Author: Em (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Title: Enemy of My Enemy part 01
Warnings&Labels: AU, fantasy, OOC, attempts to write characters I otherwise ignore. A few original characters, all of whom are minor. These characters, as well as the basic concept of this fantasy realm, belong to me.
Enemy of My Enemy
[5 May 1243 Post Alliance]
The young duchess of the Peacecraft duchy, one of the two largest in the loose alliance of duchies that was the Sanq Kingdom, paused in her progression along the path of her garden path. She turned, looking at her bodyguard. "Must you follow me around constantly?" she demanded, half in amusement, half in exasperation.
He replied with a faint air of long suffering. "Your Grace, it is my duty to protect you at all times."
The duchess tossed her head, blonde hair sparkling in the sunshine. "From what? Who would dare harm me in the sanctity of my own castle, surrounded by my own lands?"
Cobalt eyes flickered with dark amusement that was quickly hidden. "Not everyone is as devoted to your ideals of peace as you are, Your Grace."
Duchess Relena Peacecraft laughed. "You're so serious, Heero."
"It is my duty, Your Grace." Even though they had paused to speak in the midst of the safest portion of the Peacecraft duchy, his eyes never ceased moving, seeking any possible threat to his lady.
Relena sighed heavily. "Is there anything that you do that doesn't pertain to duty, Heero?"
"That is not what I was trained for, Your Grace."
Her lips twitched. "You win, Heero." She smiled slightly and resumed her progression down the path, her faithful guardian a few steps behind her.
Kneeling briefly, the ranger examined the faint traces of disturbed moss. Satisfied that his quarry had passed by very recently, he stood. This time, the elusive group would not escape him. Green eyes glowing with a faint satisfaction, he slipped forward through the Far Reach Forest, of the duchy of Noin, noiselessly.
No one poached in Trowa Barton's territory and got away with it.
The roguish noble laughed exultantly as he galloped beyond the reach of the baron's lands. "Maybe next time!" he yelled over one shoulder, whooping with the sheer joy of being young and on a fast horse, racing away from another successful conquest. He snickered to himself, straightening his fine tunic and patting the pouch hanging around his neck. It contained a souvenir of his double conquest--the baron of Far Reach's lovely, lonely young baroness... and the family's heirloom set of aquamarine rings set in platinum.
His laughter rang to the sunny blue skies. It was good to be alive on such a fine day, he decided. Devilish smile still lighting his angelic features, Quatre Raberba Winner, the disowned heir of the Winner duchy, spurred his horse down the road, already beginning to consider his next conquest.
"What is it?" Chang Wufei demanded, looking up from his book with irritation in his dark eyes.
The servant, he saw, was biting back a smile. "My lord, it is dinner time."
"I'm in the middle of something. Bring it up," Wufei muttered, returning his attention to the text.
"My lord, that would not be prudent. Lady Meiran is expecting you to join her... and she is not known for her tolerant temper," the servant replied.
Wufei gritted his teeth. "No, she isn't. Thank you kindly for pointing that out to me." He closed the book with a soft thump.
"You're quite welcome, sir," the man replied with a perfectly straight face.
"You think this is funny, don't you?"
"Not at all, sir."
"Of course not. Well, might as well go down and escort my intended to dinner," Wufei sighed.
The twenty-eighth Dragon Lord of the Dragon Keep of the icy northern mountains set aside his book, cursing all the while the betrothal that tied him to Meiran Ron, the foremost warrior of her clan, and a woman whom he barely knew--but already disliked.
*There is no justice.*
Walking down the narrow twisted streets of Chanth, capital city of the Winner duchy, Hirde affected obliviousness to the stealthy shadows she had acquired a few alleys back. Perhaps she, an unescorted woman walking through the poorer sections of town, presented an easy mark for would-be thieves.
Hirde smiled slightly. The truth couldn't be further from appearances... as certain thugs were to learn shortly.
Ducking down the next street, she paused, waiting as she feigned interest in the obscured numbers of a rat-infested tenement. Her wait was brief as her stalkers emerged from the shadows of the empty street... five of them.
Before the leader could speak, Hirde interrupted him. "If you say 'Your money or your life' or anything else to that effect, I shall kill you."
The goons paused, taken aback. Two of them, noting that Hirde, with her relaxed, ready stance, seemed utterly unafraid of their larger numbers, shifted uneasily.
The apparent leader ignored Hirde's confidence. "Listen here, missy, you don't want no trouble from us--just give us your money, and you'll live."
Hirde sighed impatiently. "What did I just say about cliched phrases?" she asked the heavens. She shrugged eloquently, even as he, a knife at the ready, began to advance. "Here, catch." She lobbed a small sphere at him that glowed the same blue as her coolly assessing eyes.
The thug fumbled with his knife, instinctively reaching for the sphere of light. Upon making contact with his skin, it flashed to an incandescent white, detonating with a soundless explosion that jarred every bone in the bodies of those nearest him. He dropped, expression frozen in shock.
"Fuck! She's a wizard!" one of the survivors screamed. Highly demoralized, the remainder of the group scattered.
Hirde snorted. "Evocationalist, actually," she murmured, picking her way past the body. There were still things to be done, after all.
*Remember... smile. This is the woman who will someday much too soon be your wife. Being polite is _good_. Antagonizing the dragon is a _bad_ idea.* Wufei winced. *Best not to the think of the wife as a dragon. Save that title for the mother-in-law.*
His bride-to-be appeared at the door, and he rose, striding over to offer his arm to the lovely young woman. "Good evening, Lady Ron," he said, bowing. *Smile, compliment her dress.* "You look lovely this evening."
Meiran's face hardened immediately, and Wufei grimaced internally. *Oh, gods, what did I say _this_ time?* "Warriors have no need of being lovely," she said quietly. Avoiding Wufei's offered assistance, she made her way to the high table alone.
*Another evening off to a wonderful start,* Wufei thought drily. *Stupid woman. Most girls would be _glad_ to receive a compliment... but not _my_ crazy bride, though... Wonder how long it'll take us to start arguing tonight.*
Taking his proper place next to Meiran, the lord of Dragon Keep signaled for the dinner to begin. Turning to Meiran and mustering all his (limited) social skills, Wufei attempted to "get to know" his fiancee. "Lady Ron, I trust that you are finding everything about your stay here to your satisfaction? Or is there anything I may change to better suit you?"
"A warrior is comfortable in any environment," Meiran replied.
*Patience... I _will_ have patience...* "Of course, Lady Ron. In that case, are the training facilities adequate for your needs?" Wufei asked, feeling his tenuous grip on his good mood slowly evaporating.
Meiran sniffed. "They are sufficient enough for a keep that is not known for its warriors. I am used to better."
Wufei couldn't resist the opportunity. "But I thought a warrior was comfortable in any environment?"
Meiran's dark eyes flashed. "A true warrior is. I did not say I could not make do. Besides, I expected no better from the clan of weakling scholars."
*I _will_ control my temper... I _will_ control my temper... Oh, the hell with it.* Wufei forced a smile that was more a baring of the teeth. "Different clans value different strengths, Lady Ron... or has your clan placed such an emphasis on physical prowess that it has neglected its mental faculties?"
Meiran's eyes went wide, and her cheeks flushed angrily. "At least my clan does not hide itself behind strong walls and books while the rest of the world burns around it," she hissed angrily.
"And what is that supposed to mean?" Wufei demanded, stung.
"I think you know, scholar." Meiran glared. "Just because your clan has lived apart from the world for centuries now does not mean that the world has forgotten about you."
Wufei frowned. "This is about the situation to the south again, isn't it?" he asked. He sighed heavily. "Dragon Keep has never interfered with the affairs of the outside world, and the outside world has kindly returned the favor. I have no intention of embroiling my clan in the muddles that lesser people create."
Meiran slammed her cup down. "You are a blind man. Is it just to allow one man to overwhelm a continent of people?"
Wufei snorted. "He will fail. No one could achieve what you are predicting."
"You--you--you idiot man," Meiran sputtered. She stood abruptly. "Hide your head all you like, Lord Chang. Just don't be surprised when the world comes crashing in on your pleasant little world of books." With this, she stormed from the hall.
Wufei muttered something soft and highly impolite under his breath.
*Well, we lasted all the way to the main course...*
"Lady Iria will see you now."
"It's about damn time," Hirde muttered, rising from the fragile, impractical chair that was a part of the luxurious antechamber's decor. She stretched, feeling her vertebrae pop and settle. The serving maid watched the display with obvious disapproval. Hirde flashed her a broad grin. "Lead the way."
Back stiffly held, the maid escorted the uncouth commoner through a few more rooms, all of which were as expensively furnished as the first. Finally, they reached a small sitting room, where Lady Iria Winner, ensconced before a tea table, waited. "Miss Hirde Schbeiker, my Lady," the servant announced.
"Thank you, Gert. I shall ring if there is anything I require," Lady Iria, the eldest daughter of the duke of Winner, told the maid.
"As you wish." The maid curtsied, gave Hirde a last look that warned her to behave, and vanished through another door.
"Nice place you've got here... the servants are a little fussy, though," Hirde announced expansively, running a hand through her short hair. "I had a hell of a time getting in, you know."
Lady Iria's mouth thinned slightly, as if she couldn't quite believe the carefree audacity of the commoner who dared address her in such a manner. "You are the bounty hunter?" she asked delicately.
"Yep!" Hirde grinned proudly, snapping off an irreverent salute for the aristocrat's benefit. "Hirde Schbeiker, evocationalist and bounty hunter, at your service--for the right price, of course. What can I do for your Ladyship?"
"You are, perhaps, aware that I have a brother," Lady Iria said, gripping the arms of her chair in a subtle display of her barely restrained irritation.
"Quatre? Hell yeah, I've heard of him," Hirde grinned. "He's one of the best in his particular line of work."
Lady Iria sighed. "My dear brother did me a tremendous favor when he disappeared; his sisters and I could hardly care less about what becomes of him. However, our esteemed father dotes on the brat." She smiled with forced calm. "He wishes to see Quatre returned home to assume his rightful place as the Winner heir."
Hirde nodded wisely. "I see, you want me to go run down young master Quatre and drag him home to daddy, is that it?"
Lady Iria smiled. "Not precisely. I wish you to hunt Quatre down and remove him from the succession."
Hirde's jaw dropped momentarily, before she hid her shock. She let out a low whistle. "That's gonna cost you, your Ladyship. I don't normally do those sorts of jobs--" Lady Iria named a price, and Hirde stopped, flabbergasted. "Say that again?"
"You will receive that sum now, and that much again when you bring me sufficient proof of Quatre's demise," Lady Iria replied coolly. "Do we have an agreement, Miss Schbeiker?"
*Shit... what a _bitch_...* "I--accept your offer, Lady Iria."
Duchess Lucrezia Noin hid her discomposure well as the commander of her army reported to her. "Thank you, that will be sufficient," she murmured as he finished.
"May I offer a suggestion, Your Grace?" he ventured, fidgeting with his ceremonial sword.
"Your advice has never let me down yet, General Herot." She smiled graciously at him.
He hesitated. "I will be perfectly honest with you, Your Grace... in an out and out war with the Khushrenada duchy, we of Noin do not stand a chance. The duke has been planning this for a very long time, it would seem. Even if we conscripted every able-bodied man in the duchy, we couldn't begin to match his numbers... much less the quality of his Specials, who are under the command of Zechs Merquise."
Lucrezia could not quite control the faint spasm in her cheek at the mention of Duke Treize Khushrenada's chief officer. "Your suggestion on how we deal with the situation is, General?" she inquired, regaining her tranquility.
Herot bowed his head. "My suggestion is... that when the duke asks for the duchy's surrender... you comply."
The pounding on her door a few hours after sundown roused Sally Po from her bed. "Yes?" she asked, having thrown a robe over herself before answering the door.
"You the healer around here?" a woman, outlandishly dressed in the colorful silks of a roving band of Telati, demanded.
"Yes... What can I do for you?" Sally replied, scanning the other woman's body for injuries automatically.
"A member of my family got himself knifed. Can you help?" she asked. Immediately, as if expecting resistance, she added, "I can pay."
"Never mind about that. Give me a moment to gather what I need," the healer replied. Long since used to making nocturnal visits to the ill and injured, Sally dressed swiftly and gathered the supplies she might need.
She followed the Telati woman through the darkness, silent for a few minutes before offering a comment. "The name's Sally Po."
"Ah... what was his condition, can you tell me?" Sally questioned.
Cathrine shrugged one shoulder. "Bad. He was bleeding a lot."
Sally winced, inwardly raging at the inability of the citizens of the Sanq duchy to accept the presence of the wandering Telati.
Like her own small cottage, the Telati encampment was located at a slight remove from the village proper. Cathrine made her way through a small throng of men and women whose faces were closed and shuttered at the sight of the outsider with her. Sally followed her to one wagon, ducking inside to find Cathrine on her knees next to a young man groaning on a pallet. His face was drawn and grey from pain. A cursory examination left Sally certain regarding the diagnosis.
He was dying slowly due to a deep, ragged slash across his abdomen.
"Gods and goddesses preserve us," she murmured, dropping next to Cathrine on the hard wooden bed of the wagon.
Cathrine glanced sideways at her. "Can you do anything for him, Healer?"
Sally sighed, fingers probing already at his wound. "I--can try." She cupped her hands slightly, closing her eyes and drawing in a deep breath. Clearing her mind of all other concerns, she exhaled slowly. A soft glow seeped from between her fingers, the same gentle blue as her eyes. Cathrine hissed softly as she watched the wound on her cousin's torso begin to knit back together and the expression of pain of his face ease.
Sally lifted her hands away from the boy's now-unblemished torso, her own face now shadowed with weariness. "You're going to be very sore for several days, and tired, so don't wear yourself out," she said, managing to sound brisk despite the exhaustion apparent in every line of her body. Smiling faintly, she forced herself to her feet. "Cathrine, could I trouble you for some assistance home, please?"
For the first time, Cathrine smiled at her. "Stay here with us. You're in no condition to go anywhere, and it's the least we can do for the woman who saved this rascal's sorry hide." She stood, and extended her hand to the healer.
Sally took the hand gratefully.
"...and that concludes the report, Your Grace," Zechs finished respectfully.
Treize Khushrenada took a thoughtful sip of wine. "Very interesting, Zechs. Since intelligence indicates Lucrezia Noin's vulnerability, I believe it safe to assume little resistance from that quarter."
"All the same, it would not do to underestimate Her Grace," Zechs reminded him gently.
"This is true. Lucrezia can be rather stubborn, as I've been told." Treize smiled. "Still, I do not anticipate much trouble from her, even if she decides to resist. Duke Winner, likewise, will present little obstacle."
"How is that, Your Grace?"
"He is still mourning the lawless ways of his errant son," Treize replied. "Furthermore, the eldest daughter of the family is extremely interested in our little cause... as I understand it, she is taking her own steps to ensure that Winner gives us no trouble at all. Remind me to thank young Quatre someday."
"Then... the only true barrier will be... the Peacecraft duchy," Zechs commented, drawing the thought out to its logical conclusion.
"Yes." Treize regarded Zechs thoughtfully. "Relena will never accept my methods of unifying the Sanq duchies, I'm afraid... Perhaps it would be advisable to remove her from my path."
"If you think it wise, Your Grace... shall I arrange it?" Zechs inquired.
Treize pondered his subordinate's question. "Yes. Please see to it."
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