Title: Enemy of My Enemy part 02
Author: Em (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Warnings&Labels: AU (fantasy), OOC, original (redshirt) characters, future shounen and shoujo ai, some angst, etc...
Archived: www.gwaddiction.com, under Lys ap Adin, and with everyone else who's asked... ^_^;
Enemy of My Enemy
[6 May 1243 Post Alliance]
Cathrine, sitting cross-legged with her back against a wagon wheel, looked up and smiled at Sally as the healer stumbled out of the wagon. "'Afternoon. We were beginning to think you were going to sleep all day."
Sally rubbed the sleep from her eyes. "Sorry. It happens... after. How is he?"
"Working the angle for all he's worth. He's got all the girls hanging onto his every word like he's some kind of hero or something." Cathrine pointed at the ground. "Sit," she commanded. "You still look pretty shaky." Raising her voice, Cathrine yelled out to the group of girls huddled together on the other side of the circle of wagons. "Hey! Somebody get the woman something to eat, damn it! Make yourselves useful!"
"You don't have to--" Sally protested.
Cathrine held up a hand. "No, we owe you, Sally Po. And my tribe always pays its debts."
One of the teenaged girls approached shyly, bearing a bowl of stew and staring at Sally. She burst into giggles as Sally accepted the bowl, and then beat a hasty retreat to the group of friends across the way.
Cathrine chuckled. "Their wits are addled," she murmured as the cluster of girls chattered excitedly.
Sally's skin darkened slightly in embarrassment. "I didn't want to cause a disruption."
"Naw, they don't have anything better to do anyway... They aren't to go into town, since it's high time we were moving on." Cathrine's tone turned considerably cooler. "This town isn't as hospitable as it used to be."
"I'm sorry about your cousin," Sally offered, in between mouthfuls of stew.
"Don't be. He's one of the lucky ones. He survived, after all, thanks to your help. Others... others aren't so lucky."
"Who did you lose?" Sally asked softly.
"Damn, perceptive, aren't you?" Cathrine sighed. "My husband. He was the caravan leader. Got into a fight a few years back, lost, and there weren't any true healers around that time."
"I'm sorry." Sally went silent.
"Yeah, me too. But... these things happen. All you can do is pick up the pieces and go on," Cathrine said briefly. She changed the subject. "So, what's a true healer doing in a dinky little town like this one, anyway?"
Sally shrugged. "It's where I grew up. I have--had--family here. And they needed a healer, so I just... never left."
Cathrine grimaced. "How can you stand it? Staying in one place, day in, day out, year in, year out..." She shuddered in fastidious distaste.
"It's a living, I guess." Sally scraped the last of the stew from the bowl.
"But is it really living?" Cathrine asked.
Sally blinked. "Probably not according to your standards."
Cathrine grinned at the healer. "We're heading out tomorrow, I think. Wanna tag along?"
"Sure, I'd like that," Sally blurted out before she even knew what she was saying.
[7 May 1243 Post Alliance]
"I trust you left my cousin in good health?" Dorothy Catalonia, the duchess of Catalonia, lifted on curious forked eyebrow at the emissary from Khushrenada duchy.
Lady Une nodded tersely. "His Grace enjoys excellent health."
Dorothy smiled. "Superb. I assume this visit of yours regards his latest... entertainment?"
"His Grace wishes to affirm that he has your continued backing in his endeavors," Lady Une replied.
"Ah... ever careful, isn't he? Treize may rest assured that I still have nothing but the best interests of my duchy at heart," the duchess told Lady Une.
"His Grace would prefer a more definite statement of your intentions," Lady Une retorted, not for one moment fooled by Dorothy's dissemination.
Dorothy laughed quietly. "So perceptive, Lady Une... Rest assured, my dear guardian wolf, I intend to support Treize fully. The benefits of doing so are... promising."
"And what is your opinion of my beloved cousin?" Treize inquired.
"I do not trust her, Your Grace," Lady Une replied instantly. "She will support you only so long as she sees it as profitable for her interests."
Her lord laughed. "That is to be expected when it comes to the aristocracy, dear Lady Une. None of us are trustworthy. My cousin need not fear, though. I have things well under control."
"Still, Your Grace, do not turn your back on her. She will betray you if something strikes her as being more advantageous." Lady Une frowned slightly, wondering how anyone could not be completely loyal to His Grace.
Treize shrugged at Une. "It happens occasionally. I shall have to be certain that I do nothing to lose dear Dorothy's commitment." He paused. "I wish you to rest and then proceed directly to Noin. Handle Lucy as you see fit, just as long as you persuade her to at least stay neutral until I have time to deal with her duchy."
"I need no rest, Your Grace. I will set out immediately." Lady Une bowed, leaving swiftly.
Zechs stepped out of the shadows of Treize's office. "Really, sir, how do you inspire such dedication from your minions?"
Treize smiled as his second-in-command approached the desk. "It's a combination of being good at what I do, great personal charm, skillful manipulation, good pay, and a sufficient amount of fear."
Zechs seated himself on the corner of Treize's wide desk, a smile tugging at his lips. "Really? I just thought it was the great sex... sir."
Treize smirked. "There is that, too."
Lady Une settled her body comfortably on the special lounge that she had designed and ordered built precisely to her specifications. She leaned her head back and closed her eyes, clearing her mind of all distractions. Moving with slow surety, she reached out, stretching... stretching... the link between body and soul drawing out like a fine wire... *I _will_ have to rest after this mission, regardless of His Grace's needs,* Lady Une decided, looking down in spiritual form at her weary corporeal body. *No time for thinking of that, however.* With thought's swiftness, she willed herself to the duchy of Noin.
Willing a tangible form into existence took longer than she had expected. *Gods, I _am_ tired. I should have taken His Grace's advice and rested.*
Lady Une squared her shoulders and had herself announced to the duchess of Noin.
Noin winced. *He sent _Une_...* "Of course I shall be glad to see Khushrenada's emissary," the duchess said with brittle, forced warmth. *He sent Une... He must be serious.*
Lady Une marched into the room, her boot heels clicking crisply on the floor. "Your Grace." Rather than curtsy, she bowed like a man would.
"Lady Une." Noin waited, determined to face her duchy's fate with as much dignity as she could muster.
"Let us not mince words, Your Grace. You are, of course, aware that Khushrenada is preparing for war," Lady Une announced.
"It has come to my attention," the duchess murmured dryly. "What does His Grace expect me to do about it?"
Lady Une smiled faintly. "Nothing, of course. We all know that Noin is, at best, an ineffectual force among the duchies. Do your people a favor and stay neutral until Khushrenada assimilates you."
Noin sighed. "Are these His Grace's direct orders, Lady Une?"
Une nodded. "When he has settled other matters, then he will deal with your duchy. How he does so depends entirely on how you behave during the coming weeks."
"I understand." Lucrezia Noin sighed again, passing a weary hand over her face. "Give my regards to His Grace."
Lady Une smiled. "I'm glad that you are a reasonable woman, Your Grace." She bowed perfunctorily and stalked away.
A lithe figure stole through the shadows, summoned by his superiors. He announced his presence in the noble's private study with a soft cough. "If I were your enemy, you would be dead now."
Zechs glanced up from a map that he had been studying. Icy blue eyes probed the shadows. "If you were an enemy, you never would have come this far," he retorted.
The shadowy figure laughed wryly. "You don't know that."
"I am paying you well enough that I should never have occasion to learn otherwise," Zechs replied sharply. "Enough chatter, though."
"You're too serious, m'Lord," chided the lurking man. "It's not healthy in a man of your age."
"It keeps me alive," Zechs replied.
"I laugh and still manage to stay alive."
"You're an extreme case. Regardless, I have a mission for you."
"I can't imagine."
Zechs scowled at him. "A certain political figure is becoming too much of a nuisance for my master. I wish her to be removed."
There was a soft intake of breath. "That's going to cost you, m'Lord."
"We both know that money is of no importance." Zechs smiled without any humor. "Will you accept the mission or not?"
"Do I have any choice?" came the quiet, bitter reply.
Zechs laughed softly. "That's the beauty of it... you really don't."
"Mission... accepted." There was a quiet flutter of darkness, and Zechs knew he was alone once again...
He leaned back in his chair, and a sardonic voice whispered taunts in the stillness of his mind.
*You've just placed a contract on your own sister's life, Milliard... how does that make you feel?*
The dark figure sat in the crook of a tree branch, regarding the darkened windows of the complex quietly. He really ought to be well on his way to Escand, the capital of Sanq, to Relena Peacecraft and his mission. But, as was his wont before a really important job, he had come here first.
To reflect, and remind himself why he did what he did.
The pale blue light of the moon outlined the worn building. It wasn't anything spectacular, just a tired, slightly ramshackle but large old house--a rambling place that was the host to dozens of children, all orphans... like himself. It was a quiet, happy place, where unwanted children received the love that they were starved for.
It was where he had spent his earliest years.
It was the only haven of love that he had known in his life.
It housed the only family he had ever known.
It was the place for which he killed.
The assassin smiled bitterly, saluting the old building. "You're all safe for a little longer," he whispered. Then he leaped down from the branch with a flirt of a long chestnut braid and set off for Peacecraft.
[8 May 1243 Post Alliance]
Heero frowned, lost deep in thought. This... this was not good. "You're certain?" he asked sharply.
"Yes, sir! Lady Une was very definitely seen in the presence of the duchess of Catalonia. They were on very good terms, sir."
"Damn it... I've been expecting this, but, all the same, I had hoped that it wouldn't come so soon." Heero rubbed his eyes. "I'll go inform her grace." He left the bustle that was the Peacecraft duchy's Defense Council.
Arriving in Relena's study, Heero curtly dismissed the four soldiers on guard. Relena, looking up at his glowering face, laughed softly. "You have such a grim look on your face again," she observed lightly. "What new threat to my safety looms over us now?"
"It's no laughing matter. We have confirmation that Dorothy Catalonia is at the very least communicating with Treize," Heero said briefly. "It is very likely that they are allying themselves."
"That doesn't surprise me, Heero. Catalonia and Khushrenada have been allies for a very long time now." Relena smiled.
Heero sighed. "Yes, but they've never planned a coup together before," he pointed out forcefully.
Relena shook her head. "No, Heero... I don't believe that Treize would dare plunge the duchies into war. I know that he is a man who holds peace in high regard. Surely he of all people would not be willing to shed that much blood!"
"Your Grace, please listen to me. Treize Khushrenada is going to strike, probably very soon. Peacecraft is going to be caught right between Catalonia and Khushrenada. If we don't take precautions, they will crush us."
Relena again shook her head, denying Heero's statement. "I can't agree with you, Heero. I have more faith in us humans than that... I have more faith in Milliard than that."
Heero growled, involuntarily, at the mention of the duchess's brother. "Your Grace, with all due respect, I do not have faith in Lord Milliard. Unlike you, I refuse to believe that he is merely working with Treize in order to promote peace and better understanding between our duchies! He's no longer Milliard Peacecraft, even, he's Zechs Merquise, commanding officer of the Specials!"
Relena's face grew cold. "Are you quite finished, Commander Yuy?" she asked.
Heero bit his lip, quelling his anger as he realized that he overstepped his boundaries. "I apologize, Your Grace. That was completely uncalled for on my part."
"Yes, it was," the duchess agreed crisply. "However, no one, not even you, knows Milliard as well as I do, so I forgive you. Just understand this--my brother is not the traitor you believe him to be."
"If you say so, Your Grace." Heero kept his face expressionless, even though he was seething inwardly. *Zechs Merquise... I will kill you.*
The duchess regarded the map carefully. "I believe that... if we strike here first... and here... and here, then all opposition will be eliminated."
Her advisors and generals looked at her with wide eyes. "But... Your Grace... no one has ever dared attack Dragon Keep," one advisor ventured.
Dorothy smiled sweetly. "That is why they will never expect it, and we will be able to take them with no trouble."
"Your Grace, Dragon Keep and the clans of that area have a long history of remaining strictly neutral," another advisor mentioned. "Attacking them will be flying in the face of hundreds of years of tradition."
"Trying to unify the Sanq duchies goes against a thousand years of tradition," Dorothy retorted. "Do I look as though I give a damn about tradition?" She stared at the assembly expectantly. "I didn't think so. Now, Lady Une assures me that the signal that Treize has begun will come in a few days, a week or two at the most. We must have ourselves unified and in position by then."
"How will you know what the signal is?"
Dorothy smiled, thoroughly chilling their blood. "Oh, I'll know. It promises to be quite spectacular." She paused. "Did I not say we had to be in position within a few days? What are you doing still standing around? Commence the operations immediately!"
The duchess complacently watched the men scatter at her command. *Yes, it will be spectacular indeed...*
Quatre cursed roundly, exceedingly annoyed by the persistence of the idiots who had marked him as easy prey. He had hoped that reaching Far Reach Forest would have deterred the pursuit somewhat, if not thrown them off his scent completely. Apparently the gods weren't as amenable to the idea as he was.
And the past few days since his abrupt departure from the baron's castle had been going so well, too.
Quatre yelped another curse as something buzzed past his ear. *A crossbow... damn it, they _had_ to have a crossbow.* A second bolt sped past. *Okay, crossbows. At least they have lousy aim.* Quatre frowned, urging his horse on, with the sinking feeling that he might not make it out of this encounter alive.
It was the commotion that first attracted Trowa's attention, the angry shouts and thundering hooves that disturbed the tranquility of his forest. Perturbed, he moved to investigate.
A grim-faced boy was fleeing a nasty-looking group of armed men. Trowa had been around long enough to recognize the scenario. Bandits were rare enough in the area, since Far Reach was one of Noin's more remote areas, but the problem did occasionally crop up.
Trowa smiled slightly, lowering the bow from his shoulder and nocking an arrow. The week was turning out to be quite eventful. He drew back the bow, carefully judging his aim, and let the first arrow fly.
"What the--" The shouts of his pursuers had changed from anger to alarm. Curious enough to risk a backwards glance, Quatre was just in time to see the third crossbow wielding brigand topple out of his saddle, the feathered shaft of an arrow jutting from his throat.
Quatre's grim expression took on a slightly malicious grin. He had an ally now... and two against seven--make that six--were odds he could handle.
Wheeling his horse around, Quatre drew his rapier and kicked his heels into his mount's sides.
Trowa smiled slightly in amusement as the blond boy turned around and realized that his enemy had lost a certain amount of enthusiasm for their work. He was not expecting the kid to turn around and attack.
Neither were the brigands. Besieged on one side by the stream of Trowa's too-accurate arrows, and facing a wildly-cheering boy wielding a rapier with deadly skill on the other, it was a matter of minutes before they all lay dead or dying on the trail, their horses scattered to the winds in fright.
The boy, breathing heavily but wearing a triumphant smile, dismounted, wiping his blade clean on one of the bodies. Sheathing it, he addressed the forest at large. "My thanks for the aid," he called.
Trowa blinked, reassessing the swordsman who was waiting expectantly for a reply. His voice and easy, confident manner were much more adult than he had expected... despite the blond's youthful looks, he was no callow aristocrat lost in the forest.
"Well? Are you going to say anything back?"
With a little shake of his head, Trowa emerged from his place of concealment in the trees. "One such as yourself should not be wandering about alone," he told the other man.
A broad smile crossed the beautiful, mobile face. "So you are real and not one of the fair ones..." he laughed. He paused. "Although you certainly look like one of the fey."
Trowa said nothing, content to merely lift an eyebrow.
The other man smiled at him charmingly. "My name's Quatre... Do you have a name, my unearthly friend?"
Calling out questions to the unresponsive forest, Quatre was seriously beginning to doubt that he would receive a reply when the tall, slender man clad in the soft greens and browns of nature stepped out into the road. A connoisseur of beauty in all its forms, he had to suck in an appreciative breath. To cover up his amazement, he greeted the ranger with his typical aplomb.
"My name is Trowa Barton," the man introduced himself.
"Glad to meet you, Trowa. I assure you, though, that I am perfectly capable of caring for myself." Quatre pasted his most charismatic smile on his face, already deciding that he had found the source of his next conquest. "However, I seem to be in your debt today... How shall I repay you?"
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