Part Six: Janus
“So what was it that you wanted to ask me?” Grinning, Zidane pulled the ring from out of his pocket, and thrust it out for Garnet to see.
“Well, I was gonna ask you if you wanna marry me.” Suddenly, Garnet spat out her tea, drenching a part of the room with the surprise spit. She coughed uncontrollably on a few droplets that had lodged in her throat, and Zidane winced as he ran over to help her. Several slaps on the back ceased her choking, and with a face flushed from top to bottom, Garnet squinted at Zidane in all his bravado.
“…Say what?” she managed, a choking sound still in her voice. Zidane’s grin was so weak that even a blind man could tell it was fake, and he scratched his neck in embarrassment.
“…I wanna know if you’d be my wife,” he said, and this time he kneeled down in traditional manner, showing her the gem he had bought (fittingly enough, the stone was a garnet). The Queen’s eyes lit up in wonder, and her mouth hung open in awe. She knew that Zidane was never one to beat around the bush… But asking her to marry him cold turkey??
“I… I…” She swallowed several times, gazing at Zidane with eyes full of hope and love, and at the ring with her personal stone embedded in it. Her hand went to his, and she smiled just faintly. Taking a deep breath, she made up her mind and gave the young Genome her answer.
“…I’m sorry, Zidane,” she said, “but I have to decline. I can’t be your wife.”
The time-- Just a few seconds after Zidane proposed to Garnet
The place--The Queen’s bedroom, Alexandria Castle
The players--Zidane, a carefree thief proposing to the Queen; Garnet, Queen of Alexandria and object of Zidane’s affections.
“…I said I can’t be your wife, Zidane,” replied Garnet calmly. “…I’m very flattered, but… I have to decline. I’m sorry…” Slowly, she turned her back on him and walked away. Poor Zidane, still in a shock, rushed off after her.
“Hey, hold on a sec!” he called. “…What? Why? I, I don’t understand!”
“I’m sorry, but… I don’t think you’re meant to be King,” she replied, her back still facing him. Zidane grunted out in protest, and reached to touch her shoulder.
“No,” stated Garnet, pushing his hand away. “I am Queen and my decision is final. I cannot accept. Try to understand, Zidane.” She slowly thrust in a deeper wedge of distance between then, and walked over to her vanity mirror to attend to her hair. Poor Zidane was left there to gawk at what had just happened.
Zidane cursed mentally and kicked the floor. He had thought she would say Yes!! He thought she would be overjoyed, and would embrace him deeply, and would cry, and all that! He swore she would have accepted! But what was this?? Just like a snooty Queen would, she turned her nose up at him and brushed him off like a fly. A fly! After so much they had been through, after so many strange and unbelievable things, this was the end result? It couldn’t be!!
“…No!” he shouted. Zidane rushed over to her, and fell to his knees like a common dog. “Please, your highness, please marry me! I, I know I’m not the best man for the job, and I know I’ll never make you as happy as you should be, and I know I’m never gonna be a great King or husband, but please! I love you, Garnet! I, I wanna be with you forever! You and only you! Please marry me!”
“I said No and I meant no, Zidane,” stated Garnet in a more scolding voice. He shivered with hurt and frustration, and stood back on his feet to face the Queen eye-to-eye.
“I’m not that easy, Zidane Tribal!” spat the Queen, who still had not faced the young man since his proposal. He made a sour face, and laid his head on her shoulder in agony.
“Dagger, I… …I…” Zidane’s tears were suddenly brushed aside as the Queen turned around, her hair cleaning his wet face. The poor Genome nearly went into cardiac arrest as he saw a very sinister smile on Garnet’s face, and raised a curious eyebrow as he anticipated what sort of tricks she would have in store.
“……Gotcha,” she sang. Poor Zidane stared at her in confusion, obviously still a few pages behind the young woman. She grinned, slowly folded her arms around his neck, and locked her perfumed lily lips onto his in what was their first true kiss.
Zidane’s shock lasted only a few seconds more, but slowly, the surprise faded and he smiled as the girl he loved pressed her gentle mouth to his own. His hands went for her long, luscious hair, and she let out a sigh of content as she gently ran her hands over his back. Slowly, she broke away, her eyes bright with stars and her face glowing with happiness.
“Of course I will marry you,” she said softly. “Of course, of course. I thought you would never ask.”
“Oh. You had me worried there for a sec…”
“ACK, you’re terrible!” she screamed. The Queen of Alexandria playfully began pounding on poor Zidane, and soon the two were wrestling like a bunch of children. Zidane cackled out loud, and grabbed and lifted the gentle Queen high in the air, twirling her around like the propeller of an airship. She laughed out loud as she was being spun around, and once he was too exhausted to carry her, her lips went to his again and the two calmed down a little.
“…Oh, man…” he sighed, rubbing his nose against hers, “you really had me going there for a sec!”
“Hm, I know,” she smiled. “I wanted to say Yes initially, but I had to make sure you wanted me, so I made you sweat a little. But you did fine, Zidane. You showed me that you really do love me, and for that I am grateful. I should kick myself for ever doubting you.”
“Nahh, I probably deserved a little rejection from the one most important to me.”
“…Oh, Zidane…” The ecstatic Garnet sighed, and cuddled up next to the man who would soon be King. “…I… wow, I really don’t know what to say.”
“Ehh, you don’t have to talk, canary,” he assured her. Garnet squealed as she heard his most precious pet name for her, and gave him another kiss before backing away just slightly.
“You know,” she said, “this little arrangement will change everything. You’re going to have to stop flirting with every female that you see, and you’re going to have to undergo some training before you can become King.”
“Ach, I got the same grilling from Beatrix,” moaned Zidane. “She doesn’t think I’m up to the task. She thinks the kingdom will collapse if I take the throne.”
“Really?” chuckled Garnet. “Sorry. I should have a talk with her. But really, Zidane, can you blame her? You’re not the first person people think about when they think of Kings.” He made a disappointed face, and hung his head in shame. She smiled brightly, and walked back over to give her fiancé a tight hug.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I’m being so rude, when all of Alexandria should be celebrating. Huh, just like me…”
“You think they’ll take this news well?” asked Zidane. Garnet shrugged.
“Who cares? This was my decision to make. I’m Queen over this land, aren’t I? And aren’t I entitled to my own choices in life? Trust me, Zidane: if I did not think you were fit for the job, I really would have rejected you.”
“Yes,” she said, smiling sweetly. “I think you’ll make a great King, Zidane. And… maybe you’ll make a great daddy.” She smiled and rested her hand on his chest, and he smiled that same goofy old smile at the mention of parenthood. Me, a father? he said to himself. Ho boy, what have I gotten myself into this time?
“Busy, busy, busy!” Head chef Quina scurried back and forth between six pots of boiling and simmering stews, tasting a few, nodding a bulbous head in approval over others, and shouting so many orders that not eve s/he could remember them all.
“Get this stew hotter!” s/he cried. “It too cold, will freeze a tongue! Make this soup cold! Cold soup not always good, but this time a must! Where is bread??”
“Here, Chief!” shouted one of Quina’s helper chefs. “It’s out of the oven, piping hot!” Quina smiled, and bounced over to the steaming loaf of bread. One whiff told the Qu that it was ready to be eaten.
“Ah, smells good!” s/he complimented. “But make many more! Make many more, for we will have many-many guests! More, more!”
“Oy, what a hassle,” moaned the cook. Several other hired hands scurried into the kitchen, chanting out like drill sergeants as they prepared for the wedding. Three perilous months had passed since Zidane proposed to Garnet, and in that time, all of Alexandria--indeed, all the world had heard of the arrangement. The past three months had flown by in a fiery uproar, where everybody that had a use prepared for the marriage, one way or another.
It was true that Quina was one of the busiest bodies in all the kingdom. S/he was responsible for cooking the immense wedding feast, after all, so the gluttonous Qu had been slaving frantically for weeks on end to prepare for the big day. One hundred seven chefs had flown in from all corners of the globe, most of them from the Mist Continent. Together, these “Chefs of Destiny”, as one crazy old woman called them, had worked long and hard hours to pass off culinary perfection, and to one who could not cook, it was a fascinating sight to see.
Tantalus had arrived two weeks before the wedding day, with their newest member Lani in tow. Zidane greeted his brothers and new sister warmly, and together the entire gang went out on one of the wildest bachelor parties ever recorded in historical documents (it actually was recorded as history, seeing as how this was a new King and all). Lani herself joined Beatrix and a few other ladies in showing Garnet one last wild night on the town, but unfortunately, Beatrix’s presence dulled the festivities. She never was much of a partier.
That aside, more and more people had considerably tougher jobs to perform. The group of Vivis were given the important task of decorating Alexandria Castle, while most of the townspeople contributed to the village and the outside area of the castle. The children tossed streamers and threw sparkling confetti; older people whittled stone statues and marble images, and even those that had no skill were assigned with keeping track of guests.
Steiner and his crew of Pluto Knights had been assigned to security. The big guy himself made sure that the wedding would go off without any trouble, and even though he allowed Tantalus and a few other of Zidane’s unsavory friends inside, he still distrusted them. As for Freya, she was placed in charge of finding gowns for the bride and bride’s maids (along with Beatrix), so she was able to spend a lot of quality time with new friends.
The representatives of the World Council came a few days ahead of schedule, as well (the wedding was slated to take place about a week from the present day). Huffle from Dali brought forth a dowry of gold, and Quale from the marshes brought bundles of food that quickly became essential in the feast. Stella was willing to part with her precious Stelazzo coins, and Ghiott the dwarf brought his finest tapestries and blankets to decorate the castle walls.
The mages and the Genomes all came with simple yet heartwarming gifts, and even Eiko and her moogle friends arrived. Stiltzkin and Artemecion trailed them behind, with dozens of grateful moogles still singing about how Mognet Central was saved. Good old Cid and Hilda dragged nearly half the population of Lindblum with them, and Vanderhaum summoned up great scholars from Daguerro, as did Bishop Benedic from Esto Gaza and Dr. Tot from Treno.
In short, the days right before the wedding were the most hectic of them all, and with the exception of Amarant, who had not been seen since The Foe invaded Alexandria, everybody that had ever known Garnet of Zidane had come. The atmosphere was so exciting that some people thought it was terrifying. Needless to say, this would all definitely go down in history.
To be able to find a secluded place in Alexandria was impossible, but somehow, Freya managed. As she stepped away from the chaotic crowds crammed behind her, she let out a great breath of exhausted air and brushed the hair out of her eyes. She was unarmed (what need of a weapon did she have during a wedding--unless, of course, it was one of “those” marriages?), and her hat was gone from her head, so she would not be quite as conspicuous if she snuck away.
Freya found her way to the docks behind the church where she had bumped into Beatrix a few months ago. The waters were disturbingly active, as if even the fish were celebrating, but she made no comment about it as she entered the sacred building. Her eyes turned towards a ladder that had been placed directly under the steeple. Desiring privacy, she decided to climb the ladder in order to distance herself from the crowd even more.
Upon arriving at the top (Freya was accustomed to being around very high places, so the roofs did not dizzy her in the least), the dragoon found one other figure up there with her, quietly staring away from the crowds. Doves were fluttering around her, and one was peaceably perched on her outstretched finger. Beatrix looked very serene and maybe a little mystical as she stood on the roof with the white birds surrounding her, and Freya smiled and crossed her arms as she regarded her friend.
For a little while, neither of the ladies spoke a word. They really had a lot on their minds, but for the time being, silence was much more appreciated than a conversation. One by one, the doves flew away from Beatrix, leaving her with only the one on her finger, and of course, Freya.
“I can’t stand large crowds,” said Beatrix suddenly, as if the two ladies were merely picking up where they last left off. “I’m not really good with lots of people.”
“But you said you were once part of a circus,” noted Freya. Beatrix shrugged and let the dove go.
“That’s different,” she argued. “In a circus, it’s a whole lot more impersonal. You don’t have people running up to you making demands left and right. You just perform, and let everyone smile, and be on your way for the next act. But here…” She motioned towards the crowds of people cluttering through Alexandria, the noise so loud that the ladies had to raise their voices slightly.
“Here,” continued Beatrix, “it’s a whole lot more different. You touch people, you talk with people, you’re there, with them. I’ve known some people who love to socialize, and be the belle of the ball, but I’m not one of them.” Freya smiled and let out a very polite laughter as she walked towards her friend.
“I know how you feel,” she said. “I’ve gotten used to a life of solitude myself over the past few years. They say that humans and us Burmecians are social animals, and that if we don’t get contact with members of our own species, we’ll die. But, you can do pretty good by yourself if you have the right means.”
“True,” sighed Beatrix. The slightly-older woman sat down on the roof, hugging her knees close to her chest and letting her hair tickle her thighs. Freya joined her, opting to sprawl her furry legs out instead. The Burmecian’s tail twitched from time to time, but other than that, there was stillness between them.
“What’s on your mind?” asked Freya. Beatrix shrugged emptily.
“Eh, I dunno. I guess the days have gone by so fast that I haven’t even had time to catch my breath.” Freya nodded her head in agreement, and the two warriors sighed as the silence became their third companion. Though they were friends, and were drawing closer by the month, they hardly ever held very deep or meaningful conversations, unless the mood struck them.
Both Freya and Beatrix were the quiet, thoughtful type, allowing their minds to wander and their lips to stay frozen. They always had something on their mind, but would usually never speak unless spoken to. They understood each other very well, though--perhaps a little too well, considering that a little over a year ago, they had been enemies.
“You know what?” said Beatrix. Freya looked at her friend and mentally goaded her to continue. “…To be perfectly honest, Freya, I’m against this wedding. I don’t want it to take place. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I love this kingdom and her majesty very much. I’ve even grown to love sir Zidane, God forbid.” (Freya had given her friend a doubtful face after hearing that last declaration.)
“…It’s just that… well, I still have my doubts,” sighed the knight. “I mean, in my heart I know Zidane will do just fine as a King, just as her majesty did well as a Queen. He may be inexperienced, but he’s got heart, and he has a connection with the common folk that even her majesty does not. In a sense, he’s sort of like Steiner, I guess, even though comparing the two of them sounds silly.”
“They are two very different people,” said Freya with a smile.
“Yeah… But, there’s something else that bothers me about this wedding…” Beatrix trailed off, and Freya scooted a little closer to learn what else was bothering her friend. A furry hand touched Beatrix’s elbow, and Freya nodded her head. Beatrix let out a smile, and instead of pouring her heart out, she stood up.
“Here, stand up,” she said, and Freya slowly did so, unsure what Beatrix was about to do. The knight unsheathed her sword, Save the Queen, and pointed it at Freya. “Dear friend,” she said, “don’t think I’ve just gone mad, but would you care to have a friendly duel with me?” Freya gazed at Beatrix despite her request to not think the knight insane. Her eyes traveled between the sword in Beatrix’s hands and the edge of the roof just barely beyond their reach.
“…You mean here? Now?” asked Freya. Beatrix nodded her head.
“Yes. Here, now, right on this roof. What’s the matter, afraid you’ll slip?”
“……No,” mumbled Freya bitterly. “It’s just that… well, this isn’t exactly the best place to have a sparring match.” Beatrix groaned out loud and made a show of expressing her irritation.
“Oh, please,” she moaned. “Weren’t you taught anything by your instructors? I know my master always told me to be prepared to fight on any terrain. This roof seems stable enough to hold us both, and if one of us falls, the other will just have to catch her.” Freya mumbled, and made a face as she considered Beatrix’s strange request.
Indeed, fighting on this roof was no danger: Freya had battled on much more dangerous plateaus than this, and against many more enemies. It was more of a strange, unheard-of request than anything else, and it was the last thing Freya expected out of Beatrix.
“Well,” she sighed, “I don’t have a weapon.”
“Oh, excuses, excuses,” moaned Beatrix. The knight looked around for something Freya could use, and found a spear-like object lying on the roof. It was the remains of a fancy gate that had found its way on the roof after Kuja’s invasion, and now all parts save this last bar had been recycled into something else.
“Here,” she said, tossing the pseudo-spear to Freya. “It’s not much, but I guess you’ll have to adjust.” Freya said nothing as she held the steel object in her hands. The point was very blunt, so it was more of a clubbing weapon than anything else, and it was awfully short and thin, shorter than any other weapon she had used.
“……It’s not much of a fight if I use this against your sword,” she muttered.
“I’m going to fight left-handed,” stated Beatrix in an irritated voice. Freya decided that it would be best to keep her mouth shut from then on out. Her incessant whining was obviously making her friend angry, and since Freya was starting to like Beatrix, her rage was the last thing she wanted. Apologizing for her rude behavior, Freya stood in defensive position and prepared to mock-fight the other warrior.
Beatrix ran forward, slamming her blade down with meek force. Freya blocked it, having to use both hands to keep the short, spear-like weapon from being thrown out of her grip. It really was useless; in fact, the mousy warrior probably would have fared better with just her bare hands.
“…Let me tell you something,” said Beatrix roughly. The two warriors held their position a little while longer, and broke to strike again. Freya jumped high into the air, aiming her weapon at her friend and diving down with enough force to break through the roof. She didn’t, but she also missed Beatrix, who gave a semi-powerful kick as she leaped towards the knight. Freya was tossed a little distance, but rolled back to her feet and rammed her spear forward. It just barely blocked Beatrix’s own sword.
“What’s that?” she asked. Beatrix’s concentrated face disguised her overall mood.
“…I… don’t like change,” she said as she pressed her sword down harder. Freya smiled, and before continuing their talk, her foot shot out and kicked Beatrix in the shins. Freya spun around once the sword was released, and slammed the soft end of her fist on Beatrix’s head. The other warrior grunted and took a few steps back to shake herself loose before attacking again.
“I… don’t adjust well,” said Beatrix, coming back for more still. Her sword swiped at Freya, and cleaved a second time, and a third. A fourth swipe slashed at the dragoon’s clothes, and the near-useless spear of Freya rammed forward in revenge.
“Why not?” asked Freya as her weapon locked up with Beatrix’s. It was plainly obvious that neither warrior was putting a lot of effort in the fight.
“…Well… I was just never like that,” countered Beatrix--verbally and physically. Her knee slammed into Freya’s stomach, and the dragoon bowled over in pain. Beatrix took this opportunity to slam the flat of her blade on Freya’s bowed head, and the dragoon found the floor in quick time. Taking just one deep breath, Beatrix walked over and aimed the point of her sword at Freya’s nape.
“That… was too easy,” she said, not even close to breaking a sweat. Freya mumbled something, and managed to push the sword away as she rolled onto her back. She didn’t get up at all; she merely laid there, her eyes glued to the sky, her mouth somewhere between a smile and a frown. Beatrix smiled as well, and sheathed her sword before lying down next to her friend.
Like a couple of little girls laying in the field, searching for clouds with familiar shapes, the two warriors laid on the roof, silent and thoughtful as always. They both respected each other enough to not pry further, and a few good minutes passed before either one of them spoke.
“…Are you afraid?” whispered Freya. Beatrix rolled over on her side and gazed at the dragoon quizzically.
“Are you afraid of change?” Freya rolled over as well, gazing at Beatrix with her green eyes. A space of only an arm’s length separated them.
“…Sort of,” mumbled Beatrix softly. “…I never could adjust to anything well. First it was my parents dying, then the circus, then my adoption into the knighthood of Alexandria, then my years spent training with Master Atma, then…”
For you, dear one--I shall wear this badge of honor for you.
“…Well,” sighed Beatrix after a suspicious pause, “I’m just not one to easily adjust to change. I do become accustomed to new things after awhile, but it can take years before I really become adjusted. …I guess that’s why I don’t retire. I mean, I love my job and I love this kingdom, but… well, I’d have a tough time getting used to being away from Alexandria.”
Freya, whose sensitive ears were receiving everything Beatrix had to offer, smiled warmly as her friend slowly bared her soul. Never could she have suspected that Beatrix held such feelings in her heart, or such thoughts in her head. She had always been seen as a tough, businesslike warrior with the strength and beauty of a goddess and a powerful sense of duty. But, beneath all that, something else lurked, something that perhaps only Freya knew about.
Freya kept her smile, and placed her furry hand on Beatrix’s cheek. The dragoon had a feeling that their conversation had been extremely intimate; indeed, it was possible that she was the only one who knew how Beatrix felt about such matters. Despite her smile, though, Freya couldn’t help but feel a little sad for Beatrix. The noble woman was in need of more friends like this. She had so much to offer…
“Sorry,” said the knight with a faint smile. “I guess I just never really opened up to anybody like that. You’re only the second person that I’ve talked to about this, and the first has been dead for a few good years.” Freya mirrored Beatrix’s shy smile, and mentally wept as she received such an unheard-of honor.
“I’m glad you trust me so,” whispered Freya. “Maybe, someday, I can tell you a few secrets of my own. Not now, though.”
“Are you going back in there?” said Beatrix, anticipating Freya’s departure. The Burmecian smiled sadly and chuckled.
“It’s pathetic, how transparent I am,” she said. Beatrix shrugged, and helped Freya stand. The day was still light, so they had not been up there long, so they probably were not missed much. Freya still had more gowns to find (and try on), and Beatrix needed to have a talk to Bishop Benedic and Regent Cid. It was going to be an awfully busy week, for everybody.
“…Hey…” As the two knights climbed down from the steeple, Beatrix stretched out her hand and gently grabbed Freya. The dragoon looked at the knight expectantly, and it was obvious that Beatrix wanted to say one more thing. She was uncharacteristically shy, mumbling and stuttering like a little child meeting important people.
“…Hey, uh… Freya?”
“Yes?” Beatrix shut her eye, and slowly managed to say what was on her mind.
“…Can I, uh… well, um…… …Can I have a… a hug, if it’s not too much to ask?” Freya grinned when she heard Beatrix’s unusual request, and walked forward to fold her arms over the human. Like Beatrix said, she was never good with other people, and signs of affection were foreign to her, having grown up without a family. Freya knew that such a request coming from somebody with a background like hers was both simple and complicated all at once, so the only way to approach these things was being direct.
Beatrix slowly returned the hug, though with much deliberation and uncertainty. It was cute, in a way, albeit unexpected. The hug lasted a good six seconds, and the two ladies parted and wished each other good day as they merged once again into the thick crowds.
Queen Garnet stood in front of her mirror, being absolutely drowned by handmaidens and people who claimed to be advising her on her dress. Beatrix, who was acting as the maid of honor and co-captain of the royal guard, covered her face in shame as her Queen was pelted by attention, questions, and advice from women who basically knew nothing.
“Highness, you look best in white,” argued one. “Never break against tradition.”
“But her majesty should show the people that she’s not so one-dimensional!” argued another. “Go for a different style, majesty!”
“These roses are excellent, dear--that is, if you’re living sixty years ago.”
“What’s wrong with roses?” spurted another. “Her mother had them at her wedding, so why should we break the tradition?”
“Roses are so romantic, too!”
“But that flirt of a bridegroom she’s marrying wouldn’t know romance if it came up and kicked the crap out of him. That, I would like to see!” Garnet growled and made a very angry face. She directed it to the woman who had insulted her husband-to-be and gave her a scolding to boot.
“I beg your pardon!” she snapped. “I’ll have you know that Zidane can be romantic! Besides, how would you know? You’re 47 years old and still unmarried! If you cannot accept this marriage, I suggest you find another country to live in!” The maids paled, and every one of them fell to their knees in forgiveness.
“Please, highness, we’re so sorry for insulting you! Find it in your heart to forgive us!” Garnet shook her head in defeat, and gave Beatrix a tired look. It took every single ounce of strength in the General’s body to not smile back.
“…I suppose I could,” she said, turning her focus back to her maids. “After all, this is a festive day. All right, I forgive you, but you should be more careful with what you say!”
“Of course, highness!” they exclaimed. “Of course! We’re sorry!” And with that, the maids resumed scurrying around, fixing the Queen up for her wedding day without so much as a peep. Beatrix had to pretend to go to the bathroom in order to avoid laughing out loud in front of her liege. A sudden stinging feeling in her bowels told her that she wouldn’t be pretending for long…
…Wow, I sure have changed, she thought to herself. Warm water ran over her soapy hands, and a single crimson eye gazed at a mirror that allowed Beatrix to see just how she had changed. Physically, she wasn’t too different, except she was dressed like a maid of honor/royal guard. A sleeveless white gown, made completely out of silk, covered her body from neck to calve, and a pearl necklace with a pendant attached to it hung over her neck.
Beatrix had been assuming more and more responsibilities as the wedding day drew closer. Garnet had pleasured her with being the maid of honor, and Beatrix assumed the position with great humility. She would also be co-captain of the guard, next to Steiner, so she was also the only bride’s maid that came equipped with a weapon. For the first time in a long time, she loved the dress she was wearing (Beatrix never dressed up, but only because her duty prevented her from attending events that required dress).
Beatrix applied a little more makeup and combed through her wavy chestnut hair a few more times before approving of herself and leaving. Yes, I have changed greatly, she thought to herself. I’m much more open with my feelings. I’m starting to think of her majesty as a friend, and not just an impersonal liege. The lack of activity has given me time to socialize more, and since then I have discovered a world of enjoyment I thought only existed in dreams.
Yes. I have changed much. I wonder who I can attest that to…?
Fittingly enough, as Beatrix left the ladies’ restroom, she bumped into Freya again--literally. The two collided, sending each other falling to the floor in an embarrassing, yet somewhat hilarious show. Both knights groaned and rubbed their backs as they struck the ground, and tried to smile despite the pain.
“We really should stop doing this,” muttered Freya with a weak smile. Beatrix silently agreed and helped her friend up. Freya, like Beatrix, was a bride’s maid and a member of the royal guard, so she too was dressed the part. She had on a sleeveless white gown of silk just like Beatrix, except hers had just a ghost of green splashed on to discern her from the other maids. Her head was bare, and her silvery hair had been braided in fine knots.
Needless to say, both knights got lots of attention from the male gender.
“You look great,” complimented Beatrix. Freya nodded her head and mirrored the compliment.
“I haven’t time to talk, friend,” she said. “But surely you understand, what with this wedding and all.”
“Yeah,” smiled the human, “marriages of the century can certainly curtail one’s duties to their friends. Oh well, it’ll all be over come next week.” They both smiled, drunk on happiness, and locked elbows as they marched back to where all the fun was.
“Ohhhhh, look sooooooooo yummy!” Quina quietly crept up on the buffet table, one pasty-white hand slowly snaking towards the snacks and dishes spread out. The long, reddish-pink tongue hanging from its mouth wiggled slightly, and Quina’s advanced nose trembled from the scent of food. The white hand reached a little closer…
“Hey!!” Before Quina could touch the food, Lani slapped the hand away with a powerful smack. Quina drew back and rubbed its poor hand gingerly.
“Owie! Why you do that? I hungry!”
“Hey, just doing my job!” retorted Lani. “I’ve been given explicit instructions to not allow anyone, least of all the castle cook, to touch the food! So there!” Quina snarled and stuck its tongue out.
“Blehh! You no fun! I go elsewhere!” Before Lani could protest, Quina had scurried off to make trouble elsewhere. She growled, and barked an order to Marcus that he should watch the food while she keep an eye out for Quina’s starving antics. The stout Marcus shrugged, and popped a mini-quiche in his mouth when nobody was looking.
“You’ll do just fine!” assured Eiko as she jumped in the air. “It’s super-easy! I saw it before! All you have to do is carry the rings on the pillow, and give them to Zidane and Garnet when the preacher asks for them!”
“Uhhh…” Vivi adjusted his hat, still not sure whether he was up to the challenge or not. He had been given the important task of ring-bearer; Eiko was flower girl.
“Don’t worry!” she ordered him. “You won’t mess up! I know you’re clumsy, but this is super-easy! …Hey, tell you what! If you trip and fall, then I’ll just run out there and help you up, okay? Then we can walk down the aisle together!” Vivi paused before speaking, and nodded his head in agreement.
“Sure!” he exclaimed. “That sounds nice!”
“Okay then!” squealed Eiko, psyching herself up for her big moment. “Let’s get ready! We only have, uh, maybe an hour to go!!” Vivi, who had been stuffed inside his mini-tuxedo for the past two hours, sighed in exhaustion and crumbled to the floor.
Privately, Beatrix gazed at her liege with the eyes of an appraiser. It was her job to pass final judgment on the Queen before she allowed her to go out into the chapel. So far, Garnet looked just like she should at a wedding: she had on the beautiful silky-white bride’s gown complete with veil, and a bouquet of red roses were clutched in her hands. Her pendant was around her neck, and her face radiated with joy and love and perfectly-applied makeup.
“Something old” was a sash of her mother’s that had been tied around her waist. “Something new” were the earrings that adorned her lobes, both garnets. “Something borrowed” was a tiara that belonged to Eiko’s mother, and “something blue” was another sash around her waist, this one belonging to her “real” mother (Eiko had spent many months trying to find it, and swore on the Eidolons that it was the genuine article).
“Well?” asked Garnet to her closest friend. Beatrix, her lips pursed in thought, finally smiled and nodded her head.
“It is perfect,” she pronounced. “Your mothers would be overjoyed to see it, as would your fathers.”
“Thank you,” smiled Garnet. She paused, and set the bouquet down briefly as she stepped towards Beatrix. “General?”
“Yes, my Queen?”
“…I have a great favor to ask of you.”
“Anything, highness,” said Beatrix with a salute. Garnet fidgeted with her dress before giving her request.
“…Can you call me by my name, just once?” Beatrix tilted her head in confusion, smiled, and complied.
“…I shouldn’t, but if you order it, then I will be glad to do so, Garnet.” Beatrix mentally cringed as she addressed her liege so informally. She had been in the service of the family of Alexandria for over a decade, so calling Garnet by her birth-name felt very unnatural to her. Still, the smile on Garnet’s mouth eased her feelings, and Beatrix returned the smile.
“Thank you, General. I just wanted to hear you call me Garnet once.” Beatrix, sensing that if they continued their conversation, they would be late for the wedding, prompted Garnet to make any last-minute preparations. It only took the Queen a few seconds to look over everything, then she was ready for the ceremony.
Butterflies slammed into the stomach of Zidane as he stood in front of the mirror. Blank, his best man, joked that he looked very pretty in his tuxedo, and of course Baku almost died from laughing so much. Rubi, only one of two girls allowed into the groom’s dressing room, tried her hardest to keep a straight face but failed; Lani, the other, wore a mask of doubt and disgust on her face.
“…He does look a little silly,” she noted. “But let’s face it. Monkeys in tuxedos all look funny.”
“Hey!” Lani laughed out loud, and slapped her “brother” on the back fiercely.
“It’s true!” she exclaimed. “You look like a penguin with hair in that thing! Garnet will bowl over with laughter!”
“Watch it there, Lani,” pointed Blank emptily. “You’re talking to the future King of Alexandria. He might lock you up for such comments.” He smiled emptily, and Zidane knew that Blank would like nothing better than to see Lani in some prison. The red-headed bounty hunter shrugged, and smiled sweetly as she sauntered over to Blank.
“Sorry, sweetie,” she crooned. “You look better, anyway.”
“Hey! …D’gackk!! HELP!!!”
“You’re on your own, bro!” shouted Marcus as he ran away from the scene. Cinna was following him, claiming that he needed to “prepare” for the wedding, leaving only Baku and Zidane to separate them.
“Hey now, there’s not enough food fer a double ceremony!” coughed Baku. Lani’s dark face turned crimson upon hearing that; Blank’s face changed colors as well, though the shade was hardly red.
“Nervous…” Steiner fidgeted in his position, along with the other eight Pluto Knights. Across from him were eight of the finest Alexandrian knights, with only two spaces left open for Beatrix and Freya. Steiner had washed and cleaned his armor just for this occasion, and he still cringed from time to time as he thought back. His armor really had been quite rusty--ghastly, in fact, but now it was shiny and bright and it made him look considerably better.
His broad face grew a smile as the lovely Freya joined the Alexandrian knights. He waved discreetly at her, and she waved back with a smile. She had to admit, he really did look better with a clean suit of armor; she was gorgeous.
Just then, a slow musical score started, and the wedding officially began with the groom’s men filing into the sanctuary. The guests mumbled and whispered among themselves, and many a girl grew hearts in her eyes as they stared at the gentlemanly ensemble. Zidane followed them, his arm linked with Hilda Falbool’s, and both looked very lovely.
A second, more feminine cast appeared after this, with Beatrix leading them off. Almost every man in the room, married or otherwise, grew hearts over their heads as they saw the lovely cast, and Zidane had to use something called “restraint” so he wouldn’t wave at the girls and make himself look like a fool. He almost did, but the look Beatrix gave him made sure that he would be good.
Several people let out adorable awwwwwwws as Vivi waddled forward, balancing the rings on a pillow. Zidane grinned and silently cheered the little mage, and every girl in the room cooed over how cute he was. Vivi never tripped, not even once, and Zidane gave him a thumbs-up as the little mage approached the dais.
Eiko came next, skipping merrily as she threw petals and flowers. Many people thought she was cute too, and some of the men noticed how she was growing up into a lovely young lady. Suddenly, the summoner tripped and fell, sending her flowers spilling out and earning moans from the crowd. Vivi instantly rushed out to help her, and the crowd grew teary as the mage picked Eiko up and held her hand as he led her across the aisle. Zidane gave an even bigger thumbs-up and even whispered, “You’re the man, Vivi!” as the mage stepped up with him.
The crowd hushed as the wedding song was played, and everyone stood up as the bride and the Queen slowly walked into view. Cid Falbool, the closest person she had to a father, guided her up the aisle and towards her groom and future husband and her new life. Garnet’s blushed face and serene smile quieted all of Zidane’s nerves, and he smiled back as his beautiful bride slowly walked up towards him. Everyone else beamed with pride, especially the two knights who had guarded the Queen for so long.
Cid finally let Garnet join Zidane, proclaiming to Bishop Benedic that it was he who was giving Garnet away (in her father’s stead), and left to find his seat so that the procession could continue. Of course, the very second that Bishop Benedic opened his mouth, everyone groaned and wished the ceremony over.
“Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished visitors, great leaders, Lady Beatrix, Lord Steiner, friends, your highness… We are gathered here today to join these two in the bonds of holy matrimony.”
Oh, man! whined Zidane mentally. This guy’s gonna take forever!! Why can’t he just say “Do you” and “Do you” and get it over with? Why does he have to drone on forever? Ugh, probably some royal custom they go through. I wonder how Garnet’s taking all this?
Hm, her eyes are open, but I can tell she’s sleeping. Ha, I taught her that one! …Ah, what a wonderful wife she’d make. I just hope I’m ready for all this. I know I’ll never be able to give her the kind of life she deserves, or the kind of happiness she needs… But darnit, I sure can try! I’m gonna be the best King this land has ever seen!
Oh, why did she have to mention kids? Me, a father? I can only imagine… Zidane shook his head subtly, ignoring every word that the Bishop was saying. He looked into Garnet’s brown eyes, and whispered I love you. She smiled, and just like her, she whispered I love you more. Zidane chuckled lightly, and stuck his tongue out when he was certain that nobody was watching.
“…repeat after me, please…” mumbled the Bishop, and Zidane snapped to attention. He knew he couldn’t miss hearing this. It was one of the most important parts of the ceremony!
“I, Zidane Tribal…”
“I, Zidane Tribal…”
“Take thee, Garnet, as my wife and as my Queen.”
“Take thee, Garnet, as my wife and as my Queen.” Yes, Polly does want a cracker.
“To have and to hold…” Zidane rolled his eyes, and stood there numbly as he repeated every single word Bishop Benedic said. He meant it all, of course, but there was a kind of empty enthusiasm in the bishop’s voice that made even the most precious moments dull.
“…Til death do us part, amen.”
“Til death do us part, amen.” Garnet smiled, the ring fit perfectly on her finger. So far, so good, and the ceremony was almost over--in theory. Bishop Benedic took a breath, and turned his attention to Garnet.
“And do you, Queen Garnet til Alexandros the 17th…” Suddenly, Bishop Benedic was shoved out of the way, and the sleepy atmosphere died instantly as a familiar sneezing sound erupted from the podium.
“Boss!” shouted Zidane. “What are you doing?!”
“Isn’t it obvious?” guffawed Baku. “I’m saving this sorry excuse of a wedding!! Am I the only one who’s bored out of his mind??” He waved his hands in the air, expecting a resounding NO to come from the audience, but got nothing except a weak murmuring.
“I’m bored!” exclaimed Lani suddenly. Baku laughed out loud, and more and more members of Tantalus chanted out their sentiment. Soon, everybody in the sanctuary, even Beatrix and Steiner, admitted to being dulled out of their minds from Bishop Benedic’s mindless dribble.
“Then that settles it!” shouted Baku. He aimed his paw at Zidane, and asked “Do you?”
“Yes!” He then aimed his paw at Garnet.
“Yes!” she replied, her cheeks rosy. Baku crossed his arms proudly.
“Good! You’re married! Kiss her!!!” Everyone in the audience laughed, for so long and so hard that nobody heard the bride and groom.
“I love you…”
“I love you…!” They held each other tight, and locked lips to consummate the pact of holy matrimony. Of course, the laughter turned into applause and cheering once the two kissed, and it only grew more thunderous as Zidane yanked Garnet off the floor and carried her across the threshold. Everyone clapped, cheered, whistled, and threw flowers and birdseed as the two ran off to the assembly of friends that had been waiting for them outside.
Lani wailed out loud and hugged onto Blank; Marcus, Rubi, and Cinna were all wailing with Baku. Erin and Boyd sang and leaped into the air, and Beatrix was giving Steiner the biggest and tightest hug of her life. She was interrupted by Zidane, who was still holding Garnet.
“Yes… highness?” smiled the rosy General. Zidane grinned a wicked grin and set his wife down.
“Isn’t it tradition for the maid of honor to give the groom a kiss?” he shouted over the cheering. Both Beatrix and Garnet rolled their eyes, and to his surprise, both allowed the kiss to commence. Beatrix’s mouth touched Zidane’s briefly, and the General grinned and gave her new liege a tight embrace. The Queen gave Steiner a peck on the cheek, and hugged her guardian despite the armor and the red on his face.
Freya, though all by herself in the midst of the beautiful chaos, gave off a warm smile as she applauded her friends. She had already done her fair share of socializing and celebrating, so with her business done, she slowly turned around to leave…
“Not so fast!” shouted a familiar voice. Freya grinned, and turned around to meet the new King of Alexandria.
“Yes, highness?” Zidane rolled his eyes and smiled.
“Please… just call me Zidane!”
“All right, Zidane then,” grinned Freya. She gazed at her friend, looking silly as always, and nearly laughed out loud as she saw him pout. “Now what?”
“Can I get a hug?” he whimpered. Freya grinned in defeat, and reached forward to embrace her friend. She suddenly pressed her furry mouth to his, and pulled away before he knew what had happened. Garnet, who would normally be angry to see any woman kiss her new husband, literally rolled on the floor in laughter.
“Now I can tell my grandkids that I kissed a King!” exclaimed Freya. Zidane growled playfully, and placed his arm across her shoulder as he guided Freya back into the festivities, where she belonged.
That night, only one individual was miserable--but they had a right to be so.
“Oooooohhhhhh…… me so full… Should not have eaten so much…”
Three of the calmest and most peaceful months passed since the marriage of Zidane and Queen Garnet. In that space of time, the young Genome--who had once been as familiar with royal customs as he was familiar with the anatomy of a toad--had slowly become one of Alexandria’s more “interesting” Kings. Zidane was instructed in the royal ways mostly by Garnet, though her teaching usually just passed right through his head.
Because he was so unfamiliar with royal customs, Zidane would often make ambassadors, visitors, or well-wishers rather uncomfortable whenever they came to visit. His manners and speech, though gradually improving, were still far too rough and coarse, and oftentimes Garnet’s patience was stretched beyond normal units of measurement.
Then again, never before had a more honest and down-to-earth King been on the throne. In the short period of time that had passed since his coronation ceremony, Zidane had already gained a following from the people. He had become famous enough during the Mist Wars, but as King, he became even more loved. At first, it was understandable how apprehensive everyone felt about the ex-thief being King, but now their doubts were quelled.
Beatrix and Steiner, to the new King’s surprise, gave him their full support and unquestioned loyalty. Seeing Beatrix kneel to the Genome was a sight in its own, but having Steiner bow before a former “enemy” was almost funny. He, more than anyone else, had treated Zidane the worst, and although the young man took Steiner’s humility with a surprising amount of maturity, it was still a strange site to see Steiner lower himself to the “monkey-boy”.
All in all, it was a peaceful time for Alexandria kingdom, and she deserved every second of it. The past few years had been extra-hard on her resolve, what with the kingdom nearly getting wiped off the face of the map multiple times--from without and within. It seemed as if the forces of evil expanded all their energies just to topple Alexandria: first Kuja and Brahne’s efforts, then Garland and Necros, then The Foe had appeared to worsen things more. Even so, Alexandria had withstood it all, and even seemed to get better after every near-death experience.
But now, there were no more enemies to fight. No new evils were around, there was no strife in the world, and a comforting blanket of silky tranquility had finally wrapped the kingdom in the warm embrace of serenity it had sorely needed.
And Freya was so bored, she was going stark-raving mad.
Ever since her recovery from depression, Freya had assigned herself as chief of security in Alexandria. With her watching the streets and corridors of the kingdom, the young royals felt as if their land would truly be safe, and it was--but too safe for Freya. She had not been head of security for long--she had began her occupation shortly after the wedding--but in that short period of time, her job had lost its sparkle, and the challenge had dulled down, and she was so restless that she was going crazy.
Peace is the ultimate pleasure, she reminded herself. Wars are the most horrible events that one can experience. They take away so many wonderful things, leaving only ashes and skeletons and destruction. The last great war that this world suffered sucked nearly everything I loved away, and the purpose of this most recent invasion seemed only to finish off what Kuja started. I have lost everything in the war, but now that there is peace, I may be happy.
However… As masochistic as it sounds, peace is always dull. I am grateful for the citizens of Alexandria for taking me in, and I am thankful for the King and Queen that they have found this line of work for me. I owe this kingdom so much, but if I do not have something worthwhile to occupy my time, then I shall just go to pieces!
Thus, owing this land so much, surely there is a better way for me to repay them! Chief of security is an honorable position, but it is not one that suits me. I have been watching these streets now for the past three months, and I have not seen anything more threatening than a few desperate muggers. I have much to be thankful for--but if I am not placed somewhere where my skills would be put to better use, I’ll go mad!
That is, if I haven’t already…
That last thought elicited a brief chuckle out of Freya, but she was not in the mood for humor. She was perfectly serious when she thought of her inactivity bearing madness, and was even more serious when she mentally swore to pay back the kingdom for its grace. Freya had been accepted as a citizen of Alexandria before she got her security job, so she was also under the rule of Zidane and Garnet--which may or may not have meant that she could no longer approach them so casually.
She had considered asking her two friends to give her another line of work, but as polite and classy as she was, she thought the notion would be received as rude. Don’t get me wrong! she had anticipated to say upon hearing their reaction. It’s not that I’m ungrateful! It’s just that I feel as if I can benefit this kingdom more in another position.
“Ha, like what?” she snorted to herself (Freya had conversational battles with herself every now and then). “The only things I’m good at are fighting and dancing for the sandstorm. What else could I do?” As she pondered over things, Freya decided that it would ultimately be better to go over to the castle and ask the King and Queen herself. At least it was better than wasting away out in the streets, and there was always the possibility that she would be placed in a worthwhile position--
Whatever that was.
“…It’s not that I’m ungrateful,” insisted Freya, the words of but a few hours ago coming out for her friends to hear; in other words, it was deja vous to her. “It’s just that I feel as if I can benefit this kingdom more in another position.”
“I can see your point,” said Garnet. “Chief of security is a very noble occupation, and one that would normally suit you. However, as we have all noticed, we’re in a very wonderful time of peace here, so there’s little need for security.”
“Oh, then it looks like you’re out of work,” smiled Freya wryly, her eyes locked onto Steiner. He grumbled, but otherwise remained silent. Zidane chuckled lightly.
“Yeah… But, hey, I’m sure we can find you something to do. What’re you good at, besides fighting and dancing?”
“That’s it,” she pointed. “Sorry… my uncle was a fighter himself, and that’s the only thing he knew. I learned how to dance for the sandstorms of Cleyra from my aunt.”
“You could always be an exotic dancer,” grinned Zidane, and even though they knew he was teasing, both Freya and Garnet gave him cold looks. He noticed them, and let out an innocent, “Whaaaaat?? I was just kidding!”
“……Anyway,” snorted Freya, shoving aside his comments for the time being, “I would be grateful if you could find some type of work for me--whatever you think I’ll be best at.” The royal couple nodded their heads, and suddenly, out of the blue, Garnet got an idea.
“Oh! I know what you could do for us!”
“…There’s always a need for someone to train the soldiers,” she began. “The recent invasion has been indication enough that Alexandria needs to be more prepared. We have a small number of trainers on hand, but we could certainly use one more. If you feel like you could be up to the task…” Freya smiled, and kneeled to the floor as honorably as she knew how.
What a perfect opportunity! Freya had never considered becoming a trainer for soldiers, but now that she knew the option was available, she was eager to take it. Alexandria would obviously have an insatiable demand for them, for there would always be soldiers, as there would always be wars, so if Freya took the job, she would pretty much be set for life. Besides, maybe incorporating her spear-fighting techniques to the sword-adjusted Alexandrians would be a nice change of pace.
Plus, she would be working with Beatrix.
“Your majesty, that is a marvelous idea!” exclaimed Freya. “I could not have wished for a better job myself! If it pleases you, I should like to take this job--in fact, if possible, I’d like to start right away.”
“Whoa, not so fast there, babe!” exclaimed Zidane (both Garnet and Freya let that comment slide). “Why all the rush? There’s no need to hurry, and besides, there’s a big holiday tomorrow. You should take these next two days off… you know? Take things easy, rest, relax, enjoy yourself… the works!” He smiled, and Garnet placed her soft hand on his. Freya shrugged, and stood to her feet.
“All right, if you say so. But when I do start…”
“Oh, don’t worry,” assured Zidane. “You’ll be placed where all the fresh recruits are.”
“You mean the beginners?” she spat. Freya made a nasty face, and waved her hand as if to pass the offer up. “Ugh, no offense but no thanks. Pardon my rudeness, but I’m surprised you have the gall to place me in such an atmosphere.”
“It’s Alexandrian rules,” shrugged Garnet sympathetically. “No matter how skilled a trainer is, they’re always placed with beginners first, just so we know how well they perform. Don’t worry, with your skills, you’ll be at the top by the end of the week.” Freya snorted, and crossed her arms in irritation. Placing her with fresh soldiers was like asking Dr. Tot to teach people whose only medical experience was applying band-aids. She was so skilled that she could have kept the advance guard on their toes…
“…If you insist,” she finally said with a grunt. “But I must warn you, my expectations are very high. Don’t come whining to me if your soldiers complain about my rigorous schedule.”
“The tougher, the better!” came a familiar voice from across the room. Freya smiled and several of the attendants and the lower-ranking soldiers saluted as General Beatrix came into the room, and she herself kneeled before speaking.
“Pardon my intrusion, my lieges,” she began. “I seem to have arrived early for my report. I overheard Lady Freya, and I must also express sentiment on your decision. Having her train our novices would be an excellent idea. I feel as if these new recruits are far too sluggish in actual battle, and having an experienced dragoon like Lady Freya to keep them on their toes would do this kingdom well.” Freya grinned as her friend poured a few praises out, and the tiniest of red hues came to the flesh beneath her fur, giving her face a pink glow.
“Well, if Lady Bea here says it’s a good idea, then I guess we’d better sign you up, eh?” said Zidane in his usual tone. Freya mutely shrugged, and kneeled one more time to thank her lieges.
“And please!” insisted the King. “Just call us by our names! We’re your friends and you’re ours, and besides, it just don’t feel right to hear you talk to us so formally!” She shrugged again, as if deep down inside she could really care less, and took her leave of them without using more than a few words. She flashed Beatrix one brief smile before leaving the throne room completely.
“And that goes for you too, General!” spat Zidane. This got her attention, and Beatrix jerked around to give her new King a questioning look. “No more ‘highness’ this or ‘your majesty’ that! Come on, Bea! We’re your friends here! You don’t need to address us so formally!” Beatrix’s face grew a little dark, but the sadness in her sigh was even darker, like a cloud just before a storm.
“…If it is your desire, then I shall refrain, my King,” she said slowly. “But please, majesty, if you ever listen to anything that I say, please hear me out now.” Beatrix swallowed, and fell to her knees in classical begging position. She even clasped her hands, as if in prayer.
“…I love this land,” she began, her voice soft and deliberate. “Alexandria took me in when I had no home, and it has raised me and supported me for almost all of my life. I have been in the service of the royal family ever since I became a knight--not because of ambition or power, but because I wanted to repay her for taking me in. I love this kingdom, and its royal family, and I have pledged eternal fealty and loyalty to all who sit on this throne. I have been given a home here, and because of my eternal gratitude, I find it my greatest pleasure to serve this land any way I can. Please, sire, I beg you: do not take away the honor of addressing you with your formal title. If you do I will comply, but only because of my duty. But if you truly want me to be happy, then please… do not deny me this simple pleasure. Please, my lord…”
By now, Beatrix’s passionate speech had moved even Steiner to tears, and he nearly screamed out how he felt the same way, but Zidane beat him to the punch. The young lad quickly ran over to give his servant and bodyguard a tight embrace, and between his hundreds of apologies, he begged her to stand and be proud, and to not cry. She tried.
He was joined by Garnet, who affirmed the fact that, though Beatrix was more than a bodyguard and a soldier to them, they would never dare try to take away any pleasure she took in her line of service. Denying Beatrix the ability to respect those who gave her a home would be like denying her breath or health, so after a little tears and a few hugs, the King and Queen apologized and let her do as she willed.
“Thank you,” she said as she stood, half her face scarred with tears. “And, I do consider you friends, both of you. But, you are also my King and my Queen, and my respect runs as deep as my love. Please, let me serve you, and you shall have my thanks.”
“Y-yes, o-of c-course,” sniffled Zidane. “I-I’m s-sorry f-for s-suggesting s-such a th-thing…”
“Think nothing of it,” she sighed. “You were just being you, and I was just being me. Thankfully, we see eye-to-eye on this topic at least.”
Freya smiled and waved as Beatrix left the throne room, and her friend gave back a smile that seemed to require effort. The General looked a little tired, and her face was still moist from the tear that had marked it. Her smile seemed to take a lot of her energy, and from the way she walked, Beatrix had gone through something really intense back there.
“You okay?” asked Freya. The sweet smile she received comforted her worries.
“I don’t think I have ever been better,” replied the knight. A pause, and she said, “…Do you want to go somewhere to talk?”
“Yes, of course,” agreed Freya. A talk seemed in order right then, though the topic might not have steered toward what happened in the throne room. It was none of Freya’s business, despite the fact that she had waited all this time for Beatrix to come out. Still, the idea of having a private chat with her friend seemed nice. Without another moment’s hesitation, both women walked out of the castle and into the crowded streets of Alexandria. There was going to be a big holiday tomorrow, so they would have all of that day and the next to catch up. That was okay--they had earned the rest.
Together, Beatrix and Freya left Alexandria Castle and entered into the thick crowds of the town. They had the rest of that day to do whatever they desired, as well as the next, for it was a fairly big holiday tomorrow. Alexandrians would be crowding the streets, which meant that the two warriors would have incredible trouble getting home. The fact that they were both celebrities didn’t make things any better.
Through some miracle, they managed to wade through the sea of people without doing any harm to themselves, or anyone else. Beatrix and Freya were both famous faces, and not just because of the recent events. Both warriors had done incalculable services to the kingdom, from restoring it after the Mist Wars and saving it from The Foe, to vanquishing monsters in her most dire time of need. Even minor deeds, such as slaying a certain monster or even performing a certain duty, got them well-noticed.
It was a holiday tomorrow, so of course the streets would be jam-packed with citizens dashing around, trying to stock up on gifts and meals for the following day. It was almost as if a festival was going on: there were even a few performers out on the streets, and because of the sharp eyes of the two ladies, no thief or pickpocket seemed to be within range. All in all, it was reasonably peaceful, considering how bustling everything was.
Though they drew more attention to themselves than Lowen after his most recent performance, both knights managed to swim through the thick bog of living creatures, but had to squeeze themselves into Freya’s home. The door barely budged at all, so massive was the crowds outside, but when they did wiggle into the small abode, they nearly stumbled onto the floor in exhaustion.
Despite their minor ordeal, both ladies wore silly grins on their faces. They took a little breather to make sure that they were both still in one piece, then stood to their feet. Since this was her house, Freya offered Beatrix a drink, and since it was so close to lunchtime anyway, she decided it would be best to set the table. Beatrix was still not used to being served, especially by someone who used to be an enemy, but she played her part as best she could and allowed Freya to do her duty, just as Zidane and Garnet allowed Beatrix to do hers.
Freya first emerged from the kitchen with the requested drinks. She didn’t care for alcohol, and neither did Beatrix, so instead they both had a tall glass of very fancy Burmecian tea (Freya had memorized the recipe from years studying under her aunt’s cooking). She then went back into the kitchen for plates and napkins, and was soon zigzagging between table and kitchen like a culinary yo-yo.
Beatrix watched her friend in quiet amazement, and found Freya to be a surprising servant. The Burmecian had never told of her cooking skills, which were nothing short of average, but the way she served Beatrix was amazing. The food itself was nothing to get excited about, and a few questionable morsels made Beatrix’s face turn colors. Those would have to be reserved for Freya. But the service was first-rate!
Finally (it only took the dragoon about five minutes to set everything up), Freya emerged from the kitchen with the last piece of crockery, and set it down for both women to enjoy. She then seated herself, and began piling on the food. Neither woman had spoken a word since arriving in the house, save for Freya’s offer of a drink, but with the noise outside, their silence was understandable. Besides, they had all the rest of that day and the next to talk. Six or seven minutes of silence would be nice.
“…So what would you like to talk about?” asked Freya as she handed Beatrix a bowl of corn. The knight spooned up everything she thought she would eat, and took a swig of tea before answering. The drink itself was delicious: chilled, with a drop of lemon juice, and enough spices to make her head swim. She smiled and mentally approved.
“…Your past, if you don’t mind,” said the knight. Freya nodded her head, and kept her food at bay for the time.
“All right. I suppose it seems fair. But I must warn you, it’s not all wine and roses. There are parts that I would normally never tell anyone.”
“That’s all right,” replied Beatrix. “I’ve had my fair share of bad experiences. I don’t think there’s anything you could say that would really shock me, but go ahead.”
“All right,” sang Freya, as if trying to give Beatrix one last warning. “But don’t say I didn’t warn you!”
“Is it really that bad?”
“No,” smiled the Burmecian, “but I might as well prepare you anyway.”
“…I… don’t remember a lot about my childhood… But one thing stands out to me, more so than anything else I can remember. Something very traumatic happened to me when I was just three years old, and it had such a deep impact on my life that I remember it to this very day.”
“Wow,” muttered Beatrix. “Can you really remember that far?” Freya shrugged.
“You’d think that I wouldn’t be able to. But my uncle, who adopted me, told me to never forget about the experience. I mostly remember things through what he told me.”
“Ah. So what happened to you when you were three?” Freya sighed, and took a sip of tea before answering. Beatrix could tell that Freya was having problems talking about her past, and she didn’t want her new friend to feel forced. She nearly apologized for asking--Freya had been through enough emotional trauma already, and to add more fuel to the fire might not be a good idea--but Freya resumed speaking, albeit with a hushed voice.
“…When I was three years old, my village burned to the ground,” she said quietly. “I… don’t remember much, but… I do know that my parents were killed in that fire.”
“That’s terrible,” whispered a very-genuine General. Beatrix felt sympathy for her friend, but also empathy. She knew what it was like to lose a family… “You know, my family and village was burned in a fire as well.”
“You don’t say…” Freya tilted her head, and suddenly remembered that there was food before her. The two ladies shared an awkward smile and whetted their appetites a little. The small bits of information they had both received about each other were obviously very personal and intimate, and to be able to hear even this much was a great honor. Both women satisfied their hunger a little bit before talking more.
“…How old were you when your family and friends were killed?” asked Freya.
“Five, I think. I guess that’d be around the time your village was burned as well. I’m about two years older than you.”
“Right…” Freya rubbed her fuzzy chin with her hand, and asked a more revealing question. “…Do you remember the name of your hometown? I probably couldn’t recall it for the life of me, and my uncle died of natural causes before he could tell me.”
“I’m not too sure, either,” muttered Beatrix. “I definitely remember the name of the man that burned my town.”
“Me too,” said Freya gravely. They both spoke at the exact same time, and to their surprise, what they said was the exact same name:
“Kyahar Ignus.” Both ladies raised their eyebrows in surprise.
“You too, huh?” they said simultaneously. Beatrix chuckled lightly.
“I suppose it’s no big surprise,” she said. “From the history lessons I took, Kyahar Ignus loved burning things, especially towns. He’d come in and loot everything, rape a few women, then burn everything he could set fire to. He was a horrible man…”
“Indeed,” agreed Freya. “And finding survivors of his attacks is hard to do.” Both ladies suddenly grew silent, and stared into emptiness as they absorbed more of each other’s past. Slowly, Freya dug into her meal, and quietly ate as she let her brain stew. Beatrix, whose appetite had left her suddenly, leaned back in her chair and folded her arms across her chest. Her mind continued running on its course, and slowly, her minutes of thought paid off as a revelation came to her.
“I just remembered the name of my home town.”
“Eh?” Freya looked up from her meal and gave her friend an inquisitive glance.
“Yeah. It just came to me. I think it was, ah… D’negel, or something like that.”
“D’negel…” Freya sniffed, and smiled eerily as the name was tossed around her head. She chuckled once, and shook her head in amazement. “…You know… Beatrix… I… ah… think… D’negel was… the name of… hahaha… Yes, I think it was the name of… my hometown, too…”
“You don’t say…” Beatrix swallowed, and gave Freya her most hollow stare. Her single red eye burrowed deep into Freya’s green ones, and both ladies held the stare as they slowly began thinking wild thoughts. Coincidence after implausible coincidence had come at them, and a thought crept across their mind.
“Do you think it’s possible…?” whispered Freya. “…Do you think…”
“We grew up in the same town…?” offered Beatrix. “…Do you believe…”
“…We knew each other?”
“…I… recall a young brown-haired girl, crying for her family…”
“I… think I saw a rat-girl there, too… at the funerals…”
“I… knew her?” Both women shivered, and grew slightly ill from so many revealing thoughts. The possibility was incredible: two companions, separated by the flames of destruction… Two long-lost friends, brought together by war--first through hate, then through friendship… A powerful bond, rooting back to childhood, bent and twisted but never fully broken……
“It’s true!!!” she exclaimed. “All of it! We did grow up in the same town! Our parents were killed by the same man! We were even at the funerals, comforting each other…!”
“It is true…” whispered Freya. She swallowed. “We grew up together, you and I. You were my best friend in that village. It was only for a little while, but…… Oh, Beatrix! I… I can’t believe it!!!” The two ladies smiled joyfully at each other, and rushed towards each other with the enthusiasm of two old friends who had not seen each other in years. They cried as they embraced, and shared the same happy sentiment. But they had a right to be happy. After all, they had not seen each other in twenty-three years.
“I know… There’s been nothing going on since the wedding…” The two guards standing at the front gate of Alexandria sighed, and leaned up against the wall so their bodies wouldn’t suddenly fall into a slump. They literally had nothing to do except stand there and watch for enemies, and although it seemed like a sweet job at first--having to get paid to stand and watch the world outside--it soon became so tiresome and tedious that not even all the money in the world could compensate them.
As the guards stood at attention (more or less), their appetite for excitement was aroused as two suspicious strangers came into view, one of them very tall and intimidating, the other hiding behind a green cloak. The guards both grabbed their weapons, and all the hours spent doing nothing were suddenly thrown out the window.
“Halt!” they cried. “Who goes there?” The two figures approached the gate, and were courteous enough to stop instead of picking a fight. The tall one grunted, and crossed his arms impatiently.
“Move,” he said. The guards, who were both shorter and weaker than the man before them, shivered in their boots as they pointed spears at the tall man.
“I… identify y-yourself… s-sir…”
“I need to get through,” muttered the man in a flat voice. The guards quaked in fear, but held their ground.
“W-we… w-we c-cannot l-let you p-pass…” The tall man mumbled something, smiled once, and slowly began cracking his knuckles. The sheer size of his hands sent chills down the guard’s bodies.
“I’ll ask you nicely one more time,” said the tall man emotionlessly. “Move.”
“…N-no,” whimpered the guards. They both felt like they had just signed their death papers, but duty was duty. Dying to protect the kingdom was just one of the requirements.
“I must speak with the Queen,” insisted the intimidating one.
“Th-that m-makes you even m-more s-s-suspicious…” quaked the guards. The tall man growled, and took one single step towards the gate, causing both guards to back away in terror.
“Y-yikes!! D-don’t come any cl-closer!!”
“…Looks like we’ll have to force our way in,” mumbled the tall man to his companion. The one cloaked in green sighed and clicked his tongue.
“Is that the only thing you know, Coral? Brute force?” The taller man shrugged haphazardly, and stepped forth to shove the guards away. He only got a few steps into the town before being stopped by an even more irritating voice, and the clank-clank sound that came with it told the tall man that this next obstacle would not be quite as easy to pass over.
Adelbert Steiner, having seen the incident, came storming forth with his armor squeaking as always. He demanded in no peaceful terms what was going on, and who these two strangers were. The tall man, the one known as Coral, merely crossed his arms and coolly leaned against a post, leaving his companion to explain everything.
“Settle down, Knight of Pluto,” sighed the man in green. “We’re not here to start an uprising or anything. In fact, if you let us talk to the Queen, what we say may actually save the kingdom. It is your duty to report any threats to the Queen, right?” Steiner growled, and froze for a moment as he tried to think his way out of the situation. As always, he fell short of perfection.
“…Why, you…! …If you tell me what this urgent news is, then I’ll relay it to her majesty!”
“Sorry, it’s for her ears only,” shrugged the man in green. He had an exceptionally thick accent, probably one from lands farther up north, though nobody could ever say for certain. Only his eyes could be seen behind the cloak he wore.
“Why you--!” Steiner became so hopping-mad that he was tempted to dash forward and arrest the two invaders right on the spot, but was stopped by the arrival of his lieges. He kneeled as they made their way through the kingdom, and tried his best to explain the situation.
“What’s up, Rusty George?” asked Zidane. “You find some no-good people around here?”
“That I have, highness!” beamed the knight. “Observe! I caught these two snooping around! They claim to have some kind of important information, but I smell a rat--erm, no offense to Lady Freya.” Zidane frowned in irritation and rolled his eyes. He had expected more out of his new servant; after all, he easily recognized one of the men.
“Oh, for the love of all things good and sacred, it’s just old Amarant!” Steiner tilted his head in confusion, and took a closer look at one of the men. Tall, muscular, silent but deadly, with a mane of shaggy red hair hiding his eyes… Yes, there was no doubt--this was Amarant.
“Hmph, I see,” he snorted. “But still! He’s still suspicious!!”
“Whatever,” snorted the flaming one. He lazily turned his head to the two monarchs, and almost smiled. “Huh. You, a King? Well, I guess I was wrong. Sorry to miss the wedding, but we had business to take care of.”
“We?” said Garnet. She noticed the second man with them, and asked who he was. The man with the cloak sniffed, and removed his covering with a grand flair. Behind this façade of green was a face that had obviously seen younger days. His dark hair had streaks of gray running through it, and even his short, pointy beard had some silver in it. His piercing eyes were very dark, and looked like they could bore holes through steel. Though he had a few wrinkles on his face from age, the man still had a definite look of awareness and cunning to him.
“A pleasure to make your acquaintance,” said the man. “If you’ll excuse me, I need to investigate something. Don’t move; it’ll make it easier on both of us.” And without hearing another word from anyone else, the dark-haired men stepped towards Garnet, and stared at her hard. He reached for her face (and several knights reached for their swords), and carefully dug his dark eyes into hers. His fingers brushed against her forehead gingerly, then he clasped a shuck of the Queen’s dark hair to his nose, and inhaled deeply.
Needless to say, his actions caused many people to stare back in surprise.
“Ah,” said the man with a smile, “I see. You’re not of royal blood.”
“Huh? How… I mean, why do you say that?” The man smiled wryly, and crossed his arms.
“No need to pretend, Garnet. I know who you are. Your parents… they’re both dead, am I right?” Garnet stared back at the strange man in confusion, and slowly confirmed his question. “Ah. And… your original home was Madain Sarai, am I correct?”
“Hm. And… let me guess… you were adopted by the royal family… ahhhh… when you were around… six, right?” Garnet’s eyes suddenly widened--in fact, everyone within earshot stood there in shock. So far, everything the man had estimated was true, but there was no logical explanation for how he could know so much without having met Garnet before. The Queen’s secret was limited to the kingdom and a few loyal friends outside of it, and Amarant wasn’t one to tell such trivial secrets. But…
“How…?” was all she could say.
“Did I know?” smiled the man. He tapped his head and gave the Queen his most secretive smirk. “That’s my secret. But really, any old fool could tell you’re not of royal birth. First of all, I felt your horn--the one on your forehead, I mean. The people that cut it off did a very good job, but there’s still a very tiny impression left over. I felt that. And although you do have a definite royal smell to you, your original scent comes from lands foreign. Not all the perfumes in the world could mask your true origin.”
“But how did you know all that?!” insisted Garnet, who was almost to the point of screaming. The man grinned.
“Like I said, that’s my secret. For now, you’ll just have to--”
“AH!!! I know who you are!!!” shrieked Zidane suddenly. The older man sighed, and clicked his tongue in frustration.
“Do you, now…”
“Yeah!!! I heard about you from Baku!! You’re…… you’re the one they call ‘The Hunter’, am I right?” All eyes turned towards the older man, and he smiled and bowed with great extravagance.
“At your service.”
“Oh, WOW!!!” squealed Zidane. “This is unreal!! I thought you were just a myth! I never thought I’d actually get to meet the legendary Hunter, face-to-face like this!! Oh… wow!!!!!”
“Hahahahaha!! A little zealous for a King, eh?” Zidane’s face lit up, but everyone else was just plumb confounded. Steiner, as always, was more angry than confused.
“What is going on here?!” he demanded. “Sire, do you know this questionable chap?”
“Know him?!” squealed the King. “Are you kidding?! This guy’s, like, the greatest thief to ever live! He’s The Hunter, for crying out loud!!! Haven’t you guys ever heard of the legendary Hunter??”
“…Oh yeah!!” exclaimed a nearby woman. “I know who you’re talking about! So that’s him, eh? I thought he’d be a lot older than that…”
“I heard he can hear the heartbeat of a mouse across a continent!”
“I heard he can see the top of a mountain as clear as the hand in front of my face!”
“I heard he can feel emotions just by holding his palms in the air!”
“I heard… I heard… I heard…”
“Please stop,” chuckled The Hunter. “I didn’t come here to get praised…”
“Sure you didn’t,” grumbled Amarant, who had became forgotten in the conversation. All eyes turned towards the flaming one, and the royal couple suddenly remembered why they were all out there in the first place.
“Oh yeah!” said Zidane. “Weren’t you gonna tell us something?”
“Well, we would have gotten our task done a lot sooner if Sir Rust-A-Lot here had let us in…” Zidane smiled brilliantly as he heard his idol call Steiner by that nickname, but the knight himself was far from happy.
“Steiner…” Garnet calmed Steiner down like a soothing word calmed down an angry horse, and the Queen of Alexandria turned towards the two men. “What have you to tell us?”
“Bad news,” said Amarant. He turned to the Hunter, and asked, “You want me to tell her?”
“You’re too blunt,” replied the man with twinkling eyes. “You’d better let me tell her.” Amarant shrugged carelessly and allowed the Master Mercenary to tell all.
“…Bad news, highness,” began The Hunter, and Garnet’s ears opened. “It seems as if there’s been a recent streak of invasions occurring everywhere. Towns and cities all over the world are being attacked, or are on the verge of being attacked. Esto Gaza, Black Mage Village, Madain Sarai, Daguerro… they’re all suffering…”
“That’s horrible!” hissed Zidane. “You mean to tell us that there’s another enemy out there?”
“Yeah,” answered the Hunter. “But I’m afraid that this battle isn’t going to be nearly as easy as the last skirmish you all had. This new enemy is a hundred times worse than that Foe chap that came knocking a few weeks ago.” Garnet shivered as she listened to the Hunter’s words, and two quivering hands covered her mouth.
The Foe’s reign of terror had been brief but bloody. He had orchestrated a large-scale attack on Mognet Central, the communications capitol of the world. He had also destroyed Burmecia completely, and had even set his sights on Alexandria. This last attack was The Foe’s final assault, and although the battle itself was brief, it let a lot of destruction and tears in its wake.
And now, there was news of somebody even worse than him…
“…Who is it?” asked Garnet firmly. The Hunter paused to deliberate, and gazed at the quiet Amarant.
“You wanna tell her, Coral?”
“Yeah…” Amarant lazily stood up, and sauntered over to Garnet as if he had all the time in the world. The news he would give her would change all of Alexandria for the next few weeks; in fact, it might have even changed the whole world… But as always, Amarant revealed the most startling news in the briefest and calmest of terms.
“…It’s the Fire General,” he said, and Garnet’s shock was multiplied a hundred fold. She shivered horribly, as if all the terrors of the Mist Wars were happening once again, and nearly sank to the ground. She cried, she actually cried in horror, and tried denying it.
“No… it can’t be him… Please, God, let it be anybody but him…”
“Sorry,” shrugged Amarant, but the apology did nothing to help Garnet’s horror. She had heard malicious tales about the powerful Fire General--how he incinerated everything he came across, how his ruthlessness had brought a nation to its knees, and how the barren wastes of the Lost Continent were still being credited to him.
“It’s… not possible…” whispered Garnet fearfully. “No… please… any fate but this…”
“It’s true,” affirmed The Hunter. “The Fire General--Kyahar Ignus--is back.” Queen Garnet of Alexandria shuddered in horror, and not even all her royal training, nor the love given to her by Zidane or her bodyguards or her friends would be able to comfort her. She had heard too many horror stories about the infamous Fire General, and each and every one was true.
Still, she somehow managed to compose herself, and with a voice still quivering with fear, she uttered only one helpless prayer:
“Heaven help us all…”
To be continued…