talking about your sister here.”

“Prince Odin? No.” Duo shook his head. “He’ll show--simply because Relena wouldn’t be putting so much effort in being presentable if he wasn’t.”

“And I say he won’t show up because Relena deserves it for making us wait so long.”

“Hilde, your logic is somewhat… lacking.”

“My reasoning is perfectly sound, Duo,” insisted Hilde.

Duo just smiled and nodded at her.

“Don’t patronize me, Duo.”

“I’m not,” he denied.

“So let’s make a wager,” she challenged, “and put your superior reasoning against mine and see whose speculation is most accurate.”

“What are you proposing?” he asked warily.

“A simple bet, really,” she said casually, “on whether or not the prince will show up today.”

“And what are the stakes?”

“How about our costumes for the gala? With the winner picking the costumes the loser has to wear for it?”

Duo paused to consider how reckless such a bet would be upon his person.

Noticing his hesitancy, Hilde pulled out all the stops. "Admit it. You're wrong and you know it!"

Not one to ever declare defeat, Duo agreed to the wager. He immediately regretted letting his pride get in the way when he noticed the gleam in Hilde's eyes. He was about to change his mind when Relena finally descended the stairs, declared herself ready to leave, and lectured Duo and Hilde about wasting time and making her late to the Queen's gathering.

~*~*~

As it so happened, Lady Maxwell was waiting for them at the door to see them off. She wished the girls a merry time at the gathering as they each entered the carriage before turning and eyeing her son.

“Do try to stay out of trouble, my dear,” she said, amusement clearly evident on her face.

“Have a little faith, Mother,” chuckled her son.

“I do,” she smirked, “which was why I said, ‘do try’.”

Duo shook his head, pretending to be woefully misunderstood. “I’m hurt, really hurt, to think my own mother would think so poorly of me.”

Lady Maxwell tapped his nose affectionately. “That’s because I know you so well, my little imp. Now go. Have fun at the gathering; just try not to get seriously hurt in the process.”

“As you wished, mother,” replied Duo, before he kissed her on the cheek and stepped into the carriage to join the girls.

~*~*~

Upon their arrival at the palace, the trio was led by a servant to the Royal Gardens, where a crowd of merry and colorful courtiers already gathered.

Immediately after they stepped onto the beautiful grounds, Relena turned to her brother and parted one piece of instruction for him to follow for the day. “Stay out of trouble, Duo. And don’t embarrass me.”

Unable to resist teasing his sister, Duo straightened his stance, tilted his nose up and stared down at her. “I’ll have you know, my dear sister, that I have impeccable manners.” Dropping the pretense, grinning mischievously at her, he leaned forward to whisper, “It’s just that I seldom choose to use them is all.”

Relena, not dignifying his answer with a reply, glared a warning before she stepped away to mingle with the other gatherers.

Finally alone, Hilde nudged him and asked, “So what are you planning to do?”

He shrugged. “Oh… either charm the finery off of your fellow peacocks or simply ruffle a few feathers.”

“Oh, this should be fun to watch,” she grinned. Tilting her head to the side, she looked at Duo speculatively. “Speaking of peacocks, how would you like to be one for the gala?”

He pondered it for a moment. “That depends if it’s just a mask or an entire outfit,” he answered.

“I haven’t decided yet,” her eyes positively gleamed from the prospects.

“Should I be scared?” he asked half-seriously.

“Of course not,” she waved at the thought. “Trust me, Duo.”

“That’s not very reassuring, Hilde.”

“Be nice, Duo,” she pouted, “or I’ll have you going as a swan or something when you lose our bet.”

“Don’t you mean ‘if’?”

She smirked. “Of course.”

~*~*~

From a tower window overlooking the royal gardens, Prince Odin watched the merry gathering, focusing his attention solely on his friend.

Earlier that morning, the prince had informed his mother that he was not feeling well and will not make an appearance at the gathering. Though his mother did not believe him, she did excuse him from the gathering nether-the-less. However, before leaving him to his own devices, she had warned him--and left no doubt to the contrary--that she expects his presence at his birthday gala without exception, even if they had to drag him out of his deathbed. With the gala unavoidable now, he hoped fervently that his costumes would conceal his identity from his friend during the three-day event.

Following his friend’s every move, the prince watched Duo charm the ladies and men alike--almost wishing he was down there with him, as merry laughter easily reached his ears.

~*~*~

Immediately, Duo and Hilde found themselves surrounded by curious gatherers upon their entrance, since new, beautiful, and obviously wealthy faces could always be counted on to attract the attentions of courtiers. When they were able to break free from one group of guests, they found themselves immediately swarmed by a new set of faces. The beautiful young maiden and the charming young man were the talk of the gathering, much to the chagrin of Relena.

Hilde, enjoying the attention she was receiving immensely, recounted her recent trip to the southern kingdoms to her eager listeners. “Dra’clan was such a lovely place. I regret we didn’t stay longer. It was wonderful.”

“Is it true about their women?” gushed a lady decked out in a warm yellow gown. “I’ve heard they’re as fierce a warrior as their men.”

“It’s true,” chuckled Hilde. “One of the emperor’s nieces happens to be the best fighter at his court, second only to his youngest son.”

“Women warriors,” sniffed a lady in pale blue, “how barbaric.”

Hilde simply looked at the girl--Lady Eliza--without comment.

“I don’t see,” stated Lady Eliza’s escort, “why his majesty chooses to continue with these treaties and trade agreements with those uncivilized savages.”

“Yes,” Duo interrupted smoothly, “how civilized could those savages be, oh…with only several thousands years of recorded history under their belt, in comparison to our one thousand and whose writers have been writing novels and poems long before we’ve even developed a writing system? Yes, quite savage indeed.”

“If they’re so wonderful, why would they need us?”

“You are mistaken, my dear sir. It is not them who need us, but us who need them. If I’m not mistaken, are not we all wearing silk and dining off porcelain imported from Dra’clan.”

“Then why doesn’t King Odin just invade that country and take what we want, instead of bothering with all these treaties and alliances?”

“Because we would not stand a chance against their superior military power. If we even attempt to invade their country, they can and will squash us without breaking a sweat.”

“Then should we not fear invasion from them?!”

“I should hope not,” entered a new voice, “or I would have words with my cousin about her sons’ ambitions.”

Everyone turned toward the speaker and gasped in surprise and hastily bowed and curtsied upon seeing their queen.

“Oh do continue. Do not let my presence interrupt your discussion. I do find this subject rather intriguing.”

When no response were forthcoming, Duo stepped forward, bowed to the Queen and said, “I think we’ve said all we needed to say on this matter, Your Majesty.”

“Well then young man, if you are finished with this discussion, will you provide me with the pleasure of your company for a walk around the garden then?”

“It will be an honor, Your Majesty.” Duo bowed once more and offered his arm to the Queen. The Queen accepted his arm and they moved away from the group of courtiers who could only gawk at what had just occurred.

“You seem to possess a great deal of knowledge of Dra’clan, young…”

“Duo. Duo of Maxwell, your Majesty.”

“Ah, that explains it then.”

“Pardon?”

“My Dra’clanian kinsmen had given rather colorful reports of you during your fostering in their kingdom. Am I mistaken to presume you are 'that idiotic, loud-mouthed Florean' my nephew, Wufei, had so endearing referred to you as.”

Duo laughed nervously. “I’m afraid you’re correct, Your Majesty. What else did your Majesty’s kinsmen have to say of me?”

“Well, Her Empress, Meihua, declared you were a ‘miracle worker’.” The Queen smiled when she saw Duo’s wide-eyed, slack-jawed reaction to the unexpected praise. “She said you have done wonders for our young Wufei. It took you only one year to do for Wufei what the Dra’clanic court could not do in fifteen. As his brothers reported, you did the impossible.”

“May I be so bold as to ask, Your Majesty, what I did?”

“In the words of Wufei’s brothers, you, young Duo, had managed to remove the stick lodged up Wufei’s… um… posterior.”

~*~*~

The prince watched in wonder as Duo suddenly burst into merry laughter while his mother chuckled softly along.

Is there anyone Duo can’t charm, Odin wondered.

~*~*~

Duo finally began to worry when the sun set and the prince still hadn’t shown up. He was walking by a group of ladies when he picked up the tail end of their gossip.

“… disappears for several hours to who knows where, and sometimes returned rather rumpled and disheveled. It’s quite the hot topic at court--where does the prince go, is he meeting a secret love, and all those other similar inquiries.”

Realizing the subject of their bet had the habit of disappearing regularly from court, Duo quickly scanned the garden, looking for his so-called friend, Hilde. Spotting her walking towards him, he stalked up to his prey, meeting her halfway. Once he reached her side, he hissed, “You set me up, didn’t you?”

Seeing her answering smirk was confirmation enough for the boy. “Tell me, Duo,” she inquired brightly, “what do you think about phoenixes?”

 

TBC...